Boise State's six NFL draft picks prove the program is more than trick plays and blue turf

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

Six Boise State players were selected in last week's NFL draft, including first-rounders Shea McClellin (Chicago) and Doug Martin (Tampa Bay). Only three schools had more, Alabama with eight and Oklahoma and Georgia with seven.

So, did all those Broncos get drafted because of trick plays or was it the supposed easy schedule?

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Chris Petersen has a 50-3 record at Boise State the past four years. (Getty Images)

Boise State coach Chris Petersen just laughed at that one. He's heard those stereotypes about his program for years: The Broncos' success is based on gimmicks, superior play-calling, weak opponents and even their signature blue turf.

It turns out maybe talent had something to do with their 50-3 record the last four years.

"One thing we've known for a long time is that we've had some really good players here," Petersen said Tuesday. "We've had some really good young players who just kept improving and working hard."

Boise State's draft haul is particularly impressive because unlike an Alabama or an Oklahoma, it doesn't have the luxury of recruiting ultra-talented, five-star high school players. Or even four-star players.

There is no debate about Nick Saban's ability to prepare players for the league – four Crimson Tide players went in the first round alone. Still, taking running back Trent Richardson from the sixth-rated prospect in America coming out of high school into the third overall draft pick is a relatively gentle curve.

Boise State's draft picks featured one three-star recruit (Billy Winn), four two stars (McClellin, Martin, George Iloka and Nate Potter) and one player who merited no stars (Tyrone Crawford) coming out of high school in Windsor, Ontario, although he developed into a real prospect at Bakersfield (Calif.) Community College.

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So is there a secret, an innovative NFL developmental system? No, Petersen said. "I don't get hung up on the NFL thing at all because it's not a focus of our program." That said, he also dismisses that a high school ranking means anything.

"I've never gotten – and never will – the star thing," Petersen said. "We'll discuss it more [in this interview] than in six years at Boise State. It never enters into our thinking."

Well, maybe that's it. Boise State certainly isn't the only place having great success turning lightly recruited players into NFL picks: Cincinnati, Utah, TCU and others also have tremendous track records.

Clearly Petersen and his staff have been adept at finding players who fit into the Broncos' culture. And it could be argued they attract the ultra-driven player seeking a chance to improve, that the program builds on itself. Or perhaps, out of necessity, they just have to scout harder and smarter.

"We look at tape and ask, 'Do we like this guy, and is he good enough to play for us?,' " Petersen said. "And then we do a lot of research. Will he do the things we ask him to do? Will he lift weights the way we do? Will he run the way we do? Will he live up to our expectations of how we conduct ourselves. And there's academics."

Petersen is 73-6 (.924) in six seasons and has been to two BCS bowls the last four seasons. "We would've had four BCS appearances in four years if we could make a field goal," Petersen said, and yes, no Broncos place kickers were selected.

So how many of these guys did Petersen think would be NFL picks when he signed them?

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"None," he said. "I think the two first-rounders are perfect examples of how it goes here. With Shea [who hails from little Marsing, Idaho], we liked him a lot but we weren't sure. Where exactly is he going to play? Is he going to be good enough?

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Boise State DE Shea McClellin speaks to reporters after being selected 19th overall. (AP)

"It's really all the intangibles. Once he got here we began to realize, 'He's going to be pretty good.'

"Doug Martin was a little different. I thought he was really, really good [as a senior at St. Mary's High School in Stockton, Calif.]. I kept think, 'Are we missing something here?' He was recruited [by other schools] but I thought he should've been recruited at a much heavier level. I asked his high school coach, 'Am I missing something?' And he said, 'No, you're not, he's that good.' "

Petersen does find one thing interesting about the Boise six. "Our best player didn't even get drafted, " he said.

Quarterback Kellen Moore won more games than any other signal-caller in NCAA history but concerns over his size and arm strength meant his name wasn't called. He did sign a free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions and is expected to make the roster as the third-string QB.

"I'm not saying I know something NFL scouts don't know, but he's the best college player I've ever seen," Petersen said.

[Eric Adelson: Boise State's Kellen Moore overlooked again, this time by the NFL]

One "advantage" for Boise State is that by not being in on the elite players, it tends to be able to scout recruits during their senior year of high school, which is generally the best season for any athlete.

Some schools can load up on 20 commitments when players are still juniors. Boise State is often looking late and clearly finding some talent that can't go elsewhere because all the scholarships are filled. Petersen admits some players are "no brainers" and should be offered early, but he believes fringe players are taking up early spots.

"You see a guy on tape and say, 'Where was he last year,' " Petersen said. "Well, he played but wasn't that good then.

"I can't stand where the recruiting process is headed, earlier, earlier, earlier. It's just going to make for more bad decisions for kids selecting colleges and universities and more bad decisions for the programs."

Petersen said the draft was fun because he saw a bunch of guys he loves achieve a dream. He isn't changing Boise State's mindset, though. Not with a Big East membership in 2013 or the likely end of the BCS in 2014.

Whether he planned it or not, this was an event that should help in the Broncos' never-ending quest for national respect. Trick plays don't get you into the NFL. Neither do non-automatic qualifying schedules.

Boise State has talent – big-time, top-line talent. Maybe not as much as some other schools, but more than most. That isn't debatable anymore.

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