March, 20 2023
These are the college teams that the NFL looks to when it comes to the Draft.
By Jon Cooper
Teams in the National Football League have used the annual Draft to rebuild, restock or reload since its inception in 1936 – prior to 1936, players were free to sign with whichever team they chose. The 2022 Draft takes place from April 28-30 in Las Vegas, NV.
The process, which began with a nine-team league (the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Cardinals, Boston Redskins, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates) selecting college players in reverse order of finish, is still in place. The biggest change came from 1947 through 1958, when the previous year’s last-place finisher received a bonus first overall pick.
Not surprisingly, the best college teams have provided the best place for pro teams to try and find building blocks on both sides of the ball.
The most frequent supplier of NFL players is Notre Dame, which has seen 546 players drafted. Not coincidentally, it’s also the school with the greatest representation in the College Football Hall of Fame (53 players and coaches). The Fighting Irish had the most picks four times in the ‘40s, when they won four national titles and had three Heisman Trophy winners (Angelo Bertelli in ‘43, Johnny Lujack in ‘47 and Leon Hart in ‘49 – all in the Hall of Fame) – twice in the ‘50s (led by Heisman winners – Johnny Lattner in ‘53 and “The Golden Boy,” Paul Hornung in ‘56), three times in the ‘60s (sharing titles in ‘64 and ‘66, under coach Ara Parseghian), once in the ‘70s (with CFBHOFs Ken MacAfee, and Ross Browner) then in the ‘90s, coached by Lou Holtz. Southern California is the only other school with 500 draftees, with 530, 36 of them College Hall of Famers, including Frank Gifford, Ron Yary, Lynn Swann, Marcus Allen, Ronnie Lott, Anthony Davis, Tony Boselli, Matt Leinart, Troy Polamalu, coaches John McKay and John Robinson.
Ohio State will be next to half-a-grand, as they sit at 491. Oklahoma (421) and Michigan (406) round out the top 5.
Alabama (401). Penn State (388), Texas (367, including a record 17, in 1984 – one better than Notre Dame’s 1946 yield), Florida and LSU (381) make up spots 6-10.
Popular drafting spots have changed over time as, since 2000, Notre Dame has dropped out of the top 10, while Texas clings to the top 20, at No. 20.
The new millennium sees Ohio State (151) at the top, with SEC powers – Alabama (137), LSU (133), Florida (125) and Georgia (124) – right on the Buckeyes’ heels.
ACC Sunshine State rivals Miami (123) and Florida State (113) sandwich USC (117) as Nos. 6-8, while Oklahoma (106), still of the Big 12, and OSU’s Big 10 Rival Michigan (101) completes the top 10.
The SEC has been the top supplier of talent to the NFL over the past four years, with Alabama leading the way three times (12 players in 2018, 10 in ‘19, ‘10 in ‘21, the latter with Ohio State) – LSU led the nation with 14 picks in 2020, also providing the first overall pick in QB Joe Burrow.
LSU and Burrow’s “Daily double” of first overall and most draft picks is not unique, but is uncommon, as it’s only happened nine other times – Notre Dame and Quarterback Frank “Boley” Dancewicz (1946), and Hart (‘50); Michigan State and DE Charles “Bubba” Smith (‘67); USC and Yary (‘68) then RB Ricky Bell (‘77); Texas and DE Kenneth Sims (‘82); Miami and Russell Maryland (‘91); Washington and Steve Emtman (‘92) – the only time it’s ever happened in back-to-back years – and the last time until 2015, when Jameis Winston and Florida State did it.
The selections of Maryland and Emtman also marked the last time defensive linemen went No. 1 overall back-to-back. It happened once in three straight years (1972-74), when Notre Dame’s Walt Patulski, Tampa’s John Matuszak and Tennessee State’s Ed “Too Tall” Jones went first overall.
Jones is the only HBCU player to go first overall, but HBCUs HAVE influenced the draft. In both 1968 and 1970, HBCUs shared the top spot amongst schools with the most drafted players. Jackson State had 11 in ‘68 (the best being WR Harold Jackson, selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 12th round), while Grambling had 9 in 1970. Both tied with USC.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
It’s hardly shocking that Power 5’s have supplied the most first-round picks. Alabama has had 41 since the start of the millennium, including a record-tying six in 2021 – Nick Saban has produced 39 at Alabama and 44 overall, the most of ANY college coach (Penn State’s Joe Paterno had the most with 33). Ohio State and Miami are next with 32, while LSU has 31, five coming in 2020. Florida (including Emmitt Smith the 17th overall pick in 1990), Georgia and USC all have 25 first rounders to round out the top five.
When it comes to overall No. 1s, Notre Dame (Patulski, Hornung, Hart, Dancewicz and Bertelli), USC (Carson Palmer (Class of ‘21), Keyshawn Johnson, Bell, and Yary) and Oklahoma (Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Sam Bradford, Billy Sims, Lee Roy Selmon) each has had five overall No. 1s, with Auburn, Georgia and Stanford are next with four each.
THE HEISMAN AND THE DRAFT
Fittingly, the first college player ever selected in the first NFL Draft was the inaugur Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago (Hall of Fame Class of ‘54), selected by the Philadelphia Eagles (they traded his rights to the Chicago Bears). Berwanger chose to go into private business, which was more lucrative.
Since then, only three Heisman Trophy winners did not get selected – Army’s Pete Dawkins (HOF Class of ‘75), the 1958 winner, who turned down the Draft to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford and his Ph.D. then served for 24 years in the Army, receiving two Bronze Stars for Valor in Vietnam, and Florida State’s Charlie Ward (CFBHOF Class of ‘06), the ‘93 winner, who chose the NBA, where he played 12 years.
Oklahoma QB Jason White, the 2003 Heisman winner, was not drafted despite overcoming torn ACLs in both knees to win the Heisman and winning a pair of Maxwell Awards. His knees forced him to retire before getting to play in the NFL.
Of 86 Heisman winners, fifty percent of them went in the Draft’s top 10, with 61 coming from Power-5 schools (70.9 percent) – it’s 68 and 79 percent if you include Notre Dame.
RELEVANT “MR. IRRELEVANTS”
In 1976, the term “Mr. Irrelevant” entered football vernacular. The term was used for the final selection of the draft. Power 5 schools have even contributed. The SEC has had eight of them from six different schools, the Big 10, and ACC have two each – the Big 12 and Pac 12 each can technically claim two, as Colorado, now in the Pac-12, twice had two while playing in the Big 8.
Although not from a Power 5, Florida A&M’s Tyrone McGriff, 1980’s “Mr. Irrelevant,” drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
For additional information on the Hall of Fame be sure to visit the College Football Hall of Fame and plan your visit