If you paid attention to the 2022 NFL draft, you might have noticed teams showed a particular interest in the defenders from the Georgia Bulldogs.
At the. 1 overall pick Travon Walker started the run, and by the time Thursday’s first round was over, five members of college football’s top scoring defense had their names called. It was the first time in NFL history that one college defense had sent five first-rounders to the league in a single draft.
By the end of the weekend, Georgia had set another record. Using Chase Stuart’s draft value chart, which uses historical performance to measure the value of each individual pick, NFL teams had used more draft capital on Georgia’s defense than any other offense or defense in a single draft since the 1970 merger. It was a special ending for a special defense.
Figuring this out also got me thinking about other mega-classes from years past. On paper, Georgia’s five first-round picks and seven picks in the top 102 have special qualities, but that was also probably true for super-offenses and super-defenses from other years. How often did those college stars deliver on their pre-draft promise? Were they more likely to succeed than typical draft picks?
With that in mind, I calculated the draft capital spent on each offensive and defensive draft class by school going back through 1970, then broke down the 15 most expensive classes. Several of them are still a work in progress, but we have enough of a sample to get insight into whether they succeed more or less often than typical draftees.
I’ll report my findings after running through those 15 programs, and I’ll be honest: I was surprised by what I found!
Keep in mind that the year listed for these schools is the year of the draft where these players were selected, not their year at school. The 2022 Georgia defensive class, for example, consists of players from the 2021 Bulldogs. Since the draft used to be longer than seven rounds, the Stuart chart considers all draft picks after the 224th selection to be worth zero points. I’ll focus on discussing players drafted in the first and second rounds in these blurbs, but I’ll mention players taken afterward if they’re notable.
Let’s begin with another great defense, highlighted by a player who spent a year out of football before excelling as a pro:
Jump to the end:
Players selected: Eight (two first rounders)
Best player: Safety Tyrann Mathieu (No. 69)
This draft class felt much of the dominant 2011 LSU defense to the league outside of Morris Claiborne and Michael Brockers, who were taken in the first round of the 2012 draft. The defense wasn’t quite as effective in 2012, with the Tigers dropping from second in the country in scoring defense to 12th, but six of the top 100 picks in 2013 were LSU defenders.
The most productive player from this class didn’t suit up for the Tigers at all in 2012, as Mathieu was dismissed from the program in August of that year. He was arrested on possession of marijuana charges shortly thereafter, which led the dynamic playmaker to fall to the Cardinals in the third round. Mathieu has been a model pro and one of the best safeties in football despite tearing each of his ACLs early in his run with the Cardinals. He has been the most notable defender of this bunch.
The first-rounders in this class were Barkevious Mingo (No. 6), who was never able to establish himself as more than a special-teamer, and Eric Reid (18), who struggled with injuries amid otherwise solid play. Kevin Minter (45) and Bennie Logan (67) played rotational roles, but fellow third-rounder Sam Montgomery (95) was cut by the Texans halfway through his rookie season and never played an NFL down.
Mathieu would have surely been drafted higher if it weren’t for the off-field issues that ended his college career, but he is the only player from this class who turned into a star.