The USA Today did a study recently of NFL drafts since 1988. Among other things, they determined how many high school players from different states were drafted. The state of Illinois had worse results than one might expect for its population density.
As expected, California, Texas and Florida dominated the results. California had the most total draftees with 724, followed by Texas with 624 and Florida with 583. Georgia was next with 306, followed by Ohio with 251, Louisiana with 251, Virginia with 185, Pennsylvania with 184, Alabama and North Carolina with 178, and Michigan with 158. Illinois had 157 players drafted since 1988.
Twelfth isn't bad, but it is far less than some assume. An even more telling statistic is the number of players drafted in the first three rounds. Obviously, the best talent is drafted in the first three rounds, so it can be a good indicator of the quality of talent in a state year after year.
For the state of Illinois, Rashard Mendenhall was the only running back selected in the first round. Another running back was selected in the third round. There was one receiver, taken in the second round. One tackle was selected in the first round, but no other linemen were picked in the first three rounds. No quarterbacks or tight ends were selected.
Defensively, there was one defensive back selected in each of the first three rounds. The same was true for linebackers. Three defensive ends were picked in the first round, but no more were selected in the next two rounds. One defensive tackle showed up in the first round. And there were no punters, kickers or long snappers in the first three rounds.
Only 13 picks in the first three rounds of the NFL draft covering 22 years for the state of Illinois. The lack of offensive skill positions is obvious, especially at quarterback. Tight ends are unique athletes who can play multiple positions, but none from Illinois showed up in the first three rounds. Two running backs and one wide receiver might be a great recruiting haul for one season, but that number is extremely low for a 22 year period.
By comparison, California had 53 first round picks, 37 second rounders, and 49 third rounders. Texas had 32, 40 and 41. Florida can brag about 63, 36 and 43. Their 1st round selections are the best of all states, and their overall total for the first three rounds is also highest. That's why everyone recruits Florida, California and Texas.
Other totals include Georgia with 14, 13, and 13; Ohio with 21, 8 and 24; Louisiana 14, 22, and 17; Virginia 10, 12, and 9; Pennsylvania 10, 9 and 10; Alabama 12, 22, and 10; North Carolina 15, 11 and 8; and Michigan 11, 13 and 3. These numbers are all significantly higher than Illinois.
Tennessee, which had only 58 total players selected in the NFL draft, had 6 first rounders, 5 second rounders, and 8 third rounders. In other words, they had 6 more players drafted in the first three rounds than Illinois despite having 99 fewer draftees.
Wisconsin had only 40 total selections, but 16 were in the first three rounds. Indiana had 13 picks in the first three rounds, the same as Illinois, but they had only 31 total draftees. Thus, more than one third of their draftees were top-of-the-line players. Iowa also had only 31 draftees, but 12 were in the first three rounds.
Based on these findings, the state of Illinois underachieves when compared with other states of similar population density. And it tends to produce a lower percentage of the most outstanding players than a large number of states, including several with far fewer players from which to choose.
It is clear the University of Illinois must continue to recruit talent-rich areas of the country to supplement their in-state recruits. They likely can't win consistently on a national stage recruiting only their home state.