Bigger means better in NFL draft

NFL teams love to talk about scouting all the small colleges, but when it comes time to draft, the larger schools still rule in terms of the number of prospects drafted.

There is plenty of talk in draft circles about the trio of USC linebackers – Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews – that could all potentially come off the board in the first round. While it would be almost without precedent to have three players from the same unit of the same team drafted in the first round, the reality is that the "power conferences" aren't always the ones that produce the most NFL draft picks. That being said, the vast majority of players that come to the NFL are from the big-time conferences and not the small schools and obscure colleges that so many people associate with the middle to late rounds of the draft.

In 2008, all but 61 draft picks came from the six major conferences – the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10 and SEC. But the numbers may surprise you where the Big Ten, viewed as one of the stalwarts of college football, ranked in 2008.

The Big Ten produced 28 draft picks last year, but that was only good enough for fifth place in the conference rankings. Three conferences – the ACC, Pac 10 and SEC – each produced 34 draft picks, while the Big 12 nosed out the Big Ten with 29 selections. The Big East was sixth with 19 draftees.

Beyond that, the numbers fall sharply. Conference USA produced 11 draft picks in 2008, followed by the Mid-American Conference with nine, the WAC with eight, the Mountain West Conference with seven and the Sun Belt Conference with three (Vikings safety Tyrell Johnson was one of them).

Independents accounted for 24 of the remaining 31 draftees and the true diamonds in the rough from small colleges were almost nonexistent. Only five players were drafted from Division I-AA schools and just two players from Division II heard their names called. Nobody from a Division III school was drafted.

While much is made about having scouting staffs that beat the bushes and leave no stone unturned, the reality is that about 70 percent of the players taken in the draft come from the so-called "power" BSC conferences. Despite increasing technology that allows decision-makers from the respective NFL war rooms to see film on any player they may have an interest in, the reality is that the vast majority of players taken are from the high-visibility conferences and players like Tarvaris Jackson, who came from Division I-AA Alabama State, or Tyler Thigpen, whom the Vikings drafted out of Coastal Carolina, are much fewer and far between than it may appear.

Sure, there will be the occasional player taken that comes from an obscure college that the casual fan wouldn't be able to locate on a bet, but by and large, the players the Vikings and the other 31 teams are going to take in less than a month are going to come from the strongest of college football programs. Players from schools like USC, Ohio State, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama likely will dominate the proceedings on draft weekend, not the Coastal Carolina types. There is a lot to be said for scouting programs and having regional scouts covering the smaller conferences, but, in reality, almost all of the players who get taken will be coming from schools that fans recognize and have had a chance to see on TV often during their careers. Despite having increased access to information on players from colleges great and small, when it comes time to make draft selections, teams still tend to go in the direction of the big-time programs and not take chances reaching on small-college stars.

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