Ranking the 10 States with the Most Talent in College Football Right Now
There is a Big Four of college football talent hotspots, and then there's everybody else.
Just when you think things may change, the stats prove the more the sport shifts, the more the prospect-rich areas remain the same. Those, of course, are California, Florida, Georgia and Texas.
If you're building a dominant program, it begins with blazing a trail into those fertile grounds.
But which state has the crown?
We analyzed the top 100 players from the past two 247Sports composite recruiting classes, 100 of the best players returning to school in 2019 and mock drafts (by B/R's Matt Miller and Steve Silverman) to judge talent and gather the players' home states.
The NFL mock draft element is a new factor, but it doesn't change a lot of the top 10. Eight of the 10 representatives from a season ago are back on the list—though the order has shifted.
Let's rank the states that have produced the most talent in college football in the past few years.
New to the ranking is Arizona, and it's a surprising representative.
The state had 10 players make the list, and there's more star power from the desert than many realize. The NFL draft will feature prominent Arizona natives in Washington defensive back Byron Murphy and Arizona State playmaking receiver N'Keal Harry.
When you factor in a stud quarterback like Oklahoma signee Spencer Rattler, it's clear the talent well isn't drying up, either. Texas went into the state and plucked receiver Jake Smith, who could turn into an instant-impact prospect.
Everyone in the nation will covet 5-star cornerback Kelee Ringo in the 2020 class, and while the local schools haven't been assured of nabbing in-state talent, Arizona's Kevin Sumlin and Arizona State's Herm Edwards can build a good base just by keeping a good chunk of the '20 group around.
Recruiting analyst Blair Angulo of 247Sports recently labeled Ringo (the nation's No. 2 cornerback) as the "most physical" defensive back at the Pylon Vegas camp event. Running back Bijan Robinson is a dynamic player in the '20 class.
There will never be enough talent to outfit an entire college roster from the state, but there's been a surprising uptick of prospects in the past few years. The Pac-12 needs to do a better job of keeping its talent.
If that happens, the league could enjoy a resurgence.
Ohio normally produces waves and waves of talent, so it's surprising to see this state down compared to where it's been in recent years.
In last year's rankings, Ohio was eighth, so it didn't drop much. Still, the powerhouse Ohio State Buckeyes are increasingly having to go out of state to recruit.
The school does have some studs from Ohio, though, such as NFL draft entrant Parris Campbell, who could go in the first couple of rounds after a stellar final season in Columbus as Dwayne Haskins' top target. Former Ohio State defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones is another example.
An additional potential homegrown star will arrive in defensive end Zach Harrison, the nation's No. 12 overall player, who could be a force right away. Elite offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. is an OSU pledge in the 2020 class, as well.
"The 2020 class in Ohio is top-heavy, so there isn't a lot of depth," BuckeyeGrove.com's Marc Givler told Rivals.com's Adam Gorney and Mike Farrell. "In 2021 is where you're really going to see the increased intensity in Ohio because there is a lot of depth already, there are eight or 10 guys that could be Ohio State-caliber that have already put great sophomore years together."
But there are plenty of budding stars and those who've already made it from the state elsewhere.
Iowa State running back David Montgomery could be one of the first three or four runners taken in this year's draft, and he is a Cincinnati native.
The college level has several returnees who could be All-Americans and are Ohio natives, such as Michigan State middle linebacker Joe Bachie and cornerback Josiah Scott, two guys who are expected to carry the Spartans.
The state of Maryland doesn't have a ton of playmakers in college, but the ones it has and the ones it projects to have are among some of the nation's most buzzed-about players.
Let's start with Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, who was more of a role player the past couple of years but will emerge as one of the best college players this season in what should be his final go-around in Columbus.
The top-ranked recruit for the 2020 class, Ben Bresee, also hails from Maryland. He has a top handful of schools, including Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Bresee is a 6'5", 290-pound defensive end from Damascus who has one of the country's largest upsides.
The Alabama Crimson Tide landed a pair of star Maryland natives for their top-ranked 2019 class in Shane Lee and DeMarcco Hellams, while former Tide assistant and current Maryland Terrapins head coach Mike Locksley kept star defensive back Nick Cross at home after Cross had been committed to Florida State for months.
Alabama is already off to a strong start in the '20 class, having received a commitment from weak-side defensive end Chris Braswell of Baltimore, the nation's No. 14 player. MarShawn Lloyd is another top-30 player from that state in the '20 class.
It's not just the 247Sports rankings, either. Rivals.com's Adam Friedman is raving about Maryland's group of '20 prospects.
"With 12 players in the 2020 Rivals250, there is an outstanding group of prospects in Maryland's 2020 class," Friedman wrote. "In fact, there have never been this many prospects from Maryland in the Rivals250."
So, if anything, Maryland will produce even more college football talent. It's growing into a healthy hotbed that's rivaling nearby New Jersey.
Maryland may be on its way to producing a boatload of talent, but thanks to Nick Saban's brilliant player development at the University of Alabama, the Yellowhammer State is already among the nation's best at it.
The Crimson Tide will put a top-five pick in the NFL this year in defensive lineman and Alabama native Quinnen Williams, who was dominant in his one season as a starter. UA linebacker Mack Wilson is a potential multiyear NFL starter, as well.
Alabama continued to build its top classes with six players in the '19 group from within state borders.
Perhaps the most electrifying returning playmaker in college football is also from Alabama, and he doesn't play for Saban. That would be Clemson rising sophomore receiver Justyn Ross, who torched the Tide in the national championship game and can go deep with the country's best.
He and Tide target Henry Ruggs III are a pair of Alabama-native pass-catchers who'll post big numbers in 2019.
Even FCS Alabama State should put a home-state prospect in the NFL this year with offensive lineman Tytus Howard, who is an under-the-radar force on a lot of teams' radars.
The 2019 and '20 classes have gobs of talent as well. Georgia went into the state and landed top-50 center Clay Webb from under Alabama and Auburn's noses, which was a big deal for coach Kirby Smart. The Dawgs also plucked the top player in the state in 5-star receiver George Pickens.
There are significant players up and down the board. Alabama is an underrated hotbed for talent that helped Saban begin his dominant run and continues to produce household names.
If we were just going by NFL draft entrants and the kids coming in the 2019 and '20 classes, Mississippi would have been higher on the list. But Louisiana had a narrow edge thanks to the returning college playmakers.
Regardless, the Magnolia State doesn't always have a lot of highly rated guys because it isn't on a lot of the national analysts' radars. But it always produces marquee players.
Ole Miss receiver A.J. Brown will be a dynamic weapon in the NFL next year and beyond, and teammate D.K. Metcalf's amazing combine numbers probably catapulted him into the top 20 picks, if not higher.
Not to be outdone, Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram also looks like a potential high draft pick out of Bulldogs country.
While neither of those schools did a bang-up job at keeping stars at home in the '19 class, there are still elite players who hail from within state borders. One of the country's biggest recruits was linebacker Nakobe Dean, who chose Georgia over Alabama.
Mississippi State and coach Joe Moorhead kept Nathan Pickering and Charles Cross at home, while Ole Miss coach Matt Luke weathered an onslaught from some of the country's top teams to keep two-sport star and running back Jerrion Ealy in Mississippi.
The state again sailed a bit under the national radar, but don't be surprised if Mississippi continues to put a handful of players in the NFL every year.
It's hard to pull Louisiana stars away from the LSU Tigers, especially considering they have one of the nation's most talented recruiters in Ed Orgeron.
The only coach who can do it consistently is Saban.
Considering those two powerhouse SEC West coaches are maestros at outfitting the NFL draft with playmakers, a lot of talented prospects develop into extraordinary collegians out of the Bayou.
Again, many of those are Bayou Bengals, like elite cornerback Andraez "Greedy" Williams and elite linebacker Devin White, who'll will be high-level NFL prospects come draft time.
At Alabama, the Tide have elite linebacker Dylan Moses, who should be in line for a Butkus Award challenge in 2019, and LSU will have a few dynamite prospects led by cornerback Kristian Fulton. The DBU moniker will continue as 5-star Derek Stingley Jr. headlines an elite 2019 class.
The Tigers should be loaded, though, with in-state guys such as running backs John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis, offensive lineman Kardell Thomas, receiver Trey Palmer, offensive tackle Ray Parker and more.
LSU and Alabama aren't the only teams with dynamic talent from Louisiana, though. Remember Clemson star running back Travis Etienne? Yeah, he's from Jennings, Louisiana. Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson will be picked in the first few rounds of the NFL draft, as well.
Louisiana is loaded, now and for the future.
There hasn't been a lot change among the top four. A whopping 32 players from the Peach State impacted this list.
Georgia is dynamic at producing top talent. It may start with the mega-metropolis of Atlanta and the huge suburban sprawl around the city, but South Georgia is full of elite players, too.
Everybody in the SEC attacks the state, and powerhouse programs Clemson and Texas are making major inroads there.
Georgia is quarterback country, and the Bulldogs are enjoying multiyear starter Jake Fromm, who's from Warner Robins, while arguably the nation's top young signal-caller, Trevor Lawrence, hails from Cartersville. Ohio State is pinning its hopes on UGA transfer Justin Fields, who played in Kennesaw.
But it's far from just quarterbacks. The state is producing talent everywhere, which is why Smart is racking up talent by keeping the kids he wants (for the most part) at home. The Bulldogs are thrilled guys such as Trezmen Marshall, Travon Walker, Dominick Blaylock and others stuck around.
It wasn't even a huge in-state year for the Dawgs, who kept everybody they wanted at home in the '18 class.
The top player in the state, receiver Jadon Haselwood, is heading to Oklahoma after being committed to the Dawgs for a while.
Think about all the guys like Mississippi State's Montez Sweat, Temple's Rock Ya-Sin and Bulldogs Mecole Hardman and current star tackle Andrew Thomas. Those guys will be NFL players for years. The Peach State continues to be sweet for many programs.
It's impossible to do this list without a little California love.
The state continues to produce elite talent, which is why it's stunning USC and UCLA continue to be so bad, and why it's unacceptable for the coaches at those programs to recruit as poorly as Clay Helton and Chip Kelly did in 2019.
There's just too much talent to have that many swings and misses.
Guys like Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon), Bru McCoy (Texas), Zach Charbonnet (Michigan), Jayden Daniels (Arizona State), Joe Ngata (Clemson), Henry To'oto'o (Tennessee) and Jacob Bandes (Washington), among others, are headed out of state to play college ball.
While the Trojans kept a few guys at home, they didn't lure enough to Los Angeles. Kelly grabbed even fewer.
The state continues to produce NFL prospects, too, like Alabama's Jonah Williams, who is a first-round lock this April. Cali also has a who's-who of players coming back in Nebraska's Adrian Martinez, Arizona's Khalil Tate, Utah State's Jordan Love and Alabama's Najee Harris.
Again, there are too many potential stars who aren't playing for the Trojans or Bruins. When all the numbers were totaled, 39 California natives impacted this list, and the 2019 and '20 classes are loaded with more players.
Guys like elite linebacker Justin Flowe, top-ranked quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, stud cornerback Elias Ricks and running back Kendall Milton lead the list in the 2020 group. If national signing day were today, Flowe, Uiagalelei and LSU commitment Ricks would be heading out of state.
The Pac-12 is down in a big way, and a big reason is California kids are going elsewhere. Oregon's Mario Cristobal is trying to lure them to Ducks country, but if USC, UCLA and Stanford can't keep them around, they'll get coaches in who will.
Much like California, there's simply no excuse for Florida State and Miami to sputter around the way they did in 2018. Unbelievably, the Seminoles failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 1981, and the Hurricanes also had an awful season that saw Mark Richt retire.
While the Florida Gators rebounded with a strong year, they have been mired in a down cycle as well.
Meanwhile, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and others have been raiding the Sunshine State's talent. Why not? They don't just grow citrus trees in Florida; it's always been a hot bed for elite playmakers. A whopping 42 players from Florida made this list.
Yes, there are plenty of highlights such as Ohio State's Nick Bosa, Oklahoma's Marquise Brown, Georgia's Riley Ridley and Deandre Baker, Florida State's Brian Burns and Florida's Jachai Polite, but those are just a few of the guys who left the college game after '18 to head to the NFL.
There are plenty of elite players remaining.
From Utah running back Zack Moss to Michigan signal-caller Shea Patterson to Gators cornerback CJ Henderson, a ton of college football's top returnees played their high school days in the Sunshine State.
The nation's top-ranked player in the '19 class, Nolan Smith, is heading to Georgia from the prestigious IMG Academy, which is recruiting top players from across the nation to its football factory. Clemson's Xavier Thomas and Patterson are just a couple of the many alumni.
When you factor in the hot zones like Miami and Fort Lauderdale and even Jacksonville, there are dynamic players everywhere in the state. Tampa and Orlando always produce, too.
Texas is known for barbecue, oil and high school football, among other things, and it's no surprise the Lone Star State is alone at the top of the college talent rankings once again.
It ran away with the title this year with an amazing 52 players—a clear 10 guys in front of Florida.
It's amazing how many top players come from the massive state. Yes, it covers a ton of ground, but it continues to consistently produce players who turn into elite pros.
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray may wind up being the No. 1 overall pick, and other guys such as Houston's Ed Oliver, Ole Miss' Greg Little, Iowa State's Hakeem Butler and Alabama's Deionte Thompson should go relatively high as well—if not in the first round.
The state has college football stars returning everywhere, too. Whether you stick in the burnt orange with lifelong Longhorns fan and dynamic quarterback Sam Ehlinger or head out of state, you don't have to look hard to find a star from Texas.
Stanford's Walker Little, Northwestern's Paddy Fisher and LSU's Grant Delpit all come from Texas. Plenty other star playmakers do, too.
Even though Texas coach Tom Herman didn't hit the home state hard in the '19 class, he did in '18, and guys like Caden Sterns, B.J. Foster, DeMarvion Overshown and others are paying immediate dividends. This year, it was Jimbo Fisher's turn at Texas A&M to land the Texas-flavored banner class.
That's probably why it won't take the Aggies long to compete with Alabama in the SEC West. Oklahoma and coach Lincoln Riley enjoyed a banner recruiting year in Texas, too.
That's why Forbes' David Ching wrote about how the state is producing enough talent to boost three top classes: "No one who follows recruiting needs to be told about how much talent there is to be had within Texas' borders, but these teams' showings are a good reminder of how much elite talent there is to go around."
That's not even the tip of the cowboy hat, either.
All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.