School of Jock: Which Colleges Make NFL Stars

What college football conferences and programs lead the way into the NFL? Here's a deep look into the numbers and some of these findings may surprise you.

NFL Rosters Breakdown Series
Part 1 - Daddy, where are NFL players from?
Part 3 - Drafted vs Undrafted Players
Part 4 - Region by Region Positional Breakdowns
Part 5 - NFL Veterans: Where are they from?
Part 6 – Top NFL Producing High Schools

Since September I have been researching the NFL rosters, digging into all 2,178 players and studying where they are from. On Tuesday I posted my first in a series of articles about where NFL players come from.. This feature looked primarily at the states and the areas and counties within each state as well as per capita numbers for each.

Today I dive into college football and breakdown which college football teams and conferences are impacting the National Football League.

It probably shocks no one that the University of Alabama has the most current players in the NFL. The Crimson Tide lead the way with 48 players. This program has always moved it’s share of talent to the professional ranks, but since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa the numbers have risen dramatically. Over the past three years Alabama has produced 25 draft picks alone. It’s no secret that no one has recruited better than Saban and you see what this program does with all that talent.

The No. 2 team has been a little down of late but this is a program that saw a great run over the last decade. I am referring to USC, who only trail Alabama by two with 46. Under Pete Carroll they were a football factory. They recruited unworldly, won a ton of games and Carroll and company developed a lot of players into professionals. By contrast, Southern Cal has had only 10 guys drafted over the last three seasons. Much of the Trojan alums are Sunday veterans - 32 former Southern Cal players have spent at least three seasons in the NFL.

Remember when Miami ruled college football? It seemed like there was a decade long run of Hurricane-dominated NFL drafts. The ‘U’ takes the No. 3 spot with 44 players from Coral Gables now in the NFL. Like USC, many are of the veteran nature. 24 Miami alums have been in the league for at least three years.

The only surprise with LSU being fourth with 43 players is that they are not a little higher. Les Miles and the Bayou Bengals have produced the fourth most NFL talent currently residing on NFL rosters and would be tied for third had former No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell stuck around. It’s a blend of young player and veterans. LSU has had 24 players drafted over the last three years.

Coming in a No. 5 is the University of Florida. The Gators have 41 alums in the NFL, narrowly edging out arch-rivals Florida State and Georgia who are tied with 39 players. Rounding out the top ten are Texas (36), Notre Dame (35 and Ohio State (34). The next eleven are Cal (33), Tennessee (33), Wisconsin (32), Oklahoma (32), Oregon (32), Stanford (29), Auburn (29), South Carolina (29), Clemson (27) and Penn State (27).

(Click here for the list of all the college programs and the numbers of NFL players they have produced)

1) SEC (384)
Led by Alabama, the SEC has produced 384 currently players on NFL rosters. Eight of the schools (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M) are top 20 producers overall. 83 former SEC players who are currently in the NFL were also first round draft picks. Each program has at least 10 NFL players with Kentucky (12) and Vanderbilt as the only two schools with fewer than15 players on today’s rosters.

2) ACC (299)
Some people may be surprised that Miami and not Florida State lead the ACC. But that trend is changing in a big way. Clemson (29), North Carolina (24), Virginia (24), Virginia Tech (23) and Boston College (20) always seem to do an excellent job of developing players. I remember when Syracuse was a consistent power and they always seemed to have guys littered throughout the NFL. Today that number is only 12. The ACC currently have 63 first round draft picks in the NFL.

3) Big 10 (281)
For all the flack this conference takes about how they have under-performed on the field of late they sure have their share of players in the NFL. In fact, the Big 10 only trails the ACC by 18. The Buckeyes are the current leader with 34 players followed by Wisconsin with 32. Who would have thought that about the Badgers? But they quietly go about their job each and every year and do as good as job as anyone in regards to player development. A ton of credit has to go to former coaches Barry Alvarez and Brett Bielema and their current coach Gary Andersen. Penn State (27) and Iowa (26) are the next two followed by Michigan (24) and Nebraska (24). It’s surprising, at least to me, to see the Wolverines this low. 38 former Big 10 players are currently in the NFL that were former first round draft picks.

4) Pac 12 (262)
As stated above, the Trojans lead the way and it’s by a wide margin. USC has 46 players in the NFL - the next closest team is Cal with 33. The Bears are a surprise at No. 2, especially over a team like Oregon, although the Ducks are just one behind at 32. What an incredible run the Cardinal has been on. Stanford comes in at No. 4 with 29. Then you have UCLA (22), Arizona State (19), Oregon State (19), and Utah. The rest of the league is under 15. The Pac 12 has produced 39 first round picks that are now in the NFL.

5) Big 12 (167)
Of the Power Five conferences the Big 12 is the fifth in terms of NFL players produced. Now in defense of this league they have lost some high quality programs like Texas A&M, Nebraska and Missouri. But hey, the numbers are what they are. Texas and Oklahoma are the two leaders by far, with the Longhorns at 36 and the Sooners at 32. Texas has been on somewhat of a draft drought of late that new head coach Charlie Strong hopes to rectify and fix sooner rather than later. Oklahoma State is surprising distant third with only 18. West Virginia (17) is next followed by TCU (14) and Baylor (13). Expect that Bears number to get a bit larger with what Art Briles is doing in Waco.

Those are the numbers for the Power Five conferences. Notre Dame doesn’t sit inside a conference but they are still a factor at No. 9 overall with 35 NFL players. The Fighting Irish have done a nice job of producing pro talent although they only have five former first round draft picks in the NFL. Another Independent that you have to factor is BYU. The Cougars have only eight players in the NFL.

So if you really go inside the numbers the Power Five conferences plus Notre Dame and BYU currently have produced 1,436 of the 2,178 players currently in the NFL. That’s a percentage of 66%.

So where are the other 34% of the players coming from?

They don’t have a name but I will call these programs and conferences D1/Mid-Majors. It’s the leagues and schools that make up the MAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and Mountain West.

American Athletic Conference (125)
This is what’s left of the former Big East. Cincinnati and UConn are at the top spot with 18 players eachin the NFL. Say what you want about Randy Edsall but he and his staff did an excellent job when they were running the show with the Huskies in regards to developing players. UCF is next with 17 followed by SMU (13) and USF (12). Mountain West (104)
This is a good college football conference with some top flight programs like Boise State (18), Fresno State (17) and San Diego State (15). They are the only schools that have produced 15 or greater NFL players. Some programs like Colorado State (6) and Utah State (6) are on the rise.

Conference USA (72)
No current USA team is sitting in double digits. Louisiana Tech and Marshall each have produced nine NFL players, followed by Southern Miss (8), UTEP (7), West Kentucky (7), and Middle Tennessee State (6). Keep an eye on FIU and FAU from South Florida.

MAC (62)
The MAC checks in next with a grand total of 62 players in the NFL. Headlining this league is Toledo (10), Central Michigan (9), and Kent State (8). Remember this is the conference that has produced guys like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebacker Khalil Mack. Sun Belt (50)
Troy is the only team in the Sun Belt is double digits with 10. They are followed by Appalachian State (9) and Arkansas State (7). App State just received moved up to D1.

So the D1/Mid-Majors total is 413. Then you have an additional dozen from the Ivy League Schools. Now that total grows to 425. Add that figure to the Power Five Conference plus Notre Dame and BYU and you have accounted for 1,861 players in the NFL. That equates to 85.4% of the players.

So where are the other 14.6% of the players coming from?

That’s not a small figure. It’s 299 players - almost five 53 man rosters with complete practice squad teams.

The answer is anywhere and everywhere.

Did you realize that West Texas A&M, a D2 school in Texas, has ten former players currently in the NFL? That’s more than nine programs that sit inside one of the Power Five Conferences. How is that possible?

UMass has produced has ten players in the NFL as well. Hampton has seven. William & Mary has 5. Former 1AA powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern and new startup Georgia State have 16 combined.

Grand Valley State has six! Tennessee State has five. D1 killer North Dakota State has a half dozen.

There are even a handful that didn’t play college football in the states. Five players played in Canada, while one is from England and the other went to the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

Doug Williams once told me”it doesn’t matter where you go it’s what you do when you get there.” The more I am involved in recruiting and study the great game of football the more I believe in what this former football great said because football players can come from just about anywhere.

Part 1 - Daddy, where are NFL players from?
Part 3 - Drafted vs Undrafted Players
Part 4 - Region by Region Positional Breakdowns
Part 5 - NFL Veterans: Where are they from?
Part 6 – Top NFL Producing High Schools

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