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Most NFL Draft Picks Are Busts

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Cowboys v Falcons X Leaf
Ryan Leaf, considered by many the biggest bust in NFL history.

As we move through April, rumors swirling, excitement building for the draft at the end of the month, it makes sense to temper some of the hype and build-up with a rather sober reality check: most draft picks are busts.

Yep, that’s right. Busts. Not mediocre, not average, but busts.

Pro Football Reference put together a metric called “draft value” which attempts to rate the draft value of players at different positions to arrive at a measure of how well teams have drafted. It ranges from 0-160, with only 1% scoring 80 or higher. It weighs factors such as number of games started, individual stats, team performance and all-pro honors. It also does not include a player’s career after he was traded from the team that drafted him. So, for example, Jared Allen’s value to the Chiefs was much lower because it did not consider his career after he was traded to the Vikings.

BREAKING DOWN NFL DRAFT SUCCESS

Based on this metric, here is how all draft picks over the past 20 years (not including last year) have fared overall:

16.7% Didn’t Play for the Team that Drafted Them.

Most of these are draft picks that didn’t make the team, however, there were a few draft picks that were immediately traded that were of great value- Eli Manning and Philip Rivers for example. But generally these were few and far between so it is safe to say that most in this category (let’s say 16% of the 16.7%) were busts.

37% Were Considered “Useless”

Also known as busts. These are players that had a draft metric of between 0-4, and rarely or never saw the field. Guys like Ryan Leaf, Ryan Mallet and the Vikings’ 1999 1st round pick Dimitrius Underwood, to name a few. These are players that basically did nothing to help the team at all - and represent over a third of all draft picks over the past 20 years.

15.3% Were Considered “Poor”

Still pretty clearly in bust territory. These are players that had underwhelming careers with a draft metric between 5-10, and include some pretty well known busts such as Jamarcus Russell (who scored a 6).

So, if you add up these first three categories of bust (excluding a few draft pick trades that worked out), you come up with just over 68% of all draft picks over the past 20 years have been busts- over two-thirds of all draft picks.

10.5% Were Considered “Average”

This is also not a category that most would consider a successful draft pick, except perhaps a late round pick. Guys like Matt Leinart are in this category, as are Vikings picks such as Nate Burleson, Jasper Brinkley, and Jim Kleinsasser. These are guys that scored between 11-17 on the draft metric scale. These are journeymen that filled a role, but were otherwise undistinguished.

The one thing that comes to mind here is that the draft metric doesn’t consider the round the player was drafted in. A guy like Kleinsasser, for example, who was a good pick, becomes a little less so as a 2nd round pick that was average. As a 4th or 5th round pick, he would have been a much better value- and perhaps where you would pick a fullback these days.

12.3% - Were Considered “Good”

These are solid bread-and-butter players generally, who started many games, did reasonably well but not many accolades. These players scored between 18-35 on the draft metric scale. Guys like Michael Clayton, Carlos Rogers are considered here, as are Vikings picks Christian Ponder (!), Chris Hovan, Dwayne Rudd, Brandon Fusco, Ray Edwards, Moe Williams, and Sidney Rice.

Um, obviously there is a fairly wide definition of “good” used here, but strictly speaking I suspect the number of starts, rather than individual performance stats, had the greatest impact on most of these players being considered in this category. Again, if let’s say Ponder had been a 3rd or 4th round pick, the fact that he started as many games as he did might be more impressive than being picked 12th overall. But having been picked 12th overall, it’s hard not to see Ponder as anything more than a bust- despite being labelled “good” according to this metric.

Ponder is an example of where position makes a big difference- it’s a lot easier to call a mediocre interior lineman “good” as a draft pick that started for 4-5 years, but with a QB it’s a little different...

6.9% Were Considered “Great”

These were picks that started for many years and were also at least above average, but not necessarily elite, at their position. These players scored between 36-80 on the draft metric scale and included players such as Vikings draft picks Chad Greenway, Bryant McKinnie, Matt Birk, EJ Henderson, John Sullivan, and Phil Loadholt.

Again there is something of a range here, as the metric number range suggests, but these are all guys that a team got a lot of mileage out of, and had some pretty good years mixed in. The fact that guys like Birk and Sullivan were taken in the 6th round adds to their draft value in my view.

For many people, this is the expectation for any 1st round pick, and probably most other rounds too. But the fact remains that staggeringly few draft picks ever reach this level.

1% Were Considered “Legendary”

Tom Brady and Ray Lewis are at the top of the heap here, with a draft metric of 160. Both have had long, highly decorated careers with the same team that drafted them, which is why they are ranked so high in this draft metric. These are generally Hall of Famers, with long, distinguished careers that included all-pro accolades- and mostly with the same team that drafted them. Guys like Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Brian Urlacher, Orlando Pace, JJ Watt, and Vikings picks Adrian Peterson, Daunte Culpepper, Kevin Williams, and Randy Moss.

Interestingly, both Moss and Culpepper just barely made this category (scoring 80 and 81 respectively) as the scoring doesn’t include their post-Vikings careers, which were very different. Had Moss had his same career entirely with the Vikings, I’m sure he would be much higher in this category. Culpepper may not have made it so high.

Overall This Shows How Difficult It Is To Draft Well

When guys like Christian Ponder, John Sullivan and Daunte Culpepper are considered good, great and legendary picks respectively, it shows, at least on a relative scale, how difficult it is to draft a quality starter.

Add to that the fact that a little over 2 out of every 3 players drafted are a bust - with over half (53%) of all draft picks adding no value to the team that drafted them- and 9 out of 10 have basically undistinguished careers in the NFL, and you get a better idea of what expectations should be for this year’s draft class adding a quality starter for the Vikings over many years.

Part II of this draft analysis will focus on how well the Vikings have drafted, and how well Rick Spielman has done since having the final say (rather than by committee) on draft picks beginning in 2012.

Poll

According to this Pro Football Reference draft metric, who was the highest rated Vikings draft pick between 1996-2012? (I’ll answer in the comments in a couple days)

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Adrian Peterson
    (412 votes)
  • 29%
    Randy Moss
    (318 votes)
  • 28%
    Kevin Williams
    (312 votes)
  • 4%
    Daunte Culpepper
    (44 votes)
1086 votes total Vote Now