The SEC produced the most NFL draft first round picks in 2012 with nine. College football’s Goliath sent 10 alumni into the NFL via the first round the year before. In 2013, the SEC could feature as many as 13 first rounders, including the No. 1 overall pick should the Kansas City Chiefs tab Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.
It stands to reason that with a run of seven straight BCS championships and four of the last six Heisman Trophy winners, the conference would also make its mark on Sunday. And, the SEC certainly does that. However, the formula for NFL success isn’t so cut-and-dry as SEC lineage = NFL stardom.
SEC teams win, in part, because the coaches are superior recruiters. Thus, SEC programs having more NFL talent makes sense. But the conference doesn’t have the market cornered, particularly at the highest level. To wit, here is the NFL’s All-Pro First Team last season:
- QB Peyton Manning (Tennessee Volunteers)
- RB Marshawn Lynch (Cal Golden Bears)
- RB Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma Sooners)
- FB Vonta Leach (East Carolina Pirates)
- WR Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets)
- WR Brandon Marshall (UCF Golden Knights)
- TE Tony Gonzalez (Cal)
- OT Duane Brown (Virginia Tech Hokies)
- OT Ryan Clady (Boise State Broncos)
- G Jahri Evans (Bloomsburg Huskies)
- G Mike Iupati (Idaho Vandals)
- C Max Unger (Oregon Ducks)
- KR Jacoby Jones (Lane Dragons)
- K Blair Kalsh (Georgia Bulldogs)
Cal produced as many honorees as the entire SEC, with the conference’s second selection after Manning coming at kicker.
OK, but the SEC has never been a conference built on its offensive prowess. SEC teams make their bones on defense. The whole SEC speed mantra comes from the dizzying quicks on display on that side of the ball. Let’s have a look:
- DE J.J. Watt (Wisconsin Badgers)
- DE Cameron Wake (Penn State Nittany Lions)
- DT Geno Atkins (Georgia)
- DT Vince Wilfork (Miami Hurricanes)
- LB NaVorro Bowman (Penn State)
- LB Von Miller (Texas A&M Aggies)
- LB Aldon Smith (Missouri Tigers)
- LB Patrick Willis (Ole Miss Rebels)
- CB Richard Sherman (Stanford Cardinal)
- CB Charles Tillman (Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns)
- S Dashon Goldson (Washington Huskies)
- S Earl Thomas (Texas Longhorns)
- P Andy Lee (Pittsburgh Panthers)
Now that’s more in line with our understanding of SEC superiority, four current members represented on the First Team. Only…not.
The operative word there is current. Both Miller and Smith were taken from Big 12 institutions at the time of their respective drafts. Thus, the Big 12 and Big Ten tie for the most First Team All-Pro defensive nominees.
The trend continues on each Second Team, where the SEC has representation from players like Georgia’s A.J. Green and former Florida Gators standout Maurkice Pouncey. There just isn’t an overwhelming or disproportionate amount of SEC among the NFL elite.
Look around the league, and it’s a diverse mix. Quarterbacks Tom Brady (Michigan Wolverines) and Drew Brees (Purdue Boilermakers) have won MVPs and Super Bowls with Big Ten pedigrees. This year’s MVP, Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma Sooners) and Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III (Baylor Bears), both came from the Big 12.
In the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, typically Big Ten territory, stars Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews come from the Pac-12. Conversely, two of Wisconsin’s premiere products shined in Pac-12 Country (Russell Wilson) and deep in the heart of Big 12 land (Watt).
Two of the league’s top five rushers were rookies Alfred Morris (FAU Owls) and Doug Martin (Boise State), neither of whom played in power conferences. Similarly, the now-football-defunct Western Athletic Conference and Conference USA were home to as many 2012 Offensive First Team All-Pros as the vaunted SEC.
Now, none of the above is intended to sell the SEC short. The conference’s fingerprints are all over the NFL, from Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford, Julio Jones and A.J. Green, Tim Jennings and Patrick Peterson. Nick Saban has turned the Alabama Crimson Tide football program into a veritable pro factory, of which Dee Milliner is the latest product.
The SEC’s dominance will resonate during Thursday’s NFL draft, but the disparity between conferences seems to end at Radio City Music Hall.