Why the SEC's NFL Draft dominance doesn't have an end in sight
Cover your eyes, Danny Kanell.
Really any SEC hater isn’t going to like what they’re about to read.
You know that NFL Draft dominance the SEC has over the past 13 years? Yeah, it’s not slowing down anytime soon.
I realize that’s an easy conclusion to come to after the SEC just broke the single-draft record for players selected from a conference (64).
For those who were keeping track at home, that was 24 more selections than the next-closest conference. In order for another conference to have won that title in 2019, you would have had to take away all the selections from the 4 SEC teams that finished ranked in the top 10 Associated Press Top 25 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU).
So why is this the case, and what’s to suggest it’ll continue at this unprecedented rate?
It’s simple. It’s recruiting and coaching.
Let me stop you right there because I fear that you read that and said, “of course it’s recruiting and coaching. Nick Saban has a million NFL players and that’s why the SEC’s numbers are so good.”
It’s true that the SEC’s 13-year streak coincided with Saban’s arrival at Alabama. He actually got to Tuscaloosa a few months before the 13-year streak began so he didn’t have anything to do with that first year and Alabama actually didn’t have a single player drafted in 2008 after Saban’s first full season.
Speaking of that, here’s a fun exercise for the “the SEC is Bama and everyone else” crowd. Can you tell me how many times the SEC would have won the conference draft title during these 13 years if you removed Alabama’s draft picks from the SEC’s yearly total?
(Yes = SEC has most draft picks without Alabama; No = SEC does not have most draft picks without Alabama)
- 2019 — Yes
- 2018 — No (ACC + 4)
- 2017 — Yes (would have been tied with ACC)
- 2016 — No (Big Ten +3)
- 2015 — Yes (would’ve been tied with ACC)
- 2014 — No (ACC +1)
- 2013 — Yes
- 2012 — No (Big Ten +7)
- 2011 — No (ACC +2)
- 2010 — Yes
- 2009 — Yes
- 2008 — Yes
- 2007 — Yes
So to recap, the SEC without Alabama still would have held at least a share of the conference draft title in 8 of those 13 seasons (62% or nearly 2 of every 3 seasons). That’s actually pretty remarkable. Keep in mind that’s allowing teams like Clemson or Ohio State to be included in totals for the ACC and Big Ten.
That pours some cold water on the belief that the SEC’s draft streak is a direct result of Saban, and that once he retires, so will the April dominance (whoever takes over at Alabama when Saban calls it a career is still going to produce NFL Draft picks).
It’s more than that.
The more direct correlation is something that just happened this offseason. This year will mark the first time since 2006 that the SEC begins a season without a new head coach.
That’s not a coincidence. For the first time during this run, it really feels like there are a bunch of non-Saban coaches who will be at their respective school for the next decade (Mark Stoops, Dan Mullen, Jimbo Fisher and Kirby Smart to name a few). After most of the 2010s was a constant shuffling of coaches — 2010-17 should just be known as the “we must get on Saban’s level” period in SEC history — it seems like we’re entering a different era of SEC coaches.
As it relates to the NFL Draft, that means fewer players leaving the conference with coaching turnover, and it also means more development than ever. The 2019 NFL Draft numbers prove that there’s more depth than ever in the conference when it comes to getting guys to the next level:
- 13 teams had multiple players drafted
- 11 SEC teams had at least 3 players drafted (there were 32 teams overall who did that)
- 8 SEC teams had at least 5 players drafted (there were 19 teams overall who did that)
Does that depth remind you of anything? It should. It’s not a coincidence that the SEC’s NFL Draft success coincided with its recruiting dominance. From 2000-05, the SEC averaged 4.7 Top 15 recruiting classes. From 2006-19, that number is up to 6.2 (it’s 6.25 in the past 4 years).
Most recently in 2019, the SEC had half of the conference (7 teams) place in the top 12 of the 247sports class rankings. And yeah, it’s early with 2020 still, but the SEC has 3 of the top 5 classes, led by No. 1 LSU.
It’s a pretty reliable formula the conference developed in the past 13 years. That is, get the most talent in the doors, find the right coach to develop players and watch them get drafted. Sure, it’s easier said than done, and there’s no guarantee that the trend spans the duration of the 2020s the way it did in the 2010s, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
Maybe a lot of it was this kick in the pants from Saban that inspired the rest of the conference to improving in that area. Technically, though, they’re all still chasing him.
Then again, everyone is still chasing the SEC — with or without Saban.