High school football prospects choose their colleges for myriad reasons. There is proximity and prestige and, if you're cynical, a cadre of dedicated "bag men" slipping payments under the table.
Even the less cynical among us, however, cannot deny that money plays a motivating factor. Everybody wants to make a healthy living, and for teenagers good enough at football to earn an FBS scholarship, the thought of being drafted into the NFL and cashing a seven- or eight-figure paycheck is hard to set aside.
But where would a player like that be best served?
Coming out of high school, which schools have done the best job taking signed players, coaching them up, putting them in a position to succeed, training them for the rigors of the draft process—both on the field and off—and shipping them away to the NFL?
That is what we set out to find before this weekend's NFL draft, albeit with a few stipulations.
Namely, we did not count players who transferred into the program from another FBS school or out of the program at all.
This was done in part because of logistics, as there is no good way to quantify which school "developed" the player more, but also because it is not necessarily what we're looking for.
What we're looking for are programs that started the job and finished it, that are telling the truth when they harp to a prospect about their rich history of nurturing talent.
Starting with the 2007 NFL draft—which in many (but not all) cases was the first entered by players from the recruiting class of 2003—only 21 FBS schools have had 25 or more players drafted.
Those teams are, in alphabetical order:
Alabama, California, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Iowa, LSU, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Nebraska, UNC, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn State, South Carolina, Texas, USC and Virginia Tech.
But how does this group stack up beyond that?
Let's take a look and find out.
The Overall Leaderboard
Pete Carroll can't stop winning things.
Although USC has had just seven players drafted the past two seasons, its dominance in the early and middle part of last decade was so profound that it still came out atop the list of overall drafted players by a healthy margin:
|Players||Avg. Draft Position (ADP)||ADP Rank (out of 21)|
|t-6. Ohio State||35||126.5||18|
|t-9. Florida State||30||116.6||10|
|t-11. Miami (Fla.)||29||108.3||7|
|t-14. Penn State||27||115.3||8|
|t-14. Notre Dame||27||118.8||11|
|t-14. South Carolina||27||152.0||21|
|t-18. North Carolina||25||96.1||3|
|t-18. Virginia Tech||25||119.2||t-12|
The schism in USC's draft numbers is obvious, occurring predictably around the time Carroll left for the NFL and the program was hit with scholarship restrictions for committing NCAA violations.
Carroll's replacement, Lane Kiffin, recruited well considering the situation he inherited, but he did not develop his own or Carroll's leftover talent the way his forerunner did. That left USC relying mostly on two huge draft classes to finish this study on top.
By contrast, the two teams behind USC were paragons of consistency.
LSU had six players drafted in three consecutive years between 2009 and 2011 and an average of six for the five-year span that sandwiched it (with seven players drafted in 2008 and five in 2012).
Georgia, meanwhile, was tied with Clemson for the smallest range in the top 10, never finishing with more than eight or less than four players selected—and doing both of those things exactly once.
There are different ways to dominate a decade, especially with the waxing and waning so many programs experience over 10 years.
Which means, of course, that the overall leaderboard does not tell the entire story. We can decipher part of what happened the past decade by looking at it, but not everything.
In order to do that, we must dive even deeper.
The Star Raiser
If you live anywhere but Tuscaloosa, Ala., it is frustrating to watch what Nick Saban does in recruiting. His past four classes have ranked first, first, first and first in the country on the Rivals.com (and 247Sports) team rankings and featured 16 5-star recruits.
This has not been happening for no reason. The bluest of blue-chip prospects are not merely charmed by Saban's accent or engaging in some follow-the-leader sort of groupthink; they are noticing a trend.
A trend the school has not been shy about flaunting:
Alabama pitches itself as a school that can make players money. Big whoop. So do a lot of schools. Is it actually telling the truth?
In short, the answer is yes. At every level. But at the 5-star level in particular—the level where Saban cleaned up by landing six commitments this cycle—the answer is yes resoundingly:
|Signed*||Drafted*||Draft % (Rank)||ADP (Rank)|
|USC||29||15||51.7 (7)||69.3 (5)|
|Florida||20||11||55.0 (6)||52.6 (3)|
|Alabama||11||7||63.6 (3)||21.6 (1)|
|Texas||8||6||75.0 (1)||93.5 (7)|
|Michigan||9||6||66.6 (2)||117.0 (9)|
|Notre Dame||10||6||60.0 (4)||63.0 (4)|
|Florida State||9||5||55.6 (5)||147.0 (10)|
|Ohio State||10||5||50.0 (8)||48.4 (2)|
|LSU||15||5||33.3 (10)||95.8 (8)|
|Georgia||10||4||40.0 (9)||73.3 (6)|
Source: Sports-Reference / Rivals.com
*Note: Does not include players that entered the 2006 NFL draft, players that entered the 2014 NFL draft or players that are still on the team.
Earlier this year, I took a look at how 5-star prospects have fared in the NFL since the first Rivals.com class in 2002. On pure draft rate, ignoring where they are picked and how well they play, I found that they are selected at a 52.8 percent clip—or at least that that was the case up through the recruiting class of 2008.
That Saban succeeds almost 11 percent more often is good, although the sample size is hardly ideal. However, that is not what makes this chart so remarkable. It's the part about average draft position.
Of the teams with at least three 5-star prospects drafted, none came even close to Alabama's ADP (average draft position) of 21.6. The nearest was Ohio State with an ADP of 48.4, which was still more than two times worse.
What's more, Alabama's draft position numbers actually look better when you examine the players in question:
|Recruiting Class / Draft Class||Round||Overall Pick|
|OT Andre Smith||2006 / 2009||1||6|
|WR Julio Jones||2008 / 2011||1||6|
|RB Trent Richardson||2009 / 2012||1||3|
|CB Dre Kirkpatrick||2009 / 2012||1||17|
|CB Dee Milliner||2010 / 2013||1||9|
|OT D.J. Fluker||2009 / 2013||1||11|
|LB Nico Johnson||2009 / 2013||4||99|
Source: Sports-Reference / Rivals.com
Nico Johnson is a manifest outlier, holding back the other six players on the list. Without him, this number would go from impressive to incredible—and he wasn't even drafted outside the top 100!
Excluding Johnson, none of the other 5-star recruits Alabama has had drafted since Saban arrived have gone outside the top 20, and five of six have gone inside the top 11. Their six-man ADP is 8.7.
This year, Alabama has safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and tackle Cyrus Kouandjio entered in the draft as former 5-stars. Their selections will likely bring that score down on aggregate—B/R's Matt Miller has them going No. 13 and No. 37 overall in his big board-based mock draft—but the difference should be negligible, and they will further increase the sample size and pump up Alabama's draft ratio to 9-of-13 (69.2 percent).
So when the next 5-star prospect commits to Alabama, try to empathize before harassing him, casting him aside as a no-good front-runner and swearing him your lifelong enemy.
Would you have the chutzpah to turn down such great odds at making it? To turn down such great odds at making millions?
All I did was commit to a university to get my education and pursue my dreams but a whole city gone try and treat me like I'm satan #Really— WareWolf (@616evans4) February 11, 2014
"It's grown men. They are asking me why I did this to them," Evans said of all the backlash, according to Evan Bone of TideSports.com. "I told them I had to do what is best for me."
Auburn, for the record, did not even make this list.
The Quiet Giant
How on Earth did North Carolina make this list?
That's a fair question.
Especially if you look at the notable omissions—teams such as Auburn, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Stanford, UCLA and Texas A&M—it befuddles to think the Tar Heels are grouped up with the Alabamas, LSUs and USCs of the world in terms of talent production.
They aren't just grouped with them, either; in some ways, they actually exceed them. Not in terms of overall draft picks, of course, but of where those draft picks came from and what part of the draft they were selected in:
|Drafted (Rank)||ADP (Rank)||Top-90 (Rank)|
|Overall||25 (t-18)||97.6 (3)||14 (t-6)|
|4-Stars||7 (t-19)||42.3 (1)||7 (8)|
|3-Or-Less-Stars||17 (4)||120.9 (10)||6 (t-3)|
UNC churns out top-90 selections like almost no team in the country.
Despite ranking toward the bottom of the list with only 25 overall draft picks—the minimum requirement for inclusion—it is tied with Oklahoma with the sixth most top-90 draft picks since 2007. The only teams it trails are Alabama, Florida, LSU, Texas and USC.
Below is a small sampling of teams that did not produce as many top-90 draft picks as North Carolina, along with their average Rivals.com recruiting ranking between 2003 and 2010:
|Avg. Class Rank||Top-10 Classes||Top-5 Classes||Top-90 Draft Picks|
Source: Sports-Reference / Rivals.com
This contrast is not meant as a hard scientific data point. A small few of the prospects from these classes declared for the NFL draft before 2007 or are still in school, so the entire sample was not studied.
Rather, the contrast is meant to merely nudge at the disadvantage UNC was dealing with. Even if you allow for some small margin of error, there is no denying the chasm between what kind of talent the Tar Heels recruited and what kind of talent Georgia, Florida State, Miami and Michigan dealt with on a yearly basis.
And yet North Carolina pumped out more guys at the top end of the draft. Also, since they didn't have a single player drafted in 2007, the Tar Heels did all of this with a year shaved off the top. They were consistently able to turn lesser prospects into higher draft picks.
If the premise of this piece was "Teams that produced the most NFL draft picks in the last 10 years," USC would be the obvious leader with teams such as Georgia, LSU and Alabama filing in close behind.
But that's not the premise of this piece. The premise of this piece is "Teams that developed the most NFL draft picks in the last 10 years," and in that case, North Carolina deserves a tip of the cap.
(For that matter, so too does Iowa, which led all teams with 24 drafted players that were neither 4-star prospects nor 5-star prospects. The next highest total was 18.)
The Final Word
So what do we take away from all this?
Well, there was a pretty distinct top five—USC, LSU, Georgia, Alabama and Florida—that produced the most draft picks since 2007.
Those teams put themselves at an obvious advantage by recruiting well, but there is still something to be said for pumping out five or six NFL draft picks each season.
We all know that recruiting rankings aren't gospel. This was proved further down the list by teams such as North Carolina, Iowa and even California, who consistently out-developed their rankings and produced draftable players. Those teams have combined to go 31-43 the past two seasons but still have 12 draft picks projected between them in Miller's seven-round mock.
Since 2007, in fact, Iowa has had more 3-star recruits (or worse) drafted than Auburn has had players drafted, period.
Auburn, meanwhile, has made two BCS National Championship Games and won a national title since 2010.
Ideally, a player wouldn't have to choose between winning games in college and fostering his draft stock. Logically, one of those things should kind of follow the other.
In reality, things aren't always so simple.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT