College football is back! With the season getting underway in earnest, this is a great time to look at the top programs for sending players to the NFL. This is my sixth year running these rankings, and while there has been a lot that has changed, some things stay the same. Alabama is still on top and has a monster lead over Ohio State. Nick Saban is running a NFL factory down in Tuscaloosa.
I love doing these rankings every year because it shows you which schools are the best at preparing players for the NFL draft. Obviously, it should be taken into account that usually these schools are also the ones that excel in recruiting, but there is a lot more to it than that. Receiving the right exposure, playing in a specific system or especially competing against the best talent all play a role in shaping a prospects’ draft stock as well. This is not a predictive measurement of how well players from these schools will do in the pros. For high school prospects with dreams of playing on Sundays, these are the best programs to get you there.
Previous rankings: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016
For those wondering how these rankings are created, I look at all the players drafted over the past five years and then score their draft spot using the scoring system below. The draft classes included in this year’s rankings span from 2017 to 2021.
The scoring system is as follows:
1st round -10 points
2nd round – 7 points
3rd round – 5 points
4th round – 4 points
5th round – 3 points
6th round – 2 points
7th round – 1 points
1. Alabama Crimson Tide – 343 points
Previous: 1 (315 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Quinnen Williams, 3rd Overall, 2019
Alabama continues to raise the bar. After claiming his sixth national championship since taking over for the Tide in 2009, Nick Saban tied the 2004 Miami Hurricanes when six of his players were drafted in the first round of 2021. Somehow, the Tide keep increasing their point total. After Ohio State pulled within 30 points a year ago, Alabama has stretched their lead to nearly 100 points again. No one is touching them for a while.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes – 248 points
Previous: 2 (285 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Nick Bosa/Chase Young, 2nd Overall, 2019/2020
At first glance, it might seem like the Buckeyes had a rough 2021 draft. It was solid if unspectacular, but their massive drop in points is mostly due to losing out on a 2016 draft class that featured 12 players, including five first-rounders. Ohio State is not going anywhere, but after seeming like they were primed to challenge Alabama for the top spot a year ago, this was a disappointing follow up.
3. LSU Tigers – 215 points
Previous: 3 (202 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Joe Burrow, 1st Overall, 2020
The championship hangover hit the Bayou hard as LSU struggled to a 5-5 finish. Still, the Tigers had seven players drafted, highlighted by Ja’Marr Chase going in the top 5. There is already buzz about another potential top-five prospect in Derek Stingley Jr., so I think LSU is here to stay. They will need to pick it up in the first few rounders though if they want to stay in the top three.
4. Michigan Wolverines – 170 points
Previous: 6 (144 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Devin Bush, 10th Overall, 2019
I said it last year and I will say it again, Jim Harbaugh, despite all his flaws running this program, knows how to get players to the NFL. Michigan saw eight of its football alumni have their names called across the three days of the 2021 draft in April. Kwity Paye led the way going 21st overall. There are already a few players in the top 50 conversation heading into this season, so the Wolverines could climb even higher.
5. Florida Gators – 167 points
Previous: 5 (161 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Kyle Pitts, 4th Overall, 2021
Florida’s draft success took another step forward as Kyle Pitts became the Gators’ first top-five pick since Dante Fowler back in 2015. Pitts kicked off a good-sized draft class, with eight former Florida players coming off the board on draft day. With tons of NFL-caliber talent still on this roster and Dan Mullen still running the show, Florida is going to stick among college football elites in this category.
6. Clemson Tigers – 165 points
Previous: 4 (171 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Trevor Lawrence, 1st Overall, 2021
It feels weird that Clemson would have the No. 1 overall pick and somehow move down two spots after dropping a few points. The Tigers had a solid draft class of five players. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne were both first-round selections. This is not a huge blow for Clemson, but I think it underlines just how hard it is to produce top-end NFL prospects.
7. Georgia Bulldogs – 153 points
Previous: 9 (131 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Roquon Smith, 8th Overall, 2018
Kirby Smart feels like he is just getting started. Georgia had nine players drafted in 2021, including three in the top 50. With a loaded roster heading into 2021 with some big-name prospects already drawing national attention, the Bulldogs are primed for future success. J.T. Daniels, Adam Anderson, Nakobe Dean and Jordan Davis could all come off the board in the top 50 in 2022.
8. Oklahoma Sooners – 138 points
Previous: 8 (133 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Baker Mayfield/Kyler Murray, 1st Overall, 2018/2019
This was a quiet draft by Oklahoma standards. 2021 snapped a three-year streak of having a player selected in the first round and only two players went in the top 100. That should change in 2022, with Spencer Rattler in the Heisman conversation and some other prospects receiving first-round buzz. As long as Lincoln Riley is in Norman, the Sooners are going to be in the top 10.
9. Washington Huskies – 132 points
Previous: 10 (110 points)
Highest Drafted Player – John Ross, 9th Overall, 2017
If you are a high school prospect with NFL aspirations looking to play on the West Coast, Washington should probably be at the top of your wish list. It remains to be seen if Jimmy Lake can sustain the success Chris Pederson built. If 2021 was any indication, the program should be fine. Joe Tryon snuck into the first round and Levi Onwuzurike was not far behind him. Four former Huskies heard their names called and there should be a few more to follow in 2022.
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – 130 points
Previous: 7 (136 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Quenton Nelson, 6th Overall, 2018
Hate on the Irish all you want, Brian Kelly is producing NFL prospects at a high level. It was the second year in a row that Notre Dame did not have a first-round pick, but they somewhat made up for that with three second-rounders. Kyle Hamilton will almost definitely snap that streak next year. With a very small draft class in 2017, the Irish should be in a good spot to add more points in 2022.
11. Penn State Nittany Lions – 109 points
Previous: 13 (100 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Saquon Barkley, 2nd Overall, 2018
The gap between the top 10 and everyone else is apparent. Penn State has steadily made progress in these rankings in recent years. When I first started recording this, the Nittany Lions were 23rd and had not had a first-round pick in the previous five years. Fast forward to 2021 and Penn State had multiple players taken in the first round for the first time since 2003. Yes, it certainly seems like Happy Valley is back to being a hot spot for NFL prospects.
12. USC Trojans – 108 points
Previous: 11 (104 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Sam Darnold, 3rd Overall, 2018
15 years ago, USC likely would have led these rankings. After a long lull, it seems like the Trojans are headed in the right direction. Alijah Vera-Tucker was the highest drafted player of a group of five former USC players. With Kedon Slovis and Drake London drawing first-round hype already, the Trojans could be in for an even bigger draft class in 2022.
13. Iowa Hawkeyes – 98 points
Previous: 19 (86 points)
Highest Drafted Player – T.J. Hockenson, 8th Overall, 2019
This was definitely a down year for the Hawkeyes, yet they take a big step forward in the rankings. That is primarily because Austin Blythe was the only former Iowa player drafted in 2016 and he went in the seventh round. Hard to do much worse than that from a draft perspective. Iowa has dominated the middle rounds and have hit some highs with first-round selections in 2019 and 2020. If they are serious about staying in the top 15, the Hawkeyes will likely need to start producing first-rounders more regularly.
14. Miami Hurricanes – 97 points
Previous: 19 (86 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Jaelan Phillips, 18th Overall, 2021
Miami is really close to rejoining the elite schools in the country when it comes to sending players to the NFL. No one came close to matching the Hurricanes in the early 2000s, but they have fallen on hard times. Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau were the first players from Miami drafted before the third round since 2017. That is a problem. There is more talent on the horizon, but as we have seen, it is far from a guarantee that those players will crack those first two rounds.
15. Auburn Tigers – 96 points
Previous: 12 (101 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Derrick Brown, 7th Overall, 2020
The Gus Malzahn era is officially over and the on-field results correspond with a dip in the pro potential power rankings. The Tigers dominated the 2020 draft, highlighted by two selections in the first 30 picks, but those were their only first round draftees since 2014. Anthony Schwartz was the first Auburn player off the board this year and he went 91st. It will be interesting to see if Bryan Harsin can turn things around and how long it will take before the program is back among the nation’s elite, if it ever returns.
16. Texas A&M Aggies – 90 points
Previous: 17 (90 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Myles Garrett, 1st Overall, 2017
Despite a great season on the field, narrowly missing the College Football Playoff, Texas A&M had a really quiet draft. Only four players came off the board. Kellen Mond was the first and he went in the third round. That was a bit underwhelming, but oh boy, the 2022 Aggies draft class will likely change all of that. DeMarvin Leal, Jaylen Wydermyer, Kenyon Green and Isaiah Spiller will all be in the first-round conversation. There is plenty of depth after that. Jimbo Fisher has a good track record with sending players to the league. There is a reason Florida State has fallen off a cliff in NFL prospect production since he left.
17. Stanford Cardinal – 88 points
Previous: 21 (85 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Solomon Thomas, 3rd Overall, 2017
Stanford continues to produce NFL talent every year. Five players heard their names called in 2021, with all of them coming between the second and fifth rounds. Unfortunately, the quality of play on the field continues to slide and there is a chance the number of Cardinal players heading to the NFL could follow. David Shaw is a fantastic coach, but he needs to do something to revive this program.
18. Utah Utes – 86 points
Previous: 20 (90 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Garrett Bolles, 20th Overall, 2017
It is not time to panic in Salt Lake City. Not having a single player drafted in 2021 is startling, but that comes on the heels of a strong seven-man draft class in 2020. There is hope on the horizon with Devin Lloyd likely to generate some first-round buzz. This past draft class is still incredibly disappointing, but I wouldn’t expect Utah to completely drop out of the rankings right away.
19. Florida State Seminoles – 78 points
Previous: 23 (80 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Brian Burns, 16th Overall, 2019
Florida State has struggled to keep up their NFL factory tag in the post Jimbo Fisher era. The Seminoles drop a couple points but move up because of other teams struggling around them. If the season opener against Notre Dame was any indication though, there is a chance there is some more NFL talent on the roster than initially thought. 2022 could be a huge inflection point one way or the other in determining which direction FSU is headed in these rankings.
20. Mississippi State Bulldogs – 77 points
Previous: 16 (91 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Jeffery Simmons, 19th Overall, 2019
This was not ideal. Only two Mississippi State players were drafted in 2021. Both were seventh rounders. That is not going to get it done in these rankings, at least not long term. The Bulldogs should hang around bolstered by a 2019 draft class that featured three first-round picks, but this is a red flag. There is a chance their days in the top 20 are coming to an end.
21. UCLA Bruins – 76 points
Previous: 14 (98 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Josh Rosen, 10th Overall, 2018
Another small draft class sees the Bruins take a major tumble down the rankings. Osa Odighizuwa and Demetric Felton were the only players drafted from UCLA this past year. Early signs point to Chip Kelly having this team headed in the right direction. In his fourth season in L.A., Kelly finally has his own recruits running the show. Zach Charbonnet is off to a hot start and there are a few other prospects already earning top 100 buzz. Perhaps the Bruins are primed for a bounce back and better days ahead now that Kelly is settling in.
22. Wisconsin Badgers – 74 points
Previous: 25 (73 points)
Highest Drafted Player – T.J. Watt, 30th Overall, 2017
It was another ho-hum draft class for the Badgers. Three former Wisconsin players were drafted, but none of them were selected prior to the fifth round. Another year like that could see Paul Chryst’s program slide out of the rankings. There are a number of teams all within 15 points of Wisconsin at this stage. Its 2017 draft class was also a strong one, so they will need to have a better 2022 to help replace it when next year rolls around.
23. North Carolina State Wolfpack – 72 points
Previous: 22 (83 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Bradley Chubb, 5th Overall, 2018
Alim McNeil was the lone North Carolina State player taken in 2021. He was a third-round pick, but one-man draft classes don’t really do much in these rankings. Considering the Wolfpack’s on-field success, it was a bit of surprise no one else joined McNeil. NC State has a good history of producing NFL talent, so they could be in line for a turnaround, but it will need to happen quickly.
24. TCU Horned Frogs – 70 points
Previous: 24 (79 points)
Highest Draft Player – Jalen Reagor, 21st Overall, 2020
TCU is lucky to stay in these rankings. The Horned Frogs only had two players taken in 2021. However, they could be in line for a resurgence in 2022. Their 2017 draft class consisted of just one seventh-round selection, so it will be hard for them to really drop more points in next year’s rankings. There are a few players on the 2021 roster that should come off the board in the top 100, so the top 20 is definitely within reach.
25. Ole Miss Rebels – 69 points
Previous: 15 (93 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Evan Engram, 23rd Overall, 2021
The biggest drop of any program in the 2021 rankings, Ole Miss is hanging on for dear life. Their two players selected were in the second and fourth rounds, which is solid. However, that was replacing a 2016 draft class that produced three first-rounders. Now Evan Engram is the only former Rebel taken in the first round in the past five years. Maybe Matt Corral could change that, but it would take a big season for him to break into the top 32 prospects come draft day.
25. North Carolina – 69 points
Previous: NR (46 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Mitchell Trubisky, QB, UNC
2021 was a solid year for UNC both on the field and in terms of draft production. Their five players selected replaced a 2016 draft class featuring zero NFL prospects. That is a big part of the reason for the Tar Heels’ surge. It also helps that Mack Brown is attracting big-time talent to Chapel Hill. Sam Howell will have to prove himself in 2021 to solidify his first-round draft stock. There could be a few other players that work their way into the top 100 when all is said and done.
Others Receiving Votes: Virginia Tech (66 points), South Carolina (60 points), Kentucky (60 points)
Note: All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons