Tonight, we get to watch the first round of one of the saddest NFL drafts in recent memory, with teams tripping over each other trying to trade down in a weak year. Even in the good years, success in the college game doesn't always translate to the pros, but some regions and conferences have a reputation for generating NFL-ready talent. Are these reputations earned?
To investigate, I took a look at all 4,057 draft picks dating back to 1997. Player data came from profootballreference.com, but I filled in the conferences myself based on affiliations in the players' final season before their drafts. You can check out the full data here, remember that this analysis is based on the colleges players attended, not where they grew up.
The map at the top shows picks by round and state, adjusted for population and the varying sizes of the rounds. The first round has been extremely concentrated on schools in the Deep South (on a per capita basis), while the later rounds are stronger for the Midwest and show more of a dispersal across the country.
While it's all going to go to hell in the next few years, from 1997-2012 conferences were still generally associated with a specific geographic region. Here are all 4,047 picks broken down by conference affiliation:
No surprise to see the SEC on top, but it's interesting to see just how weak the Big East has been. In terms of overall picks, it was actually closer to C-USA than to the Big 12, and produced 15 percent fewer picks than the FCS (former Division 1-AA), which admittedly has many more teams.
Let's go one step further. Maybe the SEC produces more NFL-ready players, but what "types" of players do conferences specialize in? Below is a chart showing what positions are being drafted out of which conferences:
The SEC is a defensive juggernaut, as expected, and in particular produces a disproportionate amount of defensive linemen. The ACC is also a defensive conference, giving the NFL a lot of DLs and linebackers, while the Sun Belt Conference–which has the fewest NFL picks of any FBS conference–produced a staggering proportion of defensive backs.
On the other side of the ball, the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) was a major producer of both offensive linemen and wide receivers, while the Mid-American Conference (MAC)–where defense goes to die–produced a ton of offensive linemen, wide receivers, and QBs. With equally high-scoring basketball, the MACtion is in the running for the most entertaining conference in the country.
Like clockwork, many analysts are picking offensive lineman Eric Fisher out of MAC-member Central Michigan to go first overall this year. Also high on the list: defensive linemen out of the SEC and ACC, and a tight end out of independent Notre Dame. Mock drafts are pretty dumb, though, so you should just watch the damn thing. Or, better yet, read about it tomorrow.