NFL Draft winners and losers from the first round: Pac-12 stands tall while SEC leads the way

Our instant assessment of the first round of the NFL Draft …

Winner: Pac-12. The first round of the last draft for the conference (as we know it) more than met the moment. The Pac-12 produced the No. 1 overall pick, USC quarterback Caleb Williams, and six of the first 15 selections. When the round ended four hours later, the conference had claimed eight of the 32 selections, one shy of its record (set in 2015).

Loser: Big 12. In its final draft with Texas and Oklahoma as members, the Big 12 managed to produce just three Day One picks — all of them courtesy of Texas and Oklahoma. That said, the Big Ten didn’t perform much better, generating just four first rounders.

Winner: SEC. The conference once again won the first round with 11 of the 32 picks, followed (more closely than expected) by the Pac-12 with eight. Three schools, Alabama, LSU and Georgia, accounted for eight of the SEC’s picks.

Winner: Offense. For the first time in history, the top-10 selections were offensive players. But the run didn’t end there — it continued all the way until the 15th pick, when UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu became the first defensive player selected.

Losers: NFL general managers. Few things get GMs fired faster than whiffing on quarterbacks, which means six of them are on the clock. QBs were selected with the No. 1, 2, 3, 8, 10 and 12 picks.

Winner: USC. The Trojans produced the No. 1 overall pick (Williams) for the sixth time. No other school has more than five No. 1s.

Losers: Ohio State and Michigan. Each of the Big Ten powerhouses generated a single first-round selection. (Penn State had two.) For OSU, the paucity of picks is the result of several major talents opting to return to school in 2024. For the Wolverines, the draft pipeline will start spitting out talent on Friday.

Winner: Washington. The Huskies generated two top-10 selections for the first time in the modern era and had three first rounders overall, tying the school record.

Loser: Oregon. Because Washington.

Winner: Lincoln Riley. USC’s offensive mastermind became the first coach to produce three No. 1 overall selections. Riley coached Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray at Oklahoma and Williams at Oklahoma and USC. Our hunch is there will be a fourth No. 1, and perhaps a fifth, before Riley calls it a career.

Loser: Concerns about injuries. Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who sustained multiple season-ending injuries during his career at Indiana, was the most surprising pick of the night when he went No. 8 to Atlanta. Seven selections later, the Colts picked Latu, who was forced to medically retire at Washington before restarting his career at UCLA.

Winner: Oregon State. Offensive tackle Taliese Fuaga, picked 14th (Saints), became the Beavers’ first Day One pick since receiver Brandin Cooks in 2014.

Loser: Running backs. No position has been more devalued in recent years, and we saw the latest example Thursday night: No backs were selected. (Same for linebackers and safeties, by the way.) Meanwhile, seven receivers were picked. It’s all about the perimeter.

Winner: Arizona. Offensive tackle Jordan Morgan, picked 25th (Packers), became the Wildcats’ first Day One selection  since defensive back Antoine Cason in 2008. That is not a misprint. It has been 16 years.

Loser: ESPN. We flipped back and forth early in the draft before settling on the NFL Network’s broadcast, which was substantially more entertaining and informative.

Winner: Washington’s 2019 recruiting class. It was fairly well received at the time and earned a No. 15 ranking nationally from 247Sports. History has been more kind. The class included receiver Puka Nacua, who became a star with the L.A. Rams last season, cornerback Trent McDuffie, who had an All Pro season with the Chiefs, and two first-round picks on Thursday night: Latu, who left UW for UCLA, and tackle Troy Fautanu. What a stellar haul by Chris Petersen.

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