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Is It Really In the Water?

Pedigree and Positional Coaches - Reliable Sources for NFL Talent
By Joe Landers

Part 1 – Offensive Line

Linebacker U – Penn State University. If you’re in player personnel for an NFL organization, Penn State is the first place you look for a linebacker. If you want a quarterback, you look to Florida. If you want a defensive tackle, you look at Michigan. Running back? Tailback U – USC. Offensive line – Texas. Wide Receiver – Tennessee. These are widely accepted assumptions that have proved the test of time... or so we think. How valid are these conclusions that are collectively viewed as ‘conventional wisdom’? Based on real data, what are the most reliable sources for NFL talent at each position and why?

Over the course of the next three weeks, using NFL 2-deeps, real performance, and biographical data, we’ll explore the best sources for NFL talent at each and every position on the football field. Today, in part one of this 12-part series, we’ll dive into the assumptions and realities that surround the offensive line.

A few years ago, I just couldn’t stop wondering, “what schools truly produce the best players at each position and why?” It just didn’t make any sense to me how Texas offensive linemen could be so dominant in college, but they wouldn’t go on to dominant pro careers. Were they as highly thought of by NFL clubs as it would seem? Were Texas linemen brought into camp as rookies in droves like the all-american lists would suggest? If so, why were they not experiencing the same success in the NFL as they did in college? I decided to expand the research to include all schools and all positions.

Determining the schools that send forth the best talent at each position was easy. Over the course of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, I would simply track NFL 2-deeps to see what schools were best represented. Forget the draft. The draft only tells us who NFL organizations think will be most successful in the league. It doesn’t tell us who is most successful. I wanted to see what reality tells us. 2-deeps offer reality.

Why 2-deeps? First, the prominence of situational player use in the NFL means that a second string linebacker, for example, can be as significant a contributor as a starter. Second, coaches demote and promote players from first to second string (and back up) on a regular basis. Statistics are usually good barometers of real success for skill-position players, but they’re not very useful for offensive linemen; I wanted (and needed) something universal for all positions.

Bottom line, if you’re a regular on an NFL two-deep, your head coach and positional coaches obviously feel they can rely on you to contribute to the team’s success. If you’re a 3rd or 4th stringer, you’re likely toggling back and forth between free agency, active rosters, inactive rosters, practice squads, and the bench. Mid-season two-deeps are where it’s at.

Answering the second part of the question was harder. “Why do certain schools produce more NFL contributors than others?” Is it simply in the water? Is it the system? Is it pedigree? Is it the coaches? Whether it’s in the water or not is debatable. Systems are relatively easy to see. For example, Texas Tech’s pass offense just doesn’t translate well to the NFL. Fact: since 1997, 14 Texas Tech offensive skill position players have been invited to NFL camps as rookies. Sammy Morris (Miami RB) is the only one still on an NFL two-deep as a QB, RB, WR, or TE. However, the impact of systems is nowhere near that of a player’s coach. More specifically, my research indicates that a player’s positional coach is the most critical variable for projecting NFL success after such obvious factors as height, weight, speed, and collegiate performance.

Watching 300+ college football games a year, it’s hard to deny the talent on the offensive line at such schools as Wisconsin, Texas, Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, and LSU. No doubt, these schools get the best offensive line recruits because they have great tradition at the position and they have great talent. However, when looking at NFL productivity, it’s clear that college success does not always translate to NFL success.

Leading Schools – Offensive Line

43% of the offensive linemen on NFL two-deeps come from 21 schools. Consider that 224 schools are represented on NFL two-deeps and it’s even more impressive that 121 of 281 offensive linemen come from a mere 21 schools.

NFL Two-Deeps
Auburn 8 Colorado 5
Mississippi 8 Georgia 5
Florida State 7 Iowa 5
Michigan 7 Kansas State 5
Notre Dame 7 LSU 5
Boston College 6 Northwestern 5
Miami 6 Ohio State 5
Nebraska 6 Purdue 5
Tennessee 6 Stanford 5
Arizona State 5 Virginia 5
California 5

23 schools make up 32% of the rookie offensive linemen brought into NFL camps (via the draft or undrafted free agency) between 1995 and 2006. Only 14 of the above schools are on that list of 23. The rest offer a real contrast between perception and reality. To view the contrast between pre-draft impression and performance reality, check out the list of 23 schools that have dominated the draft and undrafted free agency:

NFL Camp Invites
Nebraska 18 Mississippi 14
Wisconsin 17 Georgia 14
Michigan 17 Kansas State 14
Colorado 17 Arizona State 13
BYU 17 Miami 13
Tennessee 17 Iowa 13
Florida 17 Texas 13
Florida State 16 Penn State 13
Washington 15 Oklahoma 13
LSU 15 Michigan State 13
California 14 San Diego State 13
Notre Dame 14

Notice the omissions? The most notable is Auburn. They lead all schools with eight offensive linemen on NFL 2-deeps and, yet, only nine Auburn offensive linemen have been invited to NFL camps since 1995. Actually, from an Auburn perspective, that’s outstanding. Eight of the nine rookie Auburn offensive linemen that have been invited to an NFL camp are on NFL 2-deeps. That success rate (89%) is nothing short of phenomenal. Other notable omissions are Boston College (12 invites, 6 on 2-deeps = 50% success rate), Virginia (8/5 = 63% success rate), Stanford (9/5 = 56% success), Purdue (10/5 = 50%), Northwestern (11/5 = 45%), and Ohio State (12/5 = 42%). The numbers would suggest that NFL scouts should cast wider nets for 2007 NFL Draft offensive line prospects from Auburn, BC, UVa, Stanford, Purdue, Northwestern, and Ohio State. For all intents and purposes, they are underrated.

Most Underrated Offensive Linemen Rooks Signed NFL 2-deeps Success Rate %
Auburn 9 8 89%
Virginia 8 5 63%
Mississippi 14 8 57%
Stanford 9 5 56%
Notre Dame 14 7 50%
Boston College 12 6 50%
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