One of college football fandom’s most reliable arguments: who’s the real Position U?
If you root for a school with even a remote claim at DBU, Linebacker U, or Tight End U, then your blood is already boiling.
There are many ways to resolve these debates. Many have tried, with many interesting blog posts at many outlets over the last decade-plus. These usually involve layered points systems that award schools Position U credit for producing All-Americans, Pro Bowlers, and what have you.
Let’s use something a little different, a little simpler. I don’t think it’ll FINALIZE any of these arguments, but hopefully it’s an interesting way to view each of them.
Let’s assign a point value to each spot in the NFL Draft. Let’s give it a name. Let’s go with the name Draft Points.
NFL GMs make their share of mistakes, but on the whole, the draft is the best available tool for assessing such a huge pool of players across eras.
Using the draft also strikes a balance between the Position U questions of whether we’re talking about a player’s college career or what happened later in the pros. As always, when we call a college football team the best at something, it’s not guaranteed we’re debating the same thing. Just look at how many things Best College Football Team Ever can mean.
Going by Draft Points treats the draft as a single thing: college football’s exit exam.
How many points should each pick be worth?
We could use the ancient “Jimmy Johnson trade value chart” (whose name and utility are dubious), something really advanced, or ... hey, let’s stick with simple!
Another thing to consider: draft classes are not always of equal size. A player picked between #255 and #336 in 1992’s 12-round draft would’ve been a UDFA in 2019.
With these two things in mind, I’ve made only the top 250 picks worth points, from 10 points for #1 through .04 points for #250.
Simple math means we have an instant score we can attach to thousands and thousands of players, not just the superstars. A complex system that awards points for making all-conference teams? Doubt anybody’s committing the time needed to find all that data back into the 1970s.
Simple math also means we can move the window of time we’re examining. I’ve cut it off at 1970, the year of the AFL-NFL merger and right around the time segregation was finally ending in college football. It would be simple to go further.
I’ve been messing with this simple system for nearly a decade now, using it (for one example) to show Ohio State’s 2016 draft class was by far the most impressive ever.
Now let’s use Draft Points at the full historical level. Before the Position U stuff, here’s the Draft Points top 25 for every pick since 1970.
- USC: 1,685.16
- Ohio State: 1,549
- Miami: 1,394.76
- Penn State: 1,338.44
- Notre Dame: 1,302.16
- Florida: 1,301.52
- Alabama: 1,299
- Oklahoma: 1,278.92
- Michigan: 1,252.16
- Florida State: 1,241.76
- Nebraska: 1,208.92
- LSU: 1,121.04
- Tennessee: 1,106.84
- Texas A&M: 1,021.92
- Texas: 1,019.36
- UCLA: 974.96
- Georgia: 973.6
- Washington: 938.04
- Clemson: 910.64
- Auburn: 860.88
- Arizona State: 833.24
- Colorado: 829.36
- Stanford: 803.04
- North Carolina: 794.84
- Michigan State: 765.88
Not too far off from expectations, right? Considering USC and Nebraska have been dynasties during this period, the Big Three teams from Florida weren’t anything special until the 1980s, and 2010s heavyweights like Alabama and Clemson and Georgia have had some real mediocre runs, this seems like a pretty reasonable top 25 in terms of talent production.
Anyway, congrats to USC, the biggest NFL Draft factory of them all!
Wait, that sounds wrong to your 2020 ear, right?
Here’s an even bigger value of having a simple number system like Draft Points: we don’t have to pretend these rankings are set in stone forever, and we don’t have to wait for each player’s entire NFL career to play out before we adjust.
When we have Position U arguments, too often we’re arguing as if every team’s status stays the same forever. With Draft Points, we can acknowledge these things fluctuate all the time, as each team produces more or less talent than the year prior.
By using a rolling 10-year total, Alabama and Ohio State now lead the way, following USC’s Pete Carroll run, which followed Miami and Florida State. You can see FSU’s rise, Bama’s time in the wilderness, and USC’s slumps.
We can also play with the beginning point, because when we argue about these things, we’re arguing about whether a 2021 defensive back might think of LSU or Florida or Ohio State or Texas as being the best destination, not about whether USC was awesome in the 1970s. (Clearly, not many current recruits are thinking about USC at all.).
Here’s the top 10 from just 1990 onward, charted the same way:
This is even more reflective of what we’re talking about when we talk about who’s the best talent producer. We’re talking about what we remember and which alumni are still playing in the pros, not about stuff that happened before Al Gore unlocked the internet technology. (Also, whew, Tennessee.)
Let’s start with one that isn’t all that contentious online. Who’s the real QBU, based, on these numbers?
First, here’s the top 10 in total quarterback Draft Points since 1970:
- USC: 98.88
- California: 78.92
- Washington: 77.44
- Florida State :75.32
- Stanford: 72.2
- Oregon: 70.2
- Notre Dame: 61.64
- Louisville: 57.28
- Ohio State: 56.32
- BYU: 55.36
But there’s an obvious name that’s not on this list. Oklahoma has had three quarterbacks drafted #1 overall, and all of them pretty recently. Shouldn’t that make Oklahoma the real QBU, regardless of all those West Coast teams having first-round QBs years prior?
Probably so. In fact:
There we are. If we’re fine with accepting these things as being in flux, then we can think of the current reigning QBU as distinct from the all-time QBU (USC) and recent previous contenders like Florida State, Oregon, and Louisville.
Just like the debates (plural) over best QB ever, there are many QBUs, depending on what “QBU” means.
If you wanna look at these numbers and declare any team on either the list or the chart to be THE REAL QBU, that’s cool with me! I don’t care.
How about Running Back U?
When we say this, we usually mean Tailback U or Halfback U. Here are the 1970-2019 leaders in getting halfbacks drafted early and often:
- Penn State: 207.56
- Alabama: 192.28
- Oklahoma: 177.2
- Ohio State: 169.04
- Nebraska: 166.56
- Miami: 161.44
- Michigan: 149.92
- Auburn: 139.36
- Georgia: 136.68
- USC: 128.96
Georgia, Auburn, and USC fans fight over this one a lot. If the bulk of the argument is 1980s Heismans, then this is the point in the blog where I’ll lose some of you.
But based on Draft Points, it’s clear Penn State has a strong claim, with seven first-round running backs since 1970, most recently Saquon Barkley at #2 — plus Hall of Famer Lenny Moore from before our sample.
This position has an interesting 1990-2019 chart, though. Watch as most of the lines trend down-ish, except for one:
The whole NFL just gave up on shopping around for halfbacks and decided to pull through Nick Saban’s One-Stop Emporium, putting mom-and-pop rock-toters out of business nationwide.
And hey, that chart has some HBU evidence for Auburn, Miami, and others as well.
Also, both time windows agree Syracuse is Fullback U (five drafted since 1970, including second-rounders Daryl Johnston and Rob Konrad), and that’s without even going back and including Jim Brown.
Onward to Wide Receiver U!
I most frequently see Tennessee, Clemson, LSU, and Ohio State fans debating WRU. First, the 1970-2019 list:
- USC: 219.12
- Tennessee: 208.8
- Florida: 206.48
- Ohio State: 198.04
- Miami: 179.72
- Michigan: 168.68
- LSU: 165
- Florida State: 160.88
- Oklahoma: 139.52
- San Diego State: 136.32
Yeah, on a lot of the lists that include 1970s numbers, USC’s just gonna tower over everyone in a way that feels pretty outdated.
As for right now, Clemson has an excellent WRU claim ... if you only base such titles on recent drafts. But let’s remember history. Ohio State’s had 33 wide receivers picked #250 or better since 1970, while Clemson’s only had 17.
Clemson’s WRU claim is so recent, in fact, that it doesn’t even show up in the tighter time window yet. But Clemson’s close to making the chart, probably taking Georgia’s spot once I add in the 2020 Draft and then climbing some more in 2021. (Also, you’ll see Clemson’s rise reflected in other charts later in this post.)
The best current case for WRU is Ohio State’s. But let’s marvel once more at Florida’s old run, basically from Reidel Anthony and Ike Hilliard through Percy Harvin.
As for Tight End U, I’ll just summarize the data sets by saying Notre Dame, Miami, USC, and Iowa have the best claims, probably in that order.
How about Offensive Line U?
I don’t see people fighting each other online over this one a lot, probably because they do it politely while standing in separate Midwestern driveways.
The 1970-2019 numbers, where once again we remember USC has been good at football before:
- USC: 356.28
- Notre Dame: 274.8
- Michigan: 264.04
- Penn State: 261.2
- Nebraska: 252.24
- Wisconsin: 244.2
- Oklahoma: 242.72
- Boston College: 238.24
- Iowa: 231.88
- Ohio State: 216.08
GOOD GRIEF, MARY JEAN, look at all that WHOLESOME HEARTLAND BEEF on display. GEEZ!
As for the more recent time window:
I like this one a lot! Wisconsin’s entire brand and biggest point of pride is producing lots of Big Humble Fundamentals, and here, they appear as the most consistent OLU in the country, with a ceiling just below the GLORY BOYS at Alabama, USC, and Notre Dame. Wisconsin’s big-boy factory just clocks an honest eight hours at a time, forever.
To create offensive linemen, simply ensure your state has lots of Bob Evans and Culver’s locations.
The battle for Defensive Line U flips the O Line map upside down.
Defensive linemen are made of Publix subs and Popeyes chicken. Here’s 1970-2019:
- Miami: 302.64
- Alabama: 276.96
- Florida State: 266.44
- Florida: 265
- LSU: 253.56
- Clemson: 244.16
- USC: 240
- Texas: 238.56
- Notre Dame: 238.24
- Nebraska: 223.56
And basically any team on the 1990-2019 chart can claim DLU status:
Notice how the DLU chart is the one that most looks like a list of recent national champions? Compare it to the other charts. Elite defensive linemen are as valuable as can be.
Next: Linebacker U.
Penn State fans are by far the most passionate about claiming LBU, though everybody wants a piece.
The all-time linebacker Draft Points list, again with vestigial USC dominance:
- USC: 281.68
- Penn State: 273.04
- Ohio State: 270.64
- Alabama: 220.24
- Nebraska: 204.72
- Oklahoma: 190.72
- Miami: 188.56
- Florida: 185.64
- Tennessee: 179.88
- Florida State: 168.68
If at any point you’re anywhere in the top three on this chart, go ahead and call yourself LBU (you will then have to defeat a Penn State fan in combat):
AND NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT: DBU.
Quite possibly the most College Football Internet thing of all is how much time and energy goes into arguing which school is Defensive Back U. It would take a whole other blog post to explain why this is the position that gets folks the most stirred up.
There’s a list of like seven or 20 or 400 fanbases that each NEED the title of Universally Acknowledged Greatest And Only DBU, that YEARN for it so badly that they cannot square with any reality in which their team is not considered The Only DBU That Ever DBU’d. There is no number I could present that could sway any of them whatsoever.
First, the 1970-2019 defensive back Draft Points:
- Ohio State: 347.04
- LSU: 265.48
- Miami: 262.92
- Texas: 249.52
- Florida State: 245.88
- Alabama: 241.6
- USC: 241.48
- Notre Dame: 230.28
- Nebraska: 223.08
- Florida: 222.32
And now let’s zero in on 1990-2019:
As with any college football argument, it all comes down to exactly what you’re arguing (best college careers, best pro careers, both, or neither) and which time span you’re picking.
Ohio State has the best multi-decade case.
LSU has the best case over the last full decade.
Alabama has the best recent case.
Florida’s Big Three are often right in the mix.
And Texas probably needs to settle down, start getting guys drafted again, and then re-enter the chat.
(Also, whew, Nebraska.)
As for Special Teams U ...
... it’s Florida State, but here comes Georgia.
What else might you like to see us do with Draft Points?
Drop off any requests in the comments.