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The wild world of NIL is still new, but several college — and even high school — athletes in various sports are raking in some major dough since the new rule was passed for them to monetize their name, image and likeness.
According to On3.com, the go-to resource for athletes, companies and fans when it comes to determining the real-time value of a player, the NIL marketplace is currently estimated at $750M-$1B and is expected to grow into a $3-$5B industry in the next five years
When it comes to athletes making the most money, the top of the pack has a few obvious names with some massive dollar figures attached to them. But there are a few — even at the very top in terms of valuation — who are a bit eye-popping.
Before we get into the 10 richest college athletes right now, let’s take a look at how ON3 determines the NIL value for a player.
How is an athlete’s NIL valuation determined?
For each athlete, the On3 NIL Valuation algorithm takes into account three primary factors: performance, influence and exposure to create their individual Roster Value and Brand Value. Combine all three together to create the athlete’s On3 NIL Valuation, according to the company’s website.
The value of a given athlete is constantly shifting based on various situations.
On3 notes that factors including performance, influence, exposure, verified deals and changes in the overall NIL market size and individual collective size can all impact an athlete’s NIL Valuation from week to week. An athlete can see a significant change in their influence and exposure ratings through their social media accounts, which makes an immediate impact in their overall valuation.
Athletes who perform at a high level in their given sport, specifically if in a nationally televised game or honored for their performance, can see an uptick. Through verified deal flow, an athlete can provide evidence of their compensation
10 most valuable NIL athletes right now
10. Shedur Sanders, QB, Colorado: $1.6 million
While he came out of high school as just a 3-star prospect, the son of Primetime and new quarterback for the Colorado Buffaloes has hauled in some serious cash. Sanders inked his first major deal as one of 10 athletes Tom Brady signed for his brand “Brady” back in December of 2021. The dual-threat QB became the first HBCU athlete to reach a deal with Gatorade last January and added some smaller deals while at Jackson State. Most recently, Sanders signed a huge endorsement with Mercedes Benz on November 14. He has 1.3 million total social media followers — and with all the hype surrounding the Buffs for 2023 with his name already being thrown in the 2023 Heisman discussion — expect this number to grow for Sanders.
9. Will Anderson, LB, Alabama: $1.7 million
Anderson — who is regarded as a generational talent and top five pick in the NFL Draft — has seen a major spike in his valuation recently. On November 1, the dynamic linebacker was worth just north of $825K. He climbed the ranks in December with a $603K boost in 10 weeks, likely due to the exposure around his draft status and final times suiting up for the Crimson Tide. While Anderson’s social media following of 111K is the lowest of any athlete in the top ten, he has a bevy of endorsement deals highlighted by BMW of Tuscaloosa.
8. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas: $1.8 million
The bruising ball-carrier has been the face of the Texas Longhorns the past few seasons and is the clear top running back slated in the 2023 NFL Draft. Robinson’s valuation has taken a slight dip over the last 10 weeks but the Longhorns’ star has at least five known endorsement deals including a sweet one with Lamborghini.
7. CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State: $2.4 million
While the Buckeyes fell just short from advancing to the College Football championship game, Stroud put together one of his best performances of the season — a year in which he’s padded his wallet in a major way. The Ohio State signal caller is the face of one of the biggest brands in college football and has directly benefited from head coach Ryan Day’s all-in approach to NIL. Day was the first head coach to publicly state the importance of securing NIL money in order to stay competitive in recruiting. That led to the launch of “The Foundation.” The collective helped broker the largest NIL deal ever for $550,000 and included Stroud.
6. Olivia Dunne, LSU gymnastics: $2.7 million
OutKick fan favorite Olivia Dunne has taken a much different path to obtain NIL success. The LSU gymnast — who is the most followed college athlete on social media with a combined 9.3 million followers — has leveraged her brand to amass a fortune. Dunne’s most recent accomplishment just happened on Dec. 22, when she inked a historic partnership with Leaf Trading Cards in what the company says is the “first gymnastics NIL trading card the world has ever seen.” Dunne has played the game perfectly and it will be no shock to see her stock continue to rise.
5. Caleb Williams, QB, USC: $3.2 million
Williams’ decision to follow his head coach to the City of Angels paid off…in a major way. For years, USC lost the attention and buzz that came with players like Reggie Bush during Pete Carrol’s magical run there. After more than a decade of mediocrity, Williams and company put USC football back on the map and the jack-of-all-trades has emerged as the most popular player in all of college football. His prolific season earned him a Heisman Trophy, which only added to his NIL earnings. Due to the Heisman hype, Williams earned a $1.1 million boost in his valuation over the last 10 weeks. Expect him to be the runaway favorite for the highest earner in 2023 as he hopes to lead the Trojans to national title contention.
4. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama: $3.5 million
The favorite to become the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft is the highest compensated college football player worth $3.5 million. Any casual fan has seen Young suddenly appear in various commercials due to his deals with Dr. Pepper (Fansville) and Nissan (the Heisman House). It’s crazy to think that we never saw college athletes on commercials just a few short years ago. Young has taken a NFL approach to the NIL space, leaning on Creative Artist Agency — the leader when it comes to negotiating endorsement deals for professional athletes — as his representation. He also landed a high-profile deal with “Beats by Dre,” among other smaller partnerships.
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3. Arch Manning, QB, committed to Texas: $3.5 million
This is where it gets interesting. While his last name doesn’t hurt anything, Arch Manning has yet to take a snap for the Longhorns — but On3’s algorithm ranks him above of every current college player in terms of his NIL worth. As of now, Manning doesn’t have any endorsement deals. But with On3 as the standard companies look to when negotiating, they will absolutely be coming. His social media following of 224K is less than the second-ranked high school NIL player, Tennessee commit Nico Iamaleava. He boasts a valuation of $1.2 million. Unlike Manning, the Vols’ future QB has already inked deals, highlighted by Leaf Trading Cards. It’s wild to see high school prospects with valuations in the millions, but that’s the reality now, folks.
2. Mikey Williams, Memphis commit, $3.6 million
Mikey Williams is clearly one of the top hoops prospects of the 2023 class as the 24th best player in the country. He’s already mastered the art of branding which makes him the second-ranked NIL athlete in the nation. The 6-2 guard from San Diego, CA has become a social media phenom, with 6 million total followers. The 17-year-old became the first high schooler in the U.S. to land a multi-year sneaker deal with Puma back in October and has endorsement agreements with CashApp, LaceClips and others.
1. Bronny James, Sierra Canyon High School: $7.5 million
He may be the 40th-ranked player of the 2023 class, but the James name clearly carries a ton of weight. Lebron’s son NIL valuation of $7.5 million is nearly double the value of any other athlete in high school or college. Clearly his social media following of 12.4 million isn’t hurting anything. The combo guard — who is heavily favoring Ohio State but has yet to commit — has already sealed major deals with Nike, Beats by Dre. He will have his own underwear line with PSD underwear. A single Instagram post from Bronny costs a company $46,000. That’s absurd, and his value will only grow.
While the majority of high school and college players will never surpass a million dollars during their playing careers, there is certainly money going around — and even a few thousand bucks for a kicker or reserve makes a significant difference. The game has officially changed and it will be fascinating to see how it impacts college athletics moving forward.