Skip to main content


Position_U_Hero_3840x2160 (1)
By Chase Goodbread | June 29, 2020

Over the last five seasons, NFL teams have employed 52 general managers and 65 head coaches in a 32-team league, making clear the wishes of both ownership and, indirectly, fans: Win, and win quickly. With those directives, NFL clubs enter the draft each year hoping for as much short-term impact as possible from their selections, particularly in the early rounds, where no prospect is labeled as developmental.

So, where do they go to find the most NFL-ready players?'s Pipelines to the Pros series looks at which schools over the last 20 years have been providing NFL clubs with not only the most draft choices but also the most impactful pro players early in their careers. And beyond that, an examination of why those schools can do so, and what factors contribute to a college program's ability to maintain pipeline-like development at a particular spot on the field.

We used a formula (see scoring system below) that awarded all NFL players various point values based on how early they were selected in the draft and how successful they were within the first five years of their NFL careers, with an increased emphasis on rookie performance to more closely tie it to a school's ability to prepare their players for immediate pro success. And we went back 20 years to account for the drafting of every active NFL player (i.e. The Tom Brady Rule).

The impact by highly-decorated, long-careered NFL veterans like Brady, Drew Brees, Jason Witten and Larry Fitzgrald was intentionally tempered by limiting the accumulation of points to the player's first five seasons of NFL service (the maximum length of a rookie contract) as a means of more accurately gauging the influence college programs have had on their players' development and pro-readiness. Judging schools merely based on draft results would have credited them for NFL busts and also wouldn't have accounted for undrafted free agents. As such, the combination of draft status and a young player's pro performance offered the best possible structure without skewing an outcome at any one position.

The results of the analysis revealed which colleges have best prepared players for the NFL over the last 20 years. And beyond that, it provided an indication of which schools are trending upward of late -- programs we have highlighted across the series.

By contrast, some reputations are fading and desperately need new blood, as several schools with big reputations for talent at specific positions just aren't yielding impact NFL players like they once did. For example, USC, which had a stranglehold on Quarterback U, has seen its lead shrink considerably by mad-charging Oklahoma. And Penn State is no longer considered Linebacker U. In fact, in our results, the Nittany Lions barely made the top 10 at a position they dominated not long ago.

NFL clubs, of course, judge draft prospects on an individual basis that doesn't necessarily lend weight to where they came from. But there can be no doubt that certain schools, at certain positions, have built track records that suggest maybe they should.

Scoring system

Table inside Article
Draft Position Points
Top-10 pick 10
Picks 11-32 8
Rounds 2-3 4
Rounds 4-7 2
Table inside Article
NFL (Rookie Season) Points
Rookie of the Year 10
First-team All-Pro 6
Pro Bowl 4
Regular season starts 1 per start
Table inside Article
NFL (Years 2-5) Points
MVP 5 per award
Offensive Player of the Year 4 per award
Defensive Player of the Year 4 per award
First-team All-Pro 3 per selection
Pro Bowl 2 per selection
Regular season starts 0.5 per start

Note: If a player had won multiple awards as a rookie or in Years 2-5, he received only the points earned for his highest accolade. For example, a rookie who won Rookie of the Year, was named an All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl with 16 starts on the season would earn 26 points (10 points from awards and 16 points from starts). For Years 2-5, a player could earn a maximum of 13 points per season (5 points from awards and 8 points from starts).

back to top

Related Content