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Football States and Mega Regions: Where the 2012 NFL Players Come From

On Wednesday, I looked at the metro areas that produced the most NFL players at the start of the 2012 season. This post looks at the states and mega-regions that have done so.

The Top 10 States Overall

Many of the most populous states dominate the top 10, with only one state (Louisiana) ranking below 12th overall in population. California and Florida, home of the top two NFL-producing metros (LA and Miami) finish 1st and 3rd. Both have several other metros that also produce many players. Sandwiched between them is Texas, home of Dallas and Houston – two of the top 5 metros.

New Jersey’s inclusion, while New York state doesn’t show up on the list, is a reflection of the fact that most of the New York City metro area’s players actually come from the New Jersey counties that are part of it.

Top 10 Per Capita

The southern states, like the colleges, dominate this list. 7 of 10 states are from the south and/or sun belt, with only Ohio (the best performing northern state by nearly every metric), midwest powerhouse Nebraska, and the island state of Hawaii cracking the top 10 from outside those areas. The deep south states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina) atop the list are home to only one NFL team (New Orleans Saints, though part of South Carolina is included in the Charlotte MSA – home to the Carolina Panthers); however, many college football powerhouses play in that region.

Mega Regions Overall

Going back to the 11 Mega Regions, the most populous regions, the Great Lakes, is first, followed by the Piedmont and Florida. Southern California does well on the strength of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

Mega Regions Per Capita

The Piedmont, whose colleges lead the way in producing players, shows up atop this list, edging out Florida. Cascadia, whose colleges do well, is one of the two worst performing regions, a sign that it imports players at that level.

The final post will focus on the metros where star players are bred.

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America’s State and Regional College Football Factories

The Band

This is part 2 of a 2 part post. The first part focused on where the (successful) colleges are.

One of the major attractions of college football – for players, schools, and fans alike – is that it serves a launching pad to the pros, particularly the wildly popular National Football League.

Using the list of ESPN’s list of players sorted by college, I examined which states’ colleges are producing the most players overall and per capita, and where the most successful ones are coming from.

States Whose Colleges Produced Most Current NFL Players
Unsurprisingly, many of the largest states show up atop the list, with only the football-mad southern states of Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina noticeably outperforming their size. The leading large states all have multiple programs feeding the NFL, while Ohio only has one (Ohio State). In California, Cal, USC, and Stanford all produce NFL players, while UT, TCU, A&M, and Tech boost Texas’ numbers. Florida places third in large part on the strength of Miami. I was surprised to find out that The U has provided the most players to the NFL this year (59), while no other school even reaches 50.

On a per capita basis, you see smaller states with successful programs rise to the top, with Nebraska, Idaho (Boise State), Utah (Utah and BYU), West Virginia (WVU and Marshall), and Iowa joining the southern schools. Lower down in the top 10, Oregon (Oregon and Oregon State) and Oklahoma (OU and State) are in the middle in terms of state size, but are boosted by two successful programs each, plus smaller schools such as Portland State and Tulsa, respectively.

Mega-Regions Where Colleges Produce NFL Players

Using the 11 Mega-Regions once again, we see the Atlantic and interior south (Piedmont Atlantic) and midwest-north (Great Lakes) leading the way. The Northeast, not known as a college football hotbed, falls into the middle of the pack despite its large population.

The Piedmont, 4th in population, holds its lead on a per capita basis, while Cascadia stands out as well. The Northeast falls back, along with Southern California – a surprise, given how successful USC has been over the past decade.

Where Do The Best Players Come From?
Colleges don’t just look to turn out players who go pro. A big selling feature is being able to produce future stars. I looked at players who have received accolades – Pro Bowl invitations, All-Pro Team recognition, and major awards such as Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Awarding points for each accolade, here are how states and region’s colleges fare.

Star-Powered States
Florida leads the way, behind former ‘Canes such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Devin Hester, and Andre Johnson. The state of California has produced stars such as Troy Polamalu (USC), Tony Gonzales (Cal), and Maurice Jones-Drew (UCLA).

Alabama shows up high on the strength of many ‘Bama and Auburn stars, while Tennessee boasts some guy named Peyton Manning, who starred for the Vols.

On a per capita basis, Idaho jumps out in front on the strength of Jared Allen (Idaho State), and Boise State stars Ryan Clady (All-Pro LT) and defensive back Quintin Mikkel New Mexico’s showing is entirely from standout LB Brian Urlacher. Oklahoma boasts a number of Sooners and Cowboys who have made the pros, while stars like Steve Smith (Carolina) and Eric Weddle (San Diego) launched their careers at the University of Utah. Oregon boasts Ducks like Haloti Ngata, and Beavers like Steven Jackson and Chad Johnson. Meanwhile, West Virginia can thank former Marshall player Randy Moss for their showing.

Mega-Regions and Star Players
On a regional level, the same trend plays out as when looking at the entire list of players. The Great Lakes and Piedmont lead the way, with Florida following suit.

The Front Range jumps out just ahead of the Piedmont on a per capita basis, thanks to stars like Vincent Jackson (Northern Colorado), and the aforementioned Utah and New Mexico players. Florida and Cascadia (Idaho, Oregon, Washington) follow closely.

What stars the Northeast does produce (Ray Rice of Rutgers, Matt Ryan and Matt Hasselbeck of Boston College) don’t perform nearly enough to pull up the region’s ranking. I was surprised by the per capita scores of both the Great Lakes and the Gulf Coast too. The former region, while the most populous of the 11, has many small schools that have churned out stars (Antonio Gates and James Harrison went to Kent State, Michael Turner to Northern Illinois, Ben Roethlisberger at Miami-Ohio) in adding to stars who went to big schools like Michigan (Tom Brady and Charles Woodson), Ohio State (Nick Mangold and AJ Hawk), and Pittsburgh (Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis). The Gulf Coast’s score is boasted by perennial Pro Bowler and All-Pro punter Shane Lechler (Texas Tech). Aside from him, none of the other active A&M stars, or players from schools such as LSU, have fostered many accolades. Without him, they would have ranked far worse.

Conclusions
The results here align in large part with those in yesterday’s post. Many of the suspected big players (Ohio, Florida, Texas) do well, with the schools of smaller interior west states like Utah and Idaho showing well on a per capita basis. If there is a single winner, it appears to be the Piedmont Atlantic area, whose success in both raw numbers and per capita shows that the south is king in college football.

I plan to repeat this analysis using the hometowns of NFL players instead, to look at which metros, states, and regions are producing the most players who eventually make the big league.