The AAC is determined to remain the top Group of Five conference and keep pushing to be considered a Power Five conference. If doing that financially (getting a P5 media deal) isn’t possible, and it isn’t at the moment, then you need to do it through perception. Once you change that perception, then you can start getting P5 money and influence.
The AAC has changed the perception of the conference over the last decade by winning on the field. Winning in the NFL Draft matters too, though. Having a high profile pick, or picks, gets the conference into the conversation nationally.
The AAC had a strong draft in 2022. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about the how that happened
Key Draft Picks
- Ahmad, “Sauce” Gardner, 1st round, 4th overall-New York Jets
- Tyler Smith, 1st round, 24th overall-Dallas Cowboys
- Logan Hall, 2nd round, 33rd overall-Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Desmond Ridder, 3rd round, 74th overall-Atlanta Falcons
- Marcus Jones, 3rd round, 85th overall-New England Patriots
- Calvin Austin, 4th round, 138th overall-Pittsburgh Steelers
- Kalia Davis, 6th round, 220th overall-San Francisco 49ers
- Sauce Gardner (4th overall) is the highest rated AAC player drafted since Blake Bortles (3rd overall in 2014), the first AAC player ever drafted.
- The AAC has produced three top-10 picks in its history (Blake Bortles, Ed Oliver, and Sauce Gardner). All three of those players come from teams leaving for the Big 12.
- Tulsa has produced back-to back-first-round picks (Zaven Collins, Tyler Smith) for the first time in program history. They have four first-round picks (Glenn Dobbs, Steve August) in program history.
- Cincinnati’s 9 players drafted is the most in program history. The previous record was six, in 2009. Sauce Gardner is the Bearcats’ third first-round pick (Bob Bell, Greg Cook), and highest pick ever. It’s also the most players drafted from outside a power conference team since Houston in 1975.
- Cincinnati had the third most players taken in the 2022 NFL Draft of any program, behind only Georgia and LSU.
- Five conferences had multiple first-round picks in 2022; the AAC, SEC, Big Ten, ACC, and PAC-12
- Through three rounds, the AAC was tied for third with 10 total players drafted, behind the SEC and Big 10.
- Three AAC players were drafted before any Big 12 player was drafted (four AAC players were drafted before an Oklahoma player, while Texas did not have a player drafted).
- Tyler Smith is the first ever offensive lineman ever drafted in the first-round out of the AAC.
- The AAC had 19 players drafted in 2021, which was the most in league history. In 2022, the AAC had 19 players drafted again, matching that number.
Draft Picks By AAC Team
The NFL Draft is a great event for a lot of different reasons. For NFL fans, it offers hope. For college fans, you get to celebrate the players you came to love while they were in college. The draft is also an opportunity to find out that there is talent all over, not just in the P5 conferences, even though there is still a lot in those places.
Sauce Gardner spoke about this in his press conference following being drafted 4th overall:
Unfortunately, for the AAC, three teams that produce a lot of that talent are moving onto the Big 12. In particular, Cincinnati is loaded with talent. Other teams need to step up and take their place. If draft picks are anything to go by, it looks like Memphis, Tulsa, and SMU are positioned best to do so.
It’s also important to remember that where you played college football, how much you played, and what round you’re drafted in don’t matter once you get to the NFL. Everyone is equal once you’re there and the best player gets the job. So, any AAC player can thrive, regardless of what round they get picked. If you don’t believe that, just ask Drew Bledsoe if a sixth-round quarterback who couldn’t hold onto his starting job in college did to his career.
The truth is that there are a million factors that determine success in the NFL. Some of it is internal. A lot of it can be external too. Going to a good situation and a competent organization is a huge deal. It’s why you might have been happy for Gardner, but anxious the Jets will ruin him.
It’s also important to point out that the AAC doesn’t just produce first-round offensive lineman. It’s the position that the conference as a whole struggles with the most, and in NY6 and the College Football Playoff games it can be the deciding factor. On the field, it’s often the difference between the AAC and a P5 conference. Credit to Tulsa for developing a first-round tackle. Frankly, with how poorly they recruit, credit to Tulsa for developing first-round talent in back-to-back years.
If you’re sick of hearing about the NFL Draft and don’t think it matters to college football, I get it. You’re just wrong. Along with being a celebration of these athletes, it’s a recruiting event for schools. Luke Fickell can go into homes and show how many players he’s developed now. That’s a huge deal, and it will help going forward.