The 2021 NFL draft was a bit of a dud for the Wildcats. Only 1 of the 2 guys I expected to be drafted got drafted, and Wyatt Hubert went a round later than I anticipated. Briley Moore didn’t go at all. The fact that only one K-State player has been drafted over the previous two seasons says all you need to know about the talent level Chris Kleiman stepped into when he agreed to leave Fargo for Manhattan.
At the same time, if you keep track of Coach Klieman’s former program, your fears about continued draft futility will be assuaged. Coach Klieman (and his staff; go ahead and consider Coach Klieman shorthand for “Coach Klieman and staff”), has an amazing eye for talent.
The quarterback position is the crown jewel of Coach Klieman’s NFL recruiting/coaching cache. He coached Carson Wentz, the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft. He recruited and coached Easton Stick, a fifth round pick in 2019 draft, and he recruited Trey Lance, the 3rd overall pick in the 2021 draft.
In the world of recruiting, getting players to the NFL is crucial. The ultimate dream of the vast majority of high school prospects is to make it to the NFL. I’m not a fan of name dropping, but if Coach doesn’t mention Carson Wentz, Easton Stick, and Trey Lance to every quarterback recruit that crosses his office threshold, he should be fired on the spot. He should probably hire someone to sit beside him and make sure those three names come up at least six times per recruiting conversation. For comparison, Dabo Swinney has been at Clemson 13 seasons and has two quarterbacks into the NFL (Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence). Depending on how you count Wentz and Lance, Klieman managed to put three into the NFL in five seasons at North Dakota Freaking State. That’s a big deal. It should probably go on his letterhead.
While quarterback is Klieman’s calling card, don’t discount his ability to put offensive linemen into the NFL. I’d argue that North Dakota State’s left tackle Dillon Radunz going in the second round is just as important as Lance going third overall. Radunz was a 6’5”, 265 pound two-star defensive end out of Becker, Minnesota when he signed with Coach Klieman (and Coach Riley) in the 2016 recruiting class. He leaves Fargo as a 6’5”, 300 pound second-round offensive tackle. Truth is, if Radunz played for Alabama instead of North Dakota State he most likely goes in the first round of the draft. The scarier truth is that by the end of his North Dakota State career Radunz wouldn’t have looked out of place starting for the Crimson Tide. Heck, if we’re counting Wentz as a Klieman player (which I do) then you should go ahead and count his left tackle, 2016 fifth round draft pick Joe Haeg, as a Klieman player as well. That’s two NFL offensive linemen from North Dakota State over a five year period.
It’s too early to see the dividends of his eye for talent at Kansas State in the NFL draft, but go ahead and save this article because I’m predicting two players from his 2019 class and three from his 2020 class hear their name called in the NFL draft, and he hasn’t even warmed up his recruiting muscles in Manhattan yet.
Things are going to get real fun, real fast over the next few seasons. I suggest y’all sit back, grab a beverage of your choice, and enjoy the ride.