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Why the SEC Dominated the 2013 NFL Draft

The conference set a record for number of picks with 63. Here's why that happened.

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC thoroughly dominated the 2013 NFL Draft. This post at ESPN has a few of the remarkable numbers, and they're entertaining to look at, but those numbers don't really tell you why the SEC was so successful. That's what I'm here for today with these charts. Keep your eyes peeled later today for a chart that is so good that deserved its own post.

Update: the follow up is posted. You won't want to miss it.

Conference expansion

The SEC had 63 players go in the draft, far surpassing the old record of the common draft era. Part of the reason is because the league now has 14 teams instead of 12. Texas A&M (five) and Missouri (two) had a combined seven picks go on the conference's ledger, bumping up the total a bit.

The old record was 55 by the Pac-10 in 1983, so the SEC would have beaten that mark without the new additions anyway. Keep in mind, though, that the '83 draft had 12 rounds. The record for the seven-round format was 51 by the ACC in 2006, so the SEC has surpassed that by just about every measure. That goes even for picks per team, as the ACC had 4.25 selections per school that year, while the 14-team SEC had 4.5 per school this year.

The rest of this post will go over some longer term trends, so to keep an apples-to-apples comparison going, I will be leaving out A&M and Mizzou from the 2013 figures. Consider your contributions noted and appreciated.

Alabama and LSU had monster draft years together

Since 2004 only four SEC teams have had nine players drafted, the shared record for most taken in that span. Two of them were 2012 Alabama and LSU (other two: 2006 and 2009 Florida). To set a record, a league will need its strong schools to be strong, and they certainly were.

The East has roared back

The SEC East had a rough few years there for a while, but it has really come back from the depths of 2009-10. Here is how the divisions have done since '04:

Click to see image

The SEC West has been fairly consistent in NFL Draft pick production. Most of the variance in total conference draft picks comes from what the East has produced.

Here's another way to look at things. The following table shows how many picks each slot in the divisional standings has generated (e.g. whoever finished first in the West had its picks go in the West 1 bucket).

Team Avg. 2004-12 2013 Difference
West 2 5.0 9 4.0
West 1 5.4 9 3.6
East 2 4.7 8 3.3
East 3 4.1 7 2.9
East 5 1.4 4 2.6
East 1 5.9 8 2.1
West 5 2.1 4 1.9
West 6 0.9 1 0.1
East 6 1.0 1 0.0
East 4 2.4 2 -0.4
West 4 1.7 0 -1.7
West 3 5.1 3 -2.1

As I noted before, Alabama and LSU's tremendous pick production goes a long way to explaining what happened for the SEC over the course of the draft. Look, though, at how the top three teams (plus the fifth place team, Tennessee) from the East all produced well above the averages for their slots.

Combining those two facts was huge

So if you have the top two teams in the West having monster years and the East roaring back, that must combine for some potent stuff, right? Right:

Click to see image

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and South Carolina all produced at least seven picks apiece.

Florida had a spike year

The Gators are pretty good at putting talent into the NFL. They're just not that good at doing it consistently. To wit:

Click to see image

The spikes correspond to the best of Florida's recent teams. The 2007 draft spike came as the best of Ron Zook's recruits left after the 13-1 2006 campaign. The 2010 spike happened as most of the best players from Urban Meyer's legendary 2006-07 recruiting classes left following back-to-back 13-1 seasons. The spike in 2013 came after a 12-2 season.

Steve Spurrier has built South Carolina into a talent producer

For most of the time I looked at (drafts since 2004), South Carolina wasn't much at putting players into the NFL. The Gamecocks had a seven-player spike in 2009, but that was a bit of an anomaly as they had the same number drafted in the two years before and after 2009 combined. However, South Carolina had six players drafted in 2012 and seven drafted in 2013.

It took him a while, but Spurrier has really built the program up in his time there. He has said on a number of occasions that he doesn't ever expect to have the depth that the blue bloods of the league have, but he's got a chance if he can get a great front line. Well, he's won 22 games over the past two seasons, a mark that puts him alone in third place among SEC schools in that span behind only LSU and Alabama. The draft numbers back it up: he's had his great front line.

South Carolina's rise has coincided with a fall at Tennessee. I wondered if some of it had to do with the former stealing talent from the latter. It would take a real recruitnik to tell you if that's going on (I am not one), but it doesn't necessarily appear that way from the raw numbers:

Click to see image

Part of Tennessee's problem was the horror show that the 2009 recruiting class ended up being. The 2012 draft would have been the year for any of them to come out early, but the only Vol selected was USC transfer Malik Jackson (Bryce Brown also got picked from his new home at Kansas State). The four Vols taken in the 2013 draft consisted of a 2012 JUCO transfer, a 2010 signee, a 2008 signee (yes, a Fulmer recruit was still around to get drafted), and a 2010 JUCO transfer.

A tip o' the hat to Dan Mullen

Finally, a small word of credit should go to the head man in Starkville. His count of draft picks didn't make or break the record; it would have fallen either way.

However, his program has produced four, three, and three selections, respectively, over the past three drafts. From 2004-10, Mississippi State never had more than two picks in a single year and had seven picks total. From 2011-13, it has had no fewer than three and produced 10 total.

Mullen doesn't get the attention he once did, and it's hard to really ascertain whether his program will go in a direction other than sideways for a while. Still though, he has started to bring some consistency to the talent production there. If an average of 3.3 picks over those past three seasons doesn't get your blood flowing enough, consider that over 2004-12, only the three top traditional powers of each division averaged more than 3.3 picks per year (the lowest of them, Tennessee, had 3.4 per year). A rate of 3.3 NFL Draft selections is nothing to sneer at, especially for a program like Mississippi State.