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How Important Is A Draft Prospect's School?

Can you make any assumptions about potential NFL draft picks based on the school they attended or the conference they played in? Well, you know that old saying about assuming.

Kevin C. Cox

Earlier, I made a comment on Twitter that Dallas Cowboys fans would probably not be terribly unhappy if the team wound up drafting either Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper (I know, my insight is dazzling), and I got a reply that got me to thinking.

A couple of thoughts. First, some people really, really need to rethink the names they use in social media. Really.

Second, is what school a player comes out of an indication of how likely they are to succeed in the NFL?

There are some beliefs that certain schools are better than others. Last season, for instance, I heard the old line about how Alabama's team could beat some teams in the NFL (one I always have to shake my head at). And I also have heard other people who think certain schools, particularly in power conferences like the SEC, produce more NFL ready players than other colleges, as does Scroty. (Dude. Is that a reference to what it sounds like? Because that is just wrong.)

Anyway, I think there is a certain prejudice towards players from some big name schools. This is different from people who pull for players from their alma mater. I admit openly to rooting for players from Texas A&M, and would love to see the team draft LB Sean Porter or maybe sign players like WR Uzoma Nwachukwu (AKA "Easy", for obvious reasons), DT Spencer Nealy, or C Patrick Lewis as UDFAs. But that is just my pride in my school. I am talking more about the attitude the guy who names himself after his privates has in that tweet, that some players come into the NFL with a built in advantage because of the school they went to.

I wondered about that. I decided to do a little research. I immediately came to a very solid conclusion: It must have been way, way harder to do this stuff before they came up with the interwebs and googles and stuff like that.

After a moment reflecting on the marvels of the information age, I found a site called Findthedata that has a convenient and sortable compilation of how many players from what schools were on NFL rosters last season. I expected to find a list dominated at the top by the SEC, since they have won seven BCS championships in a row and have such a strong reputation. Here is what I actually found for the top 21 schools represented in the NFL:

Rank School 2012 W-L # NFL Players
1 Miami Hurricanes 7-5 48
2 USC Trojans 7-5 46
3 Texas Longhorns 8-4 41
4 LSU Tigers 10-2 38
5 Ohio State Buckeyes 12-0 36
6 Georgia Bulldogs 11-2 35
7 Florida Gators 11-1 32
8 California Golden Bears 3-9 31
9 Iowa Hawkeyes 4-8 29
10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 12-0 29
11 Alabama Crimson Tide 12-1 28
12 Nebraska Cornhuskers 10-3 27
13 Tennessee Volunteers 5-7 26
14 Auburn Tigers 3-9 26
15 Michigan Wolverines 8-4 25
16 Florida State Seminoles 11-2 25
17 Penn State Nittany Lions 8-4 24
18 Wisconsin Badgers 8-5 24
19 Oregon Ducks 11-1 24
20 Stanford Cardinal 11-2 24
21 Oklahoma Sooners 10-2 24

(Records do not reflect bowl games, but do include conference championships, as applicable. I chose 21 as the cutoff because of the tie at 24 NFL players.)

Some things surprised me here, mostly who was at the top, and who was not. The U has had quite a reputation in the past, but I did not expect to see them still leading the pack with NFL players. Their glory days were a few years ago. The same for the Longhorns, who have struggled since Vince Young left for the NFL and relative failure. And USC got gutted a while back after finding out that Pete Carroll was not quite as committed to making the transition from professional football to the college level as they might have wished. Some of the other teams, like Cal-Berkley and Iowa, were just surprises, given the fact they have been at best inconsistent over the past decade or so. While the SEC did tie for the most schools represented in the top 20 plus 1 at 6, the tie was with the Big 10, which besides being part of an alarming trend towards college sports conferences that cannot count (strangely associated with having "Big" and a number in the name), is not seen as the powerhouse it was in the days of leather helmets.

Alabama, almost unarguably the most dominant football program so far this century, is just an also ran in getting players to the pros. And there is not much direct connection between performance as judged by the BCS or other rankings and the quality of players sent to the pros.

The lesson learned here? Just that it is best to ignore what school a prospect went to, outside of determining if they play at the BCS level or not. Study how the individual performs via video and weight that as appropriate with their measurables. But don't give them any plusses or minuses based on the sticker they had on their helmet in college. That, and the won-loss record from the past few years, does not tell you much, if anything.

Although - it is interesting to see that the schools of a couple of recently hired Cowboys coaches, USC (Monte Kiffin) and Tennessee (Derek Dooley) both showed up on this list. See, just when you think you have something figured out, along comes a factoid or two that makes you want to change your mind.