Big Ten producing O-linemen for NFL, but SEC sends more

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Second in a series

Over the years, the Big Ten has become synonymous with producing NFL-caliber offensive linemen.

Taylor Decker, of Ohio State, is one of the standout offensive linemen to come out of the Big Ten.

In 10 of the past 11 NFL drafts, the conference has had at least one offensive lineman selected in the first round, including the 2016 draft, when two of the first four taken were from the Big Ten — Michigan State’s Jack Conklin at No. 8 and Ohio State’s Taylor Decker at No. 16.

According to Detroit News research, the Big Ten still churns out top talent, but just not as much as the Southeastern Conference. Of the 21 colleges that had at least five offensive linemen on NFL rosters at the end of the 2015 season, seven were from the SEC, five were from the Big Ten and five were from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The top five schools were the SEC’s Alabama (10 players) and Florida (eight), the Big Ten’s Iowa (eight) and Wisconsin (seven), and the ACC’s Virginia (seven).

And that’s not by accident, Big Ten Network college football analyst Gerry DiNardo said. According to DiNardo, there’s a correlation between the number of NFL-quality offensive linemen on teams that run a pro-style offense versus a spread offense.

“There’s a couple things that have changed in recent years — evaluating quarterbacks because of the spread offense,” DiNardo said. “Most high school kids aren’t taking a regular snap from the center and then go to a college and they’re not taking a snap from the center, but in the NFL everybody is taking a snap from center. I think the same thing about the offensive line.”

DiNardo was on the committee for the Joe Moore Award, which was created in 2015 and awarded to the most outstanding offensive line unit in college. Alabama took top honors with Michigan State, Iowa and Arkansas also in the mix.

"If you look at those offensive linemen, for the most part they’re playing in the pro formation system,” said DiNardo, a former All-America guard at Notre Dame.

“The NFL, when they look at the spread teams, a lot of the emphasis by offensive line coaches on spread teams is how fast they can get back to the line of scrimmage so they can run the next play, and they’re not all that disciplined as far as technique.”

DiNardo said in addition to the recent change in offensive line evaluations, recruits making commitments based on unofficial unpaid visits also plays a role in the SEC besting the Big Ten.

“This is why the SEC footprint has done so well in the College Football Playoff, national championship and sending the best talent because most kids in the SEC footprint can drive and afford to drive to these campuses and then make a decision,” DiNardo said. “It hurts the Big Ten in recruiting, which hurts the Big Ten in the NFL draft.”

Football recruiters hit paydirt in three states

About this series

To find out which states and conferences produced the most football talent, The Detroit News created a database of the season-ending 2015 rosters for every NFL team.

Detroit News series

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Big Ten producing O-linemen for NFL, but SEC sends more

NFL WRs mostly come from California, Florida and Texas

Penn State upholds linebacker tradition

California, Stanford have most running backs in NFL 

Alabama top producer of NFL defensive backs

SEC dominates in sending defensive linemen to NFL