Why Alabama's Nick Saban is still five-star king, even though Georgia 'won' 2022 NFL Draft

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

If college programs can be considered winners or losers of the NFL Draft, Georgia was certainly a winner this year. 

The Bulldogs had 15 players drafted, the most from one college program in a seven-round draft. The next closest are Ohio State (2004) and LSU (2020) with 14 and then Ohio State (2016) and Alabama (2018) with 12. 

The Crimson Tide had only seven selected this year, but coach Nick Saban added another player to one of his most startling statistics from his 15 years with Alabama.

Evan Neal became the 21st five-star player under Saban to become a first-round pick since the coach landed his first in 2008, according to the 247Sports Composite. Over that same time, Georgia, LSU, Clemson and Ohio State have combined to produce 17.

Almost half of Saban's five-star signees have become first-round picks for Alabama. 

These schools might have contended with Alabama for national championships in recent years, but none is on the Crimson Tide's level of turning five-star recruits into first-round picks. 

The Tuscaloosa News dove into the updated numbers after the draft, comparing the past five schools to win a national championship. 

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Alabama has recruited most five-stars since 2008 

Over that span, Saban has recruited 60 five-star prospects. Meanwhile, LSU and Clemson have a combined 54 five-star recruits.

Here's how the programs rank in five-stars signed, starting with the 2008 class through 2022:  

1. Alabama 60

2. Georgia 47

3. Ohio State 36

T-4. Clemson 27

T-4. LSU 27

The numbers for Georgia and Alabama are much closer since Kirby Smart took over. The Bulldogs have signed 29 while the Crimson Tide has added 28. 

How Alabama stacks up with Georgia, LSU, Clemson, Ohio State

Saban has not only added a high amount of five-star talent but also made the most of it. He maintains a staggering lead in how many of those players are selected in the first round of the draft. 

Of his 60 five-star signees, 13 are on the roster and have not declared or have not yet been eligible. The other 47 consist of those who went to the draft, transferred or stopped playing football at Alabama for multitude reasons. 

For these numbers, if a five-star recruit transferred and became a first-round pick at his new school, he was not included in his former school's total of first-round picks. 

Here are the rankings by percentage. 

1. Alabama (44.7%) — 21 first-round picks of 47 five-star signees

2. Clemson (35.7%) — 5 of 14

3. Ohio State (18.2%) — 4 of 22

4. LSU (15%) — 3 of 20

5. Georgia (14.3%) — 5 of 35

2022 NFL Draft a microcosm of how Saban develops five-stars

Alabama had one five-star recruit go in the first round this year while another went undrafted. 

Defensive lineman LaBryan Ray signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Patriots, but injuries greatly hurt his availability and ultimately ability to play up to his five-star potential. 

Having one five-star recruit go in the first and one not is almost exactly Saban's hit rate. Nearly every other five star he recruits goes in the first round. 

How does Saban compare to Kirby Smart, Ryan Day, Dabo Swinney? 

These coaches weren't all in their current jobs from 2008 until now, so it's important to break down each coach's numbers.

Here's how many first-round picks each has developed with his team, not including LSU's Brian Kelly who just took the job: 

Clemson's Dabo Swinney (2009 to present): 5 of 14 five-star prospects (35.7%)

Ohio State's Ryan Day (2019 to present): 1 of 2 (50%)

Georgia's Kirby Smart (2016 to present): 2 of 17 (11.8%)

Since 2016, Saban has signed 13 five-star draft-eligible players who have either declared for the draft, transferred or did not finish. Seven of the 13 have gone on to become first-round picks (53.85%). 

Travon Walker going first overall this year was only the second time Smart has had a five-star recruit go in the first round. 

Day's score is incomplete because he has only one true class with eligible players. Smart doesn't have the same sample size as Saban or Swinney either, so that will be something worth tracking, too. 

Final thoughts

  1. Saban is only going to add to this stat next year. Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr., two top five-star recruits from the 2020 class, are expected to be first-round picks. 

Of course, a program like Georgia is building momentum. More could be added to Smart's pile next year, but he still has a ways to catch up in championships and five-star development to his former boss. 

Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men's basketball for The Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at nkelly@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly