Another NFL draft came and went without a Nevada Wolf Pack player being selected.
Over the last five NFL drafts, Nevada has had only one alum picked: offensive lineman Austin Corbett, the No. 33 selection of the 2018 draft.
You're familiar with Corbett, of course. He was a Reed High alum who recruited himself to Nevada by sending an email to then-Nevada assistant coach Ken Wilson, who Corbett knew because he grew up with Wilson's kids in Sparks. Nevada didn't have a head coach at the time as it was making the transition from Chris Ault to Brian Polian, so Corbett emailed Wilson asking if he could walk onto the team. Nevada accepted him.
You never know where NFL talent will come from. But with the latest NFL draft passing, here's an interesting stat: Polian signed 86 players to letters of intent on national signing day while Nevada's head coach. None have been drafted. That doesn't mean he didn't sign any good players, of course. Five of his signees became All-Mountain West first- or second-team honorees, including Ian Seau, Malik Reed, Korey Rush, Wyatt Demps and Dameon Baber. And I believe Reed was worth a draft pick and will carve out a role in the league. But the lack of signing a single NFL player stands out.
It's not like Nevada has been a draft factory over the years. Since the merger (1970), the Wolf Pack has had only 38 players selected in 50 drafts. But since Doug Betters was drafted in 1978, Nevada went three straight seasons without having somebody drafted only once (from 1999-2002), the end of the Jeff Tisdel era and start of the Chris Tormey era. Nevada repeated that feat from 2015-17, the thick of the Polian era.
While Nevada has not been a draft factory, it did have a solid history under Chris Ault. He had at least one player picked in the NFL draft in 17 of his 27 seasons as Nevada's head coach (that includes 29 draft picks overall). What makes those figures more incredible is the fact that 16 of Ault's 27 seasons came below the FBS level. So he was producing NFL players well before Nevada was playing at the top level of college athletics. During Ault's 11 seasons at the FBS level, he signed or coached 19 players selected in the NFL draft (plus 11 more who played in the NFL but weren't drafted). That's 30 NFL players in 11 seasons, so it was possible to send players to the NFL out of a full-fledged, FBS-level Wolf Pack program.
That's a strong history of producing NFL players that dried up during the Polian era. Now, it's not time to completely close the book on a Polian signee getting drafted or playing in the NFL. The are still 26 players on Nevada's roster (18 scholarship, eight walk-ons) who came to Reno when Polian was the team's head coach. They are:
EJ Muhammad, Jaxson Kincaide, Gabriel Sewell, Brendan O'Leary-Orange, Cristian Solano, Dominic Christian, Maliek Broady, Kelton Moore, Lucas Weber, Daniel Brown, Kori Collons, Spencer Pettit, Jake Nelson, Hausia Sekona, Reese Neville, Sam Hammond, Roger Neal, Daylon Johnson, Lawson Hall, Isaiah Hamilton, Kameron Toomer, Alex Tancreto, Nathan Edwards, Miles Beach, Nate Brown and Jacob Drahos
It's unlikely any of those guys get drafted or play in the NFL. The top prospects are:
* Gabe Sewell, who is ranked as the 30th-best inside linebacker in the 2020 draft by DraftScout.com
* Daniel Brown, who is ranked as the 28th-best cornerback in the 2020 draft by DraftScout.com
* And Jake Nelson, who is ranked as the 42nd-best offensive guard in the 2020 draft by DraftScout.com
Even though the odds aren't strong, it's not impossible to see one of those guys get to the NFL. But the Wolf Pack's NFL pipeline certainly shut down after Ault resigned in December 2012 and Polian was hired to replace him. From 2011-14, a four-year sample at the end of Ault's third term, the Wolf Pack had 10 players drafted with five more undrafted players making NFL rosters.
Ault certainly didn't hand Polian a roster full of future NFL players when he stepped down. Only Joel Bitonio was a surefire NFL player. But the lack of being able to sign even one NFL player in his four recruiting classes ultimately doomed Polian. While not an end-all be-all, you need NFL-caliber players to win conference championships, which is why Nevada was able to win two WAC titles under Ault.
When Nevada won the WAC in 2010, it had 14 future NFL players, three future CFL players and another dozen who got into NFL training camps. The 2005 WAC-title winners weren't quite as loaded, but that roster still had three future NFL players and several more who made camps.
Jay Norvell's first two years were nearly identical to Polian's first two seasons on the field, but it feels like he's recruited more NFL-caliber talent. Only time will tell on whether Norvell can re-establish the Wolf Pack's NFL pipeline, but if he's going to win a MW title, which would be the first in the program's history, having NFL players is a necessity. It's something Polian was unable to do at Nevada, which is why his team was largely stuck in the middle, posting a 23-27 record over four seasons.
If Norvell is going to take Nevada to the next level, it will be with the help of NFL talent. It's incredibly hard to win conference titles without them.