When the NFL looks for players, the search starts at Alabama


Julio Jones photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Remember when the Miami Hurricanes were known as “the U?”

Hurricanes of recent vintage like Jim Kelly, Michael Irvin, Cortez Kennedy and Warren Sapp have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are on the way.

Miami had 26 players selected in the first rounds of the NFL draft during the 1990 decade, 10 more than any other school. The Hurricanes had an amazing string of 14 consecutive drafts with a first-round pick from the 1990s into the 2000 decade. There were Hurricanes selected with the first (Russell Maryland), third (Andre Johnson), fourth (Edgerrin James) and fifth (Sean Taylor) overall picks of drafts. Miami also set a record with six players chosen in the first round of a single draft (2004).

If you wanted an impact player, you went to the U.

No longer. The U is now Alabama.

The Crimson Tide has had a player selected in the first round of eight consecutive drafts, the longest current streak in colleges. Alabama will make it nine drafts in a row this April with pass rushers Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams, tight end OJ Howard, linebacker Rueben Foster, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and offensive lineman Cam Robinson all potential Top-32 picks.

What a turnaround. Alabama only had three first-rounders in the entire 2000 decade. But since Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007, it’s been Roll Tide. Alabama has had 17 first-round draft picks this decade, six more than anyone else. Miami, on the other hand, has had only three.

Alabama has 10 players attending the NFL scouting combine this weekend. So does LSU. Texas A&M has nine and Arkansas and Florida eight apiece. The SEC leads all conferences with 66 players at the combine. The SEC is clearly where it’s at these days in the NFL scouting world.

There have been 223 players selected in the first round of NFL drafts this decade. Sixty-nine have come from the SEC. No one else is even close. The ACC is next with 41 first-rounders, followed by the Big Ten and Pac 12 with 31 apiece.

Florida has had 11 first-round picks this decade, second only to Alabama. Texas A&M has had players selected in the first round in six consecutive drafts, second only to Alabama, and that streak will reach seven in 2017. A&M Pass rusher Myles Garrett looms as the potential first overall pick of this draft.

The Atlanta Falcons traded two first-round picks, a second-rounder and two fourths to the Cleveland Browns for the right to select Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones with the sixth overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft. He was worth it, emerging as the game’s best receiver. Jones led the NFL in both catches (136) and yards (1,871) in 2015, and his 83 catches for 1,409 yards helped the Falcons reach the Super Bowl this past season.

Jones has been voted to four Pro Bowls. Marcell Dareus, Mark Ingram, Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Moseley, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Amari Cooper and Landon Collins have all been drafted off the Alabama campus since 2011, and all have been to Pro Bowls. Hightower has helped his team (New England Patriots) win a Super Bowl.

There are more on the way. Allen won the Bednarik Award as college football’s Defensive Player of the Year last season, and Robinson won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman. Howard is the top tight end in this draft, Foster the top linebacker, Garrett the top pass rusher and LSU has both the top running back (Leonard Fournette) and top safety (Jamal Adams).

So this draft should have a distinctive southern tint to it. For good reason. That’s where the players are.

Here’s a list of schools with the most players drafted in the first round during this 2010 decade:
1. Alabama (SEC) — 17
2. Florida (SEC) — 11
3. Florida State (ACC) — 10
4. Texas A&M (SEC) — 9
5. Ohio State (Big Ten) — 8
6. (tie) LSU (SEC) — 6
Clemson (ACC) — 6
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