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Why Oklahoma Players Enter the NFL 'Prepared' to Make an Immediate, Lasting Impact

OU coach Lincoln Riley says he and his staff want their players to think beyond the draft, and it's showing up on the field in recent years.

There seems to be more Oklahoma Sooners making headlines in the NFL these days.

OU coach Lincoln Riley has noticed it, too. And he thinks he knows the reason why.

“I think a lot of places take pride in when they get drafted and that’s it,” Riley said on Thursday. “We’ve always really said, ‘We want you to be prepared when you go in there.’ ”

Last week, former Sooner quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield met in a game in Cleveland. Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff win in a generation last year. Murray is widely considered a leading candidate for NFL MVP.

Last Sunday night, 2017 cornerback recruits Tre Brown and Tre Norwood squared off in prime time with the Seahawks and Steelers.

This week, Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine (who lead the Bengals in rushing) travel to face former Sooner alumni Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown (who scored four touchdowns and two 2-point conversions in a game a couple weeks back), as well as former Sooner blocker Ben Powers. Those two teams are vying for AFC North supremacy.


Sooners in the NFL, Week 6

Rookie center Creed Humphrey has snapped the football to league MVP and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes since day one with Kansas City, and he’s doing it next to left tackle Orlando Brown for one of the NFL’s contenders. 

Rookie wideout CeeDee Lamb just had 149 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime, for the Dallas Cowboys.

Jalen Hurts continues to lead the Philadelphia Eagles in just his second season — and his first as the starting QB.

There are currently 39 former Sooners in the NFL — 31 on an active roster, two on practice squads, three on injured reserve, two on COVID-19 lists, and one that’s out for the season. According to an NFL preseason release, that officially ranks 10th among all schools behind Alabama (53), Ohio State (47), LSU (46), Georgia (45), Notre Dame (34), Clemson (33), Iowa (33), Florida (32) and Michigan (32).

Unofficially, there are currently more Sooners in the NFL than there’s been at any point since OU players dotted just about every roster during the 1970s and 1980s. The previous high in the modern era was 26 in 2007. At several points last year, 26 former Sooners were active  

But this year, former OU players aren’t just on rosters — they’re making plays in the NFL at a pace never before seen.

“Everybody gets wrapped up in the draft,” Riley said, “and all of a sudden that draft’s over and there’s actually real football, real world.”

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Riley said putting players in the draft is great, but putting them in position to succeed at the next level is what’s happening this year.

“Obviously want to help our guys get drafted in a good position,” he said, “but more than that, try to do everything we can help make them successful, you know when they get there. So they get to that second contract, or that third contract and they go in there and are successful.”

Riley points to his interactions with Humphrey as he was exploring his draft options two years ago and then again last year. Both times, Riley said Humphrey was projected to go in the second or third round. But he was More NFL-ready in 2020 than he was in 2019.

“Two years ago, when we had the conversation about it, it was, ‘Hey man, you’re probably going to be drafted somewhere in the second or third round, which is really good, make good money, be a really good player.’ But I told him, sitting right in here, ‘I don’t think you’re ready.’ I said, ‘No doubt you’re going to get drafted, and I’m not saying you wouldn’t do well.’

“But there were things I had seen that year that led me to believe he was not ready for that. Some listen, some don’t. He comes in the following year, I said, ‘Hey man, what they’re telling us, you’re going to be drafted somewhere between the second and third round.’ He said, ‘What are you saying?’ (I said) ‘You’re definitely ready. It’s time.’ ”

The benefit to the program is two-fold.

One, players walk down a hallway in the renovated Switzer Center that depicts all the current NFL Sooners (it’s a big wall). There’s plenty of other reminders of those that came before them and what has been achieved. Before every home game, NFL Sooners are featured on the giant video board to a catchy remix of Fox’s NFL theme.

“It’s definitely an inspiration,” said sophomore Andrew Raym, who backed up Humphrey last year and now is starting at center. “Those guys, we see them all around our facilities. They’re up on our walls. Their videos play. We watch their film. Seeing them in the exact same places we were, in the exact same position, running the exact same plays, is for sure an inspiration because this is just our stepping stone to get to the place they are.”

Wide receiver Jadon Haselwood, who caught three touchdown passes last week in the win over TCU, said he continues to be inspired by Lamb.

“He’s one of those guys I'm kind of closer with because I played on the same team has him,” Haselwood said. “So I always want to see him, see what he does on those games. And he hasn't disappointed yet.

“I’m always inspired. He inspired me when he was in the room just making plays. So he's more of an inspiration now, now he's in the league and he's actually ballin’.”

And two, it’s always cool when players return to Norman (or Dallas) for a game during their NFL open dates. But the future is never brighter than when Riley arranges for former NFL players to come back over the summer for one of his recruiting barbecues.

Sophomores or juniors in high school — already in a highly impressionable state — step into the stadium and shake hands with an Adrian Peterson or a Trent Williams or a Lane Johnson or a Jalen Hurts or a Sam Bradford or a Marquise Brown, and they are absolutely smitten.

“You definitely can feel the impact in recruiting,” Riley said. “People see that you can be playing one year at OU, and a year or two later, be front and center in that league. So it’s been a huge positive for everybody.”