Defensive backs are the most exuberant players on a football field, oozing with swagger on every single down. Nothing says swagger more than boasting your team as the “DBU” of college football. Over the years, many players have laid claim to the title of defensive back university for their program. There can surely only be one DBU, however, so which program truly is the best at developing defensive back talent for NFL success?
Which college football program is the true DBU?
What makes a team “DBU”? There are many data points and debate points. Is it simply the team that has the most defensive backs drafted to the NFL? Can you define DBU by how many first-round picks a program has? How about how many players that a specific program has sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Maybe it’s how many All-Pro players from the defensive backfield they’ve produced?
What makes establishing “DBU” even more complicated is the difficulty that statistical analysis of defensive back play presents. You can’t simply judge a player on how many pass breakups or interceptions he has. Why? Well because by their very nature, the best defensive backs strike fear into the heart of opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators by their very presence on the field. You simply don’t want to throw on them.
If you were to use simple statistics, then Georgia could lay claim to being DBU. Champ Bailey leads all defensive backs in passes defensed since Sports Reference began measuring the metric. Both South Carolina and Louisiana have two players in the top 25 for all-time passes defensed. Meanwhile, South Carolina Johnathan Joseph’s 200 passes defensed ranks second behind Bailey. Does that make the Gamecocks and the Raging Cajuns DBU?
Rutgers has three players inside the top 25 for passes defensed. Does the appearance of Devin and Jason McCourty and Logan Ryan mean that the birthplace of college football is also DBU? The Scarlet Knights have also produced a first-round pick at the position since 2000 and a first-team All-Pro out of Piscataway. Sadly, it does not. However, the following five teams have a legitimate case to call themselves DBU.
With 60 defensive backs drafted, only one other program has more secondary playmakers drafted to the NFL than the USC Trojans. Furthermore, they’ve placed four defensive backs in the Hall of Fame, comfortably more than any other program with a claim to call themselves DBU.
Although they don’t possess any statistical standouts, Troy Polamalu, Ronnie Lott, Willie Wood, and Joey Browner all earned first-team All-Pro honors during their career. With just two first-rounders since 2000, however, the Trojans’ lack of recent success in producing impactful DBs hampers their attempts to be named DBU.
Although Washington might not have the same quantity of defensive back draftees to be claimed DBU, the recent quality ensures that they’re deserving of consideration here. They’ve had 36 DBs drafted, and since 2000, the Huskies have had three first-round DBs in Trent McDuffie, Marcus Peters, and Desmond Trufant. They’ve had a host of players selected in the Day 2 range as well.
Meanwhile, Peters (86) and Trufant (89) rank in the top-25 active leaders for passes defensed. Alongside Peters, Budda Baker, Dashon Goldson, and Lawyer Milloy give the Huskies four first-team All-Pro players from the defensive backfield. Only two other programs on this list of DBU contenders have produced more All-Pro defensive backs than Washington.
Tyrann Mathieu. Patrick Peterson. Jamal Adams. Tre’Davious White. Derek Stingley Jr. LSU has a legitimate recent and historical claim to being named DBU. With 54 players drafted in the history of the program, they rank fourth all-time in terms of the numbers of defensive backs drafted. Furthermore, their six first-round picks since 2000 speaks to the recent quality that the program has produced.
With one player already in the Hall of Fame — Johnny Robinson — and five first-team All-Pro players, the quantity of players LSU has sent to the NFL is matched by the quality that they’ve produced once they make it to the next level. With 96 passes defensed during his career, Peterson lists amongst the top 25 most productive defensive backs still active in the NFL.
With eight first-round picks since 2000, only one team has more than Alabama in the quest to be named DBU. However, first-round picks alone don’t make a complete case for inclusion. Thankfully, the Crimson Tide’s secondary playmakers have found success at the NFL level. If you include Don Hutson — who played pretty much everywhere for the Green Bay Packers — Alabama has produced six first-team All-Pro players in the secondary.
Hutson is joined by Minkah Fitzpatrick, Landon Collins, Trevon Diggs, Marlon Humphrey, and Eddie Jackson as Alabama players to earn All-Pro accolades. Meanwhile, Kareem Jackson’s 104 passes defensed ranks in the top 25 of active players in the NFL. The versatile DB has tallied at least one interception in all but one of his 12 NFL seasons.
Which program has the most ever secondary players drafted to the NFL? Ohio State. While there is always room for DBU debate, it’s hard to argue with Ohio State’s résumé when it comes to producing defensive back talent for the NFL. In the history of the NFL draft, the Buckeyes have had 65 DBs selected.
Who has the most first-round picks since 2000? That would also be Ohio State. With 12 first-round picks since 2000, they have more than their closest rival Alabama.
With 144 passes defensed, Nate Clements ranks in the top 25 all-time. Malcolm Jenkins’ 110 passes defensed is the eighth-most amongst active players.
Meanwhile, Jeff Okudah and Denzel Ward are among the highest ever drafted DBs. Additionally, Marshon Lattimore headlines a whole host of names that have had a significant impact in the NFL. The Buckeyes also boast a Hall of Fame defensive back in Dick LeBeau, who tallied 62 interceptions for the Detroit Lions after playing his college football for the Buckeyes.