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As a relative newcomer to the NFL I have some questions regarding NCAA players and their transition to the NFL.

1) Do some colleges have a reputation for consistently producing good players (such as Southampton's football academy in UK Football)? Why is this the case (similar reasons to football academies perhaps)?

2) How well does success in the NCAA correlate with NFL success ( in UK football the correlation fluctuates a lot, many 'wonder kids' fail to meet lofty expectations)? Due to the NFL being a very physically demanding league, surely some players may seem much better than their cohort only because they have developed much faster physically, how is this taken into account?

  • I think these need to be broken up into at least 3 questions. Can you or a mod split them up? – Coach-D Jan 13 '15 at 19:21
  • @Coach-D OP can split it up. – user527 Jan 14 '15 at 2:18
  • Do you think I should split it up into 4 questions? If 3, which two should be together? – Gridley Quayle Jan 14 '15 at 11:29
  • With a quick glance, the draft questions can be combined (and you may be able to draw something from this), then the first two can be split for a grand total of three questions. However, I would consider the answer you already received and proceed from there. That said, I give precedence to those (@Coach-D and @Joe) who took a deeper look into your questions if they disagree with me. – user527 Jan 14 '15 at 19:53
  • @edmastermind29 I think the first two are separate questions then the last two could be combined. – Coach-D Jan 14 '15 at 21:14
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Some universities certainly do have a reputation for developing NFL players. In some cases, this is simply due to quality of the program - Alabama for example is a very good program and as such attracts very good players; this not only means a player will play alongside other good players (and thus learn better habits/etc.), but also means a player will be exposed more on national TV and to scouts.

NFL team scouts only can go to limited numbers of games, and while they can undoubtedly watch many more on taped broadcasts, there's something different about going to a game; even relatively un-heralded players can be seen performing well in a game. This means teams like USC, Notre Dame, etc., give players more of a chance to get on TV and be discovered by scouts, leading to them getting better players than they otherwise would. This may not correlate to NFL success, but it tends to correlate with numbers.

Some coaches also have a good reputation for developing certain kinds of players. Steve Spurrier had a reputation for developing quarterbacks while at Florida, although most of his eventually fizzled out (at which point people realized it was the 'system').

I would note that in both of these cases, I mean 'reputation' as in it is thought that these teams/coaches are skilled; Spurrier is a great example of where that reputation was misguided, as none of his QBs really panned out (Rex Grossman is probably the best of the lot in terms of NFL career, and, well, I'm a Bears fan, so you probably know how I feel about that.)

Finally, some schools or even conferences have reputations for certain types of players. The Big 10, and particularly Wisconsin, OSU, and (until recently) Michigan, had a reputation for developing offensive linemen; a high proportion of NFL linemen, both stars and solid but mostly unknown starters, came from the big 10 (or at least, did; some of this reputation may be less deserved now than it was).

Success in NCAA and success in NFL are less tightly connected then, say, success in the NBA vs NCAA. Football is a very physical sport, and players in college are still often not fully developed. They also have a large learning curve still in the NFL. Connecting this to the draft questions, while early draft round is correlated to success, it's not tightly correlated, except in a few positions (QB, in particular), and it tends to be more that good players are drafted in the early rounds - but not nearly all early round draftees are good players. You can look online for some details of this; for example, a ten year draft study showed that almost half of first round players were 'busts'.

As to why QB correlates better, it is a combination of things. This is only true of 'NFL style' offenses, though that may be in the process of changing some with the NFL read option (if that sticks); ie, colleges who use a pocket passer and run neither an option nor a spread offense.

For those colleges who do run NFL style offenses, a quarterback is easier to evaluate because his skill is directly visible (you see him throw the ball, see him make decisions, etc.) more readily than some other players. It's more obvious when he makes mistakes. The offense is centered around him to some extent, and his ability to learn and understand is very obvious from the game play.

Quarterback is also a position teams realize (in the NFL) that is very important, and as such they do a lot more scouting, a lot more research and interviews, and most importantly are willing to take chances on QB more so than on other players. You will always have someone fall through the cracks - the undrafted Tony Romo or the sixth round Tom Brady - but particularly in the last decade or so it's been well understood that in the salary cap era, particularly with (limited) rookie scale salaries, having a reasonably cheap, good quarterback is very important to success (see Seattle and San Francisco for great recent examples of building a team with a cheap QB). This isn't to say you still have mistakes - Russell Wilson made it to the middle of the third round, for example - but those are usually due to assumptions of physical deficiencies (in his case, height) that usually correspond to low success rates.

I would say that Wide Receiver is the second easiest to guess, in large part because the potential true superstars are due to physical elements (height and weight, and speed). Calvin Johnson and AJ Green are very obvious physical specimens who were clearly stars coming out of college. On the other hand, the star WR from the last draft class was Odell Beckham, who was drafted fifth out of the (very deep) WR class. WRs who aren't physical specimens are hard to separate from their team and the opposing defenses: is a WR who sprints downfield and catches touchdowns just better than mediocre CBs, or has a QB who throws the ball in just the right place? Or is it his personal skill? It's difficult to separate those things, so it's hard to say how good the WR is. QBs throw to several different receivers, so at least that can be teased out some; the WR is likely to only have one QB throwing to him, unless he plays for Ohio State.

  • Why is there a better correlation with QB than other players? I would have thought a more physical position would be easier to judge, rather than a QB where I assume there are more variables in determining success (vision, ability to preform under pressure, leadership etc.). Is it that really good QB are so rare that they really stand out? – Gridley Quayle Jan 13 '15 at 19:07
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    The last paragraph is really good. Most of the others I don't agree with. Just because Alabama has lot of drafted players doesn't assume correlation of them developing talent. It has a lot to do with them recruiting the best players - whether or not they are getting more out of their players in development may be true or false. Also major colleges often have duds because the talent level of their teammates might be much higher than the teams they faced. So a mediocre DE at Texas might get 12 sacks because he is never doubled while teammate who have less sacks (and are better) are doubled. – Coach-D Jan 13 '15 at 19:24
  • I agree that they may or may not be good at developing talent - but they are well known for getting people drafted, which is a reputation thing not an actual thing, and which is what I was trying to convey. Sure, they might be duds, but they still make it to the NFL, which is the point for the player... – Joe Jan 13 '15 at 19:56
  • @GridleyQuayle I've edited it to contain some more exposition on this. It's not a scientific answer, and hopefully someone can answer with better stats - I don't have the time to find them right now. There are stats on this, out there; it's worth looking. – Joe Jan 13 '15 at 20:15

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