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Football: Probability of competing beyond high school

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
1,006,013 73,712 7.3% 2.9% 1.9% 2.5%

Sources: High school figures come from the 2018-19 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations.  College numbers are from the NCAA’s 2018-19 Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report. These college numbers account for participation in college athletics at NCAA-member schools only.

Estimated probability of competing in professional football

NCAA Participants Approximate # Draft Eligible # Draft Picks # NCAA Drafted % NCAA to Major Pro % NCAA to Total Pro
73,712 16,380 254 254 1.6% --
  • NFL draft data from 2019.  There were 254 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 254 NCAA players selected in the 2019 NFL draft: Division I FBS (238), Division I FCS (11), Division II (5).  The five football conferences with autonomous governance accounted for 197 of the 254 NCAA draft picks (SEC=64, Big Ten=40, ACC=34 [includes Notre Dame], Pac-12=33, Big 12=26).
  • We estimate that 3.8% of draft-eligible Division I players were chosen in the 2019 NFL draft (249 / 6,490).  Splitting this calculation into subdivision, 6.8% of FBS players were estimated to be drafted (238 / 3,491), as compared to 0.4% of FCS players (11 / 2,999).  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 (197 / 1,769). 
  • Additional professional or semi-professional opportunities exist in leagues such as the Canadian Football League, XFL and opportunities in other countries. Estimations for opportunities beyond the NFL are not included in our table.

Last Updated: April 20, 2020