Friday, April 18, 2003
Former SEC players fill NFL rosters
By John Clayton
Each fall, the NFL puts out a release that lists the top college schools producing NFL players.
Notre Dame had topped or shared the top spot since the mid 1990s. Florida State has been a consistent runner up or near the top. Yet those totals might be a little misleading. While it lists the schools on opening day rosters, it doesn't describe the quality of those players.
Of late, the Fighting Irish haven't been producing the top choices or the impact players. In fact, their totals have dropped from 44 in the mid 1990s to 39 last year, tied with Florida and Florida State. The hotter schools for producing players who are NFL ready follow: 1. Miami; 2. Tennessee; 3. Florida; 4. Georgia; and 5. Michigan.
Maybe it's strange not to include Florida State, but it would probably be seventh. While they match or top several of the top five schools for volume over the past five years, the Seminoles have had a few players who haven't had instant success. Defensive end Jamal Reynolds, a first-round choice in 2000, has spent more time on the Packers inactive list than on the field. High picks such as safety Derrick Gibson, wide receiver Ron Dugans, defensive tackle Larry Smith and a few others are still trying to crack the starting lineup.
It was also hard not to put Ohio State into the top five, but the Buckeyes were sixth. Their top players have been instant hits, but there just hasn't been as many of them in the past couple of years. After having 35 Ohio State players on rosters in 1997, the Buckeyes have dropped to 28 at the beginning of last season.
Still, their top prospects are instant successes. Guard LeCharles Bentley, a second-rounder last year, made a big impact on the Saints offensive line as a rookie. Cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements were first-round picks of the Bills and each were first-year and long-term successes.
Another school that has dropped has been Colorado. Though Colorado players are usually NFL ready coming out of college, only 25 Colorado players were on NFL rosters last year. Choices in the top rounds have been missing the past few years.
Perhaps the hardest decision was omitting Penn State. Few schools consistently put up high first-round choices than the Nittany Lions. Whether its bad luck or some other reason, the top picks have struggled. Defensive end Courtney Brown has struggled with the Browns and hasn't been the sack machine they expected. Running backs taken in the top five have turned out to be busts from Blair Thomas to Curtis Enis.
In the late 1990s, Penn State had between 33 and 36 players on NFL rosters. The totals have fallen to 28 last year. Part of that is because many of the high picks haven't lasted.
Here are the top five:
Miami: Scouts are still amazed when they watch workouts on the Miami campus. Their athletes look like the NFL elite. Year after year, the Hurricanes keep producing top NFL talent. It's surprising to think that Miami ranks fifth with 35 players on NFL rosters. Each year, the Hurricanes crack out a half-dozen to a dozen top prospects. Failures at the top of the draft are few. Look at last year's draft. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon (Oakland) and safety Ed Reed (Baltimore) were instant success stories as starters in NFL secondaries. Tight end Jeremy Shockey lost out to halfback Clinton Portis for Rookie of the Year. There is long line of linebackers headed by Ray Lewis who have come from Miami. The Hurricanes are tied with Florida State and North Carolina with the most NFL linebackers (six).
Tennessee: The SEC is the NFL's most consistent hotbed for talent, but the Vols have the conference championship in the past five years. Last year, 10 Vols were drafted. Three went in the first round -- defensive tackles Albert Haynesworth (Tennessee) and John Henderson (Jacksonville) and wide receiver Donté Stallworth (New Orleans). Stallworth is one of the most exciting young deep threats in the NFL. Haynesworth should become a dominating disruptor in the middle of the Titans defensive line. What the Volunteers do best, though, is produce running backs. They lead the NFL with seven running backs. Jamal Lewis is a Ravens power back who can help carry the team to a Super Bowl. Travis Henry came on last season to become the Bills franchise halfback and just signed a contract extension this week.
Florida: It will be interesting to see how these numbers change with Steve Spurrier in the NFL and Ron Zook taking over as his replacement. Florida has eight receivers in the NFL, but many haven't achieved the success they had in college. Spurrier found that out last year when he tried to resurrect his offense around Florida receivers. Reche Caldwell of the Chargers and Jabar Gaffney of the Texans offered encouragement to their teams during their rookie seasons. Travis Taylor of the Ravens and Darrell Jackson of the Seahawks have been the best of the most recent crop of NFL receivers. Even though many of the receivers haven't worked out, Florida has produced the type of athletes who fit well into the increased passing aspects of the NFL. The Jaguars are counting on the mobility of linebacker Mike Peterson to turn around their defense. Lito Sheppard is the Eagles cornerback of the future. Fred Taylor was ready to become a star running back once he came into the NFL.
Georgia: Here's the newest addition to the top five. Because of the growth of the Atlanta area, the area is producing great raw big athlete who can be turned into quality offensive and defensive linemen. Look at the list of defensive linemen -- Charles Grant of the Saints, Richard Seymour of the Patriots and Marcus Stroud of the Jaguars. Kendrell Bell, a linebacker, became an instant star with the Steelers. This year, the Bulldogs are providing a quality group of offensive linemen. Matt Stinchcomb of the Raiders and Chris Terry were high picks from a few years ago. Of the two, Terry has become one of the highest paid right tackles. Georgia players are on the rise in the NFL. The school currently ranks tied with Miami for fifth with 35 current NFL players. This year's draft could put them in the top four or three.
Michigan: It's funny to have only one Big 10 school in the top five, but things have been tough in the Big 10 in recent years. The Big 10 hasn't been producing the quicker athletes compared to the SEC. The bulk numbers coming out of the Big 10 are offensive linemen. Wisconsin has four NFL centers and should add a fifth this year with Al Johnson. Still, players coming out of Michigan are usually NFL ready, particularly the offensive linemen. Charles Woodson is the best player who came out of Michigan in the past five years. He's one of the league's best cornerbacks. Ian Gold finally got a chance to show his skills as a starting linebacker for the Broncos. And the offensive linemen are usually instant successes -- Steve Hutchinson (Seahawks), Jeff Backus (Lions), Jon Jansen (Washington) and on and on. Another school to watch is Iowa. Kirk Ferentz is taking former tight ends and turning them into NFL ready offensive linemen.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.