What if all of the NFL players went back to their colleges? Which school would win the national championship?
It’s a fun question recently posed by a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ linebacker who played for LSU.
If we put all the NFL players back on they college teams who y'all think would win the national championship ?— Kwon Alexander (@kwon) September 21, 2017
So let’s discuss this.
For purposes of this argument, let’s assume that only the NFL players are playing, and not combining with college players (though I’m willing to hear an argument about the latter).
Here are the 12 teams with the greatest ability to fill out a team of current NFL players. All roster data is from ESPN’s tracker (Note: ESPN groups players by where they finished their college careers, as do I. For example, Russell Wilson with Wisconsin, not N.C. State). I have organized it by the 12 teams, here.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Strength: The Tide has a great duo of receivers in Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, plus quality depth at most spots. The linebacking corps is imposing, with Dont’a Hightower, Reuben Foster, C.J. Mosley, Mark Barron, and others.
Weakness: Quarterback. AJ McCarron was nothing to write home about in college and is a backup in the NFL. And despite many a great college defense, Alabama does not have many good corners in the league.
Strength: Cam Newton.
Weakness: Depth. Only two offensive linemen in the league and a lack of defensive stars.
Strength: Receiver. Martavis Bryant, Jaron Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Adam Humphries, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams would be the best set of receivers in this league.
Weakness: Clemson has only two offensive linemen in the NFL, and its cornerbacks aren’t anything special. QB Deshaun Watson is promising, but a rookie.
Florida State Seminoles
Strength: Florida State has the best defensive backs in the league, with Xavier Rhodes, Jalen Ramsey, Lamarcus Joyner, Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams and others. FSU also has a great running back group with Dalvin Cook, Devonta Freeman, and Chris Thompson. Florida State also has Jameis Winston and is one of few teams that actually has enough position players to fill out all positions.
Weakness: Florida State only has two receivers in the NFL and has only had two drafted in the last 10 drafts.
Strength: Georgia’s pass rush is incredible, with Geno Atkins, Justin Houston, and Leonard Floyd. Matthew Stafford throwing to A.J. Green and handing the ball to Todd Gurley is really nice, too.
Weakness: Cornerback. Surprisingly, the Bulldogs have only one in the league: Brandon Boykin. It’s much easier to shift a corner to safety than the reverse. And the Georgia offensive linemen in the league aren’t that great.
Strength: LSU would have an excellent secondary (Patrick Peterson, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu), offensive line (Andrew Whitworth, La’El Collins), and receiving corps (Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Brandon LaFell).
Weakness: LSU’s best QB option is Zach Mettenberger.
Strength: Tight end and receiver. Miami has six tight ends on NFL rosters, including Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, Clive Walford, Travis Benjamin, and Allen Hurns. Miami also has some top defensive linemen like Olivier Vernon and Calais Campbell.
Weakness: The Hurricanes do not have enough offensive linemen to field a starting unit, their best QB option is Brad Kaaya, and they have few quality options at linebacker or in the secondary.
Strength: Tom Brady.
Weakness: Michigan does not have any running backs in the NFL and has only one cornerback, rookie Jourdan Lewis.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Strength: Ohio State would have a nasty running and play-action game with Ezekiel Elliott, Carlos Hyde, Michael Thomas, and Ted Ginn. Defensively, Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, and Ryan Shazier are standouts.
Weakness: Quarterback. Cardale Jones wasn’t all that good in college outside of the last two games of 2014 and is not considered a potential starter in the NFL. Ohio State also would have trouble stopping the run, due to a lack of defensive tackles.
Strength: Sam Bradford throwing behind an offensive line featuring Trent Williams and Lane Johnson and handing it to Joe Mixon, DeMarco Murray, and Adrian Peterson.
Weakness: Oklahoma has just two defensive backs in the league.
Texas A&M Aggies
Strength: Texas A&M has some serious star power with Mike Evans, Michael Bennett, Von Miller, Jake Matthews, and other quality starters.
Weakness: The Aggies have no defensive tackles in the NFL, though Bennett can certainly play there, and their secondary is not that talented.
Strength: Carson Palmer behind an offensive line that includes Tyron Smith and the Kalil brothers. Defensively, USC has a number of talents like Leonard Williams, Jurrell Casey, Clay Matthews, and Adoree’ Jackson.
Weakness: Surprisingly, the Trojans do not currently have many impact players at running back or receiver.
Narrowing it down to a Playoff field
Let’s try to whittle down these 12 teams to just four.
Not having a QB good enough to start in the league is probably a fatal error.
Given that almost all of the national powers have a lot of talent in the NFL, the most important position becomes even more important. For that reason, Florida is not even listed above. The Gators do not have a quarterback on an NFL roster. Let’s also say goodbye to Ohio State and Miami.
Some teams cannot fill out a starting lineup.
Clemson and Auburn only have two offensive linemen in the league, so they are out. Oklahoma only has two defensive backs, so let’s also say goodbye to the Sooners. Ditto Texas A&M with its lack of bulk on the interior.
And then there were six: Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, and USC.
Despite having Tom Brady, Michigan is out because of the lack of talent and depth it could put around him. But getting from five to four is tough.
Georgia and Florida State seem obvious because of the quality of talent and quarterbacks. Then I’ll take USC, because of quarterback, and LSU over Alabama, because the Tigers’ recent alumni simply have turned out better in the league.
You could swap the one and two seeds or the three and four seeds, but I’m not sure it matters all that much.
No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 LSU
Both teams have some awesome superstars. But Georgia having a legitimate starting NFL QB in Stafford takes it. QB issues haunt LSU once again.
No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 USC
Both teams have legitimate NFL QBs, so the battle comes down to the other positions. Florida State gives plenty of touches to star running backs, and the best collection of NFL secondary talent shuts down USC’s receiving corps.
Your turn: Georgia vs. Florida State
This is a fascinating matchup. Florida State’s cornerbacks against Georgia’s receivers? Georgia’s formidable front seven against FSU’s trio of runners?
It’s too close for me to pick it, so I’ll let you make the call. Let me know in the comment section.