NFL Talent: A Look at the Big Ten

gravey's picture
September 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm

[Ed: Bumped because of the density of quality stats. And because it's almost time to start handing out Houndies.]

The NFL preseason just finished and I found myself flipping the channel around to see how former Buckeyes were doing.  Since many of the lower profile players switch teams without much notice from the media (occasionally even the ever watchful eye of Buckshots misses a trade), it is easy to lose track of who is playing for which teams.  Luckily, ESPN has a pretty good database of players in the NFL and it includes the player positions as well as college affiliation.  Our crack team of statisticians managed to infiltrate the database at the headquarters of the worldwide leader and SEC propaganda machine recently and we have analyzed the database, discovering in the process a few interesting tidbit of useless knowledge that we’re sure you’ll take with you to your grave.

This data is interesting for several reasons.  First, this database provides a somewhat unbiased measure of the depths of various talent pools in the NCAA (and elsewhere).  It helps us better understand the quality of Buckeye recruiting and talent development from a perspective outside of the standard recruiting guru nonsense.  By looking at trends by position groups, schools, conferences, divisions and other groupings, it helps dispel some common myths (southern speed) proffered by bar room drunks and ESPN analysts alike.  Second, it was downloaded during the preseason, so it includes a larger number of players; presumably all those players that are on the expanded pre-season rosters.  This expands the sample and may (or may not) present a fuller picture of the source of NFL caliber talent.  It includes all the players that talent scouts in the NFL think worthy of a chance to prove they deserve to play on Sundays. 

The first (and maybe only) analysis of this database analyzes trends within the Big10.  If interest warrants it, there might be forthcoming more crackpot analysis examining other conferences, BCS schools and other nonsense that might help you win an argument with some SEC fan should you actually find one that can debate without spontaneously combusting or breaking into an SEC! SEC! chant.  These numbers are completely useless on Mark May should you be unfortunate enough to meet him.

Table 1 below shows who in the B10 has been producing the most NFL talent.  Not surprisingly, The Ohio State University leads all Big 10 schools with 49 players.  That’s 5 more than Michigan and 9 more than Penn State.  It’s a little surprising that Michigan hasn’t fallen off more given that the average NFL tenure is only about 3 seasons and you’d think Rich Rod would have caused more damage by now.  It may also suggest how little RR has done with the NFL talent Carr left him.  It may also come as a surprise that Michigan State has more players in the NFL than both Purdue and Wisconsin given the relative success of each team in recent years.  It is a bit troubling that these two teams seem to give Ohio State the most trouble year after year however.  Matchups are as important as overall talent.  Indiana trails everyone by a pretty substantial margin, which is hardly a surprise.  One wonders how coaching instability in Hoosier land has affected this number.  It does help explain the lopsidedness of the series with Ohio State in recent years.


Table 1: Total Players on NFL Rosters as of August 14, 2010 per ESPN




Percent of Total

















Michigan State












Ohio State




Penn State
















More interesting are the trends by position.  We have analyzed NFL roster spots by position for Big Ten schools.  Several numbers were pretty surprising.  We’ll make note of the interesting trends on defense, then turn to the O. 

As Buckeyes have long argued, WE ARE Linebacker U, though it’s hard to get anyone to hear that given all the fake lion noises coming from State College.  There were 10 Buckeye LBs in the league right this preseason, four of them playing for the Rams alone, which is probably some kind of record.  That ties “Da U” for most overall in “Da League” and is one more than PSU whose fans no doubt have a load of excuses for why they’re not favored as much in the NFL as WE ARE.  More surprising were the 8 Boilermaking LBs in the league this preseason, one more than Michigan had.  Indiana and Northwestern had two apiece.  You’d think Pat Fitzgerald would have better luck recruiting LBs or at least developing them.  Take heart though Wildcats…you’ve got DOUBLE the number of LBs in the league that Notre Dame can claim. 

Whereas our claim to Linebacker U is statistically unimpressive, nobody, even Penn State’s delusional fans, could claim our crown as Defensive Back U.  Our 12, count ‘em TWELVE, DB was more than any other NCAA school this preseason.  That’s nearly a quarter of the 52 B10 DBs and it was as many player at one position group as Indiana has in the league in total.  Michigan has 8 DBs in the league, which we find surprising given the glaring weaknesses in Michigan’s pass defense over the last 5 to 8 years.  This would suggest that Michigan has had talent in their defensive backfield, but it has been plagued by poor coaching up in AA.  Interestingly, PSU and Wisky only have 3 apiece in the league though it seems like they have pretty good pass defenses, and Wisconsin always seems to have solid safeties. 

The one area on defense that we haven’t impressed NFL scouts has been on the D line.  Though we tied for second (with MSU and PSU) in the B10 for DLs with seven, our DL production doesn’t seem as impressive as other areas on D.  Iowa had produced 8 NFL defensive linemen and Georgia had 16 on preseason rosters.  Purdue had only one fewer than Ohio State and this just doesn’t seem right.  In all fairness, a couple of our DL’s have been converted to OLBs in the league (Gholston, Vrabel) which boosted our LB numbers and lowered our DL numbers…(you can hear them screaming “Asterisk!” in State College now).  Probably more telling is that of 7 defensive linemen, only 3 were tackles: Pitcock, Pickett, and Worthington (two have since been cut).  MSU and PSU have 5 and 6 DTs in the league respectively.  We haven’t recruited a ton of ultra bigs in recent years; probably our best DTs during the Tressel years were Cooper recruits.  Hopefully the arrival of Jonathan Hankins on campus this fall indicates a new found recruiting strategy, or at least better luck at recruiting heavies.  Maybe it will start a trend. 


Our production of NFL caliber talent on the offensive side of the ball is also impressive, but it’s not as impressive as our defensive production and the numbers paint a picture far different than the standard stereotypes about Ohio State would suggest.  We rank third among all Big 10 teams in terms of total offensive players in the league with 18.  Michigan? leads everyone with 21, no doubt a product of their once proud embrace of pro-style offenses.  We predict that number will be halved in five years.

The lack of complete domination on O stems in part from our less than stellar production of offensive linemen in recent years.  Our 7 offensive linemen rank us 6th among our Big10 brethren, which is unacceptable of course because we should win everything.  Worse still, it will give the League of Bollman-Sucks Voters something to campaign about this year should our line give up a sack or jump before the snap.  Iowa and PSU have been the class of the league recently, placing 13 and 11 O-linemen in the NFL this year.  Michigan and Wisky have 10 apiece.  All is not lost though.  Apparently having a pile of big dudes who like to knock others out of the way isn’t a particularly strong indicator of success on the college gridiron.  Notre Dame has 14 O-linemen in the league!

Apparently having NFL quality quarterbacks isn’t much of necessity for winning college programs either.  Ohio State has only one QB in the NFL right now (Troy Smith…well maybe zero) and he isn’t a starter.  Ohio State has never been much of a QB factory (though there was a time when there were 4 ½ OSU QBs in the league at once – Tomczak, Graham, Hoying, Germaine, and Tupa) because we have had historically a devastating ground game.  Pass happy Purdue on the other hand leads the Big 10 with 3 QBs in the league, which is pretty good nationally.  Michigan which used to have a ton of QBs in the league now only has 2…which is the same as Northwestern and that is probably soon to change.

Flying in the face of stubborn stereotypes about OSU’s offense is our shocking lack of running backs in the NFL.  We’ve got just one.  Our single NFL back is one less than Arkansas Pine-Bluff…though Beanie’s stiff arm alone is equal to 2 ¾ running backs.  Perhaps the most bizarre stat the database will produce is that Illinois leads the Big 10 in this category with 4 NFL RBs.  Maybe this weirdness is a by product of an midnight deal with the devil (Lloyd Carr?) that brought us a certain number 13 in exchange for 10 years of uneven running back production, but the Tressel years have not been a good era for the OSU-NFL running back pipeline that used to runneth over regularly.  This might also be a product of other backs not wanting to come to OSU for fear of riding the pine, first behind MoC and then Beanie that has caused the cupboard to be less overstocked than in the past.  The currently stacked backfield at OSU promises to remedy this historical anomaly in the coming years.

Almost as shocking as our lack of NFL backs, at least for those who cling to old notions about the Buckeye offense, is our immense production of Wide Receivers.  There were nine Buckeyes playing receiver in the NFL during the preseason.  That’s as many as any school in the country and easily outpaces any other team from the Big 10.  Michigan still had 6, mostly from the Carr era, and Penn State had 5, but nobody else had more than 3.  As pass happy and QB friendly as Purdue has been since Tiller arrived, they have zero WRs in the league right now, which makes one wonder how good the Boiler QBs would have been had they had a bunch of NFL quality WRs to toss the ball to.  On the whole it appears that the most spread-oriented offenses do not produce a lot of pro-style receivers (Texas Tech for example has 3 WR in the NFL).

Special Teams, essentially kickers and punters in our database, (long snappers were lumped in with O-linemen) are also worth a comment, especially in light of Tressel’s well chronicled love affair with all things that involve kicking.  Despite seemingly having pretty good punters and kickers over during the Tressel era, only two are currently on an NFL roster and both of whom (Nugent, Pettrey) are kickers.  What no punters?  Nope.  The Big 10 leads all conferences in kickers and punters however, and MSU lead the conference.

Halfbaked Analysis

Ohio State has produced pretty much more NFL talent at just about every position than any school in the Big 10.  There’s a few exceptions here and there, and those exceptions are not where you might guess but quality abounds. 

The surest sign that some TV talking head is clueless is when he or she starts blathering on about southern speed.  It’s nonsense and is a sure sign the analyst is a hack.  More insightful analysts have pointed to Ohio State’s lack of top notch defensive linemen as our Achilles heel against SEC teams.  There may be something to that.  It’s surely not speed in speed positions; clearly we have tons of that judging by our production of the fastest people on the field - DBs and WRs.  We’ve got elite speed where it’s needed.  It’s team bulk that we’ve lacked in recent years.  We’ve had some pretty good DE’s but our production of REALLY big space eating DT’s that has not kept pace with the SEC boys.  Maybe Tress needs to consider adding an eating coach to staff and opening a Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits to the WHAC.


Next..the rest of the NCAA

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