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NFL Draft: Top first-round talent producing schools

With the NFL Draft starting this Thursday, it’s always fun to look back in recent history to see trends. In our NFL Draft series, we’ll look at a few different aspects of the first round. Today, we look at the schools that have produced the most first-rounders recently. This is obviously a great recruiting tool and it’s no surprise to see that since 2011, Alabama has clearly been the leader.

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

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WR Amari Cooper
WR Amari Cooper (AP Images)

Alabama is the clear leader in first-round picks over the last six drafts with 15, nearly doubling the amount of the next three schools - Florida State, Texas A&M and Florida. Despite only adding one first round pick to their impressive total in 2016, center Ryan Kelly, what makes the Tide’s recent draft history even more impressive is that seven of their 15 first round draft picks were selected in the top 10, including Amari Cooper in 2015 at No. 4, Trent Richardson in 2012 at No. 3 and in 2011 the combo of Marcell Dareus at No. 3 and Julio Jones at No. 6. Considering the success the Tide have had on the field in recent years, it should come as no surprise that success in the NFL Draft has followed.

Farrell’s take: There’s a reason why Nick Saban’s recruiting classes always seem to rank No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation and a reason why he keeps competing for national titles. This number will clearly grow this draft with as many as five possible first-rounders in Jonathan Allen, O.J. Howard, Reuben Foster, Marlon Humphrey and Cameron Robinson. This Alabama recruiting run is a clear dynasty. It will be a while before any team is able to close this gap.


Vernon Hargreaves III
Vernon Hargreaves III (AP Images)

The Gators made a move up this list with two first-round selections in 2016, Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal. Despite inconsistent play on the field, the Gators are now on even ground with Texas A&M and their in-state rival, Florida State, when it comes to first-round selections since 2011. Hargreaves became the Gators' second top-10 pick since 2010, joining Dante Fowler, while Neal became one of the immediate rookie success stories. Other ex-Gators who have been drafted since 2011 and who have made their mark in the NFL include Matt Elam, Mike Pouncey and Sharrif Floyd, who has been dealing with an injury.

Farrell’s take: The Gators have been under scrutiny with Jim McElwain at the helm despite back-to-back SEC East titles, but you can’t argue with the high-level talent coming out. The problem for Gators fans? Recruiting has taken a bit of a dip since McElwain took over, and many feel he’s winning with a defense assembled by others. Quincy Wilson and Jarrad Davis, two defenders recruited by the previous regime, could add to this number if they land in round one, but the big surprise is the lack of offensive skill players coming out of Florida in recent years.


Jalen Ramsey
Jalen Ramsey (AP Images)

Florida State, which has long been regarded a top producer of NFL-level talent, has continued this trend over the last six drafts, as the recruiting under Jimbo Fisher has clearly been next level for the program in many ways. Jalen Ramsey joined this list in 2016 when he was selected with the fifth overall pick by Jacksonville. What may be considered surprising is that before Ramsey, Jameis Winston was the only top-10 pick from Florida State since 2006 when Ernie Sims was selected No. 9. Since 2011, the Seminoles have also produced Kelvin Benjamin, who had a nice bounce back season in 2016 after an injury sidelined him in 2015, and a few players who haven’t panned out, like Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel.

Farrell’s take: The ‘Noles have had a ton of talent over the last few years and are one of those programs you can mention that is in the same stratosphere as Alabama when it comes to recruiting. But when it comes to first-rounders, they are obviously behind ‘Bama by quite a bit. Dalvin Cook is obviously going to add to this number this year, and we can’t forget guys like Ronald Darby and some others who didn’t make it in the first round but are already stars. I look for FSU to add to this number a bit more starting in the 2018 draft.


Von Miller
Von Miller (AP Images)

The Aggies continue to go neck-and-neck with Florida State and Florida in the pursuit of Alabama. While this may surprise some people, the level of talent coming out of College Station has been consistent and improved. The Aggies have actually produced five top-10 picks since 2011, including Von Miller at No. 2 in 2011 and Luke Joeckel at No. 2, plus Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Ryan Tannehill. And let's not forget Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel, who was selected at No. 22 in 2014 but flamed out quickly at the next level.

Farrell’s take: The Aggies have had some big moments on the field in the last five years or so, but for them to be tied with Florida State and Florida in first-rounders is surprising and impressive. And this year they should have the No. 1 pick in the draft in Myles Garrett adding to their resume and helping on the recruiting trail.


Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott (AP Images)

Ohio State’s production in the first round had been rather lackluster since 2011, with only Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby being selected in 2014. That all quickly changed in 2016, when the Buckeyes sent five players to the NFL in the first round. Even more impressive than that, all five were selected in the first 20 picks. Most notably, Ezekiel Elliott had a historic rookie season with the Cowboys, but the other Buckeyes' rookies, Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, Taylor Decker and Darron Lee, all became contributors last fall. Now that Urban Meyer is firmly entrenched in Columbus, it should be interesting to see if the Buckeyes can continue this level success in the NFL Draft.

Farrell’s take: The Buckeyes have been recruiting to the Alabama level since Meyer has taken over, and they will likely move past Florida, Florida State and Texas A&M after this draft. Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley are all considered to be locks to land in round one, and Raekwon McMillan has a shot as well. I expect the Buckeyes to go from just two first-rounders heading into last year’s draft to double digits after this Thursday. That’s impressive and will only help recruiting further.


Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Barkevious Mingo have all been selected in the top 10 since 2011, with Peterson being the obvious success story from this group. While he wasn't a top-10 pick, Odell Beckham Jr., who was selected at No. 12, has established himself as one of the biggest stars in the NFL. It’s also worth noting that Beckham was actually LSU’s last first-round draft pick, as the Tigers were shut out in both 2015 and 2016. While this will surely change this week with Jamal Adams and Leonard Fournette, it is still surprising to see the Tigers have had this much of a dry spell.

Farrell’s take: The dry spell is over, as Fournette and Adams could both be top-five picks and should at least land in the top 10. Tre’Davious White is also a clear first-rounder, so this number will grow for the Tigers. White could help keep the DBU tag alive for LSU, but other schools like Florida and Florida State are pushing in that regard and now Ohio State is in the mix.


Ronnie Stanley
Ronnie Stanley (AP Images)

The Fighting Irish move up the list this year after both Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller were selected in the first round last spring. Michael Floyd had been Notre Dame’s highest draft selection since 2011 when he was picked at No. 13 in 2012, but that came to an end when Stanley was selected with the sixth selection by Baltimore in 2016. Last yea's draft was also the second time the Irish had two players selected in the first round since 2011, with Floyd and Harrison Smith both earning the honor in 2012.

Farrell’s take: DeShone Kizer appears to be the only chance for Notre Dame to add to this number, and everyone knows I don’t think he’s first-round worthy. However, the NFL is QB desperate and someone could take a chance on him. Notre Dame could drop out of this list after the draft, but next year with two premier offensive linemen, it could bounce back. And if Jaylon Smith didn’t get injured, he would have clearly been a top-10 pick last year. The bottom line is that there is talent in South Bend and that won’t change.


Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III (AP Images)

Multiple schools have produced five first-round draft picks since 2011, all of which come from Power Five conferences. Robert Griffin’s selection at No. 2 in 2012 tops the list for Baylor, while Clemson’s highest selection has been Sammy Watkins at No. 4 in 2014. North Carolina and Washington have both had one top-10 selection, with Jonathan Cooper going No. 7 in 2013 and Jake Locker going No. 8 in 2011. Louisville's highest pick was Sheldon Rankins at No. 12 in 2016, while J.J. Watt is Wisconsin’s highest pick at No. 11 in 2011. Finally, while USC, Oregon and Georgia have all produced five first-round selections since 2011, each has also had three top-10 picks. The most notable of these were Tyron Smith and Leonard Williams for the Trojans, Marcus Mariota for the Ducks and A.J. Green for the Bulldogs.

Farrell’s take: Clemson and Washington are the two programs that stand out to me here as teams to watch. Mike Williams and DeShaun Watson will be first-rounders for Clemson, and the talent on the current roster is off the hook. Washington will put John Ross and Kevin King in round one most likely, so they should jump as well. Baylor is clearly on its way down this list, while Georgia and Louisville won’t be adding anyone this year. Oregon is also fading a bit while Wisconsin could add a couple more. UNC will add Mitch Trubisky and USC could add Adoree Jackson'.