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Draft Day Validation for Cincinnati Bearcats

After a historic season for the University of Cincinnati, their success was validated with nine players selected in the NFL Draft and it showed all programs that hard work pays off.

If you watched college football in 2021, you definitely heard about the Cincinnati football program and that they became the first “group of five” to make the College Football Playoff.

This was one of the most talented teams in the entire country and after an undefeated 2021 season, they were able to take their rightful place in the playoffs. This was not only a monumental moment for the Cincinnati program, it was a huge win for college football as a whole, and suddenly there was the realization that the Bearcats were representing every team in the past that didn’t get their shot because of conference politics.

Teams like the early 2000 Boise State club that had multiple seasons being a top-10 ranked team and the 2018 UCF team that went undefeated two years in a row. Though the offense was never really able to get going against Alabama, Cincinnati more than proved they deserved to be there and held down the high-powered Crimson Tide offense until the fourth quarter when they broke through for a couple of scores.

Finally, this Cincinnati team was able to get the recognition they deserved and showed a blueprint that every team in the country can follow to have the same success, showing small schools what is possible. I wrote a piece before the draft talking about the talent this Cincinnati team had and how this should be a tremendous moment for their program, as there should be a lot of players drafted from this team. Well, what a weekend it was for the Bearcats, so let’s take a look at the players drafted and some other surprising numbers.

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Head coach Luke Fickell has built a program with the understanding of the team concept and that football is played for each other and not for yourself. Half of the Cincinnati players who were drafted this past weekend could have entered the draft last season, but they all knew they could do something special if they stayed in college, so that is what was chosen by all of them… And the rest as they say is history. Not only did this decision pay off for the team, it paid off individually with nine players being drafted. It started with No. 4 overall and continued with players littered throughout the draft.

By the numbers

Of the nine players, five were taken in the first three rounds and six played on the defensive side of the ball. Those six players are only two fewer than the number of defenders taken from the University of Georgia and we know that number broke all records. Cincinnati’s nine players drafted were more than a lot of the nation’s top football programs. They beat fellow playoff teams Alabama (seven players drafted), and Michigan with five. They even beat in-state favorite Ohio State with six. Other notable teams include Oklahoma six, Michigan State four, Clemson two, Notre Dame two, and Texas none.

Trusting the process

As already discussed, Fickell has built his program on hard work and respect. This outlook paid off in spades. When the season ended, quarterback Desmond Ridder was not considered a top-five prospect at his position, but because of his performances at all-star games, the Combine and his overall perspective on life, he made teams feel confident in him. Ridder ended up being the second quarterback selected in the draft. 

Wide receiver Alec Pierce had a similar ascent to becoming a second-round pick. His work ethic and aggressive mentality, not to mention his testing outcomes moved him from a fifth-round grade to a second-round pick. If this doesn’t satisfy you about the excellence of Cincinnati, look at edge rusher Myjai Sanders. He showed up to the Combine weighing 228 pounds and when teams told him that was too light for an NFL pass rusher, Sanders put in the work and got his weight up to around 250 pounds by the draft when he was selected in Round 3. This is only mentioning three of their prospects. Realistically, all of the Cincinnati players could have major roles. Sauce Gardner was the best cornerback prospect in a long time, yet teammate Coby Bryant won this past season’s Jim Thorpe Award and both could be Day-1 starters.

The Bearcats are no fluke; they put in years of work to become great. That is what goes unseen for most of the teams in the country, the work and commitment made by every person in the program from players to coaches. It really can’t be understated what this team did for college football. It laid a foundation for all teams to follow. Proving that even the “small” programs can make a huge splash. The hope is that future recruits will see this and will start considering other schools, giving college football a lot more balance with teams can make the playoffs.

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