A for Athlete

Pipeline to the NFL?[]

Source, http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/[[nfl/2008-04-21-draft-database-cover_N.htm By Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY

Big states, schools are key[]

Southern California football coach Pete Carroll doesn't need to travel far to find recruits. He has his choice of high school football talent within driving distance. It's just 35 miles to Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, 21 to Long Beach Poly High and 22 to Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks. Dominguez High is just 10 miles down the road in Compton.

He might go two hours south to the San Diego area. Or six hours north to the Bay area. But Carroll is surrounded by so much talent that he seldom has to leave the state for a recruit, and when he does, he's looking for a player who "fits the profile of guys who are first-round draft picks," Carroll says. "Obviously, we're in a fertile area."

A comprehensive database of the past 20 NFL drafts, assembled by USA TODAY, illuminates trends in geography (school and conference), position and player size.

It is no surprise that California, along with Florida and Texas, produce large numbers of draftees. After all, they are three of the four largest states in the USA, making up 26% of the population.

But those three states out-produce their population when it comes to NFL draft picks. They account for 1,808 of 5,395 players drafted — 34% — according to a USA TODAY analysis of the NFL draft from 1988-2007.

Not coincidentally, the prominent colleges in those states — Miami (Fla.), Florida State, University of Florida and Southern California — procure their share of homegrown talent and deliver them to the NFL.

There are so many quality players in those states, coaches from out-of-state universities flock there to sign players.

"We can't get them all," Florida State's Bobby Bowden says.

The NFL draws talent from 628 NCAA schools at the Division I, II and III levels, plus NAIA and junior colleges. However, just 31 NCAA Division I schools generated nearly 50% of the 5,395 draftees.

The draft has grown, if not in importance at least in exposure, since 1988. With the advent of the salary cap and free agency, there is a premium on procuring talent through the draft. Not every player can make $10 million a year. To win, it also requires lesser-paid — but productive — talent. The draft is a viable way to find those players.

"It's becoming crucial economically to succeed in the draft. You can't live on free agency," saysCharley Casserly, who spent 24 years as an NFL executive.

Other database findings include:

• At some colleges, the number of draft picks increase when a new coach starts. Virginia Tech with Frank Beamer, Southern California with Pete Carroll and Ohio State with Jim Tressel fit that profile. The results are on the field, too. Since Carroll took over, the Trojans have played in two Bowl Championship Series title games, winning in 2005. Tressel's Buckeyes are three-time BCS title game participants and winners in 2002. Under Beamer, Virginia Tech has played in three BCS bowl games, including the 1999 title game.

• Of the 600 first-round draft picks in the past 20 drafts, 195 (33%) have been named to the Pro Bowl. At 39%, running backs drafted in the first round are the best bets to make the Pro Bowl. First-round quarterbacks are just below the average at 31%.

• The average draft pick played 48.7 NFL games — the equivalent of three seasons — while 1,035 draft picks never played a game. It's good to be a kicker, though. The average kicker drafted played 88 games, or nearly 5½ seasons.

• NFL teams have selected 136 Hurricanes, more than any other school. Florida State (125) is second followed by Tennessee (120), Ohio State (116) and Notre Dame (115). Miami takes advantage of homegrown talent — 66% of its draft picks are from Florida.

• Think the best football is played in the Southeastern Conference? The SEC, now 12 teams strong, leads all conferences with 754 players drafted. The Big Ten and Pac-10 are second at 649.

• Despite what might be considered down years recently for traditional powers Penn State, Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami, there is no significant drop off in the number of draft picks from those schools.

• Is Penn State still Linebacker U? Yes and no. NFL teams have drafted 17 linebackers from Penn State from 1988-2007. But teams have drafted 19 from Florida State and 18 each from Nebraska, Tennessee and Miami (Fla.).

• Players are bigger — not necessarily taller, but heavier at almost all positions. In 1988, the average player drafted was 6-1⅔ and 231.6 pounds. In 2007, the average player was 6-1 4/5 and 243.4.

USA TODAY's NFL team has details on the migration of players across the football landscape:

It's just not a draft without the Hurricanes

Randy Shannon knows Miami football.

He grew up in Miami, played high school football in the city and played for the Hurricanes. He served as a graduate assistant at Miami, then as an assistant and now is the Hurricanes' head coach.

Shannon, who was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, is intimately familiar with the connection between the Hurricanes and the NFL. Of Miami's 136 draft picks, 41 were first-round selections, more than any other school.

The Hurricanes have had at least one first-round pick since 1995, including six in 2004. Of those 41 first rounders, 30 are from Florida and 16 are from the Miami area. Like Southern California's Pete Carroll, Shannon can stay close to home for recruits.

"We try to go (from) West Palm Beach down," Shannon says. "If we can get the best of that area, including Dade and Broward counties, we feel we will be pretty good."

Shannon's 2008 recruiting class is heavy on in-staters. Twenty-three of the 32 signees are Floridians and 18 of those 23 are from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, including 12 from Miami.

Like Shannon, Santana Moss is a Miami native and played for the Hurricanes. He's well aware of the tradition of the program and its history — both good and bad.

Once he started college, Moss was motivated by the Hurricane players that came before him. "History has paved the way for you," says Moss, a wide receiver drafted by the New York Jets and now starting for the Washington Redskins. "The U alone brings you attention — positive and negative. It's up to you to put yourself on the side you want."

Ohio produces Buckeyes, pros

Ohio State averaged 8½ wins and 4.9 draft picks per year in the 13 seasons before Jim Tressel became head coach in 2001.

Since Tressel took over, the Buckeyes have averaged 10.4 wins and 7.8 draft picks a year. Recruiting is key, and while Tressel says "I don't know if we are doing anything magical," he concedes his staff might devote more time evaluating recruits than some schools.

"We spend a lot of time ranking recruits and watching extra film," Tressel says. "We spend extra time getting to know them, talking to their high school coach, talking to opposing coaches."

Tressel targeted players from Ohio in his first recruiting class because "the 2002 class was just extraordinary."

Nine Buckeyes from that class were drafted in 2006, including five first-round picks, four of whom played high school football in Ohio: linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, center Nick Mangold and safety Donte Whitner.

Tressel didn't recruit every Ohio State player that was drafted since 2002, but 70% of Ohio State's draft picks during Tressel's tenure are from Ohio. All eight Buckeyes drafted in 2007 — Tressel's recruits — were from the state.

"Our football here is very important culturally," Tressel says. "The coaching is very good. We do a good job recruiting our home state plus the border states and recruiting hotbeds like Florida, Georgia and Texas. We'll go wherever we can to get great players."

While just eight of Ohio State's draft picks under Tressel are from Florida and Texas, 2008 marked the first time one of his recruiting classes is filled with more out-of-state players than in-state — Florida, Georgia and Texas are represented.

For quarterbacks, Pac-10 leads the pack

The Pac-10 has a reputation as a passing conference, but Cal coach Jeff Tedford plays coy when asked to verify without statistics.

"I would assume that if people come up with that perception, it would be real. But I don't know if we're better than anywhere else," Tedford says.

When told NFL teams have drafted 40 Pac-10 quarterbacks — 12 more than any other conference — since 1988, Tedford said that was too large of a sample size.

"Narrow that down to the last 10 years, and it probably evens out more," he says.

Tedford is right. In the past 10 drafts, 19 Pac-10 quarterbacks have been drafted as the SEC (16) and Big Ten (15) narrowed the gap.

"Twenty years ago, you still had the option and wishbone (offenses), and you don't see that so much anymore. More teams are using the spread offense," Tedford says.

No matter the conference, the quarterback is a pivotal position at draft time.

Think Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Troy Aikman and Donovan McNabb — all selected as the first or second overall pick.

Then think Joey Harrington, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf and Rick Mirer — all selected with either first, second or third overall pick.

Since 1988, 42 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round, including 11 as the overall No. 1 pick. Of those 42, just 13 have made the Pro Bowl team.

Is a quarterback worth a first-round pick? In 1997, the first quarterback wasn't selected until the 26th pick. No quarterback was drafted in the first round in 1996 or 1988.

"Clearly, you can't win if you don't have a quarterback," longtime NFL executive Charley Casserly says. "If there's one there, I'm more apt to take him. If you wait, the guy might not even be there."

Powerful SEC in a league of its own

The SEC leads all conferences in draft picks (754) and first-round picks (118). Three of the past four national champions are from the conference.

Steve Spurrier spent 12 years as the University of Florida head coach and now is preparing for his fourth season at South Carolina. Still, he can't say with certainty the best football is played in the SEC.

"But I do know where the largest stadiums are and biggest fan interest is. That's in the SEC," Spurrier says.

"Maybe because of the largest stadiums and greatest fans, that's why the top players in the country want to play in the SEC."

Last season, the SEC led all conferences in average attendance per game (75,139), nearly 4,000 more per game than the Big Ten.

SEC programs generate significant revenue, which yields ample resources — well-paid coaches, large recruiting budgets and state-of-the-art facilities.

"A lot of people in this league make a big financial commitment to their programs," University of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer says. "It's important to SEC fans and alumni."

But resources alone don't create NFL players. Talent and coaching are key.

Since 1988, Tennessee has produced 120 NFL draft picks — never more than 10 in one draft and never fewer than two. "It gets back to recruiting and the evaluation process," Fulmer says.

At historically black schools, talent rich

Historically black colleges and universities have produced two of the greatest players in NFL history — Jackson State running back Walter Payton and Mississippi Valley State wide receiver Jerry Rice.

Small schools, major players.

The Southwestern Athletic Conference's 10 teams have produced as many draft picks as the 14 teams who played in the Division I-A Mid-American Conference. With 23 draft picks, Jackson State outnumbers I-A schools University of Kansas and Wake Forest.

Grambling and Southern University hold their own with 19 and 16 selections, and NFL teams have drafted as many quarterbacks from Alabama State as University of Alabama since 1988.

While some HSBCU players may have been overlooked coming out of high school, they are not overlooked in the draft. Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a projected first-round selection Saturday.

"You have to tip your hat to the NFL," Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor says. "If you have a player out there, they will find him."

At the I-AA level, coaches don't expect to get the top recruits, so they must rein expectations and amend their strategy.

"We've also found we're getting a lot of late bloomers — guys who get a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger once they're here," Southern coach Pete Richardson says.

Taylor spent 16 years as the Hampton coach before accepting the Florida A&M job on Dec. 31, year? His strategy? Developing players when they join the team through a strength and conditioning program that mirrors the programs of top I-A schools.

He also maximizes exposure. The MEAC has a TV deal with ESPN. "That's a great recruiting tool," Taylor says.

One high school, so many future NFL players

With 4,683 students, Long Beach Poly is the second largest public high school in California. Famous alumni include rapper Snoop Dogg, Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, tennis great Billie Jean King and actress Cameron Diaz.

But Long Beach Poly boasts more than just an A-list yearbook. The football program has produced 16 NFL draft picks since 1988, more than any high school in the USA and five more than Duke, an Atlantic Coast Conference school.

Among the Poly graduates drafted since 1988: defensive backs Mark Carrier, Marquez Pope and Omar Stoutmire, linebacker Willie McGinest, tight end Marcedes Lewis, receiver Samie Parker and offensive tackle Winston Justice. Receiver DeSean Jackson will be the next, possibly in the first round Saturday.

Yes, it's a large school, but four other Long Beach high schools with an enrollment of more than 4,000 students have produced just two NFL players in the past 20 years.

"The main thing you have to remember is that tradition never hurts," says Raul Lara, who played football at Poly and was an assistant for 11 years before becoming the head coach seven years ago.

In December, the Jackrabbits won their 17th Southern Section championship.

Lewis, a Jacksonville Jaguars tight end, played youth football in Long Beach and knew about the Poly tradition before he started ninth grade.

"The (youth) coaches would tell us that if we wanted to be like this player, this is what we had to do," Lewis says. "They would say, 'See Poly, see them winning. It starts right here.' "

Players add heft to take pounding

Until the economy started to sputter, the USA loved to super-size SUVs, homes and fast-food meals. Football players got bigger, too.

On average, offensive linemen weighed 308 pounds in the 2007 draft compared to 289 in the 1988.

Of nine positions (quarterback, running back, offensive lineman, tight end, receiver, defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker and defensive back) eight have increased in weight. The defensive ends drafted 20 years ago were 3 pounds heavier but the same height. Other considerable discrepancies: Running backs are the same height (5-10) but 12 pounds heavier at 224. Receivers are more than an inch taller (6-1¾) and 16 pounds heavier at 200. At 6-3 and 228 pounds, quarterbacks are an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier.

Weights have risen as physical demands have increased. If wide receivers weigh more, defensive backs must bulk up if they want to win individual matchups.

While acknowledging performance-enhancing drugs may have played some part, Dr. William Kraemer, professor of kinesiology, medicine, physiology and neurobiology at the University of Connecticut, also credits science and education.

"The technology of nutrition and technology of strength and conditioning and technology related to being smarter is becoming more of an element," Kraemer says. "The temptation in a lot of guys (to use performance-enhancing drugs) is slowly being removed in favor of hard work and better technology."