How Many College Football Players Make it to the NFL?

The NCAA's decision to allow all college football players the opportunity to cash in on endorsement deals was better late than never because the path to the NFL Draft stage and a long professional career is extremely tight.

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Ever wonder how many college football players make it to the NFL? College football is a huge sport among fans, bettors, and students, but where do these players go when their four-year degrees (and sometimes athletic careers) end? We take a look at how many high school football players make it to the NCAA level, and how many college athletes make it to the NFL.

When the NCAA finally got off its high horse and adopted a name, image, likeness policy in the summer of 2021, college athletes from around the country were finally allowed to make real money on their brand. At the front of the NIL payout line were Heisman Trophy favorites like Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler.

It was estimated that he would rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsement deals. Fast forward to late October and Rattler has been benched. After all, if a five-star recruit and Heisman Trophy preseason odds leader can’t remain a starter, what does it say about the thousands of other college football players looking ahead to the NFL Draft?

What Percentage of College Players Make it to the NFL?

Back in 2020, the NCAA released a study focused on the probability that high school athletes compete at the collegiate level and the odds that collegiate athletes make it into the pros.

Sport Number of High School Players Percent to Play in College Percent Drafted into Pros
Football 1,093,234 6.5% 1.6%
Basketball 541,054 3.4% 1.2%
Baseball 482,629 6.9% 8.6%
Hockey 35,393 11.2% 6.9%
Men’s Soccer 417,419 5.7% 1.4%
Women’s Basketball 433,344 3.8% 0.9%

Of the more than 1,000,000 high school football players, just 6.5% of them are skilled enough to play for NCAA Division I, II, or III colleges and universities. Of that player pool, 1.6% of college football players make it to the NFL. Remember, only 350 players are invited to the NFL combine and the draft, a favorite among NFL betting enthusiasts, is only seven rounds.

Each active NFL roster can carry 53 players, not including practice squad bodies. So, with 32 teams multiplied by 53, you’re looking at just under 1,700 active NFL bodies. Of that group, 150 or 8.8% will be lucky enough to earn a fourth year in the league. The physical and mental toll on the body and brain sidelines even the brightest of collegiate stars.

According to Statista, the average NFL career lasts just 3.3 years but varies based on position.

Statistic: Average playing career length in the National Football League (in years) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

This graph illustrates how guys like kicker Adam Vinatieri can play for 24 years and Tom Brady continues to thrive at 44 years old, while bruising, between-the-tackles running backs fall short of reaching their third year, on average.

Former Packers running back Eddie Lacy is a great example. Coming out of Alabama, he racked up more than 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns through his first two seasons and then the injuries started to mount and he was never the same before his NFL career came to a screeching halt following the 2017 regular season.

Are NFL Players Recruited Thru College Football Only?

The assumption may be that NFL front offices only scout NCAA power conferences like the SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten and only pluck the ripest talent from perennial title contenders like Alabama, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.

However, with the popularity of the NFL growing on a global scale and smaller professional football leagues forming every other year, teams have been afforded the opportunity to find talent in a number of places.

For example, during Week 7 of the 2021 NFL season, two former XFL quarterbacks took snaps behind center. Former St. Louis BattleHawks quarterback Taylor Heinicke has started at quarterback for Washington for most of the season after Ryan Fitzpatrick was injured. Carolina benched Sam Darnold in favor of former Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker.

In recent years, professional rugby players have earned a shot to make NFL rosters, but Eagles left-tackle Jordan Mailata is one of the few who have truly cashed in. This past offseason, he signed a $64-million, four-year contract.

Before you start placing your bets, be sure to read our guide to college football betting. Our team of experts independently reviews each and every sports betting site for safety and quality.

Dave Consolazio

Dave Consolazio has been passionate about writing and sports journalism since his high school years. He has a degree in Broadcast Journalism from USC where he worked with the school's radio and television stations. His work has been featured in SportsbookReview, Sports Illustrated and SB Nation. Dave's experience ranges across multiple fields in the gambling industry. You can find his sports, casino, and poker articles in

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