A Deep Dive Into the Last Five NFL Drafts

By Nate Wilmot on April 29, 2020 at 9:30 am
Apr 26, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Saquon Barkley (Penn State) poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the number two overall pick to the New York Giants in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
© Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The past weekend saw another NFL Draft come and go, but before we close the book on this, let's look back at the past five drafts to explore who is generating the most NFL-level talent. We'll see what states, levels (Power 5, Group of 5, FCS, etc.), conferences, and programs that draftees are coming from and how Penn State has fared against the rest of the Big Ten over most of James Franklin's tenure. The information below is comprised of the data from the 2016 - 2020 drafts.

Draftee Geography

Let's start by taking a geographic look of the draftees by state. Unsurprisingly, Texas, Florida, and California schools have had the most draftees in the last five years with 95, 94, and 87 respectively. I say unsurprisingly because these states rank 2nd, 3rd, and 1st in population and each one has at least seven Power 5 or Group of 5 schools.

NFL draftees by state

On the flip side are Alabama, 4th with 78 draftees, and Louisiana, 6th in number of draftees. The state of Alabama has only four P5 or G5 schools, and the two P5 schools (Alabama and Auburn) have more combined draftees, 71, then all but the top three states above. The state of Louisiana has about 20% the population of Florida yet has generated about two-thirds the number of draftees. The deep south makes football players.

Draftee Level

Next, we'll consider the different divisions or levels draftees played in. Here, we consider Power 5, Group of 5, FBS Independent, FCS, Division II/III, and International. In total there have been 1271 players drafted since 2016 and 926 of them came from the Power 5 conferences. Notre Dame, which is effectively a Power 5 squad, added another 25, bringing the total to 951 which accounts for 75% of all draftees. 

draftees by level

Out of the Group of 5 conferences, The American has led the way with 71 draftees and G5 as a whole has had 215 players selected in the last five drafts. 

In total, the FBS division had 93% of all of those chosen by the draft and this makes it all the more impressive when someone is selected from an FCS (75 players) or Division II/III school (19 players).

Conference Draftees by Round

Next, we'll look at what conferences and schools produce the most top-end talent in the draft. The visual below shows, for the Power 5 conferences, the total number of selections in each round of the last five drafts. The SEC has had nearly 150 players chosen in the first three rounds of the draft out of their total of 284. The next closest is the Big Ten with 87 selections in rounds 1 - 3 followed by the ACC (62), Pac-12 (61), and Big 12 (45).

conference by round

Selections by School

Below is a snapshot of the number and round of draftees for the universities that produce the most NFL picks. The top 15 schools, Alabama to Texas A&M, have averaged at least four picks per year and 20 or more total for the last five years. Penn State made the cut, coming in with 23 total picks, good for 10th overall. Considering this is just over two years removed from sanctions, this is quite an impressive feat. What we can see in this plot is just how dominant schools like Alabama and Ohio State have been over the last several years. These two schools have accounted for 31 first-round picks in the last five drafts (16 for Alabama and 15 for OSU). For some context, only about 25 schools have had more than 15 draft picks in the last five years. There is an incredible amount of talent on those two campuses.

draftees by university

Big Ten Draftees by Year

Let's finish off with a look at the Big Ten over the last five seasons. In the graph below we see the number of draftees by year for each of the schools in the conference. It was discussed above how dominant Ohio State has been at producing NFL talent and every year, except for 2017, they have at least tied for the conference lead. Michigan is the only team to have a higher number of draftees than OSU but is also very erratic. Third, in the conference over the last five years with finishes of 2nd (2018), 2nd (2019), t-3rd (2020) is Penn State. PSU is consistently putting talent into the NFL at a relatively high rate. And while it's not always the top-end talent that Ohio State and Alabama have generated (10 out of 24 in the top 3 rounds), this level of consistency should allow Penn State to remain a contender for Big Ten championships and hopefully soon, a playoff birth.

draftees by big ten university