We’re a week away from the draft and, in the coming days, pretty much everyone who talks about football is suddenly a draft expert, much in the same way people who fill out NCAA basketball brackets can inexplicably speak intelligently on SMU’s backcourt having not seen any of their games.
It’s the thing to do – familiarizing yourself with the players who are being touted as the top picks of the draft. More times than not for casual fans, you’re attracted to the names that the Mel Kiper types have projected will be coming to your town on draft weekend. But there are millions of fans out there – some who are far from pushing for Mensa inclusion – who are becoming draft experts. They are the fans of the Southeastern Conference, the unofficial minor league of the NFL.
While it may seem a little simplified, the reality of the situation is that the programs of the SEC are so strong and have such pull that they dominate the NFL draft for the players it provides to the league.
In our own Viking Update mock draft, we currently have 11 SEC players going in the first round, including five from Alabama alone and, by the end of the second round, 19 SEC players are being projected to be off the board.
Other conferences have gone up and down over the last decade. One year, the ACC will compete for the most players brought into the NFL. The next year, the Big Ten takes its shot. Occasionally, a strong Pac 12 draft class will sprout up and contend for the top spot.
Yet, it doesn’t happen. The SEC is the NFL’s farm system and, in many ways, it’s not even close.
For 10 straight drafts, the SEC has provided the most players to the NFL over any other conference and the year-by-year numbers since 2007 are pretty consistent and pretty stunning (41-35-37-49-38-42-63-49-54-51). The 63 players in 2013 represented 25 percent of all players drafted from all colleges in all conferences.
That was a one-year spike, but the bottom line of picks over the last four years, which encompasses a little more than 1,000 college players being drafted, is that one in every five of them came for the 14 schools in the SEC. The other 80 percent come from the other 22 conferences, 239 teams in FBS and FCS football combined.
If anything else, the numbers are growing and staying higher than the previous recent history. In the 10 years that the SEC has held the consecutive record of having the most players drafted, three of the top four have come in the last four years and the other season (2014) tied for fourth place with 2010.
Don’t think the Minnesota Vikings are immune from the lure of the unofficial farm system of the NFL. In the last 10 drafts, the Vikings have selected 17 players from the SEC, two higher than the league average.
As it turns out, with all the exhaustive work that NFL teams do to beat the bushes to hit all the stops along the way – from Alabama to Buffalo to Wyoming to Coastal Carolina, teams employ thousands of scouts and researchers and background checkers to make sure the players they like are going to be model players and model citizens – a rule that can be bent if someone is a really good player.
Like it or not, the next time the NFL faces a challenge from a rival football league, if it was a league created by the SEC to send its players there, it would succeed because, as we will see again next weekend, the SEC is stocking the NFL’s pond with not only the most fish, but the most big fish.