Who produces the most NFL Draft Picks? Do they hand out top quarterbacks as well? The answer may surprise you.
If you were asked right now to name the top college football programs, your list would probably look something along the lines of: Clemson, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, LSU, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia.
Every year those schools pump out first round talent at a ridiculous rate, and for good reason. They have some of the best recruiters and most successful programs each and every season. Each one finds a way to find talent, develop it, and coach it appropriately.
Over the past ten years, the following schools have had the most players selected in the NFL Draft:
- Alabama (83)
- Ohio State (62)
- Florida (60)
- LSU (60)
- Oklahoma (55)
*The trend continues over the decade prior as well, with some fluctuation at the top with programs like Notre Dame, USC, and Georgia.*
Take a look at that list though. There's something else that you may notice. While these schools offer up some of the best football players on the planet, the one thing they can't do is consistently produce elite quarterback talent.
Now I know what you're thinking. "Look at some of the talent that's come out in the past few years. Sam Darnold. Baker Mayfield. Dwayne Haskins. Kyler Murray. DeShaun Watson. Those guys all came from top programs."
I get the thought process, especially after the way Darnold and Mayfield performed last season. But for the sake of this argument, all of these players are not included because their careers have barely begun. They have shown flashes, but who knows if they will be able to maintain that success. Just look at some of the other first-round quarterbacks to come out of these schools: Mark Sanchez, Jamarcus Russell, Brady Quinn. It's possible to show potential early then fall flat on your face.
So for this, we are going to consider the more established quarterbacks in the league. By that, we will say they have to have played at least four seasons and have All-Pro, Pro Bowl, or MVP level seasons. Let's go through the list:
Tom Brady - Michigan
Drew Brees - Purdue
Ben Roethlisberger - Miami (Ohio)
Aaron Rodgers - CAL
Matt Ryan - Boston College
Phillip Rivers - NC State
Russell Wilson - NC State/Wisconsin
Andrew Luck - Stanford
Kirk Cousins - Michigan State
Cam Newton - Auburn
Matthew Stafford - Georgia
Andy Dalton - TCU
Derek Carr - Fresno State
Eli Manning - Ole Miss
Joe Flacco - Delaware
Alex Smith - Utah
If you go through that entire list, not a single one of those quarterbacks came from one of the programs above that have produced the most draft picks over the previous decade.
Now don't get me wrong. These programs are certainly not subpar by any stretch of the imagination. Georgia (Stafford), Ole Miss (Manning), and Auburn (Newton) are all SEC powerhouses. Michigan (Brady) and Michigan State (Cousins) are two of the best programs in the Big 10. However, the rest of the list is rather thin. Purdue, Cal, NC State, Fresno State, Delaware, Utah. None of these programs are competing for a spot in the college football playoffs. They are solid bowl teams who bounce in and around the AP rankings.
Why is it though that these mid-tier programs are able to produce some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL? How are they able to out-produce (in terms of success, not numbers) the elite schools like Alabama and Ohio State at the most important position in the NFL?
The answer isn't entirely clear. One answer could be that these programs spend more tie recruiting blue-chip defensive prospects and offensive linemen instead of flashy quarterback prospects. Another reason could be that quarterback is a position that tends to develop later than other positions. The jump from high school to college football is significant, and it's not particularly common to see stud high school quarterbacks jump right into Division 1 programs and light it up their first season (Trevor Lawrence excluded).
The third reason could be schematic issues. Alabama and LSU are some of the most successful programs in college football. However, they have tended to do it with an old school, ground and pound approach. In general, it's much more common for these programs to have stud running backs who lead the offense in measured, controlled offensive play. 2018 Alabama was one of the few exceptions to this rule thanks to Tua.
This is a phenomenon that is hard to explain, yet interesting to think about. Quarterback has undoubtedly become the most important position in the NFL. So why don't we see the top college programs in the nation popping out All-Pro quarterbacks left and right? Maybe the new wave of young quarterbacks will finally be able to reverse that trend.