Digging Deeper for Meaning: A Follow Up Analysis on ACC Alum in the NFL

Will Watkins buck the trend of Clemson busts? - Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, it's summer.

This rabbit hole sbas2 sent me down is kind of getting interesting (well, interesting if you like spending the few hours you didn't kill at work watching the World Cup doing research that brings us to, at best, mere suggestions). Yesterday we gathered data as an excuse for gratuitous cheerleader pictures on all of the former ACC players that have been at least marginally part of an NFL franchise over the past two seasons and, upon a casual glance, didn't see a consistently strong correlation with number of NFL alumni and program success. Alas, you, fair reader, are worthy of more than a casual glance. Let's fall a bit further down this hole, shall we?

Not all alumni destined for an NFL locker room are created equally. Tobais Palmer, for example, was an UDFA who spent time with the Jaguars and Chargers last season. He was active for one game and recorded no stats. Palmer was a pretty good college player, but he is a marginal NFL talent. So, rather than simply cataloging NFL players by college, I decided to count only players who have been the primary starter for their NFL squad for at least two seasons. This measure better gives us a sense of which ACC programs have produced something resembling impact talent for the NFL.

The table below is filtered to count only those players with two or more years as a primary starter over the past 10 years. The winning percentage for each program during that 10-year window is also included.

Team

2+ Years as Starter (Rank)

Winning Percentage (Rank)

Boston College

19 (T 7th)

.594 (5th)

Clemson

13 (T 11th)

.659 (3rd)

Duke

1 (14th)

.289 (14th)

Florida State

39 (2nd)

.697 (2nd)

Georgia Tech

13 (T 11th)

.588 (6th)

Maryland

23 (4th)

.463 (10th)

Miami

43 (1st)

.600 (4th)

North Carolina

28 (3rd)

.444* (12th)

North Carolina State

17 (T 9th)

.472 (9th)

Pittsburgh

17 (T 9th)

.560 (7th)

Syracuse

19 (T 7th)

.393 (13th)

Virginia

20 (6th)

.451 (11th)

Virginia Tech

22 (5th)

.739 (1st)

Wake Forest

11 (13th)

.480 (8th)

*scandal adjusted winning percentage (it's .516 without the forfeits)

The next table shows us the +/- for each program based on how the program's winning percentage ranks compared to where one would expect it to be based on the impact talent it has produced.

Team

+/-

Boston College

+2

Clemson

+8

Duke

±0

Florida State

±0

Georgia Tech

+5

Maryland

-6

Miami

-3

North Carolina

-9

North Carolina State

±0

Pittsburgh

+2

Syracuse

-6

Virginia

-5

Virginia Tech

+4

Wake Forest

+5

Just three teams, including N.C. State, fall exactly where one would expect, and only five of 14 fall within ±2. The Tar Heels are still -5 even if we don't strip them of their ill-begotten wins from the Butch Davis era. This is good evidence to back the common perception that the UNC brand brings in good recruits, but the program-perhaps due to bad coaching or perhaps cosmic justice-hasn't been able to actually do anything with them. Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, and Virginia have also underperformed a good bit if we are to accept the premise that having starter-level NFL talent should equate to success on the college gridiron.

To me, the thing that really jumps off the page is how few of Clemson's talents have gone on to any sustained NFL success. Clemson has the third most players when we just look at the raw NFL alum count from the past two seasons, but the Tigers are 11th in number of pros to spend at least two years as starters over the last 10 seasons. Of course the data goes back before Yabba Dabba Dabo's time on the sidelines, but, since Clemson is third in winning percentage but 11th in impact talent, could the numbers suggest that Dabo is actually over-achieving? Is he coaching up inferior talent? Nah, can't be. Based on the team's recruiting rankings year in and year out, I'd say Dabo is getting a wealth of talent to Clemson and then ruining it, but that talent level is high enough to win at the college level in spite of him.

Troll Monkey having fun with Tiger cubs (via AwesomeSauce)


The +/- totals for Virginia Tech and Wake Forest suggest the impact of good coaching. Despite playing with less top tier talent, the two teams have combined to win five of the last 10 ACC championships (with four of those going to the Hokies). Though Paul Johnson hasn't been at Georgia Tech for the entire data window, the Yellow Jackets' +5 suggests that a unique offensive system could also trump top talent, though that same system will likely ultimately lead to Johnson's demise as his recruiting hauls are ever diminishing. With rare exceptions, coaching and/or a unique system can only trump talent for so long, and it's a lot easier to underachieve than overachieve.

As N.C. State is extremely unlikely to ever rise to the recruiting level of Florida State and Miami, we better hope Dave Doeren is the second coming of Frank Beamer if we want the Pack to be in the conversation for conference championships and meaningful postseason berths.

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