Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Which College Teams Have the Most NFL Talent?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterSeptember 1, 2017

Does Alabama have the nation's most NFL-ready roster?
Does Alabama have the nation's most NFL-ready roster?Tom Pennington/Getty Images

If your friends are anything like mine, you spend a good amount of time "debating" which teams will win or lose and which players will succeed and fail. I have a constant group text going with three friends where these debates take form and are often hashed out over beers. 

Why am I telling you this? Because this article will give you and your friends plenty to debate. I'm also afraid to read my Twitter mentions after this. 

"Which colleges have the most NFL draft talent" sounds harmless until you remember that people take their college football fandom more seriously than they do politics and religion. There will be controversy and disagreement, but when looking at the college football landscape, one team clearly stands above the rest. And it isn't Alabama.

Get your angry Twitter replies ready. Here are the 10 schools that have the most NFL draft talent.


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10. Georgia Bulldogs

Good luck finding a running back depth chart that's better than this one. The Bulldogs have two proven backs in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb behind a good young (non-draft eligible) quarterback in Jacob Eason. The talent on both lines is also solid, but it's senior pass-rusher Lorenzo Carter who might be the first Georgia player drafted.

Key Players: RB Nick Chubb, RB Sony Michel, LB Lorenzo Carter, DT Trenton Thompson, CB Aaron Davis, CB Malkom Parrish, DE Jonathan Ledbetter, LB Natrez Patrick, LB Davin Bellamy, G Isaiah Wynn, OT Kendall Baker, TE Jeb Blazevich

9. Auburn Tigers

Baylor transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham has the scouting world talking. If he hits on his massive potential, the Tigers will have another first-rounder under center. It helps that Stidham has a potential All-American, Braden Smith, protecting him on a sound offensive line.

RB Kamryn Pettway of Auburn has NFL-caliber talent.
RB Kamryn Pettway of Auburn has NFL-caliber talent.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Key Players: QB Jarrett Stidham, OL Braden Smith, C Austin Golson, DE Byron Cowart, K Daniel Carlson, LB Tre' Williams, RB Kamryn Pettway, DB Jason Smith

         

8. LSU Tigers

When you scout LSU you pretty much know going in that you'll see a great running back, some good offensive linemen, a dominant pass-rusher or two and at least one NFL player in the secondary. That's what we get this year, too. LSU has two of the top 10 players in the nation in Derrius Guice and Arden Key.

Key Players: DE Arden Key, RB Derrius Guice, CB Kevin Toliver II, CB Ed Paris, DT Christian LaCouture, DT Frank Herron, FB J.D. Moore, G William Clapp, OT Toby Weathersby, RB Darrel Williams, WR D.J. Chark, TE Foster Moreau

       

7. Michigan Wolverines

Jim Harbaugh hasn't been able to secure a Big 10 title yet, but his Michigan teams are consistently churning out a high number of draft picks. Last year's group alone had 11 draft picks. This year could push double digits as well. Here's a reminder that star defensive lineman Rashan Gary isn't draft-eligible yet, and much of the starting lineup consists of freshmen and sophomores.

Key Players: DL Maurice Hurst, OT Mason Cole, C Patrick Kugler, FB Khalid Hill, LB Mike McCray, QB Wilton Speight, QB John O'Korn, RB Ty Isaac, TE Ian Bunting, LB Chase Winovich

             

6. USC Trojans

Quarterback Sam Darnold leads another explosive, talented group of Trojans into the 2018 draft. This is still a young roster with many key contributors not draft eligible under the three-year rule. Running back Ronald Jones might be my favorite under-the-radar player in the entire country.

QB Sam Darnold could be the 2017 draft's No. 1 overall pick.
QB Sam Darnold could be the 2017 draft's No. 1 overall pick.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Key Players: QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones II, DE Porter Gustin, LB Cameron Smith, C Toa Lobendahn, CB Iman Marshall, DT Rasheem Green, G Viane Talamaivao, S Chris Hawkins, S Marvell Tell III, TE Tyler Petite, WR Deontay Burnett, WR Steven Mitchell Jr.

           

5. Florida State Seminoles

The Seminoles are a young bunch full of talent and potential, but there is also a group of players—especially on defense—with legitimate Round 1 skills. There's a reason FSU is ranked No. 3 overall heading into the season.

Key Players: S Derwin James, CB Tarvarus McFadden, DE Josh Sweat, DT Derrick Nnadi, DE Jacob Pugh, OL Rick Leonard, DT Demarcus Christmas, LB Matthew Thomas, LB Ro'Derrick Hoskins, T Brock Ruble, RB Jacques Patrick, S Trey Marshall, TE Ryan Izzo

           

4. Clemson Tigers

The defending national champs lost key offensive playmakers in quarterback Deshaun Watson, receiver Mike Williams, running back Wayne Gallman and tight end Jordan Leggett. But they come back strong in 2017 with a defense that should terrify the ACC and an offensive line talented enough to carry the team early. It's worth noting that one of the most dominant players in the nation plays for Clemson but isn't draft-eligible. We'll talk plenty about defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence next season.

DT Christian Wilkins is the anchor for one of the nation's most loaded rosters.
DT Christian Wilkins is the anchor for one of the nation's most loaded rosters.Chuck Burton

Key Players: DT Christian Wilkins, DE Clelin Ferrell, WR Deon Cain, CB Mark Fields, CB Marcus Edmond, CB Ryan Carter, DE Austin Bryant, DT Albert Huggins, LB Kendall Joseph, LB Dorian O'Daniel, OG Tyrone Crowder, OT Mitch Hyatt, S Van Smith

           

3. Washington Huskies

Despite losing talented secondary members Kevin King, Sidney Jones and Budda Baker to the NFL last season (as well as receiver John Ross and defensive tackle Elijah Qualls), U-Dub has another stacked roster on both sides of the ball. The college talent is better than the draft prospects of many, which could propel Washington to a College Football Playoff berth.

Key Players: DT Vita Vea, LB Azeem Victor, LB Keishawn Bierria, C Coleman Shelton, DT Greg Gaines, LB Connor O'Brien, OT Trey Adams, P Tristan Vizcaino, QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, RB Lavon Coleman, S JoJo McIntosh, TE Drew Sample, WR Dante Pettis, WR Brayden Lenius 

        

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama fell short in the national title game last season but still put 10 players into the 2017 NFL draft. That's an impressive number, but most impressive is that all were drafted in the first four rounds, and four were first-rounders. Nick Saban knows how to build a roster, and the Crimson Tide are once again loaded with NFL talent.

Key Players: S Minkah Fitzpatrick, S Ronnie Harrison, WR Calvin Ridley, CB Anthony Averett, DT Da'Ron Payne, C Bradley Bozeman, G J.C. Hassenauer, CB Tony Brown, DT Da'Shawn Hand, DT Joshua Frazier, LB Christian Miller, LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB Rashaan Evans, G Ross Pierschbacher, P JK Scott, RB Bo Scarbrough, RB Damien Harris, S Hootie Jones, WR Robert Foster, WR Cam Sims

        

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State had seven players drafted last year—six of those in the first three rounds—but is once again loaded on both sides of the ball. Head coach Urban Meyer is an elite recruiter, schemer and developer. The Buckeyes are strong at defensive line, linebacker, cornerback and on the offensive line this season.

LB Jerome Baker leads star-studded cast of talent in Columbus this season.
LB Jerome Baker leads star-studded cast of talent in Columbus this season.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Key Players: LB Jerome Baker, CB Denzel Ward, DT Dre'Mont Jones, C Billy Price, DE Sam Hubbard, RB Mike Weber, CB Damon Arnette, CB Kendall Sheffield, DE Tyquan Lewis, DE Jalyn Holmes, DT Michael Hill, LB Dante Booker, LB Chris Worley, OT Jamarco Jones, QB J.T. Barrett, S Damon Webb, S Erick Smith, TE Marcus Baugh

                

Here's what else is going on this week:

  • Top five matchups to watch in college football Week 1
  • A new philosophy for the Kansas City Chiefs
  • Tanking: It's real
  • Preseason grades on top quarterbacks and a full Top 25 big board
  • Stick to Football Episode 21 with Madden designer Josh Looman

            

The Scout's Report

—Sleeper alert! Kansas pass-rusher Dorance Armstrong Jr. is one of my favorite athletes in the entire class. The dude is long-armed, extremely quick and has the moves to beat tackles off the edge. Based on last year's tape and his athletic upside, Armstrong should be a top-25 pick.

—The Cleveland Browns continue to make moves to overhaul the roster. This week alone Joe Haden was cut, Cameron Erving traded and DeShone Kizer named the starting quarterback. Now, the Browns have an amazing 13 picks accumulated for the 2018 draft. That includes two first-rounders, three second-rounders and one third.

—Said one high-level executive to me about the Browns' acquisition of so many picks, "Doesn't matter if you suck at drafting." That might be true, but you always want as many chances as possible. The NFL draft is like the lottery; you want as many tickets as possible to hit a winner. The Browns have a ton of tickets right now.

The Browns continued their overhaul by jettisoning Joe Haden. Now a Steeler, will he actually help that defense?
The Browns continued their overhaul by jettisoning Joe Haden. Now a Steeler, will he actually help that defense?Joe Robbins/Getty Images

—What should Pittsburgh Steelers fans expect from Haden? Not much. Haden is a shell of his former self and has been exposed in man coverage over the last two seasons. You might be able to cover him up in a scheme that gives plenty of over-the-top coverage help, but he's not a No. 1 corner.

—The Steelers did more than sign Haden this week. On Thursday the team announced a contract extension for general manager Kevin Colbert. Colbert has been with the team since 2000. In a cool nugget of information, Colbert is actually the team's only general manager in its history. Before Colbert, people such as Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II were team president but never held the title of general manager.

The Florida Gators are a team with serious NFL talent, but the university is also facing a crisis after several football players allegedly attempted to defraud the school by using scholarship money placed on debit cards to buy items and then resell them for a profit, per 247Sports. The athletes allegedly later claimed the debit cards were stolen and the activity wasn't theirs. Wide receiver Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett are among 10 players currently suspended, though freshman James Robinson is sitting for an unrelated matter.

—They were listed above but deserve another mention: Ohio State's cornerbacks are the best in the nation. The trio of Denzel Ward, Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette will rival the talented group the team fielded in 2016, which included Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, who each went on to become first-round picks.

—The San Francisco 49ers acquired former first-rounder Laken Tomlinson from the Detroit Lions for a 2019 fifth-round pick, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo. Tomlinson was ranked No. 59 on my 2015 big board and is a better fit for the zone scheme in San Francisco but has to improve his conditioning and focus to make an impact. For San Francisco, it's a chance to strike gold on a cheap, versatile lineman with two years left on his rookie deal. The Lions gain a draft pick for a player they were likely to release.

—The Tomlinson trade is similar to a move the 49ers made in shipping tight end Vance McDonald to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Niners sent McDonald and a fifth-rounder to the Steelers for a fourth-round pick. Here's a case of gaining a round in value for a player the team likely would have released given the play of rookie George Kittle.

TE Vance McDonald is also now in Pittsburgh. Will he upgrade the TE spot?
TE Vance McDonald is also now in Pittsburgh. Will he upgrade the TE spot?Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

—UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen opens his season against Texas A&M in a rematch of last year's game. A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin had a cool quote on Rosen, courtesy of Houston Chronicle reporter Brent Zwerneman: "The more we hit him (last year), the better he got." That's what you want in a quarterback prospect. Rosen is a top-tier talent, but there are questions surrounding the throwing shoulder injury that ended his season early in 2016. 

—Washington linebacker Azeem Victor, one of the top seniors in the nation, has been suspended for the season opener, according to Tim Booth of the Associated Press. Victor is a player whom scouts have told me has "off-field questions" that must be vetted. A suspension for a violation of team rules would seem to back that up.

                   

5 Matchups to Know

Week 1 of college football can be a little crazy. If you want to prioritize a few matchups to watch, here are the top five I'll be checking out.

                

5. Martez Ivey (Guard, Florida) vs. Mo Hurst (Defensive Tackle, Michigan)

Power vs. power in this one. The Florida offensive line should be a strength, but the Michigan defensive line is the best unit on the team. Mo Hurst is a powerful, quick interior lineman and will likely see plenty of matchups against Martez Ivey. Ivey ranks as the top guard prospect for the 2018 draft on my early list.

               

4. Jonah Williams (Tackle, Alabama) vs. Josh Sweat (Defensive End, Florida State)

Left tackle Jonah Williams isn't 2018 draft eligible as a true sophomore, but that doesn't mean we can't focus on how he fares against the speedy Josh Sweat, who is draft eligible now. Sweat has the length and speed to test Williams as he makes his first start at left tackle after moving over from the right side to replace Cam Robinson.    

         

3. Calvin Ridley (Wide Receiver, Alabama) vs. Tarvarus McFadden (Cornerback, Florida State)

The Alabama/FSU game is one I'll watch probably 15 times this season because of the talent on the field. The premier matchup of draft-eligible players will happen outside the hashes when Calvin Ridley and Tarvarus McFadden find themselves lined up across from each other. Ridley has game-changing skills, but McFadden was college football's best ball hawk at cornerback last year. This will be a great battle all night.

                

2. Josh Allen (Quarterback, Wyoming) vs. Josey Jewell (Linebacker, Iowa)

Josh Allen starts his campaign on the road in Iowa City this weekend.
Josh Allen starts his campaign on the road in Iowa City this weekend.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Josh Allen is the presumed No. 1 quarterback for the 2018 class, but to keep that spot he has to cut down on mistakes and improve his decision-making. Attempting to stop Allen will be an All-America candidate at linebacker in Josey Jewell. Allen is a tremendous athlete, so it will be interesting to watch Jewell and the Iow defense attempt to track him down.

            

1. Josh Rosen (Quarterback, UCLA) vs. Armani Watts (Safety, Texas A&M)

As mentioned above, Rosen makes his return to college football against a team that beat the hell out of him last year. Safety Armani Watts will be shadowing Rosen's eyes all game. How well Rosen looks throwing deep routes and bouncing back from big hits will tell us plenty about the state of his shoulder.

              

The Big Board

With the season here, finally, here's a look at my Top 25 players for the 2018 NFL draft. This list will definitely see big changes every few weeks as I break down film, but based on what I've seen and what I've heard from NFL sources, this is where things stand.

Top 25 Big Board
RankPlayerCollege
1QB Josh AllenWyoming
2QB Sam DarnoldUSC
3DE Arden KeyLSU
4OT Connor WilliamsTexas
5DL Christian WilkinsClemson
6RB Saquon BarkleyPenn State
7RB Derrius GuiceLSU
8S Derwin JamesFSU
9QB Josh RosenUCLA
10S Minkah FitzpatrickAlabama
11DE Harold LandryBoston College
12CB Tarvarus McFaddenFSU
13DE Clelin FerrellClemson
14S Ronnie HarrisonAlabama
15LB Jerome BakerOhio State
16CB Denzel WardOhio State
17LB Malik JeffersonTexas
18DE Dorance ArmstrongKansas
19CB Jaire AlexanderLouisville
20WR Deon CainClemson
21WR Courtland SuttonOle Miss
22WR Calvin RidleyAlabama
23WR Christian KirkTexas A&M
24DT Dre'Mont JonesOhio State
25CB Anthony AverettAlabama
Matt Miller

             

Parting Shots

6. Tanking. It happens. It's happening. Whether fans, analysts or those in the NFL want to accept it, I've been told by multiple sources throughout the league that teams are invested in losing this season.

How does this happen?

I've been told for years that tanking in the NFL is impossible for many reasons; like a general manager and head coach's jobs are so hard to acquire that they'd never intentionally lose, or that you can't convince 53 players to put their jobs on the line and lose a game.

Here's a ground-breaking fact, though: You can tank without telling your players to lose games.

If an NFL owner is on board with it and is willing to give the general manager time to blow things up and rebuild the team, then all you'd have to do is let go of talented players willing to help your team win. (I'm pretty sure we've all done this in Madden to land a better draft pick.)

It may not be as defined as "tanking," but the Cleveland Browns essentially did this when Sashi Brown took over the team. Free agents such as Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack were allowed to leave the team in return for extra compensatory draft picks. And even this year we've seen the team ship off Haden in an effort to get younger, cheaper and more flush with picks.

A lot of people will try to tell you tanking won't or can't happen. I'm here to tell you it is happening. 

       

5. The teams potentially tanking in 2017 have a high draft pick in the upcoming class in sight. Most of those franchises will be looking for a quarterback. Many of you have asked on Twitter where "such and such" quarterback is ranked heading into the season, so here's my top 10 list with round grade.

RankPlayerGrade
1Josh Allen, WyomingTop 5
2Sam Darnold, USCTop 5
3Josh Rosen, UCLATop 10
4Luke Falk, Washington St.Late 1st
5Lamar Jackson, LouisvilleRd 2
6Jarrett Stidham, AuburnRd 2
7Nick Fitzgerald, Miss. StateRd 3
8Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma St.Rd 4
9Baker Mayfield, OklahomaRd 4
10Jake Browning, WashingtonRd 5

        

4. There are many of you who don't like J.J. Watt. You feel like he's corny, fake and always looking for the cameras. You can feel that way, but I don't know how you can look badly at a man who's raised over $10.5 million as of Thursday afternoon for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

Watt sat down last week and kicked off his YouCaring site with a $100,000 donation and a goal of $200K. That's been surpassed many times over now. 

What Watt has done for Houston is remarkable.
What Watt has done for Houston is remarkable.Bob Levey/Getty Images

You can make fun of Watt's on-field persona or his mugging for the cameras, but my vote for NFL Man of the Year is already written in ink with his name on it.

        

3. Under former general manager John Dorsey, the Kansas City Chiefs were not an overly active team when it came to trades. They definitely didn't hand out future draft picks for unproven players. That strategy has changed under new GM Brett Veach.

Veach, a first-time decision-maker, has been aggressively flipping draft picks for players. The team sent a 2019 fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Reggie Ragland and a 2018 fifth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for offensive lineman Cameron Erving this week. What do these moves tell us about Veach's philosophy?

A. Too many NFL teams overvalue draft picks. The Chiefs have a talented, young roster and the chances of a fourth- or fifth-rounder's making the team isn't a lock. Trading future draft picks for players who can help right now makes sense.

B. The Chiefs are saving money. Ragland is locked up for three more years as a 2016 second-rounder and Erving has at least two years left on his original deal as a 2015 first-rounder. That's cheap labor.

C. Veach believes the Chiefs can get the most of out of the talent evaluators saw in Erving and Ragland as college prospects. Erving was a first-rounder after playing center and left tackle at FSU, and Ragland was an early second-rounder. There's talent there, and with Andy Reid as head coach there has to be confidence in the team's ability to rehab these careers.

D. What if it doesn't work? Then a young general manager lost fourth- and fifth-round picks. The risk here is small.  

2. Why the increase in trades this season? As one NFL executive explained to me, the new rules that require teams to go from 90 men to 53 in a single day has them working overtime to acquire coveted players now instead of waiting for the waiver process.

It makes sense. If a team wants a player and is afraid it won't get him through waivers (where there is a priority system based on last year's draft order), flipping a late-round pick for him now allows you to lock him up. 

There's also the manpower element. There will be roughly 1,100 players coming available (minus practice squad signings) in a short amount of time. If you're worried you might miss a player or two, trading for them ensures you won't.

        

1. Stick to Football Episode 21 is ready to download—and if you haven't already, go ahead and subscribe! This week, Connor Rogers and I talk to Madden designer Josh Looman about the new "Longshot" mode, changes to the scouting process in the game and how the hell you get a job at Madden. 

And in a classic case of burying the lede, we finish the show with a top 10 mock draft you won't want to miss.

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.