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Editor’s note: This is the final story in a series on how college coaches fare at developing players for the NFL. Check out previous stories on quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers. For a deeper dive by conference, check out SEC offense, SEC defense, ACC offense, ACC defense, Big 12 defense, Big 12 offense, Pac-12 offense, Pac-12 defense, Big Ten offense, Big Ten defense.

Following the 2023 NFL Draft, FOX Sports pulled decades worth of recruiting data and looked at how productive (or not) each active Power 5 coach was at both recruiting and developing players when it came to the ultimate eye in the sky of the NFL.

Over a dozen parts this summer, we’ve looked at every Power 5 league to see who the best coaches within each conference are at developing players across every position group. But when looking at the picture nationally, just how do coaches stack up against each other when it comes to finding all of those good players and, well, coaching them up?

To sort it all out, FOX Sports utilized a points system that rewarded development and applied it to every active Power 5 coach’s draft class. Every drafted defensive back received a certain number based on what round he was drafted and what kind of recruit he was coming out of high school. An unrated defensive back coming out of high school going in the first round would be at the very highest end of the scale while a former five-star DB sneaking into the seventh round of the draft would be at the lowest end.

To get a better picture of just how effective coaches were, this cumulative score was then divided by the number of seasons coached at the Division I level to get an overall rating.

As a result, here’s a look at how every active Power 5 coach in the country does when it comes to producing defensive backs for the next level:

The Best: Nick Saban (Alabama)

The greatest coach of all time is not surprisingly the best at developing guys for the position he played, has coached, and is most hands-on with.

Saban, who has a hard-to-fathom 29 drafted defensive backs, has more NFL picks out of the secondary than 75% of all active Power 5 coaches have in total at every position. Just one coach has as many total DBs drafted as Saban has had inside the top 100, and it goes without saying that nobody can touch the Tide coach’s total of eight first-rounders.

It’s also worth rehashing this nugget: there has been at least one Saban-coached defensive back drafted in each of the past dozen drafts and there has been one he either recruited or coached taken in 17 of the past 20. Safe to say the league knows — and likes — players he has tutored.

Lest you think this is all just five-stars like Dre Kirkpatrick or Marlon Humphrey, Saban has also been able to develop guys who were overlooked coming out of high school. This includes the likes of former unrated walk-on Rashad Johnson becoming a third-rounder, ex-three-stars like Anthony Everett and Eddie Jackson winding up in the fourth round, and junior college transfers like DeQuan Menzie ending up in the fifth round a few years ago.

Also excellent: Kirby Smart (Georgia), Dave Aranda (Baylor), James Franklin (Penn State), Dabo Swinney (Clemson)

If anybody is threatening to knock Saban off his perch, both in terms of rings and developing defensive backs, it’s another former DB in Smart. The Georgia coach has produced nine alone in seven seasons, including three first-rounders and an additional top-100 pick in Tyson Campbell (a former five-star taken with the first pick in the second round).

Smart has also had at least two DBs drafted in each of the past three years, and he’s done exceptionally well at both converting five-stars he’s recruited like Campbell and Kelee Ringo into quality picks, as well as sending a three-star like Eric Stokes into the league at the bottom of the first round.

Aranda, widely seen as one of the brightest defensive minds around, has carried over his ability to develop players in the secondary as an assistant to his tenure as the top boss at Baylor. In just three seasons in Waco, he’s had a trio of guys taken, all of whom were three-stars out of high school. Two of the three, highlighted by Jalen Pitre in the second round, also went in the first 100 picks as well.

Franklin, known mostly as an offensive guy, has been stellar in producing DBs, too, and has averaged better than one player taken out of the secondary per season coached. He is one of eight active coaches to have at least double-digits in terms of total players drafted at either corner or safety, and one of just two to hit that mark with fewer than 15 seasons as a head coach.

Clemson’s head coach is in a similar boat in terms of averaging more than one DB taken per season, but Swinney does have the edge over Franklin with nearly double the number of top-100 picks, plus a first-rounder. Also, for every five-star like Andrew Booth (second round) or A.J. Terrell (first), there’s also a two-star like T.J. Green under Swinney who winds up in the second round, or Coty Sensabaugh becoming an early fourth-round selection.

Others of note: Shane Beamer (South Carolina), Josh Heupel (Tennessee), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Ryan Day (Ohio State), Mack Brown (UNC), Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M), Pat Narduzzi (Pitt), Justin Wilcox (Cal)

Swinney’s in-state rival Beamer hasn’t been around long enough to really come close to some of the former’s numbers, but he has gotten off to an excellent start with two guys out of the secondary drafted this past spring. That includes converting four-star Cam Smith into a second-round pick and also showcasing three-star Darius Rush enough to become a fifth-round pick.

Up the road, UNC’s Brown is hampered slightly by the sheer fact that he’s coached so long but is about as close as they come to Saban in terms of overall numbers. His 27 DBs drafted over the course of three decades is more than the total draft picks produced by 12 of the 13 other ACC coaches, and Brown has had 16 of them go in the top 100. Seven members of that group were first-rounders, one shy of Saban and especially notable for the number of quality safeties he’s sent to the league.

Whittingham is another coach with a lengthy track record and is highly regarded for his work on the backend. In the past four drafts alone he’s had three of his seven top-100 selections out of the secondary and has done well in getting those rare four-stars like Jaylon Johnson taken in the draft as much as he’s developed three-stars like Julian Blackmon. The Utah coach’s best case of development at defensive back might have come with his first selection out of the secondary however, turning former two-star Eric Weddle into an early second-round selection before having an excellent career at the next level.

Surprisingly disappointing: Lance Leipold (Kansas), Matt Campbell (Iowa State), Scott Satterfield (Cincinnati), Kalani Sitake (BYU)

Leipold is inching closer to a full decade in the FBS ranks but still has yet to send a defensive back to the league, the only head coach with at least three seasons in the Power 5 not to do so. Big 12 rival Campbell has 11 years under his belt as a head coach, yet has just one DB taken in that time frame, and it came just this past draft in the seventh round. Satterfield is in the same boat and has now moved on to his third different school across 11 seasons.

Fellow Big 12 newcomer Sitake is perhaps the most surprising of all to not have a decent track record in this department considering he’s a defensive-minded coach, has a strong history of producing stingy play on that side of the ball, and yet has just one DB taken across seven seasons (albeit a former two-star).

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.



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