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NFL Draft Numbers Don't Paint a Picture of the Future

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Apr 26, 2012; New York, NY, USA; A general view of the NFL shield logo before the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
Apr 26, 2012; New York, NY, USA; A general view of the NFL shield logo before the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

One curious thing that comes out of every draft is people looking at total number of players drafted as some kind of indication about where a particular program or even conference currently is. The lack of Florida university players taken shows how the state has fallen, Urban Meyer is licking his chops at how few Big Ten players were taken in the first round, the low numbers of Texas and Georgia players bodes poorly for Mack Brown and Mark Richt, and so on.

For one thing, NFL talent doesn't always correlate to college success. Few coaches are as consistently good at putting players in the pros as Ron Zook is, after all.

For another, the number of players drafted is a trailing indicator. It only tells you about where a program was in the past. Let's take a look at all the programs to win at least a share of the national championship since 2000:

Season Champ Prev. Yr Draft Picks Next Draft Following Draft Total Next 2 Drafts Avg. Next 2 Drafts
2000 Oklahoma 2 (1) 2 (0) 2 (1) 4 (1) 2 (0.5)
2001 Miami 7 (4) 11 (5) 8 (4) 19 (9) 9.5 (4.5)
2002 Ohio St. 8 (0) 5 (0) 14 (3) 19 (3) 9.5 (1.5)
2003 USC 5 (2) 4 (1) 5 (1) 9 (2) 4.5 (1)
2003 LSU 4 (0) 7 (1) 3 (1) 10 (2) 5 (1)
2004 USC 4 (1) 5 (1) 11 (2) 16 (3) 8 (1.5)
2005 Texas 3 (2) 6 (2) 7 (2) 13 (4) 6.5 (2)
2006 Florida 3 (0) 9 (2) 2 (1) 11 (3) 5.5 (1.5)
2007 LSU 5 (4) 7 (1) 6 (1) 13 (2) 6.5 (1)
2008 Florida 2 (1) 3 (1) 9 (3) 12 (4) 6 (2)
2009 Alabama 4 (1) 7 (2) 5 (4) 12 (6) 6 (3)
2010 Auburn 2 (0) 4 (2) 1 (0) 5 (2) 2.5 (1)
2011 Alabama 5 (4) 8 (4) N/A N/A N/A

Eight of the 14 teams had four or fewer players drafted right before winning the championship. Four of them didn't even have a first round pick right before their title runs. Only 2003 AP champ USC averaged fewer draft picks over the two years after winning the title than the year immediately before it, and I think things worked out all right for that program.

This should make sense. After all, NFL draft picks are players who are no longer on the team. It's true that having a small number of draft picks could be an indicator that a program is devoid of talent, but it could also mean that all the talent is still around and the team is about to make a big run. Having anemic draft numbers in a given year could very well be a good thing for the future.

Of course if a program has a good talent pipeline in place, it can survive draft losses and thrive. The 2003 USC and 2007 LSU teams had their previous starting quarterback taken first overall right before winning the title, and that '07 LSU team along with 2011 Alabama lost four first round draft picks just before winning it all. The 2001 Miami and 2002 Ohio State teams lost seven and eight players, respectively, right before their titles, which is an outstanding draft count for anyone. Then again, they still averaged more picks over the following two years than they lost just before their championships.

There is not much use in using the number of draft picks a program had when projecting its fate for the coming fall. That count can be useful as a part of building a big overall picture, but to point at it alone and draw a conclusion makes no sense whatsoever.