Position U: Which schools produce the most talent at each position

Acho, Vilma debate LSU, Ohio State for DBU (1:05)

Emmanuel Acho believes LSU is the top defensive back factory, while Jonathan Vilma sides with the Ohio State secondary. (1:05)

Clemson's receivers have shirts they wear to workouts with "WRU" emblazoned across the front, a little nod to the pedigree of their position. At present, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross make for worthy representatives of what they happily claim is Wide Receiver U, the best incubator for pass-catching talent in America. As evidence, they can point to Sammy Watkins, Nuk Hopkins and Mike Williams -- and on and on down the line of greats who built their reputations on the field at Death Valley, then went on to success in the NFL.

Of course, there are a few other schools that might take exception to that WRU moniker. From Julio Jones to Jerry Jeudy, Alabama has been churning out All-Americans like clockwork. And how about Oklahoma State's run from Dez Bryant to Tylan Wallace?

Which school is the real WRU -- or, for that matter, QBU or DBU or O-line U? It's a debate that deserves real answers, so we did the math.

ESPN Stats & Information dug deep into the numbers, culled details on all-conference performers, All-Americans, NFL draft picks and stars from the pro ranks, and came up with a formula to determine the official rankings for the schools best at producing quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends, running backs, linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.

We limited the debate to the BCS and CFP era, including all players who appeared in games from 1998 through last season.

We weighted an All-America nod higher than an All-SEC selection. We had to come up with a metric to determine a player's performance at the next level that would function for all position groups, so we used average Approximate Value over the first four seasons (or fewer, if applicable) in the NFL. We needed a way to account for Notre Dame's lack of conference affiliation, and we used Brian Burke's NFL draft pick values chart to figure out how much more to value a first-round draft pick than a seventh-rounder.

And in the end, these programs are the best of the best at recruiting and developing elite talent and then shipping it off to stardom in the NFL.

Jump to a position:

Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End
Offensive Line | Defensive Back | Defensive Line | Linebacker

Quarterback U

It's only fitting that the most high-profile position is arguably the most interesting in our rankings.

USC narrowly edged Oklahoma as the official QBU, but it's far from clear-cut. USC has reloaded at the position unlike any other program, going from Carson Palmer to Matt Leinart to John David Booty to Mark Sanchez to Matt Barkley to Cody Kessler to Sam Darnold -- all of whom were drafted and four of whom were taken in the first round.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, boasts an incomparable run of truly elite guys, with four Heisman winners (Jason White, Sam Bradford, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray) in the past 15 years, and three of those guys went first overall in the NFL draft. It's a slight edge for USC in consistency, but advantage Sooners when it comes to producing the most elite talent.

Perhaps as interesting as the teams at the top, however, is the team at No. 33. That'd be Alabama, checking in just after Syracuse and only a few spots ahead of Delaware. No team has dominated on the field during the BCS/College Football Playoff era quite like the Crimson Tide, but they've done it without elite QBs ... until last season, anyway.

Meanwhile, though the top 10 is full of big names, the team at No. 11 is worth a mention, too: Fresno State. Recruiting the Carr brothers worked out pretty well for the Bulldogs. If we run the numbers for QBU again in 10 years, however, Clemson might be the team at the top. The Tigers currently rank 16th, but with Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence and soon hotshot recruit D.J. Uiagalelei, the current run of superstar quarterbacks for Dabo Swinney is tough to match. -- David Hale

1. USC
Notable players: Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, Sam Darnold

2. Oklahoma
Notable players: Jason White, Sam Bradford, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray

3. Oregon
Notable players: A.J. Feeley, Joey Harrington, Marcus Mariota, Justin Herbert

4. Texas
Notable players: Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young, Colt McCoy

5. Florida State
Notable players: Chris Weinke, Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel, Jameis Winston

6. Louisville
Notable players: Chris Redman, Brian Brohm, Teddy Bridgewater, Lamar Jackson

7. Auburn
Notable players: Jason Campbell, Cam Newton, Nick Marshall, Jarrett Stidham

8. Florida
Notable players: Jesse Palmer, Rex Grossman, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow

9. Texas A&M
Notable players: Jerrod Johnson, Ryan Tannehill, Johnny Manziel, Kellen Mond

10. Ohio State
Notable players: Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins

Running Back U

How deep, talented and productive has Alabama been at the running back position the past two decades?

Perhaps this is the best way to answer that question: Eddie Lacy was Alabama's starter for only one season (2012), but he piled up more than 2,400 rushing yards in his career. He's one of seven Alabama running backs to be selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, going back to 2000, and that includes a couple of Heisman Trophy winners in Derrick Henry in 2015 and Mark Ingram in 2009. While a handful of schools might stake claim to the Running Back U moniker since the start of the BCS in 1998, Alabama sits atop the throne.

Alabama is one of four SEC schools to make the top 10, and it edged Wisconsin, which has churned out the likes of Melvin Gordon, Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, Michael Bennett and James White in recent years. And talk about backfields loaded with talent. Miami's 2001 stable featured Frank Gore, Willis McGahee and Clinton Portis, and Arkansas in 2006 had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis in the same backfield. The 2004 Auburn backfield was equally stout, with Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who went second overall and fifth overall, respectively, in the 2005 NFL draft.

One team surprisingly absent from the Running Back U top 10 is Georgia, which has had its share of talented runners over the years. In the past four years, the likes of Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Todd Gurley have rumbled their way through Athens, but a lack of star power in the first half of the BCS era held the Dawgs back. -- Chris Low

1. Alabama
Notable players: Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry, Shaun Alexander

2. Wisconsin
Notable players: Ron Dayne, Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball

3. LSU
Notable players: Leonard Fournette, Kevin Faulk, Jacob Hester

4. Oklahoma
Notable players: Adrian Peterson, Samaje Perine, DeMarco Murray

5. Miami
Notable players: Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James

6. Pittsburgh
Notable players: James Conner, LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis

7. Texas
Notable players: Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles

8. Oregon
Notable players: LaMichael James, Jonathan Stewart, LeGarrette Blount

9. Arkansas
Notable players: Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis

10. Auburn
Notable players: Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Mason

Wide Receiver U

How did the Trojans get atop this list? Well, USC has eight seasons of all-conference wide receivers, which tied for fifth among Power 5 schools, and the Trojans have five All-American seasons from receivers, which tied for first nationally with Oklahoma State.

Those five All-Americans were huge factors in this ranking, and so were the 17 receivers drafted since the 1998 season, second only to Ohio State's 21. USC also had three receivers taken in the first round in that span.

In the past 15 seasons, USC has produced three 3,000-yard receivers: Marqise Lee, Dwayne Jarrett and JuJu Smith-Schuster. That's tied for first on this list with Oklahoma: Ryan Broyles, Sterling Shepard and Jalen Saunders.

The biggest surprise has to be LSU on this list. LSU has just five all-conference seasons from receivers and one All-American wideout: Josh Reed in 2001. Anemic offense and the lack of a 3,000-yard receiver over the past 15 years make you wonder how of all the Tigers in college football, these were the ones to make it in the top five.

Well, since 1998, 17 LSU receivers have been drafted. Do the names Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry mean anything to you? No one ever said LSU doesn't recruit studs, even if that potential wasn't always maximized in school. -- Edward Aschoff

1. USC
Notable players: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Williams, Marqise Lee, Dwayne Jarrett

2. Ohio State
Notable players: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., David Boston

3. Florida State
Notable players: Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene, Peter Warrick

4. Oklahoma State
Notable players: James Washington, Justin Blackmon, Dez Bryant

5. LSU
Notable players: Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Clayton, Jarvis Landry

6. Oklahoma
Notable players: Marquise Brown, Ryan Broyles, Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard

7. Florida
Notable players: Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, Antonio Callaway

8. Michigan
Notable players: Devin Funchess, Braylon Edwards, David Terrell

9. Alabama
Notable players: Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones, Jerry Jeudy

10. Notre Dame
Notable players: Golden Tate, Will Fuller, Michael Floyd

Tight End U

Miami can officially say it is Tight End U. As if the Hurricanes haven't already been making that proclamation, it's now undeniable. Miami has so many big names and impact players at the position, it's hard to deny the program the top spot.

Tight ends have evolved, and there is more value in the position now than ever. Names such as Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen helped make that transition.

It isn't surprising to see Iowa so high on this list either, as the Hawkeyes regularly produce top tight ends year in and year out. In fact, Iowa became the first school to have two tight ends chosen in the first 20 picks of the NFL draft in April, when T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were both selected in the first round. Iowa is a team that could take over the No. 1 spot if Miami isn't careful. -- Tom VanHaaren

1. Miami
Notable players: Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, David Njoku, Chris Herndon

2. Iowa
Notable players: Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki, C.J. Fiedorowicz, George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant

3. Stanford
Notable players: Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, Austin Hooper, Dalton Schultz

4. Missouri
Notable players: Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman, Michael Egnew, Dwayne Blakley

5. Wisconsin
Notable players: Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, Lance Kendricks, Troy Fumagalli

6. Oklahoma
Notable players: Mark Andrews, Blake Bell, James Hanna, Jermaine Gresham, Stephen Alexander

Notable players: Bryan Fletcher, Marcedes Lewis, Thomas Duarte, Caleb Wilson

8. Arizona State
Notable players: Todd Heap, Brian Jennings, Zach Miller

9. Virginia
Notable players: Heath Miller, Bill Baber, Chris Luzar, Patrick Estes, Tom Santi

10. BYU
Notable players: Gabe Reid, Daniel Coats, Dennis Pitta, Jonny Harline

Offensive Line U

It's no surprise that Alabama finds itself at the top of this list with Wisconsin a close second. In this research, Alabama had the most seasons with an all-conference player and has had an incredible amount of players drafted since 1998.

The Crimson Tide and Badgers led most of the categories analyzed, and though offensive linemen can be difficult to evaluate individually, when you look at the draft results for both teams, it's easy to see why these two top the list. It will be difficult to dethrone these two programs, but Oklahoma and Notre Dame have been making a big push as of late. The Irish in particular have had a run of top offensive linemen taken in the NFL draft and seemingly have more on the way. -- Tom VanHaaren

1. Alabama
Notable players: Andre Smith, James Carpenter, D.J. Fluker, Cam Robinson, Jonah Williams, Ross Pierschbacher

2. Wisconsin
Notable players: Joe Thomas, Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler, Travis Frederick, Michael Deiter, David Edwards

3. Oklahoma
Notable players: Jammal Brown, Davin Joseph, Phil Loadholt, Trent Williams, Lane Johnson, Orlando Brown, Cody Ford

4. Michigan
Notable players: Jon Jansen, Steve Hutchinson, Jeff Backus, David Baas, Jake Long, Taylor Lewan

5. Ohio State
Notable players: LeCharles Bentley, Nick Mangold, Mike Adams, Jack Mewhort, Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein, Billy Price

6. USC
Notable players: Winston Justice, Ryan Kalil, Sam Baker, Tyron Smith, Matt Kalil, Marcus Martin, Chuma Edoga

7. Notre Dame
Notable players: Luke Petitgout, Jeff Faine, Zack Martin, Nick Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson

8. Florida State
Notable players: Tra Thomas, Rodney Hudson, Menelik Watson, Bryan Stork, Cameron Erving, Tre' Jackson

9. Texas
Notable players: Jay Humphrey, Leonard Davis, Mike Williams, Derrick Dockery, Justin Blalock, Connor Williams

10. Florida
Notable players: Kenyatta Walker, Max Starks, Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Pouncey, D.J. Humphries, Jawaan Taylor

Defensive Back U

With just a few glances at Twitter during the season, you'll see that Florida and LSU players -- current and former -- and their official football team accounts are constantly bombarding the internet with claims of "DBU."

It actually might be college football's best rivalry over the past few years.

Unfortunately for both schools, they have to take a back seat to the real DBU: Ohio State.

Since 1998, Ohio State has 26 all-conference seasons by defensive backs (tops in the country) and six All-American seasons, which ranks second behind that of Alabama and LSU (eight). Since the 1998 season, 30 Buckeyes defensive backs have been drafted, among them 12 first-round picks, including three -- Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley -- in 2017.

After the Buckeyes, it was a run of SEC teams, with LSU, Alabama and Florida taking spots two through four. -- Edward Aschoff

1. Ohio State
Notable players: Marshon Lattimore, Denzel Ward, Eli Apple, Malcolm Jenkins

2. LSU
Notable players: Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Jamal Adams

3. Alabama
Notable players: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Mark Barron, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

4. Florida
Notable players: Vernon Hargreaves III, Joe Haden, Reggie Nelson

5. Florida State
Notable players: Jalen Ramsey, Derwin James, Myron Rolle

6. Texas
Notable players: Kenny Vaccaro, Earl Thomas, Quentin Jammer

7. USC
Notable players: Adoree' Jackson, Taylor Mays, Troy Polamalu

8. Miami
Notable players: Kenny Phillips, Brandon Meriweather, Sean Taylor

9. Virginia Tech
Notable players: Kyle Fuller, Kam Chancellor, DeAngelo Hall

10. Oklahoma
Notable players: Roy Williams, Andre Woolfolk, Zack Sanchez

Defensive Line U

Ask any quarterback in the SEC, and you won't exactly be surprised by our DLU winner. Of course it's Alabama.

The Crimson Tide's defensive front has been tormenting opposing offenses for the better part of the past decade, and the litany of D-line superstars to emerge from Tuscaloosa -- from Jarret Johnson to Quinnen Williams -- includes 12 All-SEC seasons and five All-Americans. Of course, the Dabo Swinney era at Clemson gives the Tide a run for its money. Clemson has had 17 All-ACC seasons from D-linemen, with last season's group -- Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence -- all drafted, including three in the first round. As much as the playoff battles between the Tide and Tigers have been a staple of college football the past few years, so too might be this battle for the official title of D-line U.

Clemson has a new group of emerging stars, including K.J. Henry and Xavier Thomas, and Alabama inked eight blue-chip D-linemen in the 2019 class, including five-star stud Antonio Alfano.

Perhaps the most surprising name in our rankings is North Carolina, which checks in at No. 12. It hasn't been a great run of late for the Tar Heels, but UNC dominated the early part of this era with names such as Ebenezer Ekuban, Ryan Sims, Julius Peppers, Kentwan Balmer, Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples and Sylvester Williams, all first-round picks.

Looking for the up-and-coming contender for DLU? Try Ohio State, which has had 11 defensive linemen drafted in the past decade and is likely to add another first-rounder in Chase Young next year. -- David Hale

1. Alabama
Notable players: Cornelius Griffin, Antwan Odom, Terrence Cody, Marcell Dareus, A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Da'Shawn Hand, Quinnen Williams

2. Clemson
Notable players: Gaines Adams, Phillip Merling, Ricky Sapp, Da'Quan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins, Andre Branch, Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell

3. Penn State
Notable players: Courtney Brown, Anthony Adams, Michael Haynes, Jimmy Kennedy, Tamba Hali, Aaron Maybin, Jared Odrick, Devon Still, Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson

4. LSU
Notable players: Booger McFarland, Marcus Spears, Kyle Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Arden Key, Michael Brockers, Benny Logan

5. Florida State
Notable players: Corey Simon, Jamal Reynolds, Darnell Dockett, Travis Johnson, Brodrick Bunkley, Everette Brown, Tank Carradine, Timmy Jernigan, Bjoern Werner, Eddie Goldman, Mario Edwards Jr., DeMarcus Walker, Brian Burns

6. Ohio State
Notable players: Mike Vrabel, Ryan Pickett, Will Smith, Cam Heyward, Johnathan Hankins, Adolphus Washington, Joey Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Dre'Mont Jones, Nick Bosa, Chase Young

7. Texas
Notable players: Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton, Cory Redding, Marcus Tubbs, Tim Crowder, Brian Orakpo, Lamar Houston, Malcolm Brown

8. Florida
Notable players: Jevon Kearse, Gerard Warren, Jarvis Moss, Derrick Harvey, Carlos Dunlap, Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley, Taven Bryan, Jachai Polite

9. USC
Notable players: Kenechi Udeze, Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson, Frostee Rucker, Lawrence Jackson, Sedrick Ellis, Everson Griffen, Leonard Williams

10. Tennessee
Notable players: Darwin Walker, Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, John Henderson, Justin Harrell, Dan Williams, Derek Barnett

Linebacker U

It's hard not to be mesmerized by all of the talent Georgia has produced at running back dating to Herschel Walker, arguably the greatest player to ever play in the SEC.

But when you glance across at the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs have been equally blessed at linebacker. In the past five years, they have produced seven NFL draft picks at either inside or outside linebacker. Go back seven years, and that number jumps to 10 linebackers taken in the NFL draft, including four first-rounders.

Historically, the Linebacker U tag might have been reserved for Penn State, and the Nittany Lions are still up there. But the Dawgs claim the top spot since the start of the BCS in 1998, thanks to their array of run-stuffing inside linebackers, pass-rushing specialists on the outside and do-it-all guys cut from the mold of Boss Bailey, who was the heartbeat of the 2002 Georgia defense that ranked fourth nationally in scoring.

Georgia finished just ahead of SEC counterpart Alabama, which has also produced great linebackers over the years. Good luck finding a more versatile linebacker in recent years than C.J. Mosley, one of nine Alabama linebackers to be picked in the NFL draft in the past six years. Speaking of Penn State, it's hard to find a more decorated trio at one school in the past 20 years than LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, though the folks at Ohio State would be quick to counter with such legendary names as Andy Katzenmoyer, James Laurinaitis and A.J. Hawk. -- Chris Low

1. Georgia
Notable players: Roquan Smith, Justin Houston, Alec Ogletree

2. Alabama
Notable players: C.J. Mosley, Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower

3. Ohio State
Notable players: A.J. Hawk, Andy Katzenmoyer, James Laurinaitis

4. USC
Notable players: Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Chris Claiborne

5. Penn State
Notable players: LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor

6. Oklahoma
Notable players: Curtis Lofton, Teddy Lehman, Rocky Calmus

Notable players: Robert Thomas, Anthony Barr, Myles Jack

8. Florida State
Notable players: Ernie Sims, Lawrence Timmons, Tommy Polley

9. Michigan
Notable players: Devin Bush, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote

10. Florida
Notable players: Brandon Spikes, Jarrad Davis, Jevon Kearse

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.