NFL U: Ranking the top colleges for critical positions (2000-2020)


Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.

Matt Leinart celebrates with head coach Pete Carroll after winning the 2005 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma.

Joey Leonardo and AJ Datoli

When the NBA announced the suspension of their season on March 11 of this year, sports fans across the globe became confused and worried about the effects the COVID-19 pandemic might have on our beloved sports. Shortly after the suspension of the NBA regular season, we saw the NHL do the same, the MLB pushed back Opening Day, and March Madness got canceled altogether. Certainly, the importance of sports in a time like this is extremely low, but with fans stuck in quarantine with nothing to watch, it has become a common theme on social media to rank things related to sports and spark debate. 

ESPN started the debate around which colleges produce the best football talent at each position when they took to their Instagram account and posted two lists titled “QB U” and “RB U” respectively. Each list ranked 10 colleges and the players they produced at both positions; however, we at This is York respectfully disagree with ESPN’s ranks and have different opinions which we will get into today. AJ and Joey will be explaining which schools they think have produced the best talent at all the skill positions on a football field, starting with what most would call the most important position in football: Quarterback. 

Photo courtesy of
2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart drops back to pass in a game during his tenure at USC.

Joey “Quarterback U” Champion – University of Southern California

USC has produced some of the best college football teams of all-time that won National Championships in both 2003 and 2004. These teams featured Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart, who would go on to be the 10th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft as he showed he could lead and dominate on the college level. While Leinart was one quarterback who peaked in college, USC has also produced some big-time NFL guys such as Carson Palmer, another Heisman Trophy winner, and Mark Sanchez, both top five picks in their respective draft classes that had successful NFL careers. As of recent, USC has produced another Jets quarterback as they drafted Sam Darnold third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. 

Photo courtesy of ESPN.
Kyler Murray holds the Heisman Trophy after winning the award in 2019, becoming the third Oklahoma quarterback to do so since 2010 (Bradford, Mayfield).

AJ “Quarterback U” Champion – University of Oklahoma

While a majority of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL today didn’t dominate on the college level, one school that has been known for producing great quarterback talent is the University of Oklahoma. Looking like the next superstar NFL quarterback back in 2010, Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was drafted first overall out of Oklahoma by the St. Louis Rams, becoming the first Sooner to do so ever, but not the last. Oklahoma would eventually go on to produce two more number one overall picks in 2018 and 2019 with Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, two young NFL quarterbacks who have each shown a lot of potential if their first couple of seasons, and can really put a stamp on Oklahoma as “QB U” if they both continue to be successful in the NFL. But having three Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks all drafted first overall within the last ten years was enough for them to be declared “QB U” in my eyes.

Photo courtesy of ESPN.
Derrick Henry “stiff-arms’ an LSU defender and continues to run through the defense, showing off his “power-back” style of play.

Joey “Running Back U” Champion – University of Alabama

Producing the top talent at both the college and pro level, the Crimson Tide have been home to more superstar running backs than any other school in the nation since 2000 and by a pretty wide margin too. Since Shaun Alexander was drafted 19th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft, Alabama has had ten running backs get selected in the first three rounds, the most by any school over that period of time. Aside from Alexander, who went on to win the NFL MVP in 2005, the same season he led the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl, the list includes Heisman Trophy winners of Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, who have both been consistently great NFL running backs.

AJ “Running Back U” Champion – University of Alabama

Few schools have been able to match the absolute prowess that is, the Crimson Tide running game. Since 2000, Alabama has had 10 running backs reach at least 2000 rushing yards. 2 of which, Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram Jr., won the Heisman Trophy. Other big names like Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon, Eddie Lacy, and Shaun Alexander also are Crimson Tide alumni.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.
DeAndre Hopkins, aka “NUK,” makes a spectacular touchdown catch against Auburn.

Joey “Wide Receiver U” Champion – Clemson University

Since 2013, Clemson has produced three first-round picks at receiver with the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams. All three put up huge numbers with the Tigers during their college careers, as they hold the top three spots in Clemson history in receiving yards for a career, for a single season, and single game, truly leaving their mark behind on what has been a premier school at the wide receiver position. Fast forward to the present day and all three guys adapted well to the NFL. Hopkins has been widely regarded as a top-three receiver in the league with the Houston Texans for the past few years now, Watkins won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs this February, and Mike Williams continues to improve as a key piece for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.
Amari Cooper jumps up makes a catch over an Ole Miss defender. Plays like this led to him winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award.

AJ “Wide Receiver U” Champion –University of Alabama

Earning their second title on my list, the University of Alabama has produced not only the top talent at running back but at wide receiver as well. As soon as players like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper took the field for Alabama in the earlier parts of the 2010s, they made big names for themselves and showed they had all of the potential in the world. Today, both are elite wide receivers in the NFL playing for the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys respectively. Each has put up big numbers that put their names in the argument for the best receiver in the league right now. Following their departure to the NFL, Alabama has produced the names of young stars such as Calvin Ridley, now teamed up with Jones in Atlanta, and this years top NFL Draft prospect at the position with Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. 

Photo courtesy of The Advocate.
LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander sacks a Florida quarterback for a big loss.

Joey “Linebacker U” Champion –Louisiana State University

What set LSU apart from other is the impressive amount of starting linebackers there are currently in the NFL. A few big names are Kwon Alexander, Devin White and Deion Jones. This consistency that LSU has with producing NFL-ready linebackers has not seemed to slow down, as both K’Lavon Chaisson and Patrick Queen are projected 1st round picks entering the NFL Draft this season.

Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.
CJ Mosley celebrates after making a tackle against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

AJ “Linebacker U” Champion – University of Alabama

Throughout the past 2 decades, Alabama has been the top linebacker-producing school in all of college football. The Crimson Tide, since 2000, have produced big-name linebackers such as C.J. Mosley, Rashaan Evans and Dont’a Hightower, all of whom have made an impact in the NFL and, furthermore, have both proven themselves as elite linebackers, whether that be Super Bowl championships, Pro-Bowl selections, or finishing the season with over 100 total tackles.

Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.
LSU safety Tyrann Mathieu, aka “The Honey Badger,” silences the crowd during a game at rival Alabama.

Joey “Defensive Back U” Champion –Louisiana State University

LSU has had four lottery-drafted defensive backs since 2007 and an incredible nine defensive backs named to the Consensus All-American team since 2000. Elite players like Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Jamaal Adams, and Tre’Davious White have all sported the iconic purple and gold. Just last year, the Tigers had two DBs’, Grant Delpit and Derek Stingley Jr., named to the Consensus All-American team, with Stingley Jr. being a true freshman. 

AJ “Defensive Back U” Champion-Louisiana State University

Choosing LSU for “DB U” was, by far, the easiest out of all colleges for any position. LSU has an untouchable resume in regards to producing elite defensive backs in the NFL. For starters, it must be mentioned that LSU has had four lottery-drafted defensive backs since 2007 and a whopping nine defensive backs named to the Consensus All-American team since 2000. Elite players like Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Jamaal Adams, and Tre’Davious White have all sported the iconic purple and gold. Undoubtedly, LSU is the epicenter of elite Defensive Back production, and it isn’t close.