Special Report

30 Colleges That Produce the Best NFL Players

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For many college football players, the ultimate goal is to make it in the NFL and have a long, successful career. While hard work and natural abilities are the main factors in making that dream a reality, attending the right school can help players develop their skills and get noticed by NFL scouts.

High school players have much to consider when deciding where to play college football, and a school’s track record of helping student athletes turn pro is a key consideration. Over the decades the NFL has existed, certain schools have separated themselves as the best institutions at producing NFL talent.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from Pro Football Reference to determine which college football programs produced the best NFL prospects. The programs were ranked based on how many players they sent to the NFL and how long and successful those players’ careers have been.

Click here to see the colleges that produce the best NFL prospects.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously named Jim Brown as an alumnus of Notre Dame. In fact, Jim Brown attended Syracuse University. The player we intended to mention, wide receiver Tim Brown, did attend Notre Dame and has been added.  

Source: Brian Bahr / Getty Images

30. Stanford
> All-time NFL players: 267
> Pro Bowls: 73
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 3
> Notable players: John Elway, James Lofton

Stanford University may have a reputation for turning out alumni in the tech industry, but it produces plenty of football stars as well. The Cardinal produced 33 active NFL players, and defensive lineman Harrison Phillips could join that group in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

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29. Iowa
> All-time NFL players: 282
> Pro Bowls: 83
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 3
> Notable players: Paul Krause, Alex Karras

Iowa has a knack for producing NFL-quality defensive backs. Of the 282 Hawkeyes who have played in the NFL, more than 30 played corner or safety, including NFL Hall of Fame members Emlen Tunnell and Paul Krause. Cornerback Josh Jackson, a projected first round pick in 2018, seems poised to continue that tradition.

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28. Colorado
> All-time NFL players: 237
> Pro Bowls: 37
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 0
> Notable players: Cliff Branch, Chad Brown

Though Colorado doesn’t have any alumni in the Hall of Fame, it has a consistent track record of producing solid NFL talent. Colorado players have gone on to play more than 13,500 games in the NFL.

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27. North Carolina
> All-time NFL players: 237
> Pro Bowls: 67
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 2
> Notable players: Lawrence Taylor, Julius Peppers

North Carolina Tar Heels have been a nightmare for NFL quarterbacks over the past three decades. The school produced two of the most feared pass rushers of all time, Julius Peppers and Lawrence Taylor. Between the two of them, they have nearly 300 combined sacks.

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26. Illinois
> All-time NFL players: 288
> Pro Bowls: 60
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 5
> Notable players: Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus

Illinois may no longer be a football powerhouse, but many of its earlier alumni have gone on to become NFL legends. People like Ray Nitschke and Red Grange have been immortalized in Canton, and Dick Butkus was such a dominant force at linebacker, the award for the best linebacker in the NCAA is named after him.

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25. Purdue
> All-time NFL players: 284
> Pro Bowls: 105
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 3
> Notable players: Drew Brees, Bob Griese

A franchise quarterback is the most coveted player in the NFL, and Purdue has a rich history of top notch passers. Len Dawson, Bob Griese, and Drew Brees all led their teams to Super Bowl victories after leaving the Boilermakers.

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24. Washington
> All-time NFL players: 293
> Pro Bowls: 69
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 3
> Notable players: Warren Moon, Lawyer Milloy

The Washington Huskies had some of the best teams in college football in the early 1990s, and the program is returning to national prominence. Since Chris Peterson became Washington’s head coach in 2013, the Huskies have produced four first round draft picks and six second rounders. There will likely be another one this season, as defensive lineman Vita Vea is expected to go in the first round.

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23. Wisconsin
> All-time NFL players: 324
> Pro Bowls: 76
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 4
> Notable players: Joe Thomas, J.J. Watt

Wisconsin’s blue collar reputation is well earned, as the Badgers have produced some of the most dominant NFL lineman in recent memory. The recently retired Joe Thomas made the Pro Bowl 10 of his 11 seasons, and J.J. Watt is a three-time winner of the AP Defensive Player of the Year award.

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22. California
> All-time NFL players: 261
> Pro Bowls: 100
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 1
> Notable players: Aaron Rodgers, Tony Gonzalez

As of 2018, the California Golden Bears have only produced one NFL Hall of Fame member, Les Richter, who played for the Los Angeles Rams from 1954-1962. Richter will certainly get some company soon as tight end Tony Gonzalez and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are undoubtedly bound for Canton.

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21. Arizona State
> All-time NFL players: 281
> Pro Bowls: 97
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 5
> Notable players: Randall McDaniel, Terrell Suggs

Arizona State made a splash by hiring former NFL head coach, player, and ESPN personality Herm Edwards as its head coach in 2017. The program is likely aiming to return to its early 2000s prominence. Twenty-one Arizona State players were drafted between 2000 and 2005.

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20. Auburn
> All-time NFL players: 290
> Pro Bowls: 68
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 2
> Notable players: Cam Newton, Bo Jackson

The state of Alabama is inextricably linked with football, and Auburn has produced some of the most electrifying athletes in recent memory. Heisman Trophy winning running back Bo Jackson showed promise, but his career was derailed by a hip injury after four seasons. Cam Newton has proven to be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, being named the 2015 NFL MVP.

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19. Michigan State
> All-time NFL players: 315
> Pro Bowls: 110
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 3
> Notable players: Herb Adderley, Morten Andersen

The Wolverines may be the dominant team in Michigan, but the Michigan State Spartans can hold their own in the NFL. More than 300 Spartan football players have turned pro, and they’ve been named to a collective 110 Pro Bowls.

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18. Pittsburgh
> All-time NFL players: 325
> Pro Bowls: 121
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 9
> Notable players: Dan Marino, Mike Ditka

There are nine Pitt Panthers in the NFL Hall of Fame, and it certainly appears that more could be on the way. Legends like Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, and Dan Marino are remembered as some of the best to ever play their position. Now, more recent Pitt alumni like Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Donald, LeSean McCoy, and Darrelle Revis are putting together Hall of Fame worthy careers.

Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

17. Texas A&M
> All-time NFL players: 303
> Pro Bowls: 96
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 1
> Notable players: Richmond Webb, Von Miller

Texas A&M football has undergone something of a resurgence since transferring to the Southeastern Conference in 2012. Texas A&M produced eight first round draft picks since 2012 and there’s a chance wide receiver Christian Kirk may become the ninth. The Aggies have 30 active NFL players, including former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and 2017’s first overall pick Myles Garrett.

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Source: Doug Benc / Getty Images

16. Florida State
> All-time NFL players: 299
> Pro Bowls: 89
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 4
> Notable players: Derrick Brooks, Deion Sanders

Florida State has a strong lineage of defensive standouts dating back decades. Players like Derrick Brooks and Deion Sanders led their teams to Super Bowl Championships and were later enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Also of note, Florida State produces more than its fair share of kickers. It’s projected that in 2018, three NFL teams will have former Seminoles kicking their field goals.

Source: Brian Bahr / Getty Images

15. Oklahoma
> All-time NFL players: 363
> Pro Bowls: 88
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 3
> Notable players: Sam Bradford, Adrian Peterson

Oklahoma has produced many top running backs such as Adrian Peterson, Billy Sims, and Greg Pruitt. But in recent years, Oklahoma has been the breeding ground of quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield, who won the Heisman Trophy last year, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sam Bradford, who was chosen first by the St. Louis Rams in 2010.

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14. Florida
> All-time NFL players: 338
> Pro Bowls: 81
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 2
> Notable players: Emmitt Smith, Jack Youngblood

The Florida Gators have established themselves as one of the top defenses in college football over the past few years, and the results are showing in the NFL. In the 2017 NFL Draft, eight Gators were selected — seven of them defensive players. Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, there are 56 former Florida Gators in the NFL, tied for the most of any school.

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13. Texas
> All-time NFL players: 322
> Pro Bowls: 112
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 3
> Notable players: Earl Campbell, Earl Thomas

Texas high school football blurs the line between sport and religion, so it should come as no surprise that some of the best football players come from Texas. Lately, the Longhorns have specialized in defensive backs. More than 50 Longhorns have played DB professionally.

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12. Georgia
> All-time NFL players: 327
> Pro Bowls: 118
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 3
> Notable players: Fran Tarkenton, Champ Bailey

The Georgia Bulldogs have produced standout NFL players at just about every position. Cornerback Champ Bailey, quarterback Fran Tarkenton, running back Herschel Walker, and wide receiver Hines Ward all played between the hedges in Athens, Georgia before going onto stellar NFL careers. Linebacker Roquan Smith could be the next Bulldog great and he’s predicted to go in the top ten in the 2018 NFL Draft.

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Source: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images

11. Alabama
> All-time NFL players: 352
> Pro Bowls: 104
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 8
> Notable players: Bart Starr, Julio Jones

After a recent string of dominance in college football, the NFL has been flooded by the Crimson Tide. In the 2017 draft alone, 10 Alabama players were selected — four of them in the first round. That could continue this year, as Minkah Fitzpatrick, Calvin Ridley, Rashaan Evans, and Da’ron Payne seem to be consensus first rounders.

Source: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

10. UCLA
> All-time NFL players: 334
> Pro Bowls: 98
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 6
> Notable players: Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman

UCLA produced one all-time great quarterback in Troy Aikman, and hope is that Josh Rosen, a 2018 draft prospect, could become another. Lately, most of the Bruins’ high draft picks have been on the defensive side of the ball, including Takkarist McKinley, Myles Jack, and Anthony Barr.

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Source: Brian Bahr / Getty Images

9. Nebraska
> All-time NFL players: 366
> Pro Bowls: 89
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 5
> Notable players: Irving Fryar, Will Shields

The Cornhuskers were one of the marquee college football programs in the 1980s and 1990s. Nebraska produced standout players like Irving Fryar, Ahman Green, and Will Shields. Not as many Cornhuskers have come to the NFL as can’t-miss products lately, though. The last first round pick from Nebraska came in 2011 with Prince Amukamara.

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8. Tennessee
> All-time NFL players: 337
> Pro Bowls: 137
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 2
> Notable players: Peyton Manning, Reggie White

Tennessee has produced some of the most solid and dependable stars in recent memory. Peyton Manning and Reggie White were perennial Pro Bowl players during their careers. In fact, the Volunteers produced 18 different players who spent at least a decade as the primary starter for their teams.

Source: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

7. LSU
> All-time NFL players: 350
> Pro Bowls: 116
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 3
> Notable players: Alan Faneca, Odell Beckham Jr.

No college has produced more current NFL players than LSU and Florida — the Tigers and Gators are tied with 56. There were eight Tigers drafted in 2017, including three first round selections. However, no LSU players are expected to go in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

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Source: Dave Reginek / Getty Images

6. Michigan
> All-time NFL players: 388
> Pro Bowls: 109
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 6
> Notable players: Tom Brady, Desmond Howard

The Wolverines have sent 388 players to the NFL, including the man widely considered to be the greatest quarterback ever, Tom Brady. The former Michigan QB was drafted 199th overall in 2000 and led the New England Patriots to five Super Bowl wins. Many other successful Wolverines have been lineman, and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst could join that group in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Source: Joel Auerbach / Getty Images

5. Miami
> All-time NFL players: 348
> Pro Bowls: 176
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 7
> Notable players: Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin

The Miami Hurricanes have sent so many terrific players to the NFL in the past 20 years that it can be difficult to keep them all straight. In 2004, the Hurricanes set a record for the most first round picks from one school with six. There are currently seven Hall of Fame players who went to Miami, but that number will certainly grow once more of the players from the early 2000s Miami teams become eligible.

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Source: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

4. Penn State
> All-time NFL players: 378
> Pro Bowls: 117
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 6
> Notable players: Jack Ham, Franco Harris

Penn State University is nicknamed “Linebacker U.” for good reason — nearly 70 of the 378 players who have gone to the NFL played that position for the Nittany Lions. Among them was LaVar Arrington, Jack Ham, and NaVorro Bowman. Penn State produced perhaps the most buzzed-about athlete for the 2018 draft in RB Saquon Barkley. He wowed scouts with his strength, speed, and agility. Barkley will likely be one of the earliest picks.

Source: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

3. Ohio State
> All-time NFL players: 458
> Pro Bowls: 167
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 8
> Notable players: Ezekiel Elliott, Orlando Pace

Coach Urban Meyer has returned Ohio State to its status as one of the top football programs in the country and has helped the Buckeyes develop top-tier NFL talent. Eight Buckeyes have been drafted in the first round of the past two drafts. Players like Joey Bosa and Marshon Lattimore already look like stars early in their careers.

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2. USC
> All-time NFL players: 510
> Pro Bowls: 234
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 12
> Notable players: Marcus Allen, Bruce Matthews

The University of Southern California is tied with Notre Dame University as the school with the most overall No. 1 draft picks — running backs O.J. Simpson (1969) and Ricky Bell (1977), wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson (1996), quarterback Carson Palmer (2003), and tackle Ron Yary (1968). Eighty Trojans have been picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. Quarterback Sam Darnold might join that group in the upcoming NFL Draft. Twelve players from USC have been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

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1. Notre Dame
> All-time NFL players: 567
> Pro Bowls: 182
> Alumni in Hall of Fame: 13
> Notable players: Joe Montana, Tim Brown

Notre Dame may be the most storied program in college football and it is without a doubt the best when it comes to producing NFL players. Quarterbacks like Joe Theismann, Joe Montana, and Daryle Lamonica are some of the game’s all time greats. The staggering amount of talent that has passed through South Bend, Indiana, provided the school with a rich sporting tradition unlike any other college. The Fighting Irish have 11 national championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners, and have produced 66 first round draft picks. Two Notre Dame linemen, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, seem likely to boost that number to 68 first rounders in 2018. Notre Dame also is tied with USC for the most first overall draft picks with five. The school also boasts 567 NFL players and 13 NFL Hall of Famers — both more than any other school.

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Having talented players is the biggest key to success in college football. Coaching is important, but having strong, fast, and agile athletes who can take their talent to the next level is crucially important. Alabama has been the dominant program in the NCAA, winning five titles since 2009.

It’s probably no coincidence that Alabama has also had the most players drafted since 2010 with 61. Twenty-one of those players were drafted in the first round, and the Crimson Tide will likely add several more first rounders in 2018. All of the top 20 schools at churning out NFL players have at least one national championship.

Alabama has pumped the most players into the NFL over recent years, but it still falls behind fellow SEC schools LSU and Florida — the schools with the most alumni currently in the NFL. Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, LSU and Florida each have 56 alumni in the league, while Alabama has 49. Two other SEC schools, Georgia and Auburn, also made it into the top 10. Alabama has produced 352 NFL players in its history, the most of any SEC school but just the eighth most in NFL history.

Even though SEC schools lead the way, programs all over the country have a proven track record of producing NFL players. The best 30 college football programs at producing NFL players are in 20 different states, including California, Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

As college football programs have built up decades of history, many seem to have established a knack for turning out certain positions better than other schools. Purdue has never been a powerhouse program, but it’s produced three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in Drew Brees, Len Dawson, and Bob Griese. And of the 378 all-time players Penn State sent to the NFL, more than 60 played linebacker. Several programs, including Florida, Texas, and Ohio State all claim to produce the best defensive backs in the NFL.

In order to determine which colleges produce the best pro prospects, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed NFL data from Pro Football Reference. Schools were ranked based on the number of players each college has sent to the NFL, how many games those players played, and how well those players performed at the next level. If a player attended more than one school, their stats were considered for both programs. Pro Bowls refers to the number of total Pro Bowls a school’s products were selected to attend.

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