Which college conference has the highest rate of success in NFL?

For the last nine years, the SEC has led all NCAA conferences in players drafted. Are SEC players that much more talented, or do coaches favor them?
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The schools in the SEC have failed to bring home a national football title for the last two years, following the conference’s unprecedented seven-year run between 2007–13. But their notoriously prideful fans can still claim bragging rights in at least one way on the gridiron.

As the PointAfter graphic below shows, the SEC had a nation-high 54 players selected from its 14 schools during last weekend’s NFL draft. That’s the second most in SEC history, behind only the 63 players selected in 2013.

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NCAA Conferences With Most Picks in 2015 NFL Draft | PointAfter

Out of the 256 players drafted this year, 21% came from SEC schools—nearly one in five draftees—making this was the ninth straight year the SEC has led all conferences in draftees. Unsurprisingly, that’s given them a huge advantage in total draft picks over the last decade.

Draft Picks by Conference (2006-2015) | PointAfter

These facts suggest that no matter which way you slice it, the SEC possesses the most NFL talent of any college conference. But that’s not exactly the case—if anything, NFL coaches just think SEC-bred players can transition to the NFL easier.

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Over the last decade, the SEC has produced 86 first-round picks, the most of any Power Five conference and 26 more than the second-place ACC. More than 19% of the SEC’s overall selections have come in the first round, more than any Power Five conference and second only to the American Athletic Conference (AAC), which has only been in existence for two years yet produced six first-round selections out of 23 overall picks.

First-Round Picks and Pct. of Total Picks | PointAfter

But how often do those high-draft pedigrees translate to on-field production?

Now, the SEC has somewhat lived up to its reputation by churning out more Pro Bowlers (46) than any other conference since 2006. But we also need to take into account that the SEC has had far more players drafted in the first place. So they should have more Pro Bowlers.

Pro Bowlers by Conference (2006-14) | PointAfter

What they don’t have is a higher percentage of Pro Bowlers. Those 46 Pro Bowlers from the SEC were a product of 446 draft picks since 2006. So about 11.7% of SEC players who move onto the NFL become Pro Bowlers.

Two other Big Five conferences—the Pac-12 (11.96%) and Big 12 (11.62%)—produce Pro Bowlers with about the same success rate, and the C-USA (12.99%) surprisingly blows every other conference out of the water. Meanwhile, the ACC and Big Ten come out looking quite weak in comparison.

Percentage of Draftees Who Become Pro Bowlers | PointAfter

Despite this, NFL front offices have leaned heavily towards drafting SEC prospects early in the draft even more in recent years. Between 2006–10, the SEC generated 36 first-round picks, narrowly beating out the 34 first-rounders out of the ACC. The Big Ten (25) and Big 12 (24) weren’t too far behind, either.

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But there’s been a drastic shift in favor of the SEC since then. Between 2011–15, a whopping 50 first-round picks have hailed from the SEC, nearly double the amount of the second-place ACC (26). While the Pac-12 has risen to third place, the Big Ten and Big 12 have both seen steep drop-offs. Of course, some of that has to be attributed to the SEC plucking Texas A&M and Missouri from the Big 12, while the Pac-12 added Utah and Colorado.

Conference Draftees in 2006-10 and 2011-15 | PointAfter

But NFL GMs obviously hold a clear preference for SEC players, despite the fact that the conference doesn’t spawn more stars on a per-capita basis. The SEC, and its players, have unquestionably benefited from the prestige that comes with winning seven straight BCS title games.

This isn’t to say that the SEC doesn’t have immensely talented players. Even on the per-capita Pro Bowl basis, it ranks third among all FBS conferences. But these findings do make you wonder if players from the Pac-12 and Big 12 are undervalued throughout the NFL scouting process.

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