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Which colleges produce the most NFL talent?

Posted by Doug on November 17, 2008

First a plug: if you're an NBA fan, you should check out what Neil Paine (with assists from Justin Kubatko) has been doing with the blog. It's good hoops-related reading in the same spirit as this blog.

Neil recently did a couple of posts on which colleges have produced the most NBA talent. Inspired by that, and my NFL all-franchise team posts (AFC - NFC) from this summer, I've decided to create a "team" from the talent produced by each college, and rank them.

The rules are essentially the same as those for the NFL all-franchise team posts, but with a few college-related extras added:

1. If you haven't read about my Approximate Value (AV) method for rating players, you should read about it right here.

2. A player is only eligible to play for his final college, if he attended more than one. For example, Troy Aikman can be on the UCLA team, but not the Oklahoma team.

3. Keep in mind that these lists are ordered by NFL production. Archie Griffin was one of the best college football players of all time, but he loses his spot on the Ohio State team to the merely-very-good-in-college Robert Smith, who had a much more illustrious NFL career.

4. The AV systems gives a player a score for each player season. To combine these into a career number, I take 100% of the player’s best season, plus 95% of his second-best season, plus 90% of his third-best season, and so on.

5. I’m only comfortable (for now) applying the AV methodology to seasons 1950 and later. Players who debuted before 1950, however, are included if their post-1950 seasons alone merit inclusion. In this case, they have a ‘+’ after their AV score to remind you that their career AV is (probably) higher than the number shown.

6. To avoid 4-3/3-4/5-2 issues, I gave each defense 12 players, including two DT/NTs, two DEs, two OLBs, and two ILB/MLBs. I have also now lumped all safeties together instead of distinguishing between free and strong safeties.

7. Because of the slippery and changing nature of defining what a fullback is, I simply decided to go with two RB/FBs, instead of an RB and an FB.

8. What to do with players whose position was "End" in the 50s. Are they tight ends? Wide receivers? To deal with this problem, I've lumped TEs, WRs, and Es of all years into one category, which I've called 'RC' (ReCeiver), and I'm allowing four of them per team. After all, if the defense is playing with 12, I should allow the offense the same luxury.

With all that out of the way, here are the top ten colleges, ranked by the sum of the values of their 24 players:

#1 - USC

QB   Bill Nelsen           53
RB   Marcus Allen         103
RB   O.J. Simpson          96
RC   Keyshawn Johnson      79
RC   Johnnie Morton        68
RC   Charle Young          63
RC   Lynn Swann            61
T    Anthony Munoz        137
T    Ron Yary             118
G    Bruce Matthews       120
G    Roy Foster            60
C    Don Mosebar           53

DT   Darrell Russell       44
DT   Volney Peters         41
DE   Willie McGinest       76
DE   Ed Henke              50+
ILB  Jack Del Rio          53
ILB  Riki Ellison          51
OLB  Junior Seau          127
OLB  Clay Matthews         93
CB   Don Doll              41+
CB   Jason Sehorn          38
S    Ronnie Lott          117
S    Willie Wood          115

Comparatively speaking, this team is surprisingly thin on the defensive front, and their passing game is way behind some others, but how about that offensive line and running back duo? Carson Palmer is just a few points behind Nelsen as the QB. Backup OLBs Rod Martin and Chip Banks both have higher AVs than the starting ILBs.

#2 - Notre Dame

QB   Joe Montana          123
RB   Ricky Watters        102
RB   Jerome Bettis         79
RC   Tim Brown            104
RC   Dave Casper           75
RC   Jack Snow             59
RC   Mark Bavaro           55
T    George Kunz           97
T    George Connor         72+
G    Bob Kuechenberg       77
G    Tom Thayer            41
C    Dick Szymanski        64

DT   Alan Page            157
DT   Bryant Young          92
DE   Renaldo Wynn          54
DE   Ross Browner          52
ILB  Nick Buoniconti      103
ILB  Myron Pottios         75
OLB  Jim Lynch             73
OLB  Jim Martin            41
CB   Dave Waymer           68
CB   Todd Lyght            60
S    Dave Duerson          61
S    Pat Terrell           30

Not much to comment on here; a solid team and balanced team with perhaps the best quarterback in the "league." Some might argue for Paul Hornung over Bettis or Watters.

#3 - Miami (FL)

QB   Jim Kelly            102
RB   Edgerrin James       110
RB   Chuck Foreman         81
RC   Michael Irvin        105
RC   Reggie Wayne          75
RC   Brett Perriman        61
RC   Brian Blades          58
T    Leon Searcy           52
T    Bryant McKinnie       39
G    Dennis Harrah         66
G    Jim Simon             11
C    Jim Otto              99

DT   Warren Sapp          117
DT   Cortez Kennedy        98
DE   Eddie Edwards         61
DE   Kenard Lang           53
ILB  Ray Lewis            123
ILB  Dan Conners           72
OLB  Ted Hendricks        117
OLB  Jessie Armstead       78
CB   Ryan McNeil           50
CB   Ronnie Lippett        43
S    Ed Reed               61
S    Darryl Williams       52

Foreman edged out Ottis Anderson by a nose, but Clinton Portis should pass them both by the end of 2009. Eddie Brown was actually tied with Blades for the last receiver slot, but it'll be moot in a couple of years with Santana Moss and Andre Johnson moving up into the third and fourth slots. Offensive line is a relative weakness, with only the veteran presence of Jim Otto providing some respectability.

Very stout defense in general, with the interior of the front seven being a particular strength. Perhaps Rubin Carter could be dangled in the trade market to acquire some help on the offensive line.

#4 - Tennessee

QB   Peyton Manning       136
RB   Charlie Garner        72
RB   Jamal Lewis           63
RC   Stanley Morgan        81
RC   Anthony Miller        74
RC   Carl Pickens          55
RC   Willie Gault          55
T    Tim Irwin             69
T    Chad Clifton          50
G    Jack Stroud           58
G    John Gordy            56
C    Bob Johnson           57

DT   John Henderson        55
DT   Dick Evey             41
DE   Reggie White         163
DE   Doug Atkins          119
ILB  Jack Reynolds         84
ILB  Al Wilson             66
OLB  Mike Stratton         73
OLB  Paul Naumoff          71
CB   Terry McDaniel        70
CB   Dale Carter           68
S    Roland James          48
S    Deon Grant            46

This team has arguably the best offensive player and the best defensive player in NFL history. And it's got no glaring weaknesses.

Jason Witten will probably crack the starting lineup at the end of this season.

#5 - Ohio St.

QB   Mike Tomczak          44
RB   Eddie George          76
RB   Robert Smith          61
RC   Cris Carter           98
RC   Paul Warfield         94
RC   Joey Galloway         77
RC   Terry Glenn           66
T    Jim Parker           101
T    Lou Groza             99+
G    Doug Van Horn         54
G    William Roberts       52
C    Kirk Lowdermilk       49

DT   Bill Willis           65+
DT   Dan Wilkinson         58
DE   Jim Marshall         106
DE   Keith Ferguson        39
ILB  Randy Gradishar       92
ILB  Pepper Johnson        75
OLB  Stan White            66
OLB  Jim Houston           66
CB   Dick LeBeau           82
CB   Shawn Springs         56
S    Jack Tatum            65
S    Tim Fox               53

The Buckeyes would look a little stronger if they were allowed to move Dick Schafrath, Orlando Pace, and Jim Tyrer to guard and/or center. That's 13 first-team all-pro selections riding the pine at the tackle position. Quarterback is a problem.

#6 - Pittsburgh

QB   Dan Marino           146
RB   Tony Dorsett         106
RB   Curtis Martin        101
RC   Mike Ditka            79
RC   Dave Moore            36
RC   Larry Fitzgerald      33
RC   Joe Walton            31
T    Jimbo Covert          58
T    Jim McCusker          30
G    Ruben Brown           71
G    Russ Grimm            63
C    Mark Stepnoski        69

DT   Keith Hamilton        72
DT   Tony Siragusa         57
DE   Chris Doleman        114
DE   Bill McPeak           63+
ILB  Joe Schmidt          119
ILB  Jerry Olsavsky        21
OLB  Rickey Jackson       110
OLB  John Reger            75
CB   Ed Sharockman         65
CB   J.C. Wilson           25
S    Carlton Williamson    38
S    Paul Martha           30

If Marino goes down to injury, Matt Cavanaugh is the quarterback. Antonio Bryant will break into this lineup at the end of this season, and that's not a good thing. But there are obvious strengths on this team, and the depth at some positions is surprising. Bill Fralic, Mark May, Jim Sweeney, and Jeff Christy are four very good backup offensive linemen.

#7 - Penn St.

QB   Kerry Collins         75
RB   Franco Harris        101
RB   Lenny Moore           95
RC   Mickey Shuler         58
RC   Bobby Engram          51
RC   Kyle Brady            44
RC   O.J. McDuffie         43
T    Ron R. Heller         61
T    Brad Benson           53
G    Steve Wisniewski      90
G    Mike Munchak          84
C    Tom Rafferty          65

DT   Rosey Grier           89
DT   Dave Rowe             51
DE   Mike Hartenstine      71
DE   Bruce Clark           44
ILB  Matt Millen           66
ILB  Shane Conlan          61
OLB  Jack Ham             119
OLB  Dave Robinson         90
CB   David Macklin         29
CB   Paul Lankford         27
S    Mike Zordich          48
S    Darren Perry          43

Lydell Mitchell was six points behind Moore for the second RB slot. Like their in-state rivals, this team has great running backs, good offensive line depth (Dave Szott, Marco Rivera, Jeff Hartings), and a weak secondary.

#8 - Michigan

QB   Tom Brady             91
RB   Ron A. Johnson        58
RB   Leroy Hoard           43
RC   Elroy Hirsch          72+
RC   Amani Toomer          63
RC   Anthony Carter        62
RC   Derrick Alexander     56
RC   Ron Kramer            50
T    Mike Kenn            100
T    Dan Dierdorf          86
G    Tom Mack              91
G    Reggie McKenzie       66
C    John Morrow           60

DT   Tom Keating           51
DT   Dave Gallagher        27
DE   Len Ford              99+
DE   Curtis Greer          38
ILB  Frank Nunley          49
ILB  Larry Foote           34
OLB  John Anderson         59
OLB  Ian Gold              44
CB   Ty Law                83
CB   Dave Brown            73
S    Rick Volk             77
S    Randy Logan           68

Tom Brady and a very solid line make for a good offense despite a relative lack of superstar power at running back and receiver.

The defensive front seven is weak with the exception of Hall of Famer Len Ford, but the secondary is strong. Charles Woodson could be dealt for some help up front.

#9 - Syracuse

QB   Donovan McNabb        87
RB   Jim Brown            105
RB   Larry Csonka          71
RC   Marvin Harrison      121
RC   Art Monk              93
RC   John Mackey           77
RC   Rob Moore             62
T    Stan Walters          67
T    John Brown            33
G    Walt Sweeney          83
G    Dave Lapham           46
C    Jim Ringo            112

DT   Ken Clarke            55
DT   Art Thoms             42
DE   Rob Burnett           81
DE   Dwight Freeney        49
ILB  Jim Cheyunski         41
ILB  Jim Collins           40
OLB  Keith Bulluck         56
OLB  Terry Wooden          48
CB   Will Allen            39
CB   Carl Karilivacz       35
S    Tom Myers             49
S    Donovin Darius        45

I'm not sure the Orange don't have the best offense in this league. For now, the defense looks very unimpressive, but Bulluck and Freeney are working on it.

Floyd Little was tied with Csonka for the second RB slot.


QB   Fran Tarkenton       138
RB   Herschel Walker       79
RB   Terrell Davis         73
RC   Hines Ward            72
RC   Jimmy Orr             66
RC   Bobby Walston         54
RC   Randy McMichael       36
T    Mike W. Wilson        70
T    Adam Meadows          46
G    Guy McIntyre          63
G    Pete Case             39
C    Len Hauss             80

DT   Marcus Stroud         51
DT   Marion Campbell       49
DE   Bill Stanfill         77
DE   Richard Seymour       69
ILB  Randall Godfrey       69
ILB  Dave Lloyd            47
OLB  Mo Lewis              88
OLB  Boss Bailey           20
CB   Champ Bailey          94
CB   Art DeCarlo           19
S    Jake Scott            89
S    Terry Hoage           31

Moving Ray Donaldson to guard would help out the offensive line. Garrison Hearst is just two points behind Terrell Davis at RB.

Later in the week, we'll look at some other surprisingly good (and bad) teams. Then we'll break it down by position. Which colleges produce the best quarterbacks? Running backs? Linebackers? etc.