By Rock Mayock 9:45 p.m. | When evaluating the overall health of a college football program there is only one stat that really matters. It is not BCS championships or bowl wins, it is how many players did the program put in the NFL via the draft. Using the 2012 NFL draft as a benchmark illustrates this point. Alabama placed 13 players in the league including 8 via the draft, 3 were drafted in the first round and 5 were signed as undrafted free agents. These statistics are indicative of a thriving college program that just so happens to be winning championships.
On the flip side of that equation is a program such as UCLA. The once proud Bruins had zero players drafted and only 4 signed as undrafted free agents. UCLA’s inability to get players into the league is not an indictment on current head coach Jim Mora Jr. but rather the shortcomings of the previous regime lead by Slick Rick Neuheisel.
This begs the question for Los Angeles sports fans, how did USC fare in the 2012 NFL draft and what does that infer about the relative health of the program? Of the 253 picks made in this year’s draft USC only had three players selected. The draft position and destination for each of these three picks is detailed in the chart on the left. Does USC’s smattering of draft picks indicate the program is experiencing a dearth of quality talent? Not necessarily. Remember that last year’s USC was heavily laden with under classmen (freshman and sophomores). Going into this draft USC technically had only 10 players who were either eligible or submitted the necessary paperwork to declare. Therefore it is not unreasonable for only three players (33.33% of available draft prospects), including two in the first round, to be drafted. In fact, they did quite well with what they had.
In addition to the 3 players drafted the program placed another 6 players in the league via undrafted free agent signings. The landing spot for all 6 free agent signees is details on the left. In total 9 of 10 draft eligible USC players found their way onto an NFL roster. In a world were students go to college to learn a skill that will provide future employment. By this logic college football players attend a university to learn how to play professional football and a 90% rate job placement is phenomenal.
One important point to remember is the attrition rate of rookie players is astronomical. Many of the undrafted free agents will either be cut, released or relegated to practice squads. In the wake of the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) even highly drafted rookie players will find themselves out of the NFL in 2-3 years. Such is the cut throat nature of professional sports.
It is a well established fact that collegiate programs run in cycles. Rosters are built up with great recruiting classes, players are developed, and then they leave in 3-4 years. For USC the 2012 NFL draft is reminiscent of the 2005 or 2007 incarnations of the draft. 2005 Produced only 5 draft picks (Mike Williams, Mike Patterson, Shaun Cody, Lofa Tatupu and Matt Cassell) and 2007 also produced only 5 draft picks (Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Ryan Kalil, Dallas Startz and Oscar Lua). The 2005 draft was followed up with an incredible 2006 draft that featured 11 picks including 2 first round picks, 2 second round picks, 2 third round picks and 4 late round picks. Likewise that 2007 draft was followed up by a 2008 draft that featured 10 picks including an incredible 4 first round picks, 3 second round picks and 3 late round picks. The first round of the 2013 NFL is already shaping up to dominated by the Trojans. Matt Barkley is a likely top 3 pick, Robert Woods is a early to mid first round pick and TJ McDonald is a mid to late first round pick. History has a funny way of repeating itself.
The moral of the story is that USC is strong. Behind the superior recruiting efforts of Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron USC has put together back to back top 10 recruiting classes even with significant scholarship reductions imposed by the NCAA. The results of Kiffin and Orgeron’s efforts will manifest both on the field as well as on NFL teams’ draft boards. So no need to worry Trojan fans (unless you are thinking about the depth of the running back corps), the future is looking up… especially post 2014.