As first pro day kicks off, the Big 12 has a shot at revolutionizing the NFL draft process


FRISCO — When Brett Yormark was hired as Big 12 commissioner in 2022, he pledged innovation.
Yormak worked in the sports and entertainment industry for over 20 years with his last stop as chief executive officer at Roc Nation, a company formed by music artist Jay-Z.
So nobody should be surprised that Yormark is trying to change the NFL draft process. Jay-Z changed the music industry, along with his wife Beyoncé, so why not Yormark and the football world?
Starting Thursday, the Big 12 will host the first known conference pro day for college prospects at The Star in Frisco. At least 137 draft-eligible players will attend the three-day event, which replaces the traditional pro days on Big 12 campuses. The ability to change the draft process in an industry that is hesitant to it is commendable. Big 12 officials are confident the event will work with the understanding there might be some skeptics.
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Draft prospects will go through the same drills they normally would at their pro days and the NFL scouting combine. Every NFL team is scheduled to send a representative, who will have the opportunity to speak with the players. Talent scouts from the WWE also will be around looking for the next big thing in the wrestling world.
Workshops on handling finances, mental health and other job-related skills will be available for players.
Each Big 12 team, except for Oklahoma and Texas, will have a player at The Star.
TCU and Central Florida will each send 17 players to the event. Kansas has 16 on the books. Oklahoma State is scheduled to send 10.
Texas and Oklahoma were offered the opportunity to send players but declined because of the combination of heading to the SEC next season and wanting to continue the tradition of hosting their pro days on campus.
“The first-of-its-kind Big 12 Pro Day will provide our student-athletes an opportunity to showcase their talent and skill as they turn their NFL dreams into reality,” Yormark said when the event was announced.
An event like this could change everything.
NFL teams hunger for as much information as possible when scouting draft prospects. The nearly three years of game tapes, all-star games, private workouts, pro days and combine workouts is where everything happens.
The Big 12 isn’t trying to replace any current draft prospect showcases, but rather add to the process. The NFL has gotten on board as a partner with the Big 12 and if successful, maybe other conferences could try the same thing.
Smaller conferences such as the Sun Belt and Conference USA could be next. What about an SEC Pro Day?
“I would tell you from our perspective, we’re first and we have an exclusive partnership with the NFL and that partnership is very important to us,” said Scott Draper, vice president of football for the Big 12. “I assume others will take a look at what we do and ask us about how we do it. What I’m excited about is us being first and giving our kids, this draft class 2024, a step ahead of everybody else.”
This event can help players who didn’t participate in the combine. Iowa State cornerback T.J. Tampa skipped the drills portion of the combine with a hamstring injury. He joins five Iowa State teammates who plan to work out at the Big 12 Pro Day.
After playing four years at Iowa State, where he was named first-team All-Big 12 last season, Tampa gets to showcase why playing both in man and zone coverages can help him in the NFL.
“I feel like it’ll give me a good advantage because I can play different coverages and get a lot of reps at it,” he said. “And seeing it on film so I feel like it’ll help me.”
An event like this will also help Oklahoma State receiver Leon Johnson, who played three seasons at Division III George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.. Johnson, at 6-5, caught 33 passes for 539 yards with one touchdown last season. Because of his size, Johnson might be a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent signee for a team willing to develop him.
“Legitimacy is important in a way that one, players feel like they’re getting an opportunity,” said Roman Oben, NFL’s vice president of football development. “They’re getting evaluated as they would at a traditional pro day, legitimizing the event by having scouts and assistant coaches run drills, measurements consistent that they would have at a pro day or a combine. In many cases, most of these guys wouldn’t get a combine invite.”
The NFL and Big 12 scheduled the event so it wouldn’t conflict with the NFL combine and some schools’ pro days. Power 5 schools such as Alabama, Texas and Georgia already have held their pro days.
For the Big 12 to change the way the NFL draft process works, they first need to pull off a successful event.
“You want to boost up the experience as much as you can for them,” said Oben, who played 12 years in the NFL for four NFL teams. “The combine is a sacred ground. These [scouts] are making their living on getting the right seven rookies in the draft, another five, 10 rookie free agents. It’s important they get out of it like they are supposed to get out of it.”
The future value of a Big 12 Pro Day starts Thursday with other conferences watching how Yormark’s innovation is received.
“It started with Brett when he first got here,” Draper said. “His vision for being different, for being the conference of access and innovation. This was his vision and he brought a different view of how this should be done in college athletics and tasked us with executing his vision.”
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