Hey kid, I hear you want to play in the NFL? Well, let me tell you a little trick-of-the-trade, every coach is going to tell you that you fit his system perfectly and you’ll be wonderfully groomed for the pro game. But don’t believe him, they’re all selling snake oil. If you play quarterback don’t you want to go to a school that has good receivers and lets you use them? If you play running back don’t you want a fullback in harm’s way leading you into the hole? Sure, if you are good enough you’ll transcend the mismatched schemes and play-calling, but why put yourself behind the 8-ball kid? With all your scholarship offers you should think of this.
Quarterback: USC – At USC you’ll have no guarantees of ever starting, but let me show you the advantages. First, you’ll be playing in a pro-style offense that allows you to showcase your talents in a system directly relatable to NFL scouts (who at their core are still afraid of putting a quarterback under center if they’ve only seen him from a shotgun). Second, you’ll be surrounded by elite talent at every position. Your offensive lineman are future first round draft picks and you’ll seldom be picking grass out of your facemask, your wide receivers don’t get scholarship offers if they don’t run a 4.4, and your tailbacks are 5-star recruits capable of padding your stats by turning a screen into a 70-yard touchdown reception. Finally, why do you want to deal with SEC speed and power on defense? Feast on Pac-10 schemes and a lower talent level while you are young and learning.
Classic examples: Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley (2013 Draft)
Dark horse: Cal – Once again, you’ll be able to feast on Pac-10 defenses and work under the tutelage of Jeff Tedford. Cal has had a steady flow of NFL caliber receivers and will continue to feature the gun slinger as long as Tedford is around. Classic examples: Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers
Running back: Miami – The highest concentration of high school football talent in the country is within 30 miles of Coral Gables, and the “U” has done the best to cultivate it in the last few decades. Although the Hurricanes are in rebuilding mode, they are directed by a good football coach in Al Golden with Pennsylvania pound-the-football roots. Miami is one of the teams that will have the talent to overwhelm you in the pro offense without having to get gimmicky in a spread, and those styles produce the most NFL ready backs. The country’s fastest area usually produces the fastest receivers, so you’ll have less of a third level to deal with out of the backfield – and if you break through the traditionally large holes you just need to show those scouts how fast you can run!
Classic examples: Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore, Lamar Miller
Dark horse: Illinois – Do your research kid. If you did, you’d realize that the last three featured backs, spanning two coaching staffs and styles, are playing in the NFL. Pierre Thomas, Rashard Mendenhall and Mikel Leshoure all starred for the Illini. The advantage here is that once you are entrenched as the feature back you won’t be recruited over, you will traditionally become a complete back with the ability to run, block and catch out of the backfield, and playing in the Big Ten will give the scouts a healthy barometer to trust your pro potential. Classic examples: Thomas, Mendenhall, Leshoure.
Wide Receiver: Oklahoma State - I know that every coach has told you they are going to put the ball in your hands, but that’s exactly what they told four other wide receivers in your class, and then five in each preceding class before you. So who is telling the truth? Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. If you are a stud, Gundy will find ways to get the ball in your hands and let you do what you do. You’ll carry the ball on pitches, you’ll get 15 targets a game minimum and if you want you can return kicks and punts. He doesn’t have the extended track record but his offenses have been prolific and he has set and then jumped ahead of the spread curve while teaching his receivers pro routes.
Classic examples: Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon.
Dark horse: Georgia Tech – Like the “Most Interesting Man in the World”, we don’t always throw the ball, but when we do, it’s to a freakshow down the field. If you are big and fast, Georgia Tech has a lineage of putting you on a pedestal and into the league. Classic examples: Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Stephen Hill.
Tight End: Stanford – I know you’re a smart kid, so name another school that will put a tight end on either side of the line and then split one out at wide receiver. Well yes, a couple have but not since 1960. Jim Harbaugh implemented an old school offense predicated on intelligent kids making decisions and operating at pro-level execution; that also has required multiple tight ends that will be well rounded, learn the H-back position, and be featured as a weapon offense. Throw on the 2011 game film and you won’t see many receivers in action, but you’ll get a glimpse of how tight ends are evolving in college football.
Classic examples: Coby Fleener, Levine Toilolo (2013 Draft)
Dark horse: Ohio State – Urban Meyer acquired hybrid receivers in tight-end bodies at Florida and Utah and systematically figured out ways to get huge fast guys the ball in space, the prime example being Aaron Hernandez who is now one of Bill Belichick’s favorite weapons. He’ll do the same at Ohio State. Classic example: Aaron Hernandez
Offensive Lineman: Wisconsin – If you are huge, Wisconsin will make you huger then teach you how to pull, trap and drive. Especially with offensive lineman, some coaches establish their offensive identity with having a line that can get a 3rd-and-1 whenever they want. No school embodies that mentality more than Wisconsin, and they have the pros to prove it. Wisconsin has kept the ball strictly on the ground since they noticed if you open a huge hole with a 260 pound back (Ron Dayne) you can start to win a lot of football games. The Badgers will always have an excellent back to make you look good, and will call enough NFL style play-action passes to help accustom you for pass blocking longer than a quick screen.
Classic examples: Joe Thomas, Gabe Carimi, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler
Dark horse: Michigan – Michigan took a short talented player break when Rich Rodriguez took the helm, but before then, the Wolverines were one of the NFL go-to schools for offensive lineman. Take a look at Brady Hoke (and look at the players he is bringing in) and you have to figure he’ll have Michigan developing hog mollies once more. Classic examples: Jake Long, Steve Hutchinson, David Molk
Defensive Lineman: Alabama – Play for the largest and most physical defense in the country year to year and learn how to push the gaps while closing around the quarterback. Unlike on offense where you want to avoid playing in the SEC, defense is completely different. Your talent shines as the people next to you execute their jobs and flourish, and no team is bringing in the defensive talent that Nick Saban is. Offensive lineman won’t be able to cheat on you, allowing favorable matchups across the defensive front. You won’t lead the nation in sacks, but you’re going to play for a dominant defensive unit and be spotted by scouts. You will also improve by competing against the best at your own position in practice.
Classic examples: Courtney Upshaw, Terrance Cody, Marcel Dareus, Mark Anderson
Dark horse: Penn State – Larry Johnson Sr. might be the best defensive line coach in the country at developing players. They haven’t brought in the dominant talent that some SEC teams have, but the great college players and NFL transitions are plain to see. Classic examples: Tamba Hali, Jared Odrick, Devon Still, Cameron Wake, Jay Alford
Linebacker: Penn State – Penn State is Linebacker U, and despite some darker ages it has continued to feature linebackers and taught them well. When you think of a linebacker you think of the plain navy blue and white, a throwback player with old school toughness and leadership. A linebacker at Penn State isn’t one-dimensional, so after developing physically and mentally they won’t only get picked high in the league and fade away, they’ll have a successful and long career. While at Penn State you’ll have the advantage of a penetrating and disruptive defensive line, leaving you free to meet ball carriers in the hole as well as drop back and practice your pass coverage. And if you come on a blitz, you can time it up quicker than an offense who can’t hear its snap count.
Classic examples: NaVorro Bowman, Dan Connor, Sean Lee, Paul Posluszny
Dark horse: Miami – The “U” hasn’t had a great linebacker in a while, but the potential is there for sure. First of all, their head coach is a Penn State grad and understands how to coach up linebackers. Golden just had a good one drafted out of Temple, and should bring a tough mentality to the Miami defense. Classic examples: Jon Beason, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams
Secondary: LSU – If I’m a corner or safety and I’m looking for a college I’m checking out two things: Are they putting secondary players into the NFL, and do they rush the quarterback? Bingo, I’m going to LSU. Any wide receiver is going to get open if they have enough time, and that reflects poorly on the secondary. On the other hand, having a dominating defensive line and linebacker core can make an average player in the secondary look good, and give players ample opportunity to boost their interception numbers. You will have to play special teams, learn the system, and wait your turn; but in the end it will be worth it when you are sitting the green room at Madison Square Garden.
Classic examples: Morris Claiborne, Patrick Peterson, Ryan Clark, LaRon Landry, Corey Webster, Honey Badger
Dark horse: Rutgers – A true dark horse in the middle of New Jersey, Rutgers actually has some very talented players in the NFL today: Ray Rice, Kenny Britt, Anthony Davis, etc. But the reason they are listed here is because they took two scrawny twins– Devin and Jason McCourty—and developed them into very good NFL cornerbacks. Add in the development of Brandon Bing and you’ve got a good school develop your secondary skills. Classic examples: Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Brandon Bing