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April 21, 2009

Study: UT dominates the Big 12 in NFL production

I am not a math geek.

Before we go any further, let's get that out of the way. The origin of the assignment that I created had nothing to do with any personal fascination with mathematical analysis. The truth of the matter is that this entire numbers crunching project began with a question - does Texas produce soft players for the NFL?

We all know the story.

In the first half of this decade, the Texas program was pushed around on the field by Oklahoma and it wasn't until 2004 that the Longhorns truly started to produce like a big-boy national football program.

Three BCS game wins over the likes of USC, Ohio State and Michigan in the last five seasons, along with a 3-1 record against Oklahoma since 2005 and a national championship, would seem to have dispelled that national myth a long time ago. But we all know that the nation is often slow to catch on to the new talking points.

Meanwhile, we also know that Texas has produced some interesting NFL test study subjects over the years. Ricky Williams is Ricky Williams, and we have known that for the last decade. But, the trials and tribulations of a few guys like Mike Williams, Cedric Benson and Vince Young have caused the program to get an undeserved reputation.

It seems like the large pool of Pro Bowl/All-Pro players around the league that were drafted out of Texas were getting left out of the conversation. Texas might produce a few guys that are "squirrelly," but certainly not soft.

For instance, we can concede that Young and Benson have been a little squirrelly over the years, but would you really call those guys soft? You can say a lot of things about them, but soft isn't something I would call either player.

The bottom line is that I made the decision that I would take a pool of select teams and breakdown the production in the NFL from those schools. In choosing to quickly sample Texas, Oklahoma and USC, I figured my initial results would indicate that all three schools measured very evenly, which would in some way dispel the notion that Texas' NFL player production was somehow inferior to that of its peers around the nation.

I was wrong. Texas was much, much better. Upon initial glance of an unsophisticated analysis that I put together in less than an hour, the Longhorns statistically outclassed the Sooners and Trojans in a major way.

Say what?

That's exactly what I said after finding some really unexpected results from just a little bit of fact-checking. It made me wonder what a full breakdown of the nation's superpowers would produce.

From a full statistical perspective, with as little personal opinion as possible, I decided to find out.

ESTABLISHING GUIDELINES

Overall, there were three very important things that I needed to establish before I did anything else.

- No. 1 The timeframe

This was pretty easy for me to settle on. I wanted to do a study from this decade, so the starting point was the 2000 NFL Draft. After considering some of the possible categories that I would be using, I determined that I couldn't use any of the results from the 2007-08 drafts in the study because two years is hardly enough time to define a draft class. That left me with a seven-year window to work with and I felt fairly confident that it would provide a large enough sample size that we could actually draw something from the numbers of the very top programs in the nation.

Also, we did not factor in players that went undrafted, even if they emerged as an elite-level player, because there's no way to invest any kind of bust label on a player that makes the team as an undrafted free agent. With me trying to keep this as simple as possible, I decided to keep this focused on the thousands of drafted players, while also acknowledging in the college notes section if there were other players that warranted mentioning.

- No. 2 The categories

It was important to me that I create several levels of discussion if I was going to put the many man-hours into this project that was needed. If we're talking about NFL talent, we need to acknowledge that there are tiers of NFL players that range from the superstars of the sport to the unknown on special teams.

If we're going to grade a school's ability to develop NFL players, we need to establish that there are many degrees of success for each player that's drafted. That's why I created five primary categories in which to slot all of the players in this analysis, and it was important to establish a hard-line criteria for evaluating the merits of each drafted player. First, let's take a look at the categories we created:

Pro Bowl/All-Pros

In order to keep it simple, we put any player that was named as either into this category, which was created in an effort to identify elite-level talents without opinion being part of the discussion. All it took was one Pro Bowl bid or one year with All-Pro honors for a player to end up in this category. While the worth of a Pro Bowl bid is minimal in the real world of the NFL because so many players drop out each year that a huge number of guys ended up receiving bids, that actually proved to be a good thing as it relates to this discussion because it saves me the trouble of having to debate someone about whether a player belongs in the elite category. Hell, I almost made the Pro Bowl one year, so if you want to argue that a player is elite and he hasn't even been named as a Pro Bowler in his career, save your words because it's not a debate.

Large second or third contracts

It's one thing for a high NFL pick to earn millions off of his first deal, but it seems to me one of the best ways to evaluate an NFL player's success in the league is with his second or third contract. The theme here is simple we're trying to find out what percentage of players coming from each school are emerging as valuable commodities after they've been in the league for a while.

So, what did I decide was a post-draft contract? A minimum of three years on the contract and an average of at least four million dollars per year is what I came up with.

Therefore, a three-year/12 million dollar contract was the starting point for the newly created big contracts category.

I'm not even sure how I settled on these numbers, but they just seemed reasonable to me because it allowed a large range of players to fall into the category.

Also, any player that was hit with a "franchise" or "transition" tag by his parent NFL team was given credit for a big contract. This would seem to be a no-brainer, since most of the contracts that are given to players with the designated titles are well above the minimum bar we established. Let's call this the kicker rule, as I didn't want to punish an elite player at a position in the kicking game because the pay scale for that player was lower than the bar I created. Seriously, this only impacted a few players, but we need to get all of the technical stuff out of the way.

Multi-year starters

This was yet another category that we created and in order for a player to qualify, he needed to start a minimum of eight games in at least two NFL seasons.

If a player started seven games for two straight seasons, I didn't count him. If he started 20 games over the course of four seasons, but never more than eight games in a season, he wasn't counted.

Bottom line we're trying to determine which schools are creating quality players and in the spirit of what we're really trying to learn, I decided to set the bar high and it definitely eliminated some fringe players that had some starting experience, but nothing that could remotely be considered serious. Again, I felt like the bar was fair because it was applied to every player for every school in the nation.

Multi-year contributors

This is the very next step in our progression of rating players from great to very good to solid. In this situation, any player that played eight or more games in a season for two years was slotted into this category.

By creating this category, we were able to completely cut out fringe players that might have played only a game or two in their NFL careers and created a category for good, solid NFL players.

Busts

It means exactly what you think it means. If a player failed to live up to any of the standards we created for each round, he was labeled a bust. If a player went on to become a quality or even great NFL player after his initial failure with the team that drafted him, it didn't keep him from being listed with a "bust" label.

For instance, Marc Colombo of Boston College was without question a first-round bust by the Chicago Bears, but he also eventually emerged as a solid starter and big-contact recipient from the Dallas Cowboys. There are going to be occasions when players end up being rated as draft busts, but still end up being very good players.

It's no different than if a kid transfers from a program and hits it big on his second stop. In most cases a draft bust label will accurately encapsulate the career of those that achieve such an honor, but it certainly doesn't tell the story of every player. See Marc Colombo.

- No. 3 - Definition of success

This was the tricky part. In order to evaluate the success or failure of each draft pick, we needed to come up with a set of guidelines that could be used for every player researched. I'll be the first to admit that it's not a perfect system, but I think it effectively accomplished what I was looking to do, which is eliminate as much personal opinion from this process as possible.

Here is how I defined success with each round of the draft:

First Round This one is the only round that carries even a piece of personal opinion or common sense into the equation. There are a couple of things that a first-round player needed to accomplish in order to be considered a success in our eyes. First, the player needed to be a multi-year starter with the team that drafted him. Period.

Unless a player was traded to another team and not released, there's no wiggle room in our evaluation here. Regardless of his position, if he couldn't at least start for a couple of seasons, he wasn't a success as a first round pick and I doubt few will contest that point.

Also, any player that was rewarded with a big second contract from any NFL team was eliminated from all bust consideration. If a player plays well enough to get paid a lot of money, he's almost certainly not a bust. Again, there might be an argument here and there, but rules needed to be in place and this seemed like a good one, especially with first-round picks.

If a first-round pick finished out his first contract with a team and did not receive a second contract of note with either his original team or someone in free agency, then we labeled them as busts.

We'll call this the Mike Williams rule. The former Texas Longhorns offensive lineman was a top-five pick by the Buffalo Bills and he started for a few seasons, but he was eventually released and the lack of continued interest from other NFL teams allowed him to fall into the "bust" category.

When you're a top pick, being a starter isn't enough. Therefore, for the guys that were selected at the top of the draft, starting for a couple of seasons wasn't enough. There needed to be something extra.

Second/Third rounds In order for a player to escape bust status from these rounds, he needed to start for a minimum of eight games for two years with the team that originally drafted him. If a player was released before he could start two seasons, he was automatically became a bust.

Fourth/Fifth rounds Any player selected in these rounds needed to start at least eight games for one season and he needed to play in at least eight games for three seasons. If a player was released before he could achieve either, he was automatically became a bust.

Sixth/Seventh rounds Any player selected in these rounds needed to play in at least eight games for two seasons. If a player was released before he played the majority of the games for two seasons, he was automatically became a bust.

There you have it. That's the formula. Now it's time to sort through the data.

BREAKING DOWN THE BIG 12

Before we get knee deep into the numbers, it's best to view the numbers in tiers.

Only half of the schools in the conference had 19 or more players selected from the 2000-06 drafts, which means that when you view the charts and really start number-crunching, you have to keep in mind that when it comes to NFL production, there really is a big drop off between the top half and the bottom half of the conference.

The top half of the Big 12 looks like this:

Total number of players drafted from 2000-06

1. Nebraska (31)
2. Oklahoma (30)
3T) Kansas State (25)
3T) Texas A&M (25)
5. Texas (23)
6. Colorado (19)

The bottom half of the Big 12 looks like this:

Total number of players drafted from 2000-06

7. Texas Tech (12)
8. Oklahoma State (10)
9. Missouri (9)
10. Iowa State (8)
11. Kansas (5)
12. Baylor (4)

So, let's breakdown each of the categories:

Percentage of All-Pro/Pro Bowl players

The Longhorns are a runaway winner in this category with 30.4 percent of all players (seven of 23) drafted from 2000-06 emerging as elite-level NFL standouts. Oklahoma has the second-highest number of elite players with four, but its 13.3 percent is more than twice behind the percentage that Texas currently posts. Colorado (10.1 percent) and Oklahoma State (10.0 percent) are the only other schools in the Big 12 that broke the double-digit mark

Percentage of players who received big post-draft contracts

When you look at the six teams that put the most players into the draft during this seven-year window, the number of Longhorns receiving big post-draft contracts is pretty incredible. A staggering 10 of 23 drafted players from 2000-06 received big post-draft contracts, while Texas A&M ranked second with five and Kansas state ranked third with four.

Here are the percentages from the top half of the Big 12:

1. Texas (43.4 percent)
2. Texas A&M (20.0 percent)
3. Kansas State (16.0 percent)
4. Colorado (10.1 percent)
5. Oklahoma (6.7 percent)
6. Nebraska (6.5 percent)

Percentage of Multi-year starters

The Longhorns rank only fifth in the conference in total number of players selected from 2000-06 with 23, but 16 of those players emerged as multi-year starters in the NFL. The 70.0 percent number that they posted is almost out of this world when compared to Oklahoma (33.3 percent), Nebraska (38.7 percent) and Kansas State (40.0 percent). Interesting enough, Texas A&M showed up very well in this category as well, finishing with the third-best mark at 44.0 percent.

Here are the percentages from the top half of the Big 12:

1. Texas (70 percent)
2. Texas A&M (44.0 percent)
3. Colorado (42.1 percent)
4. Kansas State (40.0 percent)
5. Nebraska (38.7 percent)
6. Oklahoma (33.3 percent)

Percentage of Multi-year contributors

Texas was again the runaway winner, as 82.6 percent of the players drafted from 2000-06 contributed for at least two seasons in the NFL. Nebraska (74.2 percent), Kansas State (72.0 percent) and Texas A&M (72.0 percent) all posted very high numbers in this category.

Here are the percentages from the top half of the Big 12:

1. Texas (82.6)
2. Nebraska (74.2 percent)
3. Texas A&M (72.0 percent)
4. Kansas State (72.0 percent)
5. Colorado (63.2 percent)
6. Oklahoma (56.7 percent)

Percentage of Busts

After all of the other numbers, are you really going to be surprised if I tell you that Texas outperformed the majority of the Big 12 yet again, with only 26.1 percent of its draft picks graded as busts according to my grading system. Meanwhile, the rest of the Big 12 posted some pretty high numbers by comparison.

Here are the percentages from the top half of the Big 12:

1. Texas (26.1 percent)
2. Kansas State (28.0 percent)
3. Texas A&M (48.0 percent)
4. Nebraska (48.4 percent)
5. Colorado (57.9 percent)
6. Oklahoma (60.0 percent)

TEAM
TOTAL DRAFT PICKS 2000-06
ELITE PLAYERS
ELITE PLAYER %
BIG CONTRACTS
BIG CONTRACTS %
MULTI-YR STARTERS
MULTI-YR STARTERS %
MULTI-YR CONTRIB.
MULTI-YR CONTRIB. %
BUSTS

BUSTS
%

Baylor
4 (12th)
0
0%
1 (T-8th)
25% (2nd)
1 (11th)
25% (10th)
3 (11)
75% (3rd)
2
50% (T-7th)
Colorado
19 (6th)
2 (T-3rd)
10.1% (3rd)
2 (T-4th)
10.1% (8th)
8 (6th)
42.1% (4th)
12 (6)
63.2% (7th)
11
57.9% (10th)
Iowa State
8 (10th)
0
0%
1 (T-8th)
12.5% (6th)
2 (T-9th)
25.5% (9th)
5 (8)
50% (10th)
4
40% (T-3rd)
Kansas
5 (11th)
0
0%
0
0%
3 (8th)
60% (2nd)
4 (T-9)
80% (2nd)
2
40% (T-3rd)
Kansas State
25 (T-3th)
1 (T-6th)
4% (7th)
4 (3rd)
16% (5th)
10 (T-4th)
40% (T-5th)
18 (T-3)
72% (T-5th)
7
28% (1st)
Mizzou
9 (9th)
0
0%
1 (T-8th)
11.1% (7th)
2 (T-9th)
22.2% (11th)
4 (T-9)
44.4% (11th)
5
55.5% (9th)
Nebraska
31 (1st)
3 (T-3rd)
9.7% (5th)
2 (T-4th)
6.5% (10th)
12 (2nd)
38.7% (7th)
23 (1)
74.2% (4th)
15
48.4% (6th)
Oklahoma
30 (2nd)
4 (2nd)
13.3% (2nd)
2 (T-4th)
6.7% (9th)
10 (T-4th)
33.3% (8th)
17 (5)
56.7% (9th)
18
60% (11th)
Oklahoma State
10 (8th)
1 (T-6th)
10% (4th)
2 (T-4th)
20% (T-3rd)
4 (7th)
40% (T-5th)
6 (7)
60% (8th)
5
50% (T-7th)
Texas
23 (5th)
7 (1st)
30.4% (1st)
10 (1st)
43.4% (1st)
16 (1st)
70% (1st)
19 (2)
82.6% (1st)
7
30.4% (1st)
Texas A&M
25 (T-3rd)
2 (T-3rd)
8% (6th)
5 (2nd)
20% (T-3rd)
11 (3rd)
44% (3rd)
18 (T-3)
72% (T-5th)
12
48% (5th)
Texas Tech
12 (7th)
0
0%
0
0%
0
0%
2 (12)
16.7% (12th)
10
83.3% (12th)

After taking a global look at the Big 12 Conference in the NFL Draft, I narrowed the focus a bit with the second statistical breakdown of the conference this time focusing only on players selected in the top three rounds of the draft.

As was the case with seven-round statistical analysis, this three-round breakdown has a small group of standout schools, while the majority of the conference lags so far behind in terms of total selections that their inclusion in the rankings have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Basically, this is about four teams.

Oklahoma leads the way with 20 players selected from 2000-06 in the top three rounds, while Texas (15), Nebraska (12) and Texas A&M (11) were the only other schools to post double-digit numbers during the seven-year window.

Three schools (Iowa State, Kansas and Texas Tech) didn't produce a single pick in the top three rounds from 2000-06.

With that in mind, let's take a look at which schools had the most success with players taken at the top of the draft:

Percentage of All-Pro/Pro Bowl players

The Longhorns edged out Oklahoma 6-4 in total number of elite players produced in the early rounds, but their 40 percent hit percentage (six of 15) is exactly twice that of the Sooners, who connected on four of 20.

Here are the percentages from the top four producers in the Big 12:

1. Texas (40.0 percent)
2. Oklahoma (20.0 percent)
3. Texas A&M (18.2 percent)
4. Nebraska (16.7 percent)

Percentage of players who received big post-draft contracts

Only Baylor and Missouri produced higher overall marks than Texas in this category, but they combined for only three total picks in the first three rounds in the seven-year window, so their marks are a bit tainted. Overall, 53.3 percent (eight of 15) of the Texas players that were drafted in the top three rounds ended up receiving big post-draft contracts. Only two of Oklahoma's players drafted during this time have earned big post-draft contracts.

Here are the percentages from the top four producers in the Big 12:

1. Texas (53.3 percent)
2. Texas A&M (18.2 percent)
3. Nebraska (16.7 percent)
4. Oklahoma (10.0 percent)

Percentage of Multi-year starters

The Longhorns knocked this number out of the park as well, as 86.7 percent of the players drafted in the first three rounds of this window went on to become multi-year starters in the NFL.

Here are the percentages from the top four producers in the Big 12:

1. Texas (86.7 percent)
2. Nebraska (66.7 percent)
3. Texas A&M (63.4 percent)
4. Oklahoma (50.0 percent)

Percentage of Multi-year contributors

Of the 15 players that Texas had selected in the top three rounds, 14 contributed at least two full seasons in the NFL, which gives them the Big 12's second-best total with a 93.3 percent mark. Most of the scores from the heavyweight programs were very similar. For the record, Baylor finished No.1, as their only player (Gary Baxter) drafted in the top three rounds was actually pretty good.

Here are the percentages from the top four producers in the Big 12:

1. Texas (93.3 percent)
2. Texas A&M (90.1 percent)
3. Nebraska (83.3 percent)
4. Oklahoma (80.0 percent)

Percentage of Busts

There's more shock value in this category, as Texas posted a Big 12 best 20.0 percent bust percentage among those selected in the top three rounds. Four different Big 12 schools did not factor into this category because they either didn't have a draft bust from their top selections or they didn't have anyone drafted during this stretch.

Here are the percentages from the top four producers in the Big 12:

1. Texas (20.0 percent)
2. Nebraska (41.7 percent)
3. Oklahoma (50.0 percent)
4. Texas A&M (54.6 percent)

TEAM

TOP-
THREE PICKS

ELITE PLAYERS
ELITE PLAYERS %
BIG CONTRACTS
BIG CONTRACTS %
MULTI-YR STARTERS
MULTI-YR STARTERS %
MULTI-YR CONTRIB.
MULTI-YR CONTRIB. %
BUSTS
BUSTS %
Baylor
1 (9th)
0
0%
1
100% (1st)
1 (8th)
100% (1st)
1 (T-8th)
100% (1st)
0
0%
Colorado
8 (6th)
2 (T-3rd)
25% (2nd)
2 (3rd)
25% (5th)
6 (5th)
75% (3rd)
7 (6th)
87.5% (5th)
2
25.5% (3rd)
Iowa State
0
0
0%
0
0%
0
0%
0
0%
0
NA
Kansas
0
0
0%
0
0%
0
0%
0
0%
0
NA
Kansas State
9 (5th)
1 (T-6th)
11.1% (7th)
3 (2nd)
33.3% (4th)
5 (6th)
55.5% (6th)
8 (5th)
88.8% (4th)
2
22.2% (2nd)
Mizzou
2 (8th)
0
0%
1 (T-6th)
50% (3rd)
1 (8th)
50% (T-7th)
1 (T-8th)
50% (9th)
1
50% (T-5th)
Nebraska
12 (3rd)
2 (T-3rd)
16.7% (6th)
2 (T-3rd)
16.7% (8th)
8 (3rd)
66.7% (4th)
10 (T-3rd)
83.3% (6th)
5
41.7% (4th)
Oklahoma
20 (1st)
4 (2nd)
20% (T-3rd)
2 (T-3rd)
10% (9th)
10 (2nd)
50% (T-5th)
16 (1st)
80% (7th)
10
50% (T-5th)
Oklahoma State
5 (7th)
1 (T-6th)
20% (T-3rd)
1 (T-6th)
20% (6th)
2 (7th)
40% (9th)
3 (7th)
60% (8th)
4
80% (8th)
Texas
15 (2nd)
6 (1st)
40% (1st)
8 (1st)
53.3% (2nd)
13 (1st)
86.7% (2nd)
14 (2nd)
93.3% (2nd)
3
20% (1st)
Texas A&M
11 (4th)
2 (T-3rd)
18.2% (5th)
2 (T-3rd)
18.2% (7th)
7 (4th)
63.4% (5th)
10 (T-3rd)
90.1% (3rd)
6
54.6% (7th)
Texas Tech
0
0
0%
0
0%
0
0%
0
0%
0
NA

FINAL POINTS

Perhaps the best part of doing this study is the fact that we now have the data from every major college in the nation stored away so that we can easily update these numbers each year.

Upon completion of the 2009 season, we'll be able to the players from the 2007 class, which would feature the likes of young NFL stars like Adrian Peterson and Michael Griffin from the Big 12.

Also, it's important to remember that this statistical breakdown is very fluid because it includes so many moving parts. This is a study through April 20, 2009.

There are a number of players from all of the schools involved that have young players in the league, especially from the 2005-08 classes, that still have undecided fates on a number of fronts, which means that this data will change quite a bit in the coming years.

Note: For a detailed breakdown of each school's draft picks, see our Big 12 Breakdown Reference Tool.



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