Position U. For The 21st
The top schools to go pro - Offense
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- Position U. For The 21st Century - Defense
Get me to the league.
High school athletes choose colleges for all kids of reasons. Location, tradition or a coaching staff, for instance, but most scholarship athletes are thinking long-term when signing their National Letter of Intent. They've already weighed—repeatedly—which campus will provide the best platform for getting to the next level. And if they've truly done their homework, recent history provides ample evidence of the richest pipelines from the NCAA to the NFL.
Miami still likes to refer to itself as Quarterback U., and Linebacker U. often conjures up images of Happy Valley, but isn't that like still calling the New York Mets the "Amazins"? For those who prefer to live in the present day, we've reviewed only the NFL Drafts of the 21st century to determine who has truly earned the right to be called (fill in the blank) U.
And which schools are most likely to provide a pathway to a lucrative contract? (Hint: Spending at least three years in Baton Rouge will greatly improve your odds of one day being filthy rich).
*Rankings Based on Players Drafted Since 2000
Quarterback U. of the 21st Century is … USC.
The Trojans are tied with LSU with six quarterbacks drafted since 2000, but edge out the Tigers by virtue of their three first-rounders, Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer. The West Coast is a breeding ground for talented pocket passers, and USC will always be in the hunt for those kinds of blue-chippers. Steve Sarkisian will make sure of it. Troy, though, could be stuck on six for a while, since its next sure-thing, Max Browne, is a backup redshirt freshman to Cody Kessler.
1. LSU – The Tigers' leading man here is JaMarcus Russell, one of the all-time busts for a No. 1 overall pick. LSU has had five other quarterbacks selected since the turn of the century, most recently Zach Mettenberger by the Tennessee Titans.
2. Louisville – For many years now, the Cardinals have done a nice job of attracting quarterbacks, and preparing them for the NFL. Every three or four years, Louisville is sending a quarterback to the NFL, from Chris Redman in 2000 to Teddy Bridgewater in May.
3. Georgia – The Bulldogs peaked this century with Matt Stafford, who was taken No. 1 overall by the Lions in 2009. Georgia was helped by the fifth-round selection of Aaron Murray this year, but Florida State and Oregon are on the verge of supplanting the Dawgs in 2015.
Running Back U. of the 21st Century is … LSU.
It's not as if the Tigers have a quality back each year - that would be too pedestrian for this powerhouse. No, they typically house two, three or four runners who could be feature backs for most programs in the country. LSU sets the pace in the backfield with a dozen of its runners drafted, one more than USC. In a fitting representation of the school's balance at the position, it had only one alum taken in the first and second rounds, Joseph Addai in 2006 and Jeremy Hill this past season, respectively.
1. USC – After looking unstoppable in the early going, the Trojans have fizzled, with no backs taken early since Reggie Bush and LenDale White went in the first two rounds eight years ago. Still, with 11 runners drafted, USC is still a great launching pad to an NFL backfield.
2. Ohio State – Columbus has long been a stopping point for next-level backs, usually the physical kinds who batter opposing defenders. Carlos Hyde was the latest Buckeye to go pro, chosen by San Francisco in the second round. With Urban Meyer recruiting, Ohio State can pass USC before too long.
3. Alabama – Yeah, the Tide has had only eight backs picked since 2000, but it's been running downhill lately. Over the past four drafts alone, ‘Bama produced three high picks, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram. And with T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake still in Tuscaloosa, the NFL pipeline remains flush.
Wide Receiver U. of the 21st Century is … LSU.
Nobody consistently signs more athletic recruiting classes than LSU, whether it's been Les Miles or Nick Saban in charge. And since many of those sprinters end up catching passes, the Tigers have had an NCAA-best 14 wide receivers drafted since 2000. In May, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry were taken in the first 63 picks. What's most intriguing about LSU's wide receiver prowess is that it's happened within an offense that never ranks among the nation's—or SEC's—leaders in passing. The last time a Tiger led the league in passing, Tommy Hodson was under center and it was 1989.
1. USC – Lurking just behind LSU is USC, which has sent 13 receivers to the NFL in the last 15 years. Consistency? How about at least one pass-catcher selected in five of the last six drafts? Following in the footsteps of recent standouts Robert Woods and Marqise Lee is current junior star Nelson Agholor.
2. Florida State – The May selection of Kelvin Benjamin by the Carolina Panthers pushed FSU ahead of Florida, which also has had a dozen receivers drafted in the 21st century. Benjamin ended a dry spell in Tallahassee, though Rashad Greene will keep the momentum going in 2015.
3. Florida – No, the Gators have not been relevant providers of receiving talent to the NFL since Percy Harvin in 2009. But the school was so flush with talent during the first decade that it's able to hold off the likes of Oklahoma, Ohio State and Miami … for now.
Tight End U. of the 21st Century is … Notre Dame.
Regardless of the era, no one is better at recruiting and developing tight ends than the Irish. South Bend is the place where big and athletic pass-catchers go to prepare for the NFL Draft. Nine Notre Dame tight ends have been drafted in the last 15 years, including Tyler Eifert in Round 1 and Troy Niklas, Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano in the second round. Remarkably, the program's last five starting tight ends are currently on NFL rosters. The Irish are grooming more next-level seam-busters in Ben Koyack and Mike Heuerman.
1. Miami – As good as the Irish have been at developing tight ends this century, no one has produced more first-round tight ends than the Canes. Half of Miami's eight drafted tight ends, Greg Olsen, Kellen Winslow, Jeremy Shockey and Bubba Franks, were chosen in Round 1. And Jimmy Graham was a third-round bargain.
2. Iowa – Surprise, surprise. The Hawkeyes have had eight tight ends drafted in the last 15 years, led by Indianapolis Colts first-rounder Dallas Clark in 2003. Iowa tight ends are either sure-handed or bulked up and moved to the offensive line.
3. Georgia – Six Bulldog tight ends have been taken this century, tied with Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin. Georgia boasts a first-rounder, Ben Watson to the Pats in 2004, and at least one player picked from the position in five of the previous 11 drafts.
O-Line U. of the 21st Century is … Wisconsin.
The Badgers don't often sign blue-chip linemen. But who could tell four or five years after they've arrived on campus? Wisconsin has consistently done a remarkable job of coaching up linemen, from the days of Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema to today with Gary Andersen on the sidelines. An NCAA-best 16 Badger blockers have been drafted this century, including first-rounders Gabe Carimi, Joe Thomas, Chris McIntosh, Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick. After losing just one starter to graduation, massive Rob Havenstein and Wisconsin will dominate the line of scrimmage again in 2015.
1. Alabama – After starting slowly in the early stages of the century, ‘Bama has come on very strong in recent years for Nick Saban's staff. Since 2009, the Crimson Tide has fed the NFL eight signature blockers, highlighted by 2013, when Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker went back-to-back in the first round.
2. Iowa – The ability to transform O-linemen must be a part of every discussion pertaining to Kirk Ferentz's legacy in Iowa City. Ferentz and his staff could write the manual on elevating blockers. Three Iowa linemen have been selected in the first round, with Brandon Scherff set to make it four next April.
3. USC – No West Coast team has owned the line of scrimmage the way the Trojans have since 2000. Troy boasts quantity, 12 draft picks, and quality. Three blockers were taken in the first round, and seven in Round 2. A special assist goes to the Kalil boys, Matt and Ryan, who were drafted five years apart.
4. Notre Dame – Only Wisconsin has had more O-linemen drafted than the Irish over the last 15 years. Sure, just two alums, Zack Martin and Jeff Faine, were picked in one of the first two rounds, but Notre Dame has had a habit of cultivating the kinds of blockers that franchises want in a locker room.
5. Michigan – The cliché about Michigan on the inside is true. The program has been home to plenty of big, nasty blockers through the years. A dozen have been drafted this century, with Taylor Lewan's recent selection by the Tennessee Titans keeping the Wolverines a step ahead of Ohio State, Florida State and Miami.
- Position U. For The 21st Century - Defense