Missouri has become a must stop for NFL scouts with five first-round picks the last three years. It's a point of pride for coach Gary Pinkel, who has put the program on the pro map.
Before Friday night, the Tigers had five top 10 draft picks in school history. Defensive end Aldon Smith was taken seventh overall by the San Francisco 49ers and quarterback Blaine Gabbert went on the 10th pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars, giving the school a pair of top 10 picks in the same draft for the first time.
"I'm really happy and excited for Blaine and Aldon. They have both had dreams for a long time to play in the NFL, and they're great examples of how those goals can be reached through our program," Pinkel said. "I know they're going to do great things and be great representatives of our program going forward."
Missouri has totaled 40 victories the last four years, among the best in the nation. The first-round haul the last three years is second best in the nation, trailing only Alabama's total of seven including four this year.
Pinkel said concerns about running a spread offense have faded the last few years because so many colleges are running it. Missouri's last three quarterbacks are in the NFL, Chase Daniel as the backup with the New Orleans Saints and Brad Smith as a triple-threat with the New York Jets.
"It's a huge statement. Not a lot of programs in the nation can say that," Pinkel said. "I'd like that to keep happening. Any quarterback out there around the country is going to have to take a look at us."
Pinkel expects the draft day publicity to help on the recruiting trail.
"Obviously we want to win, but the NFL is something that helps us attract better players more in numbers," Pinkel said. "If you're in the state of Missouri, why in the heck would you go anywhere else?"
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was Pinkel's first first-rounder at Missouri, going on the 19th pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. Defensive lineman Ziggy Hood went to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 32nd pick, giving the school two first-rounders for the first time since 1977.
In 2010, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon went on the 19th pick to the Atlanta Falcons.
The stretch is unprecedented in school history, bettering 1977-81 (four first-rounders) and 1966-71 (four first-rounders). In all, 19 players have been drafted in Pinkel's decade at Missouri.
Smith going before Gabbert was a bit of a surprise to draft prognosticators, but not to Pinkel. The coach said schools ask NFL scouts to be conservative when they project players.
"That's wise, because kids are dropping out of school based on evaluations," Pinkel said. "Both those guys made real good decisions and once they made that decision as long as it was well thought out and their counseled properly, we're on board. What's best for them is what's best for our program."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)