It’s draft week. If you’re a chronic fan, you’ve probably visited the famous “Jimmy Johnson draft-pick value chart” at some point this week to see what it would cost for your NFL team to trade up for your favorite prospect or see how much your team could bring in with a trade back in the draft. The method to create that Johnson Chart, though, was market-based, not results-based. As The Washington Post recently put it, Mike McCoy “plotted on logarithmic paper every trade involving a draft pick over the previous four years” to find the value of a draft pick.
Thirty years have passed since that day and we now have better tools to analyze the draft from a results-based standpoint. For example, the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL draft trade value chart frames draft slots based on what the players picked in those slots are paid after their rookie contracts instead of how much teams are willing to give up on draft day. That’s a results-based chart, not the market-based chart that McCoy built.
Using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart, I thought it would be interesting to look at where NFL prospects are coming from, using a modern perspective, in recent years. So I attached the Fitzgerald-Spielberger value to every draft pick since 2011, the first year in which rookie contracts essentially had slated salaries with the signing of the collective bargaining agreement signed that offseason, and cleaned the data so that UCF and Central Florida or NIU and Northern Illinois were not indexed as different schools. Thanks, Wikipedia!
The table below is what 2,803 NFL draft picks look like, by school, from the perspective of the Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart. In total, 237 college programs (and two draft picks who never played college football) combined for 1,938,664 “draft value points” in just over a decade. This is where NFL draft picks come from.
NFL Draft Value (2011-2021)
|30||North Carolina State||19,915||ACC|
|51||San Diego State||11,413||MW|
|63||North Dakota State||8,447||FCS|
|96||San Jose State||3,434||MW|
|98||South Carolina State||3,112||FCS|
|114||New Mexico State||2,066||Indy|
|116||Middle Tennessee State||1,977||CUSA|
|120||North Carolina A&T||1,718||FCS|
|136||South Dakota State||1,288||FCS|
|142||Sam Houston State||1,184||FCS|
|145||William & Mary||1,166||FCS|
|154||Fort Hays State||833||D2|
|161||Stephen F. Austin||763||FCS|
|164||Grand Valley State||750||D2|
|166||Pittsburg State (KS)||714||D2|
|170||Missouri Southern State||698||D2|
|178||North Carolina Central||627||FCS|
|183||Saint John's (MN)||591||D3|
|191||Southeast Missouri State||550||FCS|
|197||Concordia (St. Paul)||518||D2|
|217||Northwest Missouri State||328||D2|
|225||Prairie View A&M||244||FCS|
|230||Saginaw Valley State||231||D2|
|231||West Texas A&M||231||D2|
Let’s digest some of these numbers:
- Alabama: 102,415 draft value points
- Ohio State: 72,765
- LSU: 68,356
- Clemson: 54,324
- Florida: 51,758
- Georgia: 48,315
- Florida State: 45,351
- Notre Dame: 43,723
- Oklahoma: 41,648
- USC: 40,730
If you’re any sort of college football fan, the list of top teams putting out NFL talent shouldn’t come as anything close to surprising. Of the college football playoff’s 24 wins, 23 of them are represented in the top-10 talent-producing programs. To put it simply: The good teams in college football have the better players, at least in the eyes of NFL evaluators.
In total, roughly half of the draft capital since 2011 has been spent on players from the top-23 college football programs. Over a quarter of the draft capital is spent on players from the top eight schools on this list.
The top dog is Alabama, a program only four others can claim they have produced half of the draft value of over the last 11 classes. After the 2022 draft, Georgia could be the fifth team added to the list, if Florida can keep up.
Top Group of 5 Schools
- Boise State: 18,349 draft value points
- UCF: 15,475
- Temple: 12,732
- San Diego State: 11,413
- Houston: 11,191
- BYU: 10,390
- UConn: 10,165
- Memphis: 9,202
- Cincinnati: 8,922
- Louisiana Tech: 8,345
When you split out the top Group of 5 programs in talent production, there are a lot of familiar faces, too. The top-10 is made up of teams who are talked about as dark horses to make New Year’s Six bowl games or are frequently mentioned in conference realignment. For reference, four of the teams above will be making the jump to the Big 12, a Power 5 conference, in the near future.
Boise State, the top Group of 5 program in terms of pushing talent into the NFL, actually ranks higher on this list than some Southeastern Conference programs like Ole Miss or Tennessee. Plenty of these G5 teams produce more talent than the low end of the Power 5, too. For example, 38 G5 programs rank higher than the Big 12’s Kansas, 26 rank higher than the Big 12’s Iowa State and 15 rank higher than the Pac 12’s Arizona.
UConn is the one team that sticks out like a sore thumb. The Huskies have only won more than three games in a single season once since 2012 but do a pretty good job of getting defensive players in the NFL. For whatever reason, though, it hasn’t translated to wins for the program.
While the top end of the G5 competes well with the low end of the P5, all G5 teams are not equal. For example, UNLV and Army are the only two FBS programs since 2011 that have not produced a single draft pick in the NFL.
Top “Small Schools”
- North Dakota State: 8,447 draft value points
- South Carolina State: 3,112
- Northern Iowa: 3,013
- Eastern Washington: 2,729
- Samford: 2,651
- Delaware: 2,473
- Villanova: 2,193
- Montana: 2,140
- Idaho: 1,797
- North Carolina A&T: 1,718
Outside of the FBS, there is plenty of NFL talent to be found. Players like Darius Leonard, Cooper Kupp and David Johnson have all come from the FCS ranks, which is led, by far, by the North Dakota State Bison. In fact, North Dakota State would rank 10th among all programs outside of the Power 5, putting them on par with some of the top Group of 5 programs in terms of producing NFL talent.
Among the top-35 small school programs, which includes the FCS, Division II and Division III, 32 of those teams are FCS programs, the lower classification of Division I football.
- Division I (FBS & FCS): 98.68%
- FBS (Power 5 & Group of 5): 94.46%
- Power 5: 79.93%
- Group of 5: 14.53%
- FCS: 4.22%
- Division II: 1.03%
- Division III: 0.17%
- U Sports (Canada): 0.08%
- No College: 0.03%
- NAIA: 0.01%
Nearly 97 percent of the draft capital since 2011 has been spent on Division I football players with 94 percent going toward FBS selections. Lower divisions are represented, though, with non-NCAA organizations like U Sports, Canada’s college football governing body, and the NAIA, an American NCAA alternative, producing draft picks. Two draft picks, Moritz Böhringer of Germany and Jordan Mailata of Australia, never played college football before being selected late in the NFL draft.
FBS Conference Breakdown
- SEC: 25.22%
- Big 10: 15.42%
- ACC: 15.29%
- Pac 12: 13.36%
- Big 12: 8.29%
- AAC: 4.17%
- Mountain West: 3.65%
- Independent: 3.60%
- Conference USA: 2.39%
- MAC: 1.75%
- Sun Belt: 1.22%
When the data is broken down by conference, it’s easy to see why most rational college football fans consider the SEC to be the top conference in college football. On draft day, they produce roughly two-thirds more talent than the next tier of schools, made up of the Big 10, ACC and Pac 12 conferences. It’s also easy to see that the Big 12 has lagged behind the other Power 5 conferences, as they’re split fairly evenly between those programs and the top Group of 5 conference, the AAC.
All of these numbers were calculated by indexing teams into the conferences that they played in for the 2021 college football season. With all of the changes in realignment, specifically in the Big 12, SEC, AAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA, though, it’s worth taking a look at how the movement could impact prospect production for individual conferences once the dust is settled.
NFL Draft Value Post-Realignment
|Conference||After Realignment||Before Realignment||Change|
|Conference||After Realignment||Before Realignment||Change|
The big winners from this wave of realignment, unsurprisingly, are the SEC, which is adding Oklahoma and Texas, and the Sun Belt, which poached the top end of Conference USA. What’s interesting, though, is that the Big 12, after adding Cincinnati, BYU, Houston and UCF, will actually lose less in realignment, from an NFL talent perspective, than the AAC and Conference USA, who are the big losers in the shifting college football landscape.