Nearly every prospect at the NFL Scouting Combine gets a similar, innocuous question: How did you get where you are today?
Players from SEC schools inevitably credit their conference for their success.
“That’s why you want to come play in this conference, because it’s the most exciting, and it has the most elite competitors and the most elite talent,” South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw said.
The SEC has had a team play in eight consecutive national championship games, winning seven. The only loss came in January when Florida State beat Auburn.
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It likely comes as no surprise, then, that the SEC has ruled the NFL Draft during that same time span.
The conference could borrow the Olympic motto: Faster, higher, stronger.
“SEC players play at a top-notch level,” Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “So if you play at a top level in the SEC, [you’re the best of the best].”
Though Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops might want to call it “propaganda,” the numbers say otherwise.
In the past seven drafts, NFL teams have selected 305 players from the SEC, including 63 first-rounders. That’s 17.1 percent of the 1,779 draft picks, and 28.1 percent of the 224 first-rounders.
“I don’t think it’s hype,” Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said. “I think you just look at the numbers. There are just so many good, quality programs, and so many good, quality athletes at every program.
“I think there are some factors to that. When you’re in a warm-weather place, you can play football year-round pretty much. I think that helps. Then, there’s just the emphasis that’s placed on football from junior high on. I know there are some other places like that, too, but it just seems like it’s more so in the SEC.”
The SEC had a banner year in 2013. It set a record with 63 NFL Draft picks, more than double any other conference. The ACC’s 31 selections ranked second but trailed even the SEC East, which had 32 picks, and tied the SEC West.
Of the SEC’s 63 selections last year, 12 were first-rounders. That tied the NFL Draft record.
The bottom line: The NFL loves SEC players.
“I think that the SEC is probably the deepest conference in college football, and I think you do see a little bit of a difference in those players just in the level of competition and what they’ve had to go up against,” Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “I wouldn’t say it’s all encompassing, but I think overall they’re a little bit more NFL-ready.”
The SEC placed 305 players on NFL rosters for opening day last year, 18 percent of all 1,696 NFL players. LSU had 39 NFL players, Georgia 36, Alabama 30 and Tennessee 30. Every SEC school had double-digit NFL players last season except Vanderbilt, which had seven players on NFL rosters.
The conference could have a “down” year in next week’s NFL Draft, with only eight prospects appearing to be sure-fire first-rounders. The SEC last had fewer players drafted in the first round in 2008, when only six were selected. But an SEC player is expected to be the No. 1 overall choice, with the Houston Texans considering South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
The Aggies could have three top 10 picks, with Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans.
“It’s a way of life in the SEC,” said NFL.com draft expert Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys former player personnel director. “A lot of families are seeped in football in those areas of the country. They’ve got skill players. They’ve got the big, strong, dedicated linemen. They’ve got the quarterbacks. They’ve got unbelievable coaching. They all have great off-season programs. ... The SEC has the best of the best.”