- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Reaching the NFL -- and potentially becoming a first-round draft pick -- is something that every recruit wants to achieve. It’s a big part of their school decisions.
They might like two campuses, two programs, two stadiums, two weight rooms, two position coaches and two head coaches equally, but if they believe one situation offers a better chance to reach the NFL, it will be that school’s hat they pull out from under a table on national signing day.
Alabama has churned out 33 draft picks, including 14 in the first round, over the past five years. Nick Saban takes elite high school players and turns them into professional millionaires. That, in turn, has more elite players keep coming to Tuscaloosa. That’s a big reason why Alabama has won three of the last four BCS national championships and is among the favorites to make it four our of five.
What happened last week in New York was a celebration of all those players’ hard work. But it also is a huge recruiting tool, which is why Saban, LSU’s Les Miles, and Florida’s Will Muschamp were among the coaches in attendance.
“It always helps,” Muschamp said. “You want to be able to show some results as far as recruits are concerned. They want to be able to see what kind of players you’re putting out. They want to see you winning games and see you being able to have a positive environment for a student-athlete to come to the University of Florida. So there’s no question it helps.”
Muschamp was at Radio City Music Hall to support defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, whom the Minnesota Vikings selected with the 23rd pick. An ancillary benefit is the recruiting exposure he gained.
Alabama and LSU had nine players drafted. Florida was right behind with eight selections, one shy of tying the school for the most selections in a seven-round format. In addition to Floyd, safety Matt Elam was taken with the final pick in the first round by Baltimore.
Having nearly as many players drafted as the SEC’s two elite programs over the past several years says the program’s talent level wasn’t as poor as many believed. But it also showed that Muschamp’s staff is capable of developing players into draft picks.
There’s no better example than safety Josh Evans, whom Jacksonville drafted in the sixth round. When the 2011 season ended, the thought of Evans getting drafted was laughable. He took bad angles and was often out of position. However, in his second season under Muschamp’s tutelage (he coaches the safeties), Evans was UF’s most improved player in 2012 and a key piece of a defense that finished fifth nationally.
With nine months until signing day, the draft and player development are just another topic of conversation with prospects. While it’s a huge selling point, Muschamp says it’s important to remember that relationships are what matter in recruiting.
“Relationships are the bottom line, in my opinion, and the trust you develop with a young man and his family and the people that are important to him,” Muschamp said. “That’s the most important thing. Does [the NFL draft] help? Absolutely. Let’s not downplay it all, because it does. But at the end of the day, when the young man comes on our campus and Sharrif Floyd is working out in our weight room and he’s able to see the work Sharrif put in at the University of Florida, the education he got at the University of Florida, the positive experiences he had at the University of Florida -- when they’re able to see those things, it’s as much as anything.”