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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
1,036,842 73,557 7.1% 2.8% 1.8% 2.5%

Sources: High school figures from the 2017-18 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 2017-18 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
73,557 16,346 256 255 1.6% --
  • NFL draft data from 2018.  There were 256 draft picks in that year’s draft, 255 of whom were former NCAA players.  NCAA to Major Pro figure calculated using these data.
  • NCAA divisional breakdown of the 255 NCAA players selected in the 2018 NFL draft: Division I FBS (232), Division I FCS (19), Division II (4).  The five football conferences with autonomous governance accounted for 185 of the 253 NCAA draft picks (SEC=53, ACC=49 [includes Notre Dame], Big Ten=33, Pac-12=30, Big 12=20).
  • We estimate that 3.9% of draft-eligible Division I players were chosen in the 2018 NFL draft (251 / 6,451).  Splitting this calculation into subdivision, 6.7% of FBS players were estimated to be drafted (232 / 3,468), as compared to 0.6% of FCS players (19 / 2,983).  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 (185 / 1,739). 
  • Additional professional or semi-professional opportunities exist in leagues such as the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. Estimations for opportunities beyond the NFL are not included in our table.

Last Updated: April 3, 2019