2020 NFL Draft Confirms Nick Saban Still the King at Developing Players

Christopher Walsh

Consistency is the key.

At least that’s what Alabama is going to be preaching this year.

The Crimson Tide didn’t have the most selections in the 2020 NFL Draft, but that was expected. Teams coming off winning the national championship should get a nice bump in attention, and LSU took advantage by having 14 players picked this past weekend. It set the league record for most selections in a single draft.

But now the question remains, can the Tigers do it again?

The chances are very slim. Not only has the team been largely gutted, but LSU has also had to replace both coordinators. This was the first time LSU has ever had 10 players selected in a single NFL draft, and here’s the clincher: Last year it had just three draft picks.

Yes, the stars did align for LSU, or at least the star players did.

Imagine if Alabama had a similar thing happen.

Nick Saban leads Alabama out on to the field
Alabama Athletics

When it comes to developing talent for the next level, Nick Saban remains unchallenged.

Alabama has had a first-round selection in each of the past 12 NFL drafts, the longest streak in SEC history and second-longest in college football history.

The Crimson Tide has had the most first round picks nationally since 2008 with 33. Consequently, it had the most players in the National Football League last season, and by a wide margin.

Meanwhile, the conference has enjoyed similar dominance.

This was the 14 straight year the SEC had the most selections in the draft.

The gap appears to be only getting wider as well. The league had 15 more first-round picks than any other conference this year, after having 14 more a year ago.

• 2020: SEC 63, Big Ten 48, Pac-12 32, ACC 27, Big 12 21

• 2019: SEC 64, Big Ten 40, Pac-12 33, ACC 28, Big 12 26

• 2018: SEC 53, ACC 46, Big Ten 32, Pac-12 30, Big 12 20

• 2017: SEC 53, ACC 43, Pac-12 36, Big Ten 35, ACC 15

With Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa it became the first conference in the modern draft era with two quarterbacks selected in the top five. It also set a record with six of the top-10 selections.

For the ninth time in the last 10 years, the SEC had the most first-round selections with 15. Since 2010, its had more than twice as many first-round selections (111) than the second-best conference (ACC - 54).

Selections per school, 2020 NFL Draft

SEC: 63 (4.5)

Big Ten: 48 (3.4)

Pac-12: 32 (2.7)

ACC: 27 (1.9)

Big 12: 21 (2.1)

The SEC also had 20 of the first 50 picks in the draft (40 percent).

So the league has most talent, everyone’s got that.

But in terms of developing talent, no other program compares.

Consider the last four years, during which Alabama had extreme turnover with the coordinators and assistant coaches.

• 2020: LSU 14, Michigan 10, Ohio State, 10, Alabama 9, Clemson 7, Florida 7, Georgia, 7.

• 2019: Alabama 10, Ohio State 9, Oklahoma 8, Washington 8, Georgia 7, Texas A&M 7

• 2018: Alabama 12, LSU 7, North Carolina State 7, Ohio State 7, Florida State 6, Georgia 6, Miami 6, Penn State 6

• 2017: Michigan 11, Alabama 10, Miami 9, Utah 8, Florida 8, LSU 8

Not only did Alabama have the most overall selections, and first-round picks, but it was only program to be listed among the top five for each year. Despite becoming a recruiting powerhouse, Georgia was listed three times, but never higher than fifth, while Clemson made the top five once.

Kirby Smart has been the head coach of the Bulldogs since 2016. He can claim a couple of national recruiting titles, but it has yet to fully translate to the NFL Draft – at least at a Saban-live level.

The 21 draft picks since the 2016 NFL Draft are fourth in the SEC. The six first-rounders are third.

Florida has had more picks despite going through a coaching change, and things like quarterback Jake Fromm plummeting to the fifth round this year won’t help, especially since the player he replaced, Jacob Eason, went in the fourth round.

SEC program
2020 (Overall, first)
2019
2018
2017
Total

Alabama

9 (4)

10 (3) 

12 (4)

10 (4) 

41 (15)

LSU

14 (5) 

3 (1)

7 (0)

8 (3)

32 (9)

Florida 

7 (1)

5 (0)

5 (1)

8 (1)

25 (2)

Georgia

7 (2)

7 (1)

6 (3)

1 (0)

21 (6)

Auburn

6 (2)

6 (0)

4 (0)

4 (0)

20 (2)

Texas A&M

2 (0)

7 (0)

3 (0)

5 (1)

17 (1)

Miss State

5 (0)

5 (3)

4 (0)

1 (0)

15 (1)

Ole Miss

0 (0)

6 (0)

4 (0)

4 (1)

14 (1)

Tennessee

2 (0)

0 (0)

3 (0)

6 (1)

11 (1)

Arkansas

2 (0)

3 (0)

2 (1)

3 (0)

10 (1)

Kentucky 

2 (0)

5 (1)

0 (0)

0 (0)

7 (1)

S. Carolina

4 (1)

3 (1)

1 (1)

0 (0)

8 (3)

Missouri

2 (0)

2 (0)

1 (0)

1 (1)

6 (1)

Vanderbilt

1 (0)

2 (0)

1 (1)

2 (0)

6 (0)

As for Clemson, Dabo Swinney has created a perennial playoff team that’s landing top-end recruits, but its numbers are nearly identical to Georgia: 12 selections and seven first-round picks.

Oklahoma is an even bigger question mark. It’s had 20 draft picks since 2017 including five first-rounders, but if you take away the transfers, including the last three starting quarterbacks, and in terms of pure development the Sooners wouldn’t be too far from away from Mississippi State.

Only Ohio State is relatively close to Alabama in overall picks (33) and first-round selections (10) during the last four years. It’s why the Buckeyes regularly represent the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff over the likes of Michigan (28 and 5, respectively), and Penn State (18 and 1).

But the Buckeyes are still a distant second.

Consequently, it’s probably not a coincidence that the last time that the SEC did not lead all conferences in draft selections was the year before Saban arrived at Alabama, 2006. 

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