Power Ranking the 25 Schools with the Most 1st-Round NFL Draft Picks
College football fans often look to their favorite program's success at placing players in the NFL as a point of pride. There's certainly no shortage of pride running around college football these days, but with the 2013 NFL draft on the horizon, we thought it might be a good idea to look back at which programs not only see their players drafted, but drafted early on Day 1.
There has been a draft of sorts going all the way back to 1936, when the University of Chicago's Jay Berwanger was selected by the Eagles as the first overall pick in the very first draft.
But in the nearly eight decades that have followed, college programs from around the nation have developed into pro player factories as others waned, or—like Chicago—gave up football altogether.
Attending a school that spits out first-rounders is by no means a guarantee of success at the next level, but pro scouts have learned to pay close attention to the talent at the programs appearing on our power ranking list of schools with the most first-round picks in the NFL draft.
T-No. 24: Clemson
First-Round Picks: 23
We begin with Clemson, who beats out Arkansas by one player and ties Arizona State for the No. 24 spot on our list.
The first Clemson player to ever hear his named called in the first round of the NFL draft was Banks McFadden, who was selected by the Brooklyn Dodgers—not to be confused with the baseball team of the same name.
Most recently, C.J. Spiller was selected ninth overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 2010 NFL draft.
Note: Clemson's total of 28 includes Kevin Mack, selected No. 11 overall in the 1984 special supplemental draft of USFL and CFL players. All subsequent teams also have their 1984 special supplemental draft selections included in their totals.
T-No. 24: Arizona State
First-Round Picks: 23
Arizona State also comes in at No. 24 with 23 first-round picks in its history. The Sun Devils got a late start in placing players in the first round, the first coming in 1964 when Carhley Taylor was selected third overall by the Redskins.
The Sun Devils are in the midst of a dry spell, however, with the last first-round pick coming in 2003 when Terrell Suggs was selected by the Ravens.
T-No. 22: Pittsburgh
First-Round Picks: 24
Coming in at No. 22—tied with Colorado—is Pittsburgh.
The history of Pitt in the first round stretches back to 1961, when legendary coach Mike Ditka got his NFL playing career underway with his selection by the Bears. Wide receiver Johnathan Baldwin was the most recent Panther taken in the first round, in 2011 as the No. 26 overall selection by Kansas City.
Pittsburgh has never had a No. 1 overall pick, but it does have a pair of No. 2 and a pair of No. 3 overall selections.
T-No. 22: Colorado
First-Round Picks: 24
Colorado also squeaks onto our list with 24 first-round picks in NFL history. The Buffaloes have been placing players in the NFL since early in its history, and the first Colorado gridiron star selected in the first round was Byron White, a back who was selected fourth overall by the Steelers way back in 1938.
Like Pitt, Colorado has never had a top overall pick, but in-state rival Colorado State's Gary Glick went first in the 1956 NFL draft. Of course, the Rams have since had only four others selected in the first round.
No. 21: California
First-Round Picks: 26
Next up is California. The Golden Bears, despite a recent lack of championship success, were once a national power, and players from Berkeley have long been sought by NFL coaches.
Cal's first player to be selected in the first round was Les Richter, who was selected by the New York Yanks in the 1952 NFL draft as the No. 2 overall selection.
Cameron Jordan was selected in the first round in 2011, and the Bears have Steve Bartkowski to their credit, the No. 1 selection in the 1975 NFL draft—along with a handful of top-five picks.
No. 20: Wisconsin
First-Round Picks: 27
Beating out Cal by one selection for our No. 20 team is our first of many Big Ten representatives, Wisconsin. Like many Big Ten programs, Wisconsin began making its mark on the NFL very early on, and the rate of top talent emanating from Madison doesn't show much sign of slowing anytime soon.
Eddie Jankowski led the charge in 1937 as the No. 9 selection. He has been followed by a plethora of first-round talent that includes Joe Thomas (No. 3 in 2007), Paul Gruber (No. 4 in 1988) and Pat Harder (No. 2 in 1944).
Note: Wisconsin's total also includes Elroy Hirsch, selected No. 5 overall in the 1945 draft. Hirsch played for both Wisconsin and Michigan, and all players having played for multiple programs are included in both programs' totals on this list.
T-No. 17: Texas A&M
First-Round Picks: 28
Starting off a triad of teams tied at 28 first-round selections is our first SEC program, Texas A&M. Although it's probably not fair to call A&M a true SEC program on this list (as the 2013 NFL draft will be the first with A&M as an SEC program), rest assured that both the SEC and Big 12 will be well represented later in our power rankings.
Of the 28 players taken by various NFL franchises in the first round, none have been the first overall selection. Four Aggies, Von Miller (2011), Quentin Coryatt (1992), John David Crow (1958) and John Kimbrough (1941) have all gone second in their respective drafts.
Kimbrough was also the first Aggie to hear his name called in the first round. Ryan Tannehill is the most recent as the No. 8 pick in 2012.
T-No. 17: Georgia
First-Round Picks: 28
Georgia is our first “true” SEC program with any draft history, and the race between the Aggies in the West Division and Bulldogs in the East is just heating up.
The Bulldogs made quite an impact on the NFL with their first first-round selection in 1943 when running back Frank Sinkwich was the first overall pick by the Detroit Lions. Two seasons later, Charley Trippi, the second first-round selection out of Georgia, also went No. 1 in the 1945 draft, this time to the Cardinals.
Harry Babcock also went No. 1 in 1953 to the 49ers, and the Lions made their second No. 1 pick from Georgia in 2009 by snagging Matthew Stafford.
The Bulldogs may not have a monopoly on first-round talent, but Georgia is clearly making its mark on the history of the No. 1 slot on draft day.
T-No. 17: Auburn
First-Round Picks: 28
We'll make it an SEC trifecta for the No. 17 slot with Auburn matching conference foes Georgia and Texas A&M with 28 selections.
Cam Newton's No. 1 overall selection in 2011 is probably fresh in everyone's memory, but he was the fourth top pick from Auburn, joining Tucker Frederickson (1965), Bo Jackson (1986) and Aundray Bruce (1988).
No. 16: UCLA
First-Round Picks: 30
The UCLA Bruins are once again climbing back atop the conference standings, and the two-time defending Pac-12 South Division champs make our list at No. 16 with 30 all-time selections inf the first round of the NFL draft.
UCLA's first player to be chosen in the draft's first round was Cal Rossi back in 1946 by the Redskins as the No. 9 selection. Interestingly enough, Rossi was then completing his junior season, and under rules in place at the time, was not eligible to be selected.
Washington lost that selection, but again selected Rossi—this time No. 4 overall—in the 1947 NFL draft, making Rossi the first and one of only a small handful of players ever to hear his name called twice. He's also the only first-round selection with that distinction.
UCLA has had just one top overall selection in its history, the legendary Troy Aikman, selected by Dallas in 1989.
No. 15: Michigan State
First-Round Picks: 33
Back to the Big Ten with our No. 15 team, the Spartans of Michigan State.
Sparty has been making an impact on the NFL draft since the early days, with the great Sid Wagner earning an inaugural draft selection in 1936 as the No. 8 overall pick by the Detroit Lions (although Michigan State was not then a member of the Big Ten).
Interestingly, MSU beat out Big Ten powers like Michigan and Ohio State when it came to first-round picks. Ohio State didn't place a name in the first round until 1938, and Michigan didn't see its first player drafted in the first round until 1941.
Michigan State's biggest single impact came in the 1967 NFL draft. That season, MSU players were selected No. 1 overall (Bubba Smith), No. 2 overall (Clint Jones), No. 5 overall (George Webster) and No. 8 overall (Gene Washington).
The Spartans are in the midst of a bit of a dry spell, however. The last Spartan to hear his named called in the first round was Charles Rogers in 2003 (No. 2 overall).
No. 14: Nebraska
First-Round Picks: 34
Just ahead of MSU is fellow Big Ten and former Big 12 program Nebraska. The Huskers, as one might expect, have a long history with the NFL draft.
Nebraska made a bang with its first player selected. Sam Francis was picked by the Eagles No. 1 overall in the 1937 draft and was joined by Francis Irving in 1984 as the two Cornhuskers taken first in their respective drafts.
Between 1984 and 1998, eight of 11 Huskers selected in the first round were selected in the top 10, and Nebraska's ability to produce top NFL talent hasn't waned much since the glory years of the 1990s.
No. 13: LSU
First-Round Picks: 35
Back to the SEC with mighty LSU, coming in at No. 13 on our power rankings with 35 all-time first-round selections.
Having placed players in the first round of the NFL draft—and top 10—since the 1940s, LSU's pro-talent output isn't a new phenomenon. Since Steve Van Buren headed off to Eagles in 1944, pro scouts have become very familiar with the Tigers.
Since 2000, LSU has placed 12 of its stars in the NFL via the first round, and half of those have been top-10 draftees. LSU littered the 2007 NFL draft with a whopping four first-round picks.
T-No. 11: Penn State
First-Round Picks: 36
The Big Ten is up again with Penn State (although Penn State didn't join the conference until the 1990s, playing as an independent before that). Penn State didn't make its first contribution to the NFL draft's first round until 1956 with Lenny Moore, but that makes its spot at No. 11 all the more impressive.
Even today, Penn State players are littered throughout the NFL, and the Nittany Lions are still capable of producing some great NFL talent. If that trend continues through what are sure to be some lean NCAA sanction-laden years remains to be seen.
T-No. 11: Florida State
First-Round Picks: 36
Also coming in at No. 11 is the mighty Florida State. It's probably not a shock to see a plethora of Seminoles listed as first-round selections, but FSU wasn't among the programs making such a claim until 1969. In just over 40 years, Florida State has placed 36 of its players in the NFL via first-round selections, and that's not easy to do.
Florida State has never had a No. 1 overall pick, but several have come close. Most recently, quarterback Christian Ponder was selected No. 12 overall in the 2011 NFL draft.
No. 10: Michigan
First-Round Picks: 42
We've made it to our top 10, and from here on out, it's only the usual suspects when it comes to “first-round talent.”
The Michigan Wolverines are the harbinger of the best programs in the land, and players from Ann Arbor have been finding their way to the pros via the first round since 1941 when the great Tom Harmon was selected as the top overall pick by the Chicago Bears.
Sixteen other players have gone in the top 10, including fellow No. 1 pick Jake Long in 2008.
T-No. 7: Texas
First-Round Picks: 43
The Texas Longhorns are next on the list, coming in with 43 first-round picks, good enough for a tie for seventh on our list. Since Orban "Spec" Sanders became the first Longhorn to be drafted in the first round in 1942, Texas players have been a mainstay in the pro ranks.
Linebacker Tommy Nobis was the first No. 1 overall pick from the University of Texas back in 1966, and he was later joined by Earl Campbell (1978) and Kenneth Sims (1982) to receive that honor.
Texas's recent slide from national prominence has led to a drought of sorts for the Longhorns in the first round. The last player from Texas to hear his name called in the first round was Earl Thomas, the No. 14 overall pick in 2010.
T-No. 7: Tennessee
First-Round Picks: 43
Tennessee also comes in at No. 7 with 43 first-round picks, but like their counterparts from the University of Texas, the Volunteers of Tennessee haven't had a single player drafted in the first round since 2010.
Tennessee has had two players drafted No. 1 overall: George Cafego (1940, also Tennessee's first first-round selection) and Peyton Manning (1998).
T-No. 7: Oklahoma
First-Round Picks: 43
Texas and Oklahoma compete furiously in pretty much everything imaginable, so it's perfectly fitting to have the Sooners come in with 43 first-round picks—tied with the Longhorns.
Like the other programs tied with 43 selections, Oklahoma hasn't placed a player into the NFL via the first round since 2010, but that year was a banner draft for the Sooners. Three of the top four players selected were taken from Oklahoma—including top overall pick Sam Bradford—and a total of four Sooners were taken in the first round.
Bradford was the third No. 1 pick in Oklahoma history, joining Lee Roy Selmon (1976) and Billy Sims (1987).
No. 6: Florida
First-Round Picks: 44
Coming in just one pick out of the top five on our list is mighty Florida. The Gators have placed players into the NFL through early first-round picks since 1945, when Paul Duhart was selected No. 2 overall by the Steelers.
Florida's first four first-round selections were all taken in the top 10, but Duhart is the closest any Gator has come to the top of the draft board—no Gator has ever been selected No. 1 overall.
No. 5: Alabama
First-Round Picks: 45
Alabama made an early impact on the NFL draft's first round when Riley Smith was selected No. 2 overall in the very first NFL draft in 1936 by the Boston Redskins—one season before the franchise moved to Washington, DC.
After a more than a decade without a single first-round pick, Alabama next produced Harry Gilmer, who went No. 1 overall in the 1948 draft. The first seven first-rounders from Alabama were all top-10 selections, but Gilmer is still the only Crimson Tide product to be the top overall pick in any NFL draft.
With Alabama's recent success, however, it's not surprising that recent first rounds have been littered with young men who once suited up for the Tide.
Alabama's Andre Smith was selected No. 6 overall in the 2009 draft—breaking a streak of eight seasons for the Crimson Tide without a first-round pick. Since then, Alabama players have accounted for two first-round selections in 2010, four in 2011 and four in 2012.
No. 4: Miami (FL)
First-Round Picks: 59
From No. 5 to No. 4 on our list represents a quantum leap in first-round talent production.
The Miami Hurricanes, coming in with the No. 4 spot, best Alabama's output by nearly 15 selections throughout history. Miami may not be having the same kind of on-field success these days that Alabama is enjoying, but the Hurricanes have shown a nearly unmatched staying power when it comes to attracting and developing premiere NFL talent.
Miami began placing players in the first round of the NFL draft back in 1952, when Jim Dooley was selected No. 8 overall by the Chicago Bears.
Vinny Testaverde was the top pick in the 1987 NFL draft, and Miami's first-round fortunes really skyrocketed after that season. Russell Maryland was selected No. 1 overall in the 1991 draft, and there have been a total of 17 top-10 selections over the years for the 'Canes.
With NCAA sanctions taking a toll on Miami, one wonders if the hectic pace can be maintained, but the Miami name still carries weight with NFL scouts, and Kenny Phillips, the No. 31 overall pick in 2008 and the last Miami player taken in the first round, likely won't be the last we hear of Miami.
No. 3: Notre Dame
First-Round Picks: 62
It shouldn't surprise anyone that a college football program like Notre Dame finds its name near the top of any power ranking list that has to do with producing NFL talent. The Fighting Irish have produced a whopping 62 first-round picks over the years, enough to fill more than an entire NFL regular-season roster.
Notre Dame's representation in the first round of the NFL draft joins Alabama, Iowa and West Virginia as the only programs to have had a player selected in the first round of both the first draft in 1936 and the most recent 2012 NFL draft. Believe it or not, a guy named William Shakespeare was selected by the Steelers in 1936 out of Notre Dame as the No. 3 overall selection.
Notre Dame's first 23 first-round players were all taken in the top 10, and the first 25 were taken in the top 11.Notre Dame has also had an amazing five No. 1 selections.
Notre Dame's recent return to the upper echelon of college football means that the Irish's numbers will continue to grow over the years, and in time, they could even make a push for the No. 1 spot on this list.
No. 2: Ohio State
First-Round Picks: 67
The Big Ten may be considered by many to be in the midst of a downturn, but when it comes to manufacturing talented players that pro teams want to employ, there's no arguing against history.
Ohio State leads the conference and comes in No. 2 nationally when it comes to first-round talent. The Buckeyes may be poised to do the conference proud in the near future coming off of a 12-0 season in 2012.
Ohio State missed out on the first couple of first rounds in the NFL draft, but in 1938, Jim McDonald became the first Buckeye selected in the first round when the Eagles took him No. 2 overall.
Ohio State's first 11 first-round selectees were taken in the top 10, but it wasn't until 1979 that the Buckeyes could claim their first No. 1 overall pick in Tom Cousineau. Since then, Dan Wilkinson (1994) and Orlando Pace (1997) have joined the club of players taken as the top overall pick in the NFL draft.
No. 1: USC
First-Round Picks: 77
At long last, we've come to our No. 1 college football program, at least when it comes to producing first-round talent.
The University of Southern California has long been a mecca of college football in the West.
Carson Palmer (2003) was the last Trojan to go first overall in the draft, but he joins four others, joining Notre Dame as the only program to have produced five No. 1 draft picks.
All told, USC has had 77 of its players drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, 10 more than second-place Ohio State.
While USC is struggling through the Lane Kiffin era, it's doubtful the Trojans will find themselves downtrodden for long. USC is a program that can essentially recruit itself, and some of the nation's best college talent is still found at Southern Cal today.
Predicting the future is hard, but we're willing to bet USC will sit atop our power rankings of the schools with the most first-round NFL draft picks for many years to come.
Follow @davidrluther on Twitter!
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!