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How many NCAA football players make it to the NFL?

Arizona vs Oregon in an NCAA game
Arizona vs Oregon in an NCAA game

There are 1,093,234 high school football players in the United States, and 6.5% of those high school players (or 71,060) will play for the NCAA in college.

The drop-off from college to the professional level is more dramatic: only 1.6% of college-level players will get drafted into the NFL.

Even then, being a successful professional athlete is yet another barrier to tackle. In short, roughly 853 players (0.00075%) make the pros each year out of an original population of nearly 1.1 million high school athletes.

To put that number into perspective, that is about the odds of getting struck by lightning at some point in life.

NCAA Numbers

  • NCAA Participants: 73,712
  • Approximate # Drafts Eligible: 16,380
  • # Draft Picks: 254
  • # NCAA Drafted: 254
  • % NCAA to Major Pro: 1.6%

Why such a huge drop-off?

Simply put, there is not enough room for everyone.

According to the website Admissionsly.com, there are 26,727 high schools in the US. The website BestColleges.com reports that there are nearly 6,000 colleges and universities in the U.S.

However, the NFL only has 32 teams.

With fewer options, it is expected that not every NCAA player will find a team to play. Only the crème de la crème will have a chance of turning pro and even this does not mean a successful career.

NCCA and NFL, the differences

First, NCA rules are different from the NFL. Here are some examples:

  • College football cannot end in a tie, they keep playing until someone goes ahead
  • Contact is necessary to be ruled down in the NFL, but not in College football
  • Only 1 foot needs to be in bounds to complete a pass in College football, 2 feet must be in bounds for an NFL pass
  • In College football, the clock stops after the first down
  • A defensive holding penalty is 10 yards in College football, but only 5 yards in the NFL
  • The plays that can be reviewed in the NFL are very limited, whereas all plays can be reviewed in College football.

Players not only have to prove that they can play at the college level, but they also have to show they can keep playing at the highest level with different rules.

Additionally, not only are the rules different, but also the game. Because in the NFL everyone is a pro, where in the NCAA players cannot even make money. Every player is on the top of their games, mentally and physically. This drastically changes the speed of the game and how the game is played.


Edited by Henno van Deventer

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