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Where do blue-chippers (and future pros) come from?

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The most blue-chippers come from the South. But the region doesn’t produce pros at the same rate.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami
Kelly Bryant, product of the only state in the South that produces pros like it produces blue-chippers.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Refreshing and Improving the Analysis

Almost five years ago, I wrote an article that examined which states produce the most FBS talent and related those figures to population. The original article relied on data provided by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football (DCTF) on total FBS recruits by state over the years. While that data was great, and I continue to be a huge fan of DCTF, the data was just aggregate numbers with no granularity.

Also, several commenters on the original story pointed out a shortcoming with the approach — namely, that at the margin, the number of FBS recruits each state produces seems to be significantly influenced by the number of FBS programs in the immediate vicinity.

As I thought through how to refresh the analysis and improve it, I became a lot more ambitious with the project. Instead of just using the aggregate numbers produced by DCTF, I decided to use recruiting data publicly available from 247Sports and to focus on the top 400 recruits for each class, per the 247 Composite recruiting rankings.

The top 400 represents the top 15 percent or so of players in each class and also comfortably includes all consensus four- and five-star recruits, plus those right on the border line (who generally are ranked as a four-star by at least one recruiting service). The vast majority of these players have offers from schools beyond their local areas. In fact, most of them have offers from programs far and wide. In short, these are the recruits everybody wants. As a practical matter, almost all of them end up signing with Power 5 programs.

I have compiled the individual recruiting profiles for all of the top 400 recruits from the 2006-18 classes, and I am still in the process of geo-coding each high school and college in the data set. The geo-coding task is a large one but is nearing completion. The final product should be an extremely rich and useful data set on blue-chip football recruits.

Talent Distribution is Un-Democratic, in the Extreme

After elimination of a handful of blue-chippers hailing from America’s Hat (a.k.a. Canada), there are 5,195 recruits in this data set. Just under 50 percent of all blue chips have come from the top four states (Texas, Florida, California, and Georgia), and just under 75 percent have come from the top 12.

It is no surprise that the distribution of recruits is far from even, but the sheer tyranny of the regional talent disparities is still pretty striking when examined. The top 25 states account for almost 95 percent of blue-chip recruits.

The tree map below represents the full data set. If you are interested in exploring the data, you can go to the interactive version of this visual.

Blue Chip Recruits by State, 2006-18:

Blue Chip Recruits: State Shares, 2006-2018

Rnk State Blue Chips % of Total Accumulated%
Rnk State Blue Chips % of Total Accumulated%
1 Texas 752 14.5% 14.5%
2 Florida 738 14.2% 28.7%
3 California 595 11.5% 40.1%
4 Georgia 415 8.0% 48.1%
5 Ohio 238 4.6% 52.7%
6 Louisiana 201 3.9% 56.6%
7 Alabama 178 3.4% 60.0%
8 Virginia 166 3.2% 63.2%
9 Pennsylvania 163 3.1% 66.3%
10 North Carolina 160 3.1% 69.4%
11 Mississippi 124 2.4% 71.8%
12 New Jersey 122 2.3% 74.1%
13 Maryland 119 2.3% 76.4%
14 South Carolina 116 2.2% 78.7%
15 Tennessee 111 2.1% 80.8%
16 Michigan 111 2.1% 82.9%
17 Illinois 109 2.1% 85.0%
18 Arizona 71 1.4% 86.4%
19 Oklahoma 64 1.2% 87.6%
20 Missouri 62 1.2% 88.8%
21 Washington 55 1.1% 89.9%
22 Indiana 51 1.0% 90.9%
23 Arkansas 45 0.9% 91.7%
24 Utah 44 0.8% 92.6%
25 Colorado 42 0.8% 93.4%
26 Oregon 33 0.6% 94.0%
27 New York 32 0.6% 94.6%
28 Dist. of Columbia 31 0.6% 95.2%
29 Nevada 30 0.6% 95.8%
30 Kentucky 29 0.6% 96.4%
31 Kansas 27 0.5% 96.9%
32 Hawaii 26 0.5% 97.4%
33 Wisconsin 25 0.5% 97.9%
34 Iowa 21 0.4% 98.3%
35 Minnesota 21 0.4% 98.7%
36 Connecticut 18 0.3% 99.0%
37 Nebraska 14 0.3% 99.3%
37 Massachusetts 14 0.3% 99.6%
39 Delaware 6 0.1% 99.7%
40 Idaho 5 0.1% 99.8%
41 New Mexico 4 0.1% 99.9%
42 West Virginia 3 0.1% 99.9%
43 Vermont 1 0.0% 99.9%
43 South Dakota 1 0.0% 100.0%
43 Maine 1 0.0% 100.0%
43 New Hampshire 1 0.0% 100.0%
51 Alaska 0 0.0% 100.0%
51 Montana 0 0.0% 100.0%
51 North Dakota 0 0.0% 100.0%
51 Rhode Island 0 0.0% 100.0%
51 Wyoming 0 0.0% 100.0%
n/a GRAND TOTAL 5,195 100% 100.0%

Which States “Punch Above their Weight”?

While recruit production is clearly correlated to population, there is obviously a lot more going on here.

Adjusting for state population helps to show which states are relatively talent-rich (and which are relatively barren). The top state by this standard isn’t a state at all — it’s the District of Columbia. High schools within D.C. produce only a couple of Blue Chip recruits per year on average, but considering the population of the District is under 700,000, that gives it the crown for per capita production by a fairly comfortable margin.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Clemson
Alabama’s Terrell Lewis was a blue-chip recruit from Washington, DC, in 2016.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

After D.C., the next seven top producers of blue-chip recruits on a per capita basis are all Southern states.

It is worth noting that while the average per capita rate is 1.28 per million of population per year, the median rate is almost exactly 50% lower (at 0.65 per million), which indicates a distribution with a very significant amount of skew.

Population-Adjusted Blue Chip Production

State Total Blue Chip Recruits Annual Recruits per MM Rate vs. US Avg Rate vs. US Median
State Total Blue Chip Recruits Annual Recruits per MM Rate vs. US Avg Rate vs. US Median
District of Columbia 31 3.83 3.0x 5.9x
Louisiana 201 3.35 2.6x 5.1x
Georgia 415 3.26 2.5x 5.0x
Mississippi 124 3.21 2.5x 4.9x
Florida 738 2.93 2.3x 4.5x
Alabama 178 2.88 2.3x 4.4x
Texas 752 2.24 1.8x 3.4x
South Carolina 116 1.91 1.5x 2.9x
Ohio 238 1.58 1.2x 2.4x
Virginia 166 1.58 1.2x 2.4x
Maryland 119 1.56 1.2x 2.4x
Hawaii 26 1.46 1.1x 2.2x
Tennessee 111 1.34 1.0x 2.0x
Oklahoma 64 1.31 1.0x 2.0x
North Carolina 160 1.28 1.0x 2.0x
Utah 44 1.21 0.9x 1.8x
California 595 1.20 0.9x 1.8x
Arkansas 45 1.19 0.9x 1.8x
New Jersey 122 1.05 0.8x 1.6x
Pennsylvania 163 0.99 0.8x 1.5x
Michigan 111 0.85 0.7x 1.3x
Nevada 30 0.85 0.7x 1.3x
Arizona 71 0.84 0.7x 1.3x
Missouri 62 0.80 0.6x 1.2x
Kansas 27 0.73 0.6x 1.1x
Oregon 33 0.65 0.5x 1.0x
Illinois 109 0.65 0.5x 1.0x
Colorado 42 0.63 0.5x 1.0x
Washington 55 0.62 0.5x 0.9x
Indiana 51 0.60 0.5x 0.9x
Nebraska 14 0.59 0.5x 0.9x
Iowa 21 0.53 0.4x 0.8x
Kentucky 29 0.51 0.4x 0.8x
Delaware 6 0.51 0.4x 0.8x
Connecticut 18 0.39 0.3x 0.6x
Wisconsin 25 0.34 0.3x 0.5x
Minnesota 21 0.30 0.2x 0.5x
Idaho 5 0.24 0.2x 0.4x
Massachusetts 14 0.16 0.1x 0.2x
New Mexico 4 0.15 0.1x 0.2x
West Virginia 3 0.13 0.1x 0.2x
New York 32 0.13 0.1x 0.2x
Vermont 1 0.12 0.1x 0.2x
South Dakota 1 0.09 0.1x 0.1x
Maine 1 0.06 0.0x 0.1x
New Hampshire 1 0.06 0.0x 0.1x
Alaska 0 0.00 0.0x 0.0x
Montana 0 0.00 0.0x 0.0x
North Dakota 0 0.00 0.0x 0.0x
Rhode Island 0 0.00 0.0x 0.0x
Wyoming 0 0.00 0.0x 0.0x

Time for a Sanity Check

The fact that most of the states that comprise the SEC produce blue-chip college football recruits at a rate well above the national average should surprise exactly nobody. Football (at all levels) is near religion in the South, and the SEC is the premier college football conference in the country.

But is that the whole story?

In order to run a little sanity check on this outcome, I compared the population-adjusted rate of blue chip production to the population-adjusted rate of production of (active) NFL players. The results are pretty interesting.

Blue Chip Recruits vs. Active NFL Players, Relative to US Population-Weighted Average

State Active NFL Players Blue Chips rel to US Avg Blue Chips Rnk NFL Players rel to US Avg NFL Players Rnk
State Active NFL Players Blue Chips rel to US Avg Blue Chips Rnk NFL Players rel to US Avg NFL Players Rnk
Dist. of Columbia 10 3.0x 1 2.7x 1
Louisiana 87 2.6x 2 2.5x 2
Georgia 173 2.5x 3 2.2x 3
Mississippi 42 2.5x 4 1.9x 5
Florida 294 2.3x 5 1.9x 6
Alabama 78 2.3x 6 2.1x 4
Texas 262 1.8x 7 1.2x 10
South Carolina 62 1.5x 8 1.6x 7
Ohio 120 1.2x 9 1.4x 9
Virginia 74 1.2x 10 1.2x 12
Maryland 43 1.2x 11 0.9x 17
Hawaii 12 1.1x 12 1.1x 13
Tennessee 43 1.0x 13 0.9x 21
Oklahoma 24 1.0x 14 0.8x 23
North Carolina 82 1.0x 15 1.1x 14
Utah 24 0.9x 16 1.0x 15
California 290 0.9x 17 1.0x 16
Arkansas 16 0.9x 18 0.7x 28
New Jersey 82 0.8x 19 1.2x 11
Pennsylvania 87 0.8x 20 0.9x 19
Michigan 67 0.7x 21 0.9x 20
Nevada 17 0.7x 22 0.8x 25
Arizona 34 0.7x 23 0.6x 32
Missouri 42 0.6x 24 0.9x 18
Kansas 16 0.6x 25 0.7x 26
Oregon 20 0.5x 26 0.6x 33
Illinois 63 0.5x 27 0.7x 31
Colorado 21 0.5x 28 0.5x 37
Washington 31 0.5x 29 0.6x 34
Indiana 21 0.5x 30 0.4x 40
Nebraska 12 0.5x 31 0.8x 22
Iowa 17 0.4x 32 0.7x 27
Kentucky 16 0.4x 33 0.5x 38
Delaware 10 0.4x 34 1.4x 8
Connecticut 18 0.3x 35 0.7x 30
Wisconsin 30 0.3x 36 0.7x 29
Minnesota 23 0.2x 37 0.5x 35
Idaho 5 0.2x 38 0.4x 41
Massachusetts 9 0.1x 39 0.2x 47
New Mexico 2 0.1x 40 0.1x 48
West Virginia 4 0.1x 41 0.3x 42
New York 43 0.1x 42 0.3x 43
Vermont 0 0.1x 43 0.0x 51
South Dakota 3 0.1x 44 0.5x 39
Maine 1 0.0x 45 0.1x 50
New Hampshire 2 0.0x 46 0.2x 45
Montana 6 0.0x 47 0.8x 24
North Dakota 3 0.0x 47 0.5x 36
Wyoming 1 0.0x 47 0.2x 44
Alaska 1 0.0x 47 0.2x 46
Rhode Island 1 0.0x 47 0.1x 49

The map graphic below illustrates the trends in over- and under-estimation spatially. The color coding is based on the difference between population-adjusted NFL player production and population-adjusted production of blue-chippers.

In order to filter out some of the noise, it does not consider states with less than five active NFL players, and the differences are also standardized statistically. Shades of red means there is over-estimation of talent for the state, while blue shades indicate under-estimation. If the state is shaded grey, it means the difference probably isn’t statistically significant. If you go to the map visual on my Tableau Public page there are additional details presented for each state in “hover over” mode.

Deviations Between NFL Talent Produced and Blue-Chip Recruits

The most interesting observations here, from my vantage point:

  • The recruiting services seem to love talent in Texas, Oklahoma, and SEC country a bit more than they should. The exception here is South Carolina, the only state in the region where the talent seems to be undervalued relative to NFL representation.
  • Delaware…wow. The juxtaposition of the results for Delaware and Maryland are pretty interesting, but I have no idea what is going on there.
  • It’s surprising to see that recruits in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan appear to be undervalued, given the profile of high school football in those states, not to mention the interest in those states’ major college programs.
  • New York and New Jersey produce materially more NFL talent than they do blue-chip recruits. That’s more interesting than the fact Idaho and Montana do the same, because of the sheer numbers involved.
NFL: Tennessee Titans at San Francisco 49ers
Brock Coyle (50), Montana grad, Bozeman native, and NFL starter.
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports