Are SEC Players Really More NFL-Ready Than Everybody Else?

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Are SEC Players Really More NFL-Ready Than Everybody Else?
Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

Kyler Murray, who's still a year away from playing a college football game, summed up the SEC as well as anyone.

Murray, a 5-star dual-threat quarterback who committed to Texas A&M for the class of 2015 on Wednesday, offered an interesting perspective on why he chose the Aggies (and, by extension, the SEC), via Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News

"If Johnny (Manziel) would’ve played in the Pac 12, the Big 12, the Big Ten – not that those aren’t good conferences – but (people) might have questioned whether he could do that in the NFL," Murray said. "But it’s such a great league – it’s the NFL of college."

That last phrase—"it's the NFL of college"—is a stand-alone statement. It suggests that if you play and succeed in the SEC, you're well-prepared for life at the highest level of football. 

Murray's statement is backed by ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge, who said over the weekend (via Drew Champlin of al.com) that SEC players are generally more NFL ready than anyone else in college football: 

The Draft has been the great indicator here the last several years of where the most talent is in college football. That's why, up until last year when Florida State won, that the SEC has dominated the national championship picture as well. SEC players, for the most part, are more NFL ready than a lot of players coming from other parts of the country.

There are as many different stories of success and failure in the NFL, for as many different reasons, as there are players. Hall of Famers and Pro Bowlers alike have come from all conferences. They've been drafted in the first round and gone undrafted. Conversely, there's no conference prejudice for busts. 

Ultimately, NFL organizations draft on how well a player grades out relative to fit and position need. 

But is there a trend? Is there something that indicates Blackledge and Murray are on to something?

Bleacher Report compiled statistics for more than 800 players drafted from the five major conferences—the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 (née Pac-10) and SEC—over the last five years (2010-14). Those stats were organized in the following categories: 

— Number of players drafted.
— Number of first-round selections. 
— Number of players who started at least eight games in their rookie seasons.
— Number of players who started at least eight games in one of their first three seasons.
— Number of Pro Bowl selections within a player's first three years. 

These stats will lie to a degree. That's unavoidable. A player could be thrust into starting duty before he's ready because of an injury. Similarly, a player could be selected to the Pro Bowl after someone else turns down an invitation due to injury or because they're playing in the Super Bowl the following week. 

Conference realignment should also be taken into consideration. Take, for example, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, who went sixth overall to the Atlanta Falcons in this year's draft. Matthews began his playing career when the Aggies were in the Big 12. However, he finished his career in the SEC and counts toward that conference's total. 

Bob Levey/Associated Press

Or, take Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who played most of his collegiate career in the ACC at North Carolina State but ended in the Big Ten at Wisconsin as a transfer. 

Size of a conference should be considered, too. The Big 12 only has 10 teams while the SEC has 14. By that alone, the latter churns out more NFL-eligible players each year. 

The idea is to use the stats to paint a picture: Are SEC players really more NFL-ready than anyone else in college football?

(And, yes, we've reached peak offseason form.) 

 

Drafted Players

Players Drafted by Conference (2010-14)
Conference 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 Total
SEC 49 63 42 38 49 241
ACC 42 31 31 35 31 170
Big Ten 30 22 41 29 34 156
Pac-12 34 28 28 31 28 149
Big 12 17 22 26 30 30 125

NFL.com; Kansas City Star

Over the past five years, the SEC is the king of the draft. No argument there. The SEC tops the next-highest conference, the ACC, in total players drafted by roughly 40 percent. Additionally, the SEC nearly doubled the number of players drafted from the Big 12. 

The SEC had the most players selected every year during the timetable. The gap was at its widest in 2013, when the SEC had 63 players selected—19 more than the Big Ten and Big 12 combined. 

Of all the data, this is the most straight-forward chart. The SEC has the most athletes that appeal to NFL clubs, period. 

Three years ago, Jadeveon Clowney was the No. 1 recruit in the nation, according to 247Sports. Though football is a physically and mentally demanding sport that can take years of maturation, Clowney is a rare talent who probably could have left for the NFL after his sophomore season. If top talent is Southern grown and stays in the region, the SEC (and ACC) is going to have the best players every year. It's that simple. 

And with seven SEC schools landing top-10 recruiting classes for 2014, the conference has shown no signs that the talent pool in the South is drying up. 

 

1st-Round Selections

First-Round Selections by Conference
Conference 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 Total
SEC 11 12 9 10 7 49
Big 12 2 3 5 8 9 27
ACC 5 6 3 3 4 21
Big Ten 4 1 4 6 3 18
Pac-12 3 5 4 3 2 17

NFL.com

It's one thing to be drafted. It's another to be drafted in the first round. 

Being one of the first 32 selections is the clearest indicator that a NFL organization believes a player will be a long-term face of the franchise. Furthermore, it also suggests a player should be ready to go in Year 1. It could mean they're the full-time starter or a rotational player learning from a veteran. 

Either way, that first-round selection should, in most cases, expect to see the field. 

That's why the above chart is another indicator that SEC players are considered more NFL-ready. Three times in the past five years, the SEC had double-digit first-round selections. 

The SEC's 49 first-round selections are nearly double what the next-highest conference, the Big 12, has produced in the same span. 

The Big 12 got a boost from significant top-tier talent in 2010 and '11. Since then, however, it has only produced 10 first-round selections, the second-fewest among major conferences.

The SEC is undoubtedly boosted by percentages. With 63 SEC players drafted in 2013, it's not that surprising to see 12 go in the first round—though that's still a remarkable number. However, 11 SEC players went in the first round of this year's draft—roughly 22 percent of the 49 SEC players taken. 

 

Starting in the NFL

Players With At Least Eight Starts By Conference (2010-12)
Conference Average in Year 1 Average by Year 2/3 Difference
Pac-12 27% 40% +13%
SEC 29% 41% +12%
ACC 20% 31% +11%
Big Ten 25% 32% +7%
Big 12 30% 29% -1%

NFL.com

Players With At Least Eight Starts By Conference (2013)
Conference Year 1
Pac-12 36%
SEC 29%
Big 12 23%
ACC 19%
Big Ten 18%

NFL.com

Just because a front office thinks a prospect is NFL-ready doesn't mean he actually is. For every player who lives up to his potential, there's a JaMarcus Russell waiting to happen. 

Generally, though, how do players from certain conferences project in their first three years?

From 2010-12, roughly 29 percent of SEC players who were drafted started at least eight games—or, half of a regular season—during their rookie year. That's second only to the Big 12. By Year 2 and Year 3, 41 percent of those same SEC players started at least eight games in at least one season. That's the most of any conference.  

That's not to say some won't become impact players after three years, or that being a starter in Year 1 is indicative of long-term success. Some will fizzle out of the league for one reason or another—or have already—while others will blossom down the road with the right team, coach or playbook. Injuries should be taken into account as well. 

This is merely a snapshot of how many players have made an instant impact in the NFL. 

USA TODAY Sports
Will Jadeveon Clowney be the SEC's next instant-impact player in the NFL?

Of course, it's not the end of the world if a player isn't starting right away. The odds are against it, actually. From first rounders to undrafted free agents, the NFL presents a serious learning curve for everyone. What NFL teams hope is that high draft picks catch on quickly and, say, lower draft development projects come through.

Sometimes, impact is a matter of depth. Former Stanford running back Toby Gerhart was probably NFL-ready when he was drafted by Minnesota, but he happened to sit behind Adrian Peterson, the best running back of his generation. Expect Gerhart to show he's ready to shoulder the load of Jacksonville's running game this season. 

Contracts can play a factor, too. Quarterback Sam Bradford has been St. Louis' starter since he arrived in the league in 2010, but many would say the jury is still out on him. Obviously, the Rams felt Bradford was NFL ready when they selected him No. 1 overall. With a huge rookie contract, the organization has little choice but to squeeze the most production possible out of him. 

But when it comes to putting impact players on the field within the first three years, no conference has done it better than the SEC. 

 

Pro Bowl Selections

Pro Bowl Selections (Players Drafted From 2010-13)
Conference Total
SEC 16
Big 12 12
Pac--12 9
ACC 5
Big Ten 4

NFL.com

Since the Pro Bowl is nothing more than a touch football game a week before the Super Bowl, its existence is easy to question. Being selected to the Pro Bowl is a nice accolade, but it doesn't quite carry the weight it once did. 

Still, many players will go their entire careers without ever being chosen for one. In that sense, the Pro Bowl can still be a big deal. 

From 2010-13, no conference produced more Pro Bowlers in their first three seasons than the SEC. (Note: Numbers do not reflect multiple pro appearances by a single player.)

Not only are SEC players starting games in the NFL, they're quickly becoming among the best at their respective positions.  


So, are SEC players more NFL-ready than those from other conferences? Looking at the raw numbers, it's hard to suggest otherwise. 

Which Conference Produces the Most NFL-Ready Talent?

Submit Vote vote to see results

The next logical question, then, is this: Why are SEC players more NFL-ready? That's another subject entirely. It's likely a combination of superior talent mixing with great coaching and NFL-friendly schemes. 

But other conferences like the ACC and Pac-12 are showing they can produce plenty of NFL-ready talent, too. It's no surprise, then, that the ACC shares the Southern recruiting hotbed with the SEC while the Pac-12 mines talent-rich California. 

There's also an argument that the Pac-12, from top to bottom, has the best group of head coaches in college football. 

When crowning a champion for NFL factories, though, look no further than the conference that won seven national championships in a row. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. Numbers calculated are courtesy of NFL.com. 

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