America's Football Factories | Colleges Producing The NFL Stars

Updated: 1346 American Football

We know college football teams take pride in unearthing raw talent and shaping them into legends of the sport. But do you know which colleges are the best at recruiting those game-changing names?

America's Football Factories | Colleges Producing The NFL Stars
Michael Calabrese US Content Manager

Experienced sports journalist, College sports expert and broadcaster, hailing from Pennsylvania

Fans of the college game love to see their teams’ hottest talents making an impact in at the next level and this season is no exception, as 262 prospects made their way to the NFL in the 2022 Draft.

We know college football teams take pride in unearthing raw talent and shaping them into legends of the sport. But do you know which colleges are the best at recruiting those game-changing names? 

We’ve examined a decade’s worth of data to see which schools fans should keep an eye on for the next generation of top football talent. 

The average playing career lasts just three years at the elite level of the NFL. Certain colleges have a long history of developing talent in particular positions. So young players with their eye on a set role will be hoping to bag a spot in a specific school.  So if you’re an aspiring QB or a promising punt kicker, which college should you be looking to play for?

All this and more will be revealed…

Premier Picks

In the NFL Drafts between 2014 and 2022, 228 colleges put their best players forward for consideration. 

With a total of 80 players drafted by the National Football League in Drafts since 2014, the University of Alabama can claim to have had the biggest influence on graduates playing on Sundays. Among those players are Pro Bowl players, Super Bowl Champions and an all-round richness of talent.

“While colleges such as Notre Dame and USC have a long history of players being drafted into the NFL, based on recent history, NFL stars of the future may be looking elsewhere for colleges that offer them the best pathway to the NFL.” Commented Mike Calabrese, college sports expert at OLBG.com

 

Only the very best players are selected as a first-round draft picks. Which college helped put the most players in the spotlight as a first-round pick?

Once again, we’re looking at the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide program helped cultivate the talents of 27 players who signed on the dotted line for an NFL team in round one. All of which means that more than a third (34%) of the ‘Bama players selected by NFL teams did so in the first round.

The celebrated Ohio State followed with 20 first-round success stories.

Making a name

Regardless of a team’s overall win-loss record, the players who put in the most spectacular performances throughout the season are recognized with individual honors.

Being chosen by peers to play in the Pro Bowl game is one such way. The Pro Bowl whets appetites for the Super Bowl spectacle and is a career highlight for those taking to the field. The top three colleges whose players were named to the Pro Bowl combined for 81 selections.

Topping the bill once again with 28 players named to the Pro Bowl is the University of Alabama. The 2022 Pro Bowl featured three alumni, with the Colts’ Ryan Kelly, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs and Jonathan Allen of the Washington Commanders starting for their teams.

Ohio State has put up 27 players to Pro Bowl status since 2014, while LSU came third with 26.

The All-Rookie Team is selected by the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) to honor the players that made a splash in their first full NFL season. With 15 players making the All-Rookie Teams from the 2014-2022 seasons, Louisiana State University (LSU) has contributed the most – narrowly beating out the Crimson Tide with 14 and Ohio State with 12.

It’s not an officially designated NFL honor, but the All-Pro team is compiled by respected sportswriters’ associations. It reflects the consensus of seasoned analysts, writers and reporters covering the great sport since the first All-Pro team was named in 1940. 

Since the 2014 season, Ohio State has delivered the most All-Pro players, with 19. LSU and Alabama tie for second with 18 each. Among those names is quarterback Justin Fields, who threw for 1,870 yards in his rookie season for the Chicago Bears with an 11th overall draft pick. As the quarterback for the Buckeyes, Fields won Graham–George Offensive Player of the Year on two occasions.

Combining each of these individual player honors shows you which schools are at the forefront of talent spotting. And it’s a close-run contest between three of the colleges already discussed – but the University of Alabama has produced 60 combined Pro Bowlers, All-Pro and All-Rookie players since 2014.

“What this data shows is that the myth of Alabama players not being able to develop in the NFL is unfounded, as the university has produced the highest number of combined Pro Bowlers, All-Pro and All-Rookie players in the period studied.” Mike Calabrese, college sports expert at OLBG.com

To find out which school has achieved the most success per player drafted to the NFL, we can look at the figures for all individual honors and the number of players who have the honor of playing on Sundays. That distinction goes to LSU, with an average of 0.88 honors per player drafted, followed closely by University of Pittsburgh (0.83) and Florida State (0.82). (List which honors were considered)

“In terms of bang for their buck, nobody can argue with the quality we have seen come from LSU, University of Pittsburgh and Florida State, who all have more than 0.8 honours per alumni drafted. If you hear good things about a player from these colleges, odds are they’re a future trophy winner.” Mike Calabrese, college sports expert at OLBG.com

Awarding greatness

A standout individual performance on the field can raise the game of the whole team. So, when the annual awards season gets underway, fans flock to find out which players made the biggest impact over the whole season. 

As the media votes on awards such as MVP and Rookie of the Year, we can see which school has contributed to the development of the last decade’s biggest stars.

The University of Wisconsin has had the biggest impact on creating stars, with eight major award wins. However, we can just as equally argue that the Watt family made the biggest impact too. T.J. Watt picked up five wins during an incredible couple of seasons for the Steelers. His older brother, J.J. Watt, won three awards during his time with the Texans. Both were recipients of the Deacon Jones Award, the award for most sacks in the regular season. T.J. is currently tied for the NFL record in single-season sacks with Michael Strahan of the New York Giants, who recorded 22.5 sacks in 2001.

Fair play football programs

One of the highlights of the postseason is seeing which players get the individual plaudits for surpassing all expectations. But there are also awards given to the players who display great sportsmanship both on and off the field, upholding the integrity of the game and giving back to their community.

The likes of the NFLPA Alan Page Community Award and the Bart Starr Award are awarded to players across the NFL past and present. We’ve compiled a list of the winners of each of the Philanthropy awards over the past decade to see which schools deserve praise for instilling the true spirit of the game into their grads.

More than one college tied for the honor of having the most people win awards, but the University of Georgia took the most awards overall, with four philanthropy distinctions presented to two players over the course of the last decade: 

  • Three-time winner Thomas Davis Sr has a foundation which awards scholarships to promising students. He’s the only Carolina Panther to win the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award to date. 
  • Benjamin Watson, NFL Champion in his rookie season with the Patriots, won the Bart Starr Award in 2018. 

Positioned for greatness

Wherever on the field our hopefuls ply their trade, some schools are more revered than others for developing the best talent.

There was a three-way tie for the most Quarterbacks receiving a first-round pick, with the University of Alabama, Clemson University and Ohio State each getting a pair of players (2) into prime-time positions on the field.

But some schools show their dominance in other areas. The University of Alabama took no fewer than seven Wide Receivers and turned them into NFL players with first-round picks. Recent additions to the NFL include the Eagles’ DeVonta Smith, who scored a touchdown with his very first catch in the pro league on his way to a rookie record-breaking season. ESPN ranked the Crimson Tide 7th in their listings for Wide Receiver U, but the data doesn’t lie!

Second-placed LSU is a big surprise in our rankings – from 1998 to 2019 it produced five overall WRs, so we were surprised to find three of them making the list, more than almost every other school in the shorter period. One of those was Ja’Marr Chase – who had an even bigger impact, setting a new league rookie record for postseason receiving yards as his Bengals team made it all the way to the Super Bowl.

Ohio State has produced more first-round pick cornerbacks than other colleges, with seven. And the University of Georgia helped three Tackles hotshot their way to the league with a first-round pick.

Championship colleges

The University of Alabama may have recruited the largest number of players who were bound for greatness in the NFL. But when it comes to the game’s ultimate honor – raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy as champions of the NFL – a different school has ruled the past decade.

Louisiana State University (LSU) was alma mater for 20 Super Bowl-winning players from the 2014-2022 seasons. And those are just the players on the winning side – Super Bowl LV featured no less than seven players from both teams who wore the Tigers uniform, four Bucs and three Chiefs. A total of 73 LSU players have taken to the field for Super Bowl games, making 105 appearances across all Super Bowl history. LSU developed 46 players towards winning 56 rings going right back to the first NFL title game.

“Despite only ranking fifth in terms of viewership figures among college teams, LSU has produced the most Super Bowl winners from players drafted since 2014. If you want to get a glimpse of potential champions, LSU games are clearly the place to do it.”

Summing it up

So now we’ve checked the records for individual honors, team efforts and Super Bowl-winning stars, how do we decide which schools are the key to unearthing the next generation of football talent?

Most Super Bowl winners: When it comes to winning the big one, don’t sleep on LSU. The Tigers turned out 20 players who went on to lift the Lombardi Trophy in the last decade alone.

Positional prowess: The University of Alabama turned seven Wide Receivers into first-round draft picks since 2014, including Miami’s Jaylen Waddle, who broke the rookie record for receptions in a season.

Community Spirit: The University of Georgia alums received the most Philanthropic Awards named in memory of NFL icons.

Star TurnsThe University of Wisconsin – or rather, two of the Watt brothers – made their mark on the sportswriters’ juries.

Superstar FactoryThe University of Alabama added 60 alums to the storied ranks of the Pro Bowl, All-Pro and All-Rookie teams since 2014.

Most first-round picks: Nick Saban and his Alabama program once again got so many of its graduates a great start to their pro careers, with 80 former players being drafted by the NFL.

Article Contributor Info

We are fortunate to have NFL expertise on either side of the Atlantic, where Luke Bradshaw-Lee is a keen UK-based NFL fan attending London games and burning the midnight oil to catch all the weekend action, Whilst in the US, Michael Calabrese [@EastBreese] is an Action Network correspondent and College sports podcaster with the deepest football knowledge we have ever come across. They combine to create the best football content on OLBG US

Michael Calabrese

Michael Calabrese

Us content manager

Michael Calabrese has covered college and professional sports in the US since 2007. He has been featured in print for publications including Fox Sports, The Action Network, Yardbarker, MSN, Saturday Down South, NumberFire, and JetMag.com. He also regularly appears on ESPN Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and VSIN
Luke Bradshaw Lee

Luke Bradshaw Lee

Commercial content manager

🏈 Luke is a more than keen follower of the NFL taking in as many games as he can over the weekend and always trying to attend the London NFL games each year. American football remains his main personal betting focus and he creates and contributes to our NFL Articles

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