The Road to the NFL

By Akiva Wienerkur   September 27, 2021 

The Road to the NFL

Which college teams produce the most NFL players?

As a new NFL season begins, there’s always talk about where the players came from, which colleges produced them, and which hometowns we can thank for the excellence they bring to the teams. At Sidelines, we wanted to take this conversation one step further: which colleges and states have produced the most – and the best – NFL players in history?

Last year’s champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have players hailing from Washington University (Joe Tryon, LB), Auburn University (Carlton Davis, CB), University of Nebraska-Omaha (Shaquil Barrett, LB), and more. The team also has Tom Brady (University of Michigan) in their ranks, who has scored the most touchdowns of any NFL player since 1936.

Do the states and colleges these players come from correlate to their success? And is there a college that produces more NFL players than the others? We have collected all the data, and curated an official guide to the most successful players’ roads to NFL greatness.

The states that create the most NFL players

To find out which states have produced the most NFL players over the years, we compared the number of players produced to the population of the states to find how many NFL players have been produced by that state per capita.

Mississippi: 26.6 NFL players per capita

Producing current NFL players such as Chris Spencer (C, Tennessee Titans), Jamarca Sanford (DB, Minnesota Vikings) and Damien Lewis (OL, Seattle Seahawks), Mississippi has produced the most NFL players per capita than any other U.S. state. In total, the state has seen 788 players head to the professional leagues since 1936.

Nebraska: 21.26 NFL players per capita

Nebraska comes second, producing 21.26 NFL players per capita. Compared to their average population of 1,951,996 people, having 415 players hailing from this state since 1936 is an impressive achievement. Some of the most iconic Nebraskan players in NFL history include Pat Fischer (DB), Mick Tinglehoff (C) and Neil Smith (DE).

Oklahoma: 21.25 NFL players per capita

Having produced 848 NFL players in total since 1936, Oklahoma has been the birthplace of 21.25 players per capita. Players from this state who have been drafted into the NFL include Gerald McCoy (DT), Chris Harris Jr. (CB) and James Winchester (LS).

Louisiana: 21.2 NFL players per capita

With the fourth most players produced per capita, Louisiana has been the birthplace of NFL players like Landon Collins (SS), Andrew Whitworth (T) and Anthony Levine (S). When compared to the average population of 4,627,002 people, Louisiana has produced 21.2 NFL players per capita.

Alabama: 17 NFL players per capita

Players born in Indiana include Andre Smith (T), Jared Cook (TE) and Steve McLendon (DT), and overall the state has produced 839 NFL players since 1936. When compared to the average population of Alabama, 4,934,193 people, this state has produced 17 NFL players per capita, placing it fifth overall.

State Ave. Population (c.1936-2021) Number of NFL players (since 1936) per capita (p/100,000)
Mississippi 2966407 788 26.56412286
Nebraska 1951996 415 21.26028947
Oklahoma 3990443 848 21.25077341
Louisiana 4627002 981 21.20163337
Alabama 4934193 839 17.00379373
Iowa 3167974 522 16.47740796
Indiana 6805663 1055 15.50179608
West Virginia 1767859 272 15.38584242
Wyoming 581075 88 15.14434453
Utah 3310774 486 14.67934688
Kansas 2917224 403 13.8145031
Arkansas 3033946 406 13.38191253
Tennessee 6944260 924 13.30595341
South Carolina 5277830 606 11.48199165
Oregon 4289439 454 10.58413466
Kentucky 4480713 443 9.886819352
Idaho 1860123 183 9.838059096
Michigan 9992427 959 9.597268011
North Carolina 10701022 1024 9.569179467
North Dakota 770026 72 9.350333625
Pennsylvania 12804123 1103 8.614412717
Montana 1085004 92 8.479231413
Texas 29730311 2515 8.459380058
Ohio 11714618 955 8.15220778
Colorado 5893634 477 8.093478489
South Dakota 896581 67 7.472832906
Washington 7796941 557 7.143827304
Wisconsin 5852490 414 7.07391213
Virginia 8603985 591 6.868910162
New Mexico 2105005 143 6.793333032
District of Columbia 714153 48 6.721248808
Massachusetts 6912239 435 6.293185175
Arizona 7520103 473 6.289807467
Florida 21944577 1327 6.04705208
Georgia 10830007 646 5.964908425
Minnesota 5706398 328 5.747934161
California 39613493 2185 5.515797357
Missouri 6169038 328 5.316874365
Maryland 6065436 317 5.226334925
Hawaii 1406430 72 5.119344724
Illinois 12569321 637 5.067895076
Rhode Island 1061509 43 4.050837063
Delaware 990334 40 4.039041374
New Hampshire 1372203 47 3.425149194
Nevada 3185786 100 3.138942792
Connecticut 3552821 110 3.096131215
New York 19299981 415 2.150261184
Maine 1354522 22 1.624189197
Vermont 623251 7 1.123143003
New Jersey 8874520 98 1.104285077
Alaska 724357 0 0

The college teams that have created the most NFL players

Since the NFL introduced drafts in 1936, five colleges have come out on top when it comes to how many NFL players they have produced. Despite the University of Alabama producing the most 2021 NFL players, other colleges have played the long game to land in the top five.

Notre Dame has produced a total of 530 NFL players

Since the NFL began holding drafts in 1936, Notre Dame University has produced a huge 530 NFL players. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish has created 10 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with some of the most notable including Joe Theismann, QB, Jerome Bettis, RB and Tim Brown, WR.

USC has created 515 NFL players

The University of South Carolina has been the starting point for 515 NFL players’ football careers. In the current season, former USC players include Devon Kennard, OB, Sam Darnold, QB and Austin Jackson, OT. For current USC Trojans, there is a long history of NFL players being created in this team, so there’s a high chance that we will see some of the now-Trojans playing in the big leagues soon.

Ohio State has given 411 players to the NFL

The Ohio State University has produced a total of 411 players since the 17th NFL season in 1936. Former Buckeyes in the NFL draft this year include Kendall Sheffield (CB, Atlanta Falcons), Rod Smith (RB, Carolina Panthers) and Justin Fields (QB, Chicago Bears). This college has also produced the second-most players in the 2021 season.

Oklahoma University has produced 398 NFL players

With 398 NFL players having come from The University of Oklahoma, this is the college that has produced the fourth most NFL footballers. Current draft players from the Oklahoma Sooners include Mark Andrews (TE, Baltimore Ravens), Joe Mixen (RB, Cincinnati Bengals) and Ronnie Perkins (LB, New England Patriots).

The University of Michigan has created 387 players who played in the NFL

The Michigan Wolverines have seen 387 of their players move on to compete in the NFL. When watching the NFL this year, look out for some of the Wolverines alumni: Chad Henne (QB, Kansas City Chiefs), Chase Winovich (DE/OL, New England Patriots) Josh Metellus (SS, Minnesota Vikings), and Tom Brady – to name a few.

The states that create the most successful NFL players

California has produced the most successful NFL player in history, Tom Brady

Scoring a huge 606 touchdowns throughout his 21 year NFL career, Tom Brady (QB) is the most successful NFL player in history. Coming from San Mateo, California, and having played for the New England Patriots and, more recently, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he has played in 10 Super Bowls – seven of which his team won.

Drew Brees, the second most successful NFL player, is from Texas

Drew Brees scored a total of 597 touchdowns while playing in the NFL. Brees was a member of the New Orleans Saints for most of his career, and was born in Dallas, Texas. Playing as a quarterback before retiring, he has won one Super Bowl championship.

One of the most successful NFL players, Peyton Manning, comes from Louisiana

Considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Peyton Manning was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and spent 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, and four with the Denver Broncos. He won two Super Bowls, and scored 557 touchdowns during his long career, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mississippi produced Brett Favre, who scored 522 touchdowns in his career

Winning one Super Bowl championship, Mississippi-born Brett Favre scored 522 touchdowns throughout his 20 season NFL career. He played primarily with the Green Bay Packers, but was initially selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 1991 draft. Like Manning, Favre is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Aaron Rogers hails from California

Aaron Rogers, who has scored 443 touchdowns in total for the Green Bay Packers, was born in Chico, California. Rogers, a quarterback, has been named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player three times in his 16 year-long (and counting) career. California, therefore, has produced two of the most successful NFL players of all time: Rogers and Brady.

The colleges that create the most successful NFL players

There is not one particular college that produces the most successful NFL players. Each of the players who have scored the highest number of touchdowns overall came from different colleges. Tom Brady was a Michigan Wolverine, Drew Brees played for the Purdue Boilermakers, Payton Manning was a member of the Tennessee Volunteers, Brett Favre played for the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, and Aaron Rogers played for the California Golden Bears.

Players from Miami have scored the most receiving touchdowns

Players from the University of Miami (Florida) – the Miami Hurricanes – have scored the most receiving touchdowns in the NFL than players from any other college. In total, these players have scored 938 receiving touchdowns overall, putting it strides ahead of the second highest scoring college players (Notre Dame University, with 893 receiving touchdowns).

Jerry Rice is the player who has scored the most receiving touchdowns of any player, and he is an alumni of Mississippi Valley State University, where he played for the Delta Devils.

Players from USC have scored the most rushing touchdowns

When it comes to the college that produces the most players who score rushing touchdowns, the University of Southern California comes in top. Players from the USC Trojans have scored a total of 706 rushing touchdowns in the NFL.

In terms of the player scoring the most of these touchdowns, Emmitt Smith holds the title, with 164 rushing touchdowns scored in his career. Coming from the University of Florida playing for the Florida Gators, he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a reason.

The highest paid teams in the NFL

1 Cleveland Browns $173,123,583
2 Dallas Cowboys $173,026,353
3 New England Patriots $170,175,547
4 Houston Texas $166,029,260
5 Indianapolis Colts $165,075,687
6 Miami Dolphins $161,558,164
7 Buffalo Bills $159,947,133
8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers $159,235,938
9 Arizona Cardinals $155,355,343
10 New York Giants $154,711,464

The Cleveland Browns spend the most on their players’ salaries

When each individual’s salary is combined, the Cleveland Browns pay a huge amount to their players. In total, the players are paid $173,123,583, making it the highest paid team in the NFL by far. The team was founded in 1944, and has won eight NFL championships – though they have never appeared in the Super Bowl.

The Dallas Cowboys are the second highest paid team in the NFL

With the second highest combined salary, the Dallas Cowboys pay their team a total of $173,026,353 each year. The team has been to eight Super Bowl championships, and has won five of these. Money well spent, we’d say, although lately it seems like the team and fanbase aren’t getting a good enough return on their investment.

The New England Patriots pay their team over $170 million

Holding the records for the most Super Bowl wins (6, tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers), appearances (11) and losses (5, tied with the Denver Broncos), the New England Patriots truly do it all. The team salary is a total of $170,175,547, making them the third highest paid team in the NFL at the moment.

The Houston Texans players get paid a huge salary

Despite winning no Super Bowls, the Houston Texans are the fourth highest paid team in the NFL. The team has a combined salary of $166,029,260, and considering that they are the youngest team currently playing in the NFL after being formed in 2002, they are doing pretty well for themselves.

The Indianapolis Colts are one of the highest paid NFL teams

The Indianapolis Colts have two Super Bowls under their belts, from 1971 and 2007. The team pays a huge salary to their players, and their combined yearly earnings add up to a huge $165,075,687. The team has appeared in the Playoffs 16 times so far, so this salary is well-earned.

The highest paid players in the NFL in 2021

Russell Wilson is the highest paid NFL player

Coming from the University of Wisconsin where he played for the Badgers, and born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Russell Wilson, QB has played for the Seattle Seahawks since 2012. He also happens to be the highest paid player in the NFL this year. In 2021, Wilson will earn a salary of $32,000,000. While this is a huge amount of money, the player is widely recognized as one of the greatest dual threat quarterbacks that ever played in the NFL, so his salary has been more than earned.

Kirk Cousins earns a huge amount as an NFL player

The second highest-paid NFL player in the 2021 league is Kirk Cousins. Cousins, a quarterback, played for the Michigan State Spartans in college before being drafted by the Washington Football Team in 2012. Born in Illinois, he now plays for the Minnesota Vikings, and will earn a salary of $31,000,000 this year.

Aaron Rogers earns the third highest salary in the NFL

Hailing from the University of California, playing for the California Golden Bears where he set several career passing records, Aaron Rogers will earn the third highest salary in the 2021 NFL. Also playing as a quarterback, like the other top-earning NFL players, for the Green Bay Packers, Rogers is set to earn a huge $27,073,568 for this season.

Matt Ryan will earn more than $26 million in 2021

Having played 13 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons so far in his career, Matt Ryan played for the Boston College Eagles until he was picked by the Falcons in the 2008 NFL draft. He was born in Pennsylvania, and in the 2021 NFL season, Ryan is expected to earn a salary of $26,912,500. Along with the other high-earners in this list, Ryan is a quarterback, proving this position to be the most lucrative of all.

Jimmy Garoppolo is one of the highest paid players in the NFL

Born in Illinois and alumni of Eastern Illinois University where he played for the Eastern Illinois Panthers, Jimmy Garoppolo is the fifth highest paid player in the 2021 NFL. As a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Garoppolo is said to be earning $26,382,352 for the current NFL season.

1 Russell Wilson SEA QB $32,000,000.00
2 Kirk Cousins MIN QB $31,000,000.00
3 Aaron Rodgers GB QB $27,073,568.00
4 Matt Ryan ATL QB $26,912,500.00
5 Jimmy Garoppolo SF QB $26,382,352.00
6 Ben Roethlisberger PIT QB $25,910,000.00
7 Frank Clark KC DE $25,800,000.00
8 DeMarcus Lawrence DAL DE $25,000,000.00
9 Fletcher Cox PHI DT $23,880,000.00
10 Von Miller DEN OLB $22,225,000.00

The NFL players with the highest career earnings

Tom Brady has earned the most throughout his NFL career

Following the same pattern as the highest paid 2021 NFL players, every single player with the highest career earnings is or was a quarterback – and the top earner is Tom Brady, widely recognized as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. So far in his career, which has spanned 22 seasons, he has earned $246,506,037.

Ben Roethlisberger has earned a huge amount in his career

Ben Roethlisberger, also known as ‘Big Ben’, played football for Miami University. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004, and is a two-time Super Bowl winner. So far in his 18 season career, he has earned $267,286,864.

Matt Ryan has earned the third most money in his career

A quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons since 2008, Matt Ryan has earned the third most money out of any player in the NFL. During his 14 season career, Ryan has earned a total of $267,007,749, and this number is only going to continue growing as his NFL career continues.

Aaron Rogers has earned a lot in his 17 seasons

Aaron Rogers doesn’t just earn the third highest salary in the 2021 NFL, he also has the fourth highest career earnings of any NFL player. A quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, Rogers has been playing in the NFL for 17 seasons, and has earned a total of $263,308,010.

Matthew Stafford is one of the highest earners in the NFL

Born in Texas, a player for the Georgia Bulldogs in college, and now a quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, Matthew Stafford has the fifth highest career earnings in the NFL. After the 13 seasons he has played so far, Stafford has earned $246,506,037 in total.

Tom Brady Quarterback $291,087,392 22
Ben Roethlisberger Quarterback $267,286,864 18
Matt Ryan Quarterback $267,007,749 14
Aaron Rodgers Quarterback $263,308,010 17
Matthew Stafford Quarterback $246,506,037 13
Russell Wilson Quarterback $181,362,520 10
Joe Flacco Quarterback $171,075,000 14
Ndamukong Suh Defensive Tackle $164,965,157 12
Kirk Cousins Quarterback $161,669,486 10
Von Miller Outside Linebacker $144,475,534 11

NFL vs. NCAAF: which teams are the most hyped?

DALLAS COWBOYS 8,594 2,094,395 243 3,395 115 100.00
DETROIT LIONS 6,280 1,178,966 187 1,959 103 89.57
BUFFALO BILLS 5,960 1,114,479 186 2,386 100 86.96
CHICAGO BEARS 6,701 1,099,299 164 2,688 100 86.96
GREEN BAY PACKERS 5,099 1,095,126 214 3,579 100 86.96
DENVER BRONCOS 5,088 1,440,766 283 1,734 99 86.09
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS 4,200 1,111,175 264 1,901 92 80.00
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 3,948 1,144,449 289 1,323 83 72.17
WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAMS 4,759 673,252 141 1,800 78 67.83
HOUSTON TEXAS 5,500 774,471 140 1,435 77 66.96
Oklahoma Sooners football 787 330,639 420 249 100.00
Ohio State Buckeyes football 631 190,169 301 221 97.98
Michigan Wolverines football 756 152,340 201 140 94.81
LSU Tigers football 492 118,659 241 120 94.52
Florida Gators football 355 94,398 265 96 92.22
Texas Longhorns football 365 73,694 201 136 91.64
Clemson Tigers football 366 71,445 195 135 90.78
Georgia Bulldogs football 283 67,708 239 65 88.18
South Carolina Gamecocks football 248 48,741 196 124 87.61
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE football 281 66,894 238 83 87.61

The Dallas Cowboys are the most hyped NFL team

Now that the 2021 NFL season is underway, we wanted to find out which teams were being the most hyped online by looking at mentions in articles, engagement and linking domains on the internet. At the moment, it seems that the Dallas Cowboys have the most buzz around them. There were 8,594 articles written mentioning the team between April 1, 2021 and August 25, 2021. From these articles, mentions of the team received 2,094,395 engagements. This is the highest amount of engagement of any NFL team, so it’s clear that the Dallas Cowboys are a fan favorite.

Does this hype mean that this team is on track to win the Super Bowl this year? At Sidelines, we keep all of the odds up to date taking into account data like this, so if you want to make the most educated bet possible, check out our 2021 NFL betting odds to win the Super Bowl.

Oklahoma Sooners football are the most hyped NCAAF team

It’s not just the NFL that’s getting sport fans excited at the moment: the NCAAF is also drawing a lot of hype online. But which team is getting the most engagement from fans? With the most article mentions and engagement, the most hyped team in college football is the Oklahoma Sooners. There have been 787 articles written that mention the team, and 330,639 individuals engagements with Sooners content online between April 1, 2021 and August 25, 2021.

If you want to follow the NCAAF as it unfolds, and wonder what all the Oklahoma Sooners hype is about, our NCAAF Betting Odds page has all the information you need to take part in one of the most exciting events in college football.

NCAAF teams garner more ‘love’ reactions than the NFL teams

When it comes to the emotions the teams garner online, NCAAF teams tend to gain more ‘love’ reactions compared to emotions. Teams such as the Central Arkansas Bears, Kansas State Wildcats and Buffalo Bulls all have 100% ‘love’ reactions on content referring to them.

The NFL teams with the highest percentage of ‘love’ reactions are the Cleveland Browns (75% ‘love’), Pittsburgh Steelers (69% ‘love’) and the Baltimore Ravens (also 69% ‘love’).

NFL teams garner more ‘angry’ reactions than NCAAF teams

Football fans always have opinions on their favorite teams, and even stronger opinions on their least favorites. The NFL teams receive a much higher percentage of ‘angry’ reactions online than NCAAF teams, so emotions clearly run higher when it comes to professional football. The Minnesota Vikings have the highest percentage of ‘angry’ reactions when it comes to mentions of them online, with 35%. Next is the Washington Football team, with 21% ‘angry’ (and 45% ‘haha’), and the Buffalo Bills have 18% ‘angry’ reactions.

The highest percentage of ‘angry’ reactions for a NCAAF team is directed towards the Washington Huskies, with 25%. 18% of reactions for the Oregon State Beavers are ‘angry’, and 17% are ‘angry’ for the LSU Tigers.

In summary…

For budding NFL players, there are many paths to take if your goal is to play in the professional leagues.

Florida seems to produce a huge number of players – more than any other state. There may be something in the water there, so perhaps keen football players should plan a Florida trip to increase their drafting chances.

Both the state of Ohio and The Ohio State University have produced many NFL players over the years, and some of the most successful and high-earning players have come up through this state.

For those that have their eyes on the top-end salary, playing as a quarterback is the way to secure it. Each of the highest-earning players are in this position, irrespective of their college team or home state.

For fans that prefer to watch from the crowd and take part in the NFL in less physically demanding ways, Sidelines has the most accurate, up to date, and thoroughly analysed NFL odds.

for every team’s chances of winning available for you to read from the comfort of your own home. Support your favorite team, or take your chances with a brand new one. Whatever you choose, with Sidelines, you can get involved with the NFL more than ever before.

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