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How much of an NFL Draft monster is Nick Saban’s Alabama? You’d be shocked

Alabama coach Nick Saban
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

The NFL Draft has increasingly become a showcase for the Alabama Crimson Tide. The school set a school record with 10 selections in 2017, and it hasn’t had fewer than seven draftees in each of the past five drafts.

At the same time, Alabama hasn’t suffered in its on-field play. In the past five seasons, the team has won four SEC titles, appeared in three national championship games, made all three iterations of the College Football Playoff and won two national titles.

The Crimson Tide can dominate on the field and at the draft simultaneously because it both recruits and develops its talent at a high level. Here’s exactly how well Nick Saban’s program does:

We utilized the 247 Sports database to look at Saban’s recruiting classes from 2007 to 2013, as the classes after those still have plenty of players left in school. The 2013 haul still has three more in Anthony Averett, Bradley Bozeman and Robert Foster, so it’s possible that class’ numbers will inch up higher. Averett and Bozeman likely will be drafted, which would bump up the relevant rates by one percentage point.

Saban signed 190 total players in those seven classes, or about 27 per season. The balance skewed a bit toward defense, as he signed 97 defensive players, 86 offensive players and seven specialists. That’s about a 51 percent to 45 percent ratio of defense to offense.

A total of 53 players among those 190 were drafted, or about 27.9 percent. None of the specialists were drafted, though, so it’s an even 29 percent if we’re only looking at offensive and defensive players.

Not surprisingly given Saban’s coaching background, the defensive players were drafted at a higher rate. So far, 33 of the 97 defensive recruits were drafted, which comes out to 34 percent of the total. It’s a remarkable feat that one out of every three of Saban’s defensive recruits went on to get drafted. On the offensive side, it’s 20 of 86, or 23.3 percent.

The weakest individual year for draftees is, as you’d expect, his transitional 2007 class. Only three of those 29 players eventually made a draft card. That year drags down the percentages a bit.

If we only look at 2008 to 2013, the rates look even better. In those six classes, 31.1 percent of the total players were drafted, or 32.3 if we leave out the specialists. The total breaks down to 36.6 percent of defensive players and 27.4 percent of offensive players.

The 2009 class was Saban’s best so far at generating NFL draftees, with 11 of 26 (42.3 percent) earning that achievement. A loaded defensive class made the difference, as seven of the 12 (58.3 percent) on that side of the ball were drafted. If Averett gets drafted, the 2013 class will also top the 50-percent mark, with six of 11 being selected (54.5 percent).

The 2008 class was the best at generating offensive draft picks, as five of the 12 (41.7 percent) went on to be picked.

Long story short, Alabama produces NFL Draft picks at remarkably high rates. Here is just how high:

A couple of years ago, Mike Huguenin broke down how many 5-star prospects end up getting drafted. He looked at all of the top-rated players at Rivals.com from the 2002 to 2010 recruiting cycles and found that 116 of the 262 total were drafted. That comes out to 44.3 percent.

These players, of course, are the cream of the crop coming out of high school. Alabama does sign more 5-star recruits than just about anyone, but only about a fifth of its spring roster this year came from that premium talent pool. That’s still more than the roster’s proportion of former 3-star and 2-star prospects, because everything about Crimson Tide recruiting is ridiculous. However, most Alabama players shouldn’t expect to get drafted at that 5-star rate.

It’s hard to find a pecific figure for the percentage of 4-star recruits getting drafted, but it’s undoubtedly much lower than that of 5-star recruits. There are about 10 times as many 4-star recruits as 5-star recruits, but only three times as many former 4-star recruits were drafted as former 5-star recruits in 2017.

Using those two links from the previous paragraph, we can estimate how many former 4-star and 3-star recruits get drafted: 21.4 percent for 4-star players and 7.5 percent for 3-star players.

At those rates, plus the previously established rate for 5-star recruits, the grouping of players on the Alabama spring roster should produce 20 draft picks. That would make 23.8 percent of the 84 total players if the Tide turns recruits into draftees at the average overall rate.

However, we’ve already seen that the rate at which Saban produces draft picks is 31.1 percent, if we leave out the class he shared with Mike Shula. Offense, the weaker side of the ball for him, is comfortably above the estimated rate based on recruiting rankings alone at 27.4 percent. Defense is comically above the estimate at 36.6 percent. Even if these rough estimates are wrong—and they surely are by some amount—it’s overwhelmingly likely that Saban’s historical draft rates at Alabama surpass the expected rates based on recruiting rankings.

Saban undoubtedly sells his ability to turn high school prospects into NFL Draft picks when he hits the recruiting trail. It’s a pitch he can make honestly, too, as he does it at a higher rate than just recruiting rankings would suggest.

This also shows why it’s rational for 2017 4-star defensive line recruit Jarez Parks to decide to grayshirt in order to play in Tuscaloosa rather than sign elsewhere. His chances of being drafted out of Alabama rise by more than 10 percentage points versus the average for all 4-star players.

With draft rates like these, it’s a wonder that Saban and Alabama ever lose out on any recruits.

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