There are many areas in which an NFL draft prospect can make up for any deficiencies he might have shown during his college football career. For example, the concerns some teams might have had about whether Arkansas offensive guard Mitch Petrus has the requisite strength to play at the professional level had to be at least partially alleviated by his notching 45 225-pound repetitions in the bench press at the NFL combine. His total was the highest in the entire combine and beat out the second-place offensive lineman in that category by seven repetitions.
The same type of thing can be said for the 40-yard dash times of Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate and Virginia cornerback Chris Cook. Both had question marks as to their top-end speed, but Tate's 4.42 time placed fourth-best among wideouts, and Cook's 4.46 time was second-best at his position.
For all the deficiency-erasing ability these post-collegiate career events offer, there is still one aspect of a résumé that draft prospects can't eliminate. The scouting reports for many players who didn't attend BCS schools (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC) or Notre Dame will frequently contain a note regarding some concern about the low level of competition the prospect faced.
While it is understandable why this is noted, it does beg the question of how much credence should it be given. What does recent history tell us about how draftees from non-BCS schools fare as compared to their BCS/Notre Dame draftee brethren?
To find out, I enlisted the help of Michael Landrigan of ESPN Stats & Information. He and I worked together to compile a list of every first- through third-round draft pick from the 1999 through 2006 seasons along with a number of metrics designed to gauge whether the pick was successful or unsuccessful.
The study focused on players in the first three rounds because it is generally acknowledged that the differentiation in talent level after Round 3 is nominal (it is why the league gives teams more time to select first- through third-round picks than is allowed for fourth- through seventh-round selections). The 2006 season was used as a cutoff point to ensure that each pick was given a reasonable amount of time to establish himself as a successful/unsuccessful draft pick (following the old adage that you can't tell whether a draft was successful until at least four years in the future).
There were four metric levels of success gauged in the study:
Contributor: a player was credited as being a contributor if he was on the active roster for at least 32 games
Starter: this designation was given if the player started at least 32 games
Star: this level was reserved for any draftee who tallied at least one postseason honor (e.g. Pro Bowl, All-Pro, etc.)
Elite: this highest honor went to any draft pick who was named to a postseason team in at least two seasons
An important caveat to make here is that a player was only listed in each of the categories if he made these contributions for the team that drafted him. For example, Thomas Jones was selected by Arizona in the first round of the 2000 draft. He has started 107 games in the NFL and has been chosen for the Pro Bowl one time, but most of those starts and the postseason honor came after Jones left the Cardinals. Since he did participate in 39 games while in Arizona, he is credited as a contributor, but he isn't listed as a starter or star because he won those honors while playing for another team.
The reasoning behind this train of thought is that this system is designed to gauge how often teams have been successful in drafting BCS versus non-BCS picks. A team likely wouldn't consider a draft pick a success on its part if the player posted the bulk of his productivity for another team, and this study follows that same guideline.
So how did the non-BCS picks do? Let's look at the numbers, which have been segmented into Round 1, Rounds 1-2 and Rounds 1-3.
On the contributor level, non-BCS selections beat the BCS selections in the first round and were very close in Rounds 1-2 and Rounds 1-3.
Non-BCS picks also won the competition in the starting percentage for Round 1. BCS selections did retake the lead in Rounds 1-2 and 1-3, but the percentage difference was only 3-4 percent. The same thing occurred for the star level comparison.
What was most surprising is that the non-BCS picks won all three of the elite competitions. The percentage lead did drop as each additional round was tallied but the non-BCS selections still retained a lead at the finish line.
In the end, this study probably simply shows that longtime New York Giants general manager George Young was right when he said the great philosophers figured out the answer to personnel questions more than 2,000 years ago: a good big man beats a good little man any day of the week. Neither George nor the brilliant minds from the days of antiquity said a thing about competition levels because they knew if you have the requisite size, strength and speed, you can beat any level of competition.