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April 12, 2012

Where does NFL talent come from? Let's find out

Miami isn't nearly as relevant on football Saturdays as it was a decade ago.

Sundays are another matter entirely.

If that fact weren't already apparent to most football fans, the latest edition of the "Position U." project should make it abundantly clear. Back in 2006, Rivals.com introduced the Position U. series, in which we tried to decide which schools produced the most NFL talent at specific positions. Now we've decided to revisit the project in an attempt to see how much the landscape has changed over the last seven years.

The series starts Friday at 1 p.m. ET with a look at the quarterback position and will continue up until the April 26 start of the draft.

Without giving too much away, one thing became very obvious as we started the research for our series: Miami isn't winning nearly as often now as it did several years ago, but the Hurricanes continue to produce NFL talent at an elite level.

WHAT'S POSITION U.?


The Position U. series is our attempt to determine which schools provide the most NFL talent at each position. We will analyze a different position just about every day up until the April 26 start of the NFL Draft. For the purpose of this series, we only took into consideration players who were still active as of last season.
April 13: Quarterbacks
April 14: Running backs
April 17: Offensive tackles
April 18: Guards/Centers
April 19: Pass rushers
April 21: Linebackers
April 23: Cornerbacks
April 24: Safeties
Since 1984, Miami has led the nation with 46 first-round draft picks (10 more than second-place Ohio State) and 93 players drafted in the first three rounds (17 more than second-place Florida State and USC).

Even as Miami's win totals have declined, the Hurricanes have continued stockpiling NFL talent. The Hurricanes won their fifth national title in 2001 and played for the championship the following year, but they have a combined record of 41-35 since 2006.

Yet Miami still led all schools last year with seven Pro Bowl selections: San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee, Houston Texans center Chris Myers, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed and New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.

Miami also had a remarkable string of 150 consecutive weeks in which at least one of its former players scored a touchdown in an NFL game. The streak began late in the 2002 season and ran all the way until the week of Nov. 20 last year.

"The talent's still there," said Rob Rang, a senior draft analyst for nfldraftscout.com. "There's been some question about the caliber of coaching and the type of commitment that several Miami players showed through the last couple of years, but the University of Miami continues to be a hotbed for individual talent."

As it begins the second year of Al Golden's coaching tenure, Miami is eager to shed its recent reputation as a program that produces more draft picks than victories.

Indeed, one of the jewels of Miami's ninth-ranked 2012 recruiting class appreciates Miami's tradition of sending guys to the NFL, but he's more concerned with getting the Hurricanes competing for conference and national championships again.

"It's great that we've got a lot of history and have sent a lot of guys to the league," said Miramar (Fla.) High cornerback Tracy Howard, the No. 13 overall recruit in the 2012 class. "But at the same time, we've got to start our own legacy.''

Perhaps due to the Hurricanes' recent slide, they aren't as much of a factor on the first day of the draft anymore. Miami produced at least one first-round pick every year from 1995-2008, but no Hurricanes have gone in the opening round since the end of that streak. Running back Lamar Miller, a projected second-round pick by nfldraftscout.com, has a chance to become the first Miami player taken in the opening round since safety Kenny Phillips went to the New York Giants with the 31st overall pick in 2008.

But Miami is producing more surprise successes than ever. Lately, a number of Miami players have made more of an impact in the NFL than they ever did in college.

Sam Shields, a former four-star recruit, struggled as a receiver for much of his college career before finally moving to cornerback his senior season. Shields went undrafted in 2010, yet he won a roster spot with the Green Bay Packers and picked off two passes and forced a fumble in the NFC championship game as a rookie.

Graham went to Miami on a basketball scholarship and played just one season of college football. He showed enough potential during that one season to get drafted in the third round by the New Orleans Saints. Graham accumulated 1,290 receiving yards and earned All-Pro honors last season.

"They're still producing draft picks and they're producing a great deal of talent," Rang said. "There are a lot of players that maybe weren't quite as productive during their collegiate careers, then once they got to the NFL, for whatever reason they've been more successful."

This series will show which programs have been most successful at producing NFL players at each position. Which school is the new Tailback U.? Which program is sending the most quarterbacks to the NFL? Where should a scout look when he's searching for offensive tackles? This project could help answer those questions.

We'll name a top school for each of the following positions: Quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackles, guards/centers, defensive ends/outside linebackers, defensive tackles, linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties, kickers and punters.

We made a couple of major changes from when we last did this series in 2006. The 2006 project decided which schools produced the most NFL talent at each position by looking at currently active players and guys who had retired within the last five years. This time, in order to focus more on the here and now and less on retired players, we're only considering players who were still active as of last season.


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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