Iowa (Robert Gallery, Eric Steinbach, Ross Verba, Mike Goff)
Florida St. (Corey Simon, Derrick Alexander, Andre Wadsworth, Reinard Wilson)
Miami (Ray Lewis, Jonathan Vilma, Dan Morgan, D.J. Williams)
Miami (Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Phillip Buchanon, Mike Rumph)
In a naïve fantasy, high school football recruits would pick a college based on its tree-lined quads and renowned engineering program and their unquenchable desire to bring home a championship for good ol' State U. In reality, today's blue-chippers -- particularly the highest-rated ones -- have one criterion on their mind more than any other: Which program will best help get me to the League?
"It's what everyone dreams about that comes to play here, and we try to be real frank about it," said USC's Pete Carroll, himself a former NFL head coach. "We have tremendous NFL experience on our staff, our background and the way we teach is exactly the way they do up there. It's a selling point."
Today's recruits are more savvy than ever. They pay attention to which schools are churning out the most Sunday stars. So do NFL executives. It's no secret that recent Miami products (Ed Reed, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, Jonathan Vilma) have had an obscene amount of success at the next level, which can only help the players who come behind them.
"This year we don't have as many high-profile guys," said Hurricanes coach Larry Coker, "but there's some really good players here that, because they're coming out of this program, NFL people will take a very hard look at and maybe draft, where at another program maybe they wouldn't get drafted."
Here now is a look at the five current college programs that do the best job preparing players for the draft (note this is not a historical evaluation, but one based on recent draft success and current prospects), as well as five similarly high-profile programs that, at least recently, haven't been as suitable an NFL training ground:
Five programs that develop draft prospects ...
1. Miami: The track record is indisputable: 19 first-round draft picks over the past four years, including rookie sensations Portis, Reed, Shockey and Vilma, not to mention 1990s products Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp and Edgerrin James. And as Coker points out, several of the recent high picks -- Portis, Reed, Phillip Buchanon -- weren't considered all-world prospects coming out of high school.
"They have to have the ability," said Coker, "but we really do help develop our players to the max."
How do they do that? Coaches and players alike credit the school's rigorous strength and conditioning program, the intensity of practices (in which a future NFL receiver may go against a future pro cornerback on a daily basis) and the fact that numerous ex-players now in the pros return to Coral Gables during the offseason and train with the current players, often pushing and motivating them. "It makes a real impact," Coker said.
NFL scouts already have their eyes on USC sophomore wideout Dwayne Jarrett.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
2. USC: The Trojans don't yet have the track record of some other schools -- Carroll only arrived four years ago -- but there's no question USC is in the midst of producing its own Miami-like talent line. By a conservative estimate, there are about 20 future draft picks on its '05 roster (led by Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Dwayne Jarrett), not including incoming freshmen.
Much of the credit goes to Carroll and his staff's recruiting prowess, but his program is also the closest thing to an NFL system in the way it operates. Most of the assistants have NFL experience (when four positions opened this offseason, he reached into the pro ranks to fill three of them), and elite players get maximum opportunity to develop their talents because of Carroll's willingness to put true freshman in key roles. "We work real hard to make visits from NFL scouts as beneficial as possible," said Carroll. "We offer our guys everything from A to Z as they go through the process."
3. Florida State: It wasn't long ago that the 'Noles would have been the undisputed leader of this list. They've slipped a bit in recent years, both on the field and on draft day (no first-round picks since 2002, though second-rounder Anquan Boldin turned into a star), but there's no shortage of talent remaining in Tallahassee. Alex Barron and Travis Johnson should both be first-rounders this year, and both are examples of players who improved tremendously throughout their careers. Bobby Bowden and his many veteran assistants have helped turn out countless future pros during their time there (Deion Sanders, Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, et. al.), which brings instant credibility among future recruits.