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Cougs lacking big impact players in the NFL

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A large drought of not turning out NFL level talent leaves WSU with few impact players at the pro level.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

College sports news mirrors the level of activity in Pullman right now. People are soaking in that last piece of vacation before it it time to buckle down, so to speak. Friday was a virtually silent day in WSU news with no real items of interest popping up.

One thing that came across my Twitter feed on Friday was this Sports Illustrated article written by Chris Burke listing the top Pac-12 alumni in the NFL. Burke fills out both a first team and a second team. Only one Coug makes either list. Jed Collins is listed as the No. 2 Pac-12 fullback in the NFL right now. Ironically, he finishes second to Marcel Reese, the only first team Washington player on the list.

Of the small handful of Cougs that have made it to the NFL in the last few years, Deone Bucannon has the biggest chance to make such a list in the future. But, as Burke notes the safety positions are a "money spot" for the Pac-12 with all former pro bowlers topping the list. No Cougar has played in the Pro Bowl since Marcus Trufant in 2007.

The prevalence of USC and Oregon on Burke's list is no surprise. Nobody can question the massive amount of NFL talent each team has brought in and turned out over the last decade. Washington is glaringly scarce on the list with only two other players besides Reese, Donald Butler and Desmond Trufant, making the second team. Jeff Tedford turned out more than his share of NFL studs in the mid-2000s at Cal. However, Tedford's magic wore off and the Cal program experienced a sharp decline in the 2010s which led to his dismissal. Tedford particularly had a knack for producing talent on the offensive side of the ball.

Getting players to the NFL is an important part of the mission at WSU right now. Bill Moos knows that is what players are thinking about when they make their college commitments. In fact, there is a space on the wall in the Football Operations building that features the helmet of each NFL team with the names of former Cougs that played for the team listed by the helmet.

Here is the list of the number of WSU players drafted by year since 1995 and the number of wins in the previous season:

Year

Draftees

Wins in previous year

1995

4

8

1996

1

3

1997

3

5

1998

4

10

1999

1

3

2000

1

3

2001

1

4

2002

2

10

2003

2

10

2004

3

10

2005

3

5

2006

1

4

2007

2

6

2008

1

5

2009

1

2

2010

0

1

2011

1

2

2012

0

4

2013

1

3

2014

1

6

Over the last 20 years, WSU has put 33 players in the draft for an average of 1.65 players per year. This overall average has fallen sharply since 2007. Between 1995 and 2007, WSU averaged 2.15 players per year in the draft. Since 2007, the average has been .71 players per year with no more than one player drafted in any single draft.

It doesn't take a statistical whiz to look at the list to see the huge correlation with numbers of draftees in an NFL Draft year and success in Cougar football in the year before. Statistics in sports are much like statistics in the social sciences; they often tell us something that we already know. Still a story can sometimes be told by simply looking at the magnitude of the statistic. Calculating a Pearson's correlation coefficient which runs on a scale between - 1 (perfectly inverse relationship) and 1 (perfectly correlated), the coefficient came out to be .72. That's pretty powerful!

If things go as planned and WSU football takes an upward trajectory in the next few years, fans should be ready to hear some Cougar names called in April.

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