10 College Football Teams That Are the Best at Producing NFL Talent

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2014

10 College Football Teams That Are the Best at Producing NFL Talent

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    Former Alabama RB Mark Ingram, now with the New Orleans Saints
    Former Alabama RB Mark Ingram, now with the New Orleans SaintsKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Winning national championships is the top priority in college football, and the programs that put talent in the NFL draft year after year often have an easier time accomplishing those goals.

    It should come as little surprise that mainstays in the top 10 often have their program names littered throughout the professional ranks as well. Being able to send guys to the NFL is critical for recruiting the best players, and in general, teams that recruit well are successful.

    What we're looking for here is a combination of overall number of players in the NFL from each school combined with how successful they've become. For example, Team X may have 45 players who suit up on Sundays, but if 35 of those guys are on scout teams, it may not rank as high as Team Y with 35 players if over half are starters.

    How much is an Andrew Luck worth in the debate? Or an Aaron Rodgers?

    Let's take a look at the top 10 college football teams in producing NFL talent.

    Number of players per school in the NFL via Sporting Charts.

10. Oregon Ducks

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    S Jairus Byrd hangs on the sidelines.
    S Jairus Byrd hangs on the sidelines.USA TODAY Sports

    Oregon isn't "Defensive Back U" by any stretch of the imagination, but the players from the Ducks secondary who've gone on to successful NFL careers are a large part of what puts the program on the map for producing pro talent.

    Consider that Jairus Byrd, Patrick Chung, T.J. Ward and Walter Thurmond all played at the same time for Oregon's team, which has gone from an unknown to a real player in college football over the past 20 years.

    The Ducks have 43 former players in the NFL in 2014. Ten years ago, that number was 17.

    But it isn't just the secondary where pro Ducks are making their money. Kiko Alonso, if he can recover from major injury, looks like a Pro Bowl linebacker for years to come. LeGarrette Blount is still making things happen at running back. Geoff Shwartz and Kyle Long are standouts along the offensive line, as is Max Unger, Pro Bowl center for the Seattle Seahawks.

    Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has been one of the best players at his position for nearly a decade, and it remains to be seen what will happen in the careers of Josh Huff and De'Anthony Thomas, two of the better skill position players to break out in former Oregon coach Chip Kelly's offense.

    There's also a quarterback—Marcus Mariotawho looks to be on his way to the league in six months' time.

    As the new kids on the block, it's still difficult for some to understand how a team like Oregon could crack a list of the best college football teams for producing NFL talent. But the numbers don't lie, and the Ducks' impact on the NFL is a noticeable one.

9. Florida Gators

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    WR/RB Percy Harvin takes a handoff.
    WR/RB Percy Harvin takes a handoff.USA TODAY Sports

    No list of college football teams that produce the best NFL talent would be complete without the Florida Gators. When Urban Meyer took over in 2005, he led the program to a national championship a year later and then again in 2008.

    His teams were known for their athleticism on both sides of the ball, and the result was a number of current NFL players who claim Gainesville as one of the stops on their journeys.

    At the top of the list are the Pouncey twins, Mike and Maurkice, both of whom have had solid careers thus far on the offensive line. Staying on that side of the ball, Percy Harvin and Riley Cooper have done well at receiver, as have Andre Caldwell and tight end Jordan Reed.

    Even though the offense left town with Meyer when he retired, the defense stayed home and has continue to produce at a high level. Ray McDonald, Jon Bostic, Carlos Dunlap, Brandon Spikes and Major Wright were all Gators, but the best among the group may be Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden.

    Don't be surprised to see defensive lineman Dominique Easley become a Pro Bowler in a few years as well.

    Forty-seven NFL players played college football at Florida, and a large portion of that group had a hand in one or both of the national championships the Gators won in the past decade.

    The current direction of the program is undetermined without a head coach, but one thing is for certain: There will always be talent in Gainesville.

8. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Former Georgia great Matthew Stafford now plays for the Detroit Lions.
    Former Georgia great Matthew Stafford now plays for the Detroit Lions.Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Checking in at No. 8 on our list is the last team you'll see here without a national championship to its name since the year 2000.

    On the one hand, that depressing fact isn't going to win me any fans, but it should be looked at with the glass half-full. Despite not winning a national title in recent years, Georgia still produces NFL talent as well as anyone.

    The biggest names in the NFL who went to Georgia are quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver A.J. Green. Stafford has achieved the impossible and turned the Detroit Lions into a respectable franchise that routinely challenges for a playoff spot, and Green is on the short list for best wideout in the game.

    Knowshon Moreno hasn't lived up to his lofty draft position, but anytime a running back can hang around in the NFL for more than a few years, you come away impressed. One player who's vastly outplayed his draft position is former fourth-round pick Geno Atkins, a two-time Pro Bowler at defensive tackle surely on his way to many more.

    Outside of the major names, you have tight end Benjamin Watson, kicker Blair Walsh, safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker John Houston. In total, Georgia has 48 players currently on NFL rosters.

    You'd think that would have resulted in a national title at some point, but there's something to be said for wading through the rough waters in the SEC only to face a team like Alabama in the conference title game.

    By continuing to produce NFL talent, Georgia will ensure that it stays in the national conversation year in and year out.

7. Florida State Seminoles

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    Will QB Jameis Winston be the next FSU great to have success in the NFL?
    Will QB Jameis Winston be the next FSU great to have success in the NFL?Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Florida State is similar to Miami in that its success from the late '90s and early 2000s is still having an impact on Sundays in the NFL, but both programs faded in the middle of the previous decade.

    One major difference, however, is that the Seminoles have made it back to the top and are coming off an undefeated 2013 season that culminated in a national championship.

    Couple that with talented teams over the past three or four seasons, and you'll see why the 'Noles continue to shine on Saturday, Sunday and Monday night. The first and most important name to mention isyou guessed itkicker Sebastian Janikowski, who attended Florida State in the mid-90s.

    Of course, the term ageless wonder doesn't just apply to kickers; otherwise, what would you call San Francisco wide receiver Anquan Boldin?

    Defensive end Darnell Dockett and cornerback Antonio Cromartie are two more former 'Noles who have played at a high level for many years, and they could soon be joined by youngsters Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner, Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner among others.

    It's hard to call the reigning national champions a program on the rise, but with Florida State continuing to edge out rivals in recruiting, head coach Jimbo Fisher and Co. aren't going anywhere.

    With 52 players in the NFL, Florida State is one of the heavyweights. After three straight 12-win seasons, the Seminoles will soon move up this list and perhaps become the No. 1 school at producing NFL talent.

6. Texas Longhorns

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    S Earl Thomas III makes a tackle.
    S Earl Thomas III makes a tackle.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    The Texas Longhorns' fingerprint on the NFL is a little top-heavy, but it's one that is nevertheless felt at almost every position and in every locker room. In this instance, top-heavy is a compliment, as several of the best players at their respective positions can claim Texas as their alma mater.

    Headlining that group is safety Earl Thomas, a player you'll soon need a thesaurus to describe, because we're running out of positive adjectives. He's fast, rangy and as physical as any player regardless of position.

    He's the best player in the vaunted Seattle Seahawks secondary, even with top-tier cornerback Richard Sherman playing alongside him.

    Also in the category of the best of the best is Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, an all-in-one back with excellent agility and breakaway speed.

    Let's not forget a pair of kickers with the ageless great Phil Dawson and the Baltimore Ravens' Justin Tucker. Other recognizable names include cornerback Kenny Vaccaro, quarterback Colt McCoy and linebackers Brian Orakpo and Sam Acho.

    Texas has 42 players in the NFL, which ranks as the 12th-most in college football, but because so many of those players have gone on to contribute in a major way, the Longhorns check in here at No. 6 for producing talent.

5) Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Former Ohio State LB A.J. Hawk makes a play.
    Former Ohio State LB A.J. Hawk makes a play.Harry How/Getty Images

    Ohio State is one of the few schools that hasn't dropped off the map even a little bit over the past 15 years. Aside from a 6-6 campaign in 2011 following the Jim Tressel era, the Buckeyes have been in or around the Top 10 on an annual basis (and that 2011 season was followed up with a perfect 2012).

    What this means is that the NFL has Ohio State players from coast to coast. Recent Buckeyes like running back Carlos Hyde, cornerback Bradley Roby and defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins are simply continuing the tradition started by those that came before them.

    Other players who have had big impacts in the league include wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., linebacker A.J. Hawk, tackle Alex Boone, linebacker James Laurinaitis, center Nick Mangold and countless others. The list goes on and on because the Buckeyes are never down.

    Alabama was down before Nick Saban arrived, Miami has been down for a decade, Texas has been down since the Colt McCoy era and Florida State has been up for only a few years now. But Ohio State continues to dominate the midwest in recruiting and will remain a player in contention for the college football playoff for the foreseeable future.

    With all that success at the college level, it should come as little surprise to see so many Buckeyes doing well in the NFL, and that's not something we expect to look any different 10 years from now.

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    WR Julio Jones stiff-arms a defender.
    WR Julio Jones stiff-arms a defender.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Alabama can't be No. 1 in everything, but being the fourth-best team in producing NFL talent has served the Crimson Tide well in recent years, if three national championships are to your liking.

    Given Nick Saban's penchant for dominating the recruiting world and putting more players than you can count in the NFL, Alabama should be at the top of the list in a few years' time.

    Currently, the Tide have 54 players in the league, ranging from future Hall-of-Famers to role players and everything in between. The players carrying the mantle best are receiver Julio Jones, tackle Andre Smith and linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Dont'a Hightower.

    If you want a reason for why Alabama isn't higher up, it's because a number of top picks either haven't produced yet or can be officially labeled as busts. Mark Ingram recently escaped from this category and is having a great year for the New Orleans Saints at running back, but Trent Richardson is dangerously close to bust territory.

    Players like running back Eddie Lacy are starting to reverse the trend, however, and with each top-five recruiting class Saban puts together, the impact gets greater at the professional level. With Alabama on top of the rankings yet again for the 2015 class, don't expect the Tide's pro talent to decrease in number anytime soon.

3. LSU Tigers

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    Former LSU CB Patrick Peterson makes a play on the ball.
    Former LSU CB Patrick Peterson makes a play on the ball.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    College teams love having the reputation of producing the best talent at a certain position. Penn State is often referred to as "Linebacker U," Purdue has a strong reputation at quarterback and fans of every other school boast about one position more than others, often with little proof to back up the claim.

    LSU is without a doubt "Defensive Back U." and the players it has produced in the secondary go a long way toward the Tigers claiming the No. 3 spot.

    Two of the biggest names in the league are Arizona's Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Cornerback Morris Claiborne may be off to a rocky start in Dallas, but there's a reason he was a top-10 pick.

    Other schools have solid claims to the title (I hear ya loud and clear, Longhorns), but LSU has secondary players littered throughout the league, which only adds to the talent it produces everywhere else.

    Glenn Dorsey is a big name along the defensive line, and rookie receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry look to have long careers ahead of them.

    In 2013, LSU featured quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill, the aforementioned rookie duo at receiver and countless others who are now in the NFL. The Tigers currently have the second-most players in the league with 56.

    That number isn't going to change anytime soon, either, with Les Miles' prowess in recruiting and Louisiana being a hotbed for high school talent and in close proximity to both Texas and Florida. Despite what many would call a down year for the Tigers, LSU remains one of the best at producing next-level talent.

2. Miami Hurrinanes

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    Is LB Denzel Perryman poised to be the next great Miami LB to flourish as a pro?
    Is LB Denzel Perryman poised to be the next great Miami LB to flourish as a pro?Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Miami fans can thank the teams from the late '90s and early 2000s for their program's spot in our rankings of the best college football teams at producing NFL talent. If you go back and look at some of those depth charts, you wonder how the Hurricanes didn't win even more.

    At running back alone, you saw Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore and Najeh Davenport all on the 2001 team, just after the departure of Edgerrin James. In fact, that 2001 team alone produced 37 NFL players, and we're not talking backups and scout-team guys either.

    At tight end, you had Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow. At receiver, you might be familiar with Andre Johnson. Vince Wilfork probably rings a bell, just like Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle and Phillip Buchanon.

    The Miami teams from the previous decade were loaded year in and year out, and while the program hasn't been consistently elite in nearly 10 years, those teams still have an impact in the NFL all these years later.

    Former defensive coordinator Greg Schiano speaks fondly of the talent level on the early-2000s Hurricanes (via Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports):

    "Every now and then you get to coach a great one. That team was littered with great ones. I don't know that there will ever be a team assembled with all that talent again."

    From 2006-13, Miami either tied or held the lead for schools with the most players in the NFL. Given that the team has been unable to challenge for national or even conference titles in recent seasons, that number is going to dip, barring a major influx of talent that sees immediate results in the professional ranks.

    Nonetheless, when you sit down on Sundays and watch players announce their college in the starting lineups, the U remains one of the most common answers, and the Hurricanes continue to pump out serious NFL talent.

1. USC Trojans

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    Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez smiles with the trophy.
    Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez smiles with the trophy.Jeff Golden/Getty Images

    USC earns the top spot because the Trojans not only have the most players in the NFL out of any school in 2014, but it's a distinction they've held or shared for four years running. Numbers don't lie, and everywhere you look, somebody from USC is making a play.

    The first names you think about in association with the Trojans are guys like safety Troy Polamalu and quarterback Carson Palmer. Despite a growing notion that USC quarterbacks are busts, Palmer has endured injuries and team changes to become one of the league's most consistent quarterbacks.

    And while an injury has him sidelined for the remainder of the current season, his play has helped turn the fortunes of the Arizona Cardinals in a major way.

    Mark Sanchez has grabbed the reins of Chip Kelly's offense in Philadelphia, and his career looks more promising than it did a year ago after a disastrous end to his stint with the New York Jets.

    Currently, USC has 58 players in the NFL. That number peaked at 64 in 2011, but it could start to dip in the wake of NCAA sanctions. With the Trojans having limited scholarships available over the past three seasons, the team has had fewer bodies and thus fewer players going pro.

    Still, throughout history the Trojans have been college football's biggest NFL factory with a record 77 first-round picks, six more than Ohio State in second place. From Tyron Smith at left tackle to Clay Matthews at linebacker, USC is still the best college football team at producing NFL talent.