2014 conference champs invest heavily SEC talent via draft

Southeastern Conference coaches get plenty of recruiting mileage out of the league's standing as the biggest producer of NFL draft picks. Its 49 last year led all conferences for the eighth consecutive draft.

As it turns out, the mileage goes both ways.

A College Football 24/7 examination of which NFL general managers draft from which conferences most revealed that the two teams that reached the Super Bowl last season -- the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks -- have taken a deep draft dive into SEC waters.

Patriots coach and de facto general manager Bill Belichick has picked a dozen SEC players over the last five years, while Seahawks general manager John Schneider has led the way with 14 over that span.

Belichick's best SEC pick in that time has been linebacker Dont'a Hightower of Alabama, who has started an average of 13 games a year over his first three years and just delivered a career-high six sacks for the Super Bowl champions. But Hightower doesn't exactly lead a deep group; a number of New England's other SEC picks have been late-round choices who have contributed little, if anything.

Schneider, by contrast, has gotten bigger returns.

Offensive lineman Justin Britt of Missouri was a rookie starter in 2014. K.J. Wright, a fourth-round pick from Mississippi State in 2011, has piled up 350 career tackles and just had his best season with 107. Then there is guard James Carpenter, a first-round pick from Alabama, whose play in Seattle was erratic at times but was good enough to start 23 games the past two years. Carpenter just signed a free-agent contract with the New York Jets.

The Cincinnati Bengals fell in between Seattle and New England with 13 SEC picks the last five drafts. Owner Mike Brown was the acting general manager over that time, but has since installed a GM-by-committee front-office structure. Wide receiver A.J. Green, defensive lineman Geno Atkins, offensive lineman Clint Boling -- all from Georgia -- have been the best of that group. Running back Jeremy Hill (LSU) showed lots of promise as a rookie last year.

Four other notable facts from the data:

» How's this for first-round balance from the Dallas Cowboys? The club's last five first-round picks have drawn one each from independent Notre Dame (Zack Martin), the Big Ten (Travis Frederick, Wisconsin), SEC (Morris Claiborne, LSU), Pac-12 (Tyron Smith, USC) and Big 12 (Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State).

» A first-timer in the second? Vikings GM Rick Spielman has overseen four drafts, the last three as general manager in Minnesota and one with the Miami Dolphins in 2004, and has never made a second-round pick. For the moment, the Vikings' 2015 second-rounder is still Spielman's.

» Count Packers GM Ted Thompson and 49ers GM Trent Baalke among the most fearless when it comes to drafting prospects outside the Power Five conferences. Each has picked 16 of them over the last five drafts, most among 13 clubs whose GM has been in place at least that long. The Rams' Les Snead has racked up 11 in just three drafts.

» The Saints generally stick to big schools. Of those same 13 GMs with five-plus years of experience, the Saints' Mickey Loomis has drafted the fewest small-school prospects -- just four since 2010 (Terron Armstead from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Rufus Johnson from Tarleton State, Akiem Hicks from Regina-Canada and Corey White from Samford). Part of the reason for that could be that New Orleans has made just 27 total picks over the last five years.

*Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter **@ChaseGoodbread.*

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