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When we survey NCAA student-athletes about their expectations of moving on to professional athletics careers, the results indicate surprising confidence in that possibility. The reality is that very few go pro.

Estimated probability of competing in college football

High School Participants NCAA Participants Overall % HS to NCAA % HS to NCAA Division I % HS to NCAA Division II % HS to NCAA Division III
1,057,382 73,063 6.9% 2.7% 1.8% 2.4%

Sources: High school figures from the 2016-17 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations; data from club teams not included.  College numbers from the NCAA 2016-17 Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report.

Estimated probability of competing in professional football

NCAA Participants Approximate # Draft Eligible # Draft Picks # NCAA Drafted % NCAA to Major Pro % NCAA to Total Pro
73,063 16,236 253 253 1.6% 1.9%
  • NFL draft data from 2017.  There were 253 draft picks in that year’s draft, all of whom were former NCAA players.  NCAA to Major Pro figure calculated using these data.
  • NCAA divisional breakdown of the 253 NCAA players selected in the 2017 NFL draft: Division I FBS (233), Division I FCS (14), Division II (6).  The five football conferences with autonomous governance accounted for 183 of the 253 NCAA draft picks (SEC=53, ACC=45 [includes Notre Dame], Pac-12=36, Big Ten=35, Big 12=14).
  • Data on Arena League and Canadian Football League opportunities were collected by NCAA staff via rosters on each organization’s website (sources: and in February 2018.  Due to the timing of each league’s season, the 2016 draft cohort was used to estimate unique playing opportunities in the Arena League, while the 2017 draft cohort was used to track CFL rookies. It was determined that an additional 62 former NCAA student-athletes from those draft cohorts were listed on a roster (62 in the CFL, 0 in the Arena League).  In the CFL there were 34 former Division I FBS players, 13 from Division I FCS, 13 from Division II and 2 from Division III.  These numbers were combined with the NFL draftees to calculate an NCAA to Total Professional opportunities proportion (calculated as [253 + 62] /16,236 = 1.9%).   
  • We estimate that 3.9% of draft-eligible Division I players were chosen in the 2017 NFL draft (247 / 6,254).  Limiting this calculation to subdivision, 6.9% of FBS players were estimated to be drafted (233 / 3,398), as compared to 0.5% of FCS players (14 / 2,856).  Narrowing further to the five Division I conferences with autonomous governance (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC), we estimate that 11% were drafted (183 / 1,735).  Accounting for Arena League and CFL opportunities, the NCAA to Total Professional figures are estimated as 4.7% for Division I ([247+ 47] / 6,254), 7.9% for FBS ([233 + 34] / 3,398) and 12% for the five autonomous conferences ([183 + 19] / 1,735).

Last Updated: April 20, 2018