Editor’s Note: Sellout Crowd’s Coverage of the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas is Sponsored by Modelo – The Official Beer of Fans with the Fighting Spirit (https://www.modelousa.com)
NORMAN — First, a disclosure: Matt Miller is a Texas fan.
Long before he became a national NFL Draft expert and a member of ESPN’s NFL Draft team, Miller got hooked by the Longhorns growing up in Southern Missouri.
The family TV didn’t get Missouri football but it had Texas games in the late 1990s. So Miller began his football love affair with the offenses of Major Applewhite and Ricky Williams.
“I watch every Texas game as a fan,” he said. “But (my work) makes me critical of those players because I’m seeing them that way. I don’t have rose-colored glasses on.”
It’s because of his position (and fandom) that Miller, who joined ESPN in 2021, is particularly well-attuned to the NFL Draft trends between the pair of Red River schools since 2010.
He knows Oklahoma has nearly doubled Texas’ NFL Draft production over the last decade and a half despite the Longhorns’ consistent recruiting advantage.
He knows Texas has begun to close that gap in recent years under Steve Sarkisian.
And as the Sooners and Longhorns prepare to plunge into the SEC in 2024, Miller knows that the race for pro production on both sides of Red River is only about to matter more in the most competitive conference in the nation.
“It’s a recruiting tool for them when guys get drafted early,” he said. “It’s how you build those pipelines.”
Since Colt McCoy left the BCS National Championship game in Jan. 2010, OU has had the edge on Texas.
The Sooners are up 5-0 on Big 12 titles and 2-0 on Heisman Trophy winners since the start of the 2010 season. They lead 4-0 on College Football Playoff appearances over that span, too. In the last 13 seasons, OU has produced five more All-America selections and holds a record of 10-4 in the last 14 meetings of the annual rivalry game.
That recent Sooners dominance extends to the NFL Draft, as well. From 2010-2023, OU has produced 75 NFL Draft picks to Texas’ 42.
Within those figures, there’s 11 Sooners drafted in the first round compared with four from the Longhorns. Selections in Rounds 2 and 3 have remained relatively even between the schools (19 for OU, 16 for Texas), but the gap over those years widens on Day 3. Forty-five Sooners have gone in Rounds 4-7 since 2010, far outpacing the Longhorns’ 25.
Prior to the 2010 NFL Draft, OU held the lead over Texas on all-time selections at 339-315. Today, that advantage sits at 414-357.
How to explain the gap over the last 13 years?
“I think it’s the programs. I really do,” Miller said. “With Oklahoma, you can go back to Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley. Not only have they recruited well. But they’ve developed well. And I think we could say the (reverse) for Texas.”
High school recruiting matters in terms of the NFL Draft, even if the ratings generally function better as indicators of potential than predictors of future success. Per 247Sports, four and five-star prospects are roughly 30-times more likely to end up as first-round picks.
Recruiting is one of the few places which the Longhorns have stayed ahead of OU.
Within the 13 classes that cycled through Texas prior to the 2023 NFL Draft, the Longhorns had 181 four or five-star recruits on campus. By comparison, OU’s count of such players over the same span sits at 158. Only four times since 2010 have the Sooners finished higher than Texas in 247Sports’ team recruiting rankings.
Despite the Longhorns’ talent advantage, Miller spots the disparity in pro production in the continuity on one campus and a lack of it on another.
From Stoops to a pair of his top assistants in Riley and Brent Venables, OU has had the same fingerprints on the program for nearly a quarter century and has produced 5.8 NFL Draft picks per season since 2010.
That group includes seven top-five selections, a steady stream of Day 2 picks and a staggering number of late-round picks. Miller points to the running back Eric Gray — once a coveted recruit who had to transfer from Tennessee to flourish in Norman and become a fifth round selection in 2023 — as an example of the player development success at OU.
“It’s not just the five stars,” he said. They’ve been able to develop some of the guys who didn’t come in as studs.”
The Norman-to-the-NFL pipeline of offensive lineman out of the program under position coach Bill Bedenbaugh — the Sooners have sent 14 of them to the league since 2010 — is another marker of the place OU holds in the eyes of pro talent evaluators.
“The offensive line play from Oklahoma is something everyone in the Big 12 should be jealous of,” Miller said. “They just consistently turn those dudes out. I know when I start looking at offensive lineman and where I’m starting with O-line evaluation, I’m usually starting with Oklahoma and Michigan.”
While the Sooners jumped from Stoops to Riley to Venables, Texas’ coaching journey since Mack Brown’s 2013 resignation has been less straight-forward.
The Longhorns inked five top-ten recruiting classes under Charlie Strong and Tom Herman from 2014-2020. Yet Texas won more than eight games only once in those years and the program’s NFL production was similarly weak.
Twice since 2010 has Texas gone through an NFL Draft without a selection. The Longhorns, once leaders in producing line talent, have seen only two offensive lineman drafted over that span.
“They recruited their tails off but they weren’t developing guys,” Miller said. “Charlie Strong and Tom Herman — you can get all the five-star guys you want — ‘Oh my god, we’re getting kids from Southern Florida to go to Texas now,’ — but that doesn’t matter if you don’t develop those guys. If they don’t become blue-chip players for your program and then if they don’t become NFL guys, it doesn’t matter.”
Bottom line: OU has positioned itself as the chief producer of NFL talent over its rival in Austin.
The gap, however, is closing.
Under Sarkisian, Texas has signed back-to-back top-five classes in 2022 and 2023 and the Longhorns are once again brimming with NFL prospects.
“This Texas team has so many draft prospects this year,” Miller said. “It’s crazy how many guys there are. We’ll see if they actually declare for the draft or not.”
Miller will be watching differently than most when the Sooners and Longhorns kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday. Through the live broadcast and subsequent film reviews, he’ll evaluate them all, part of his much broader scouting process unfolding between now and the April 25, 2024, NFL Draft.
Texas has a first-round caliber quarterback in Quinn Ewers. Wide receivers Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders are all in Miller’s top-50 draft rankings right now.
“There’s so much intrigue there,” Miller said of Ewers, the No. 1 recruit in the 2021 class. “There are times where the dude looks like a top-five pick and there are times where you wonder if he’s going to get benched. He’s just got to find consistency, especially on his deep ball. Figuring out the timing is huge for him.”
Sarkisian has built a career on developing skill players (See: his run of wide receivers at Alabama). But Miller sees the most progress at Texas coming on the offensive and defensive lines, the two places that matter most in the SEC.
He projects left tackle Kelvin Banks as a future first-round pick. Defensive lineman Byron Murphy II, T’Vondre Sweat and Ethan Burke all have pro futures in front of them, too.
“Texas has arguably the best O-line and D-line coaches in the nation,” Miller said of Longhorns assistants Kyle Flood and Bo Davis.
“When Texas was great in the early 2000s with Mack Brown, it was O-line and D-line. They had Vince Young and Colt McCoy, but it was those places where all those draft picks were coming from. That’s why they’re looking like a different program.”
On the Sooners, Miller says his eyes this weekend will focus on OU right tackle Tyler Guyton, the fourth-year offensive lineman eligible to enter the 2024 NFL Draft after this season and likely the highest-rated prospect on the current roster.
“He’s a stud,” Miller said. “He looks like he could be a first round pick if he decides to come out early. This is a huge weekend for him because of that Texas front.”
Past Guyton, Miller sees later-round prospects on the Sooners’ 2023, but considers this to be a transition year for OU in terms of NFL talent. After nearly 15 years of dominance producing pro talent, one or two years of regression is okay.
But the Sooners’ long run ahead of Texas in the NFL Draft offers every bit of evidence for why OU can’t take its foot off the pedal as both schools head to the SEC in 2024.