Loyal Cougars

Why are BYU’s NFL Draft numbers so bad?

Two weeks ago, I published an article detailing BYU’s recent history in recruiting, developing, and placing talent into the NFL. The numbers showed that since the recruiting class of 2006, of the 84 players that have come to BYU on scholarship and played out their eligibility in the program, half have had an opportunity with an NFL team and half of those made an in-season NFL roster. I concluded that while this number did not seem to me to be unreasonably low, the number of players actually selected in the NFL Draft did seem alarmingly meager: of those 84 players, only 4 have been chosen in the NFL Draft. I wanted to compare BYU’s numbers with the other FBS programs in the western U.S. And my suspicions were confirmed; BYU’s numbers are not good.

I looked at the 28 western state FBS teams and compared the number of players selected in the NFL Draft from 2008-2017 against that school’s average year-end Sagarin ranking from 2007-2016. BYU had 9 draft picks over that time period. Note that this is different from the four above since the first five picks were recruited prior to 2006. Here is the data:

As expected, BYU is one of the biggest outliers on the negative side of the curve. What further accentuates the problem is the fact that the two programs closest to BYU in average postseason ranking are its two biggest regional rivals: Boise State and Utah; and both have performed drastically better in the NFL Draft. Utah saw 30 of its players taken in the draft in the last ten years and Boise State had 22 draft picks, compared to BYU’s 9.

My most striking takeaway from the graph is the immense role that recruiting seems to play in placing players into the NFL. Allow me to explain: the three largest outliers on the negative side of the curve (programs that underperform in the draft) are programs for which recruiting is difficult due to high academic/moral standards, less desirable geography, and/or a lack of historical program prestige: BYU, the Air Force Academy, and Nevada. These three are joined on the undesirable side of the curve by other programs who share one or more of the same recruiting downsides: Boise State, Stanford, Washington State, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV, and Wyoming. In contrast, the largest outliers on the positive side of the average (teams that overperform in the draft relative to on-field performance) are programs with more desirable geography, more lax academic standards, and/or a great deal of program history. Six of the seven California schools find themselves on the positive side of the average: San Jose State, Fresno State, San Diego State, Cal, UCLA, and USC; and the seventh, Stanford, didn’t miss by much, potentially pulled to the left by more stringent academic standards.

Based on these criteria, teams like Oregon, Arizona, and Washington would seem to stand out on the negative side of the curve. These teams have underperformed slightly in the draft without any of the aforementioned recruiting disadvantages. I would suspect that talent development makes a slight difference in these cases. These teams have either not developed talent into the NFL at the expected rate or their on-field performance has exceeded the expectation for that team’s talent level (which doesn’t ring true in the case of these three teams). On the other side, there are teams that seem to have developed talent beyond the expectation and placed a disproportional number of players into the NFL: Idaho, Hawaii, Utah State, Oregon State, and to an extent, Utah.

So, what does all this mean for BYU? As I discussed in my previous analysis, in order to maximize program success (wins), you need to maximize talent. And that talent has three components: recruiting (maximizing the talent “starting point”), development (moving players up the talent spectrum as much as possible) and retention (keeping players in school and progressing). Today’s data seems to indicate that recruiting is paramount among these three factors and plays the biggest role in determining success. Based on that conclusion, it would seem that the current BYU coaching staff is taking strides in the right direction by placing a large emphasis on recruiting. And while there’s no getting around the high academic and moral admission standards at BYU, the staff has done an excellent job at emphasizing BYU’s history and creating a desirable, family atmosphere to overcome BYU’s built-in recruiting hurdles.

Moving forward, even if recruiting were the only area of improvement and both talent development and retention remained stagnant, you would expect to see marginal improvement in both wins and NFL draft performance at BYU. But, there seems to be noticeable improvement on the development and retention fronts as well. All things considered, I see no reason why BYU will not see improvement across the board moving forward, as long as these trends continue in the right direction.





  1. Dereck Smith

    May 18, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    I’m still waiting on quantifiable improvements. Everyone raves about Sitake’s recruiting ability, yet his only recruiting class ranked #58. A slight improvement over the past couple years, but nothing to write home about.

    For Comparison, Bronco Mendenhall had 10 recruiting classes that were fully his. The average ranking of his first 5 classes was 41.6. The average ranking of his last 5 classes was 62.4. The average across all 10 classes was 52.

    I think Kalani Sitake is the right man for the job and I believe that he is a good recruiter, but the hype appears to be significantly outracing the achievements up to this point.

  2. Brandon Jones

    May 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Agreed. As I mentioned in the last article, at BYU, quantifiable data takes a long time (sometimes 8-9 years before a recruiting class fully cylces through). And since we don’t have that luxury for now, anecdotal observation is all we have so far.

    As flawed as the star system is, the overall recruiting class rankings are even more so, giving more weight to quantity than quality. BYU’s 2018 class is currently ranked #28, but it’s going to be a relatively small class with 16 scholarship missionaries returning for the 2018 season, so that ranking will likely go down as more schools fill up their classes. So, I wouldn’t put much weight, if any, into those numbers.

    Those close to the program, to a man, report night and day differences in recruiting, development, and player retention. That’s why there’s hype. Things appear to be changing for the better.

  3. ronwallace

    June 1, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about where the class ranking was overall. There’s too much focus on it. Where Kalani really killed it was with transfers. Wayne Kirby, Ula Tolutau, Khyris Tonga, James Empey, and the list goes on. This isn’t a 58th ranked class if you include these guys. Many came from P5 schools and are 3 🌟 recruits if not better.