The NFL draft is the ultimate arbiter of college football talent. This is not in dispute. Thirty-two teams in direct competition with each other, each of them acting in their own best interest, creates a true market for valuing college football talent. The draft is the prism through which all personnel decisions are made in major college football: Programs want to produce NFL talent because it helps them attract future NFL talent, and players want to play for programs with a track record of molding recruits into draft picks.
And yet the way we use the draft to evaluate college talent is rudimentary and flawed. Most often, drafts are judged one way: School X had eight players selected, School Y had seven, therefore School X had a better draft.
But all draft picks are not created equal. That’s the whole point of the entire event, in fact — picks become slightly less valuable with each slot. Like a staircase, the draft starts at the top and makes it way to the floor one step at a time.
The only nuance we’re typically given is which teams produced the most first-round selections, yet we can all agree the 32nd pick has far more in common with the 33rd selection than the first. Some outlets will report which programs had top-100 picks, but this still treats pick No. 1 and pick No. 100 as equals.
To fix this, I’ve come up with a formula so simple I’m suspicious that I’m actually the first person to think of it.
The first selection is worth 250 points. The second pick is worth 249. The third is worth — wait for it — 248. On and on it goes until we get to pick 250, where from that point on each selection garners one point. The more Selection Points you have, the more talented the NFL viewed your team.
This simple formula rewards quantity and quality. Having multiple draft picks on your team is good, having multiple high-level draft picks is better. This formula adds context by scoring every pick according to its precise value rather than grouping 30-plus picks together as if they call count the same.
As you’ll see below, the NFL collectively viewed Alabama’s 10 picks as 36 percent more valuable than Ohio State’s 10; the 10 Tide picks came in on average at pick No. 57, while the 10 Buckeyes picks averaged pick No. 101. Thanks to 250 points from Trevor Lawrence and 226 from Travis Etienne, Clemson’s five picks beat LSU’s seven and pushed Michigan’s eight.
The Selection Points formula comes in most handy when separating teams with equal numbers of picks. To repeat what we already know, five top-100 picks are not the same as five seventh-round picks, when the only groups still paying attention are draft degenerates, weary families and tortured SIDs.
For example, Clemson, Stanford and North Carolina’s five — each with three picks in the top 82 — came in ahead of Penn State’s six, because three of those six came in succession at the tail end of the seventh round. Kentucky had six picks, too, but four were at No. 192 or later. Zach Wilson delivered a whopping 249 points for BYU, but three of his teammates were selected at No. 250 or later.
Six teams with four selections outscored Pitt’s six, because four of those six arrived at No. 175 or later.
For additional context, here are the best individual drafts of all time. As you’ll see, Ohio State’s 2016 haul and Alabama’s 2017 group scored higher than the then-record setting 14 picks by Ohio State in 2004, and Alabama’s 2021 group — with eight top-40 picks — nearly equaled Ohio State’s 14.
|2016 Ohio State||12||2,351|
|2004 Ohio State||14||1,999|
|2015 Florida State||11||1,714|
Beyond evaluating individual drafts, the Selection Points formula helps us quantify exactly how talented a college roster happens to be. Below are the full Selection Points tabulations for each national champion over the past 20 years. Teams in italics still have players eligible to be selected in future drafts. Alabama’s 2017 team has already surpassed the legendary Miami 2001 team with one fewer draft pick. (Also, Cam Newton should have his portrait hung in every classroom, professor’s office and bathroom stall on the Auburn campus.)
|2014 Ohio State||30||5,483|
|2002 Ohio State||33||4,948|
|2013 Florida State||22||3,597|
Another way to gauge college talent would be to calculate the total number of NFL seasons played by college rosters, but the problem there is the further you get removed from a player’s college days, the less it reflects on the college program. A player suffering a career-ending injury, landing with the wrong team, or getting to off-field trouble as a 26-year-old isn’t his college program’s fault. It’s the program’s job to hand its players off to the League, everything afterward is up to the player and/or his professional team(s).
And now we know, with pinpoint accuracy, which programs did the best job in 2021 and historically.