Quantity Over Quality? SEC Only Has 1 NFL Defender on Top 5 Highest-Paid List and 2 in the Top 10

Every year, it seems, the SEC sends dozens of elite defenders to the NFL. The 2022 NFL Draft was no different. In fact, the Georgia Bulldogs set a record with five defensive players going in Round 1. Interestingly, though, despite the enormous number of players going from the Southeastern college football conference to the NFL, SEC alums only make up 20% of the top five and top 10 highest-paid NFL defenders list.

College football’s Southeastern Conference sends a ton of defensive players to the NFL

The SEC sends a ton of players to the NFL, period. For the better part of the last two decades, the conference has dominated the college football landscape.

Since 2006, SEC teams (Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU) have won 12 of 16 national titles. This is, in no small part, thanks to the elite athletes these schools get in recruiting on the defensive side of the ball.

In 2022, Georgia won the championship with an all-time defense. That defense continued making history in the draft with a record five players going in the first round. When all was said and done, eight Georgia defenders (and the team’s punter) went in this year’s draft.

It wasn’t just Bulldog defenders going in Round 1, though. Defenders from LSU (Derek Stingley Jr.) and Florida (Kaiir Elam) went on Day 1 as well, giving the SEC seven first-round defensive players. By comparison, there were nine other defensive players in the first 32 picks from five other conferences.

This isn’t a new phenomenon either. In the five previous drafts, the SEC has dominated the defensive picks. Here are the number of first-round SEC defenders picked in the last half-decade:

  • 2021: 4/14
  • 2020: 6/13
  • 2019: 6/18
  • 2018: 5/14
  • 2017: 10/19

That means 40% of first-round picks on the defensive side of the ball since 2017 have come from the SEC.

Despite these gaudy numbers, it’s fascinating that only 20% — one of the top five highest-paid defensive players in the NFL and just two of the top 10 — are from the SEC.

Only two of the top 10 highest-paid defensive players in the NFL are from the SEC

The 2022 NFL offseason will go down as the summer of the wide receiver contract. However, quite a few defensive players got paid, too. This shook up the names at the top of the highest-paid list, and the SEC doesn’t dominate this group.

The top 10 highest-paid defenders in the NFL (by average annual value of their contracts) are:

PlayerNFL TeamAAVCollegeConference
Aaron DonaldLos Angeles Rams$31.6MPittsburghACC
T.J. WattPittsburgh Steelers$28MWisconsinBig Ten
Joey BosaLos Angeles Chargers$27MOhio StateBig Ten
Myles GarrettCleveland Browns$25MTexas A&MSEC
Khalil MackLos Angeles Chargers$23.5MBuffaloMAC
Maxx CrosbyLas Vegas Raiders$23.5MEastern MichiganMAC
Leonard WilliamsNew York Giants$21MAlabamaSEC
DeForest BucknerIndianapolis Colts$21MOregonPac-12
Jaire AlexanderGreen Bay Packers$21MLouisvilleACC
Denzel WardCleveland Browns$20.1MOhio StateBig Ten

Looking at this list, you’ll see the Big 10 leads the way with three players, and the SEC, ACC, and (shockingly) the MAC are tied for second with two apiece.

All these players were first-round selections, except for Crosby (Round 4, No. 106), and all but Donald (No. 13), Watt (No. 30), and Alexander (No. 18) went in the top seven picks.

The SEC does catch up a bit with the 11th-20th highest-paid players. The conference boasts five out of those 10 players.

While the SEC will continue to dominate the draft boards on Day 1, it does go to show you that the best players don’t always come from the best college football conference.

All contract figures courtesy of Spotrac

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