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You Might As Well Just Flip a Coin: 20 Years of Draft History

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Ok, so the title is a little bit of a lie--it's only 17 years of draft history. I've completed my exploration of busts and successes going back to 1990 which should give us a good sample. In this updated version I've also included school and conference, though I didn't tally the school totals as that was just too much work. Here's the methodology i used to determine bust status:

Criteria 1: Were they a starter by their third season. I don't expect them to start right away, but a first round pick should be able to be a starter by their third season.

Criteria 2: If they were a starter by their third season, were they still a starter by the last season of their original contract? (Generally 4th or 5th season). If they're not I considered them a bust.

Criteria 3: If they were a starter were they good? I figure a 1st round pick should be better than 30% of NFL players at his position. I tried to be as generous as possible with this. 

Now I must admit to not being 100% comfortable with this scoring system. It has some inherent problems that I haven't sorted out yet. Is a guy a bust if he doesn't play well for his original team, but when he lands with another team he turns it on? What about a guy who ends up playing for ten years as a quality backup? Shouldn't longevity count for something?

A good example of what I mean is Desmond Howard. He was drafted 4th overall in the 1992 draft as a wide receiver. His best season as a receiver was in 1994 when he caught 40 passes for 727 yards. He became one of the best return men in the game though, so good in fact that the Packers went out of their way to bring him in for one season so they could go to the Super Bowl. By the three criteria I've listed above he's a bust because he wasn't in the top 1/3rd of all WRs. I need some ideas to work out a better formula

For those interested in the actual spreadsheet here it is. Busts.xls

Join me after the jump as we dig into this some more

The first thing I noticed after going through all that data is that most teams are fairly even when it comes to drafting in the first round. There are a few standouts and a few at the bottom of the barrel, but most are within 10 pts of each other.

Here are the 5 worst drafting teams between 1990 and 1997.



Team Bust? Non-Bust Bust Percentage
Texans 6 1 86%
Falcons 11 5 69%
Chiefs 10 5 67%
Packers 13 7 65%
Bucs 10 6 63%


The only team on this list that was on the last list is the Texans, which is not surprising given that they are a fairly recent expansion team.


Now on to the best drafting teams since 1990


Team Bust Non-Bust Percentage
Jets 4 15 21%
Colts 5 12 29%
Ravens 4 9 31%
Chargers 4 8 33%
Steelers 6 11 35%


The Jets, Colts, and Steelers were all on the best drafting list from last time. What's their secret? The Colts have only had 2 general managers since 1990. However the Jets have had 5.


What positions should you draft for in the first? Most of 'em are basically a coin toss but there's one you should stay away from at all costs, and that's WR

Position Bust Non-Bust Percentage
Center 1 5 17%
CB 34 33 51%
DE 31 25 55%
DT 22 28 44%
OG 2 11 15%
LB 17 40 30%
OLB 6 7 46%
OT 27 32 46%
QB 23 15 48%
RB 37 20 65%
S 6 16 27%
TE 7 13 35%
WR 43 19 69%


If you're a GM considering grabbing a WR in the 1st round I'd think long and hard about it. On the other hand if you're thinking about taking a guard jump on it because that's the safest pick you can make. LBs do very well as do safeties. Defensive line not so much. Offensive tackles and CBs it's pretty much a coin flip as to which will end up being success ful.


The data for the round itself has changed a bit. Before there wasn't much difference between picks in the top 3re and middle 3rd of the first round, but that's changed a bit.


Pick Number Bust Non-Bust Percentage
1-10 74 106 41%
11-20 91 89 51%
20-32 105 84 56%


As you can see if you're picking in the top 10 you should be doing mostly ok though the success rate is stil low. If yiou're outside the top 10 it's essentially a coin flip as to whether or not your guy will succeed.


Now onto some intersting findings about conference. As you'd expect the ACC and SEC are well-represented, but they aren't necessarily the best conferences to draft from.


There are actually several small conferences whith one draftee in the 1st round that didn't bust--I won't be putting them in here because there's not a large enough sample. (There's actually one player who didn't go to college and was still drafted in the 1st round).


Conference Bust Non-Bust Percentage
Big East 2 15 12%
Mid America 2 3 40%
WAC 2 7 22%
Independent 7 7 50%
CUSA 8 8 50%
MWC 13 13 50%
Big 12 25 18 58%
Pac-10 42 31 58%
ACC 45 67 40%
Big 10 51 48 52%
SEC 56 47 54%


The ACC has drafted the most players, with the SEC a close second. If you're thinking about drafting a player from the Big East in the 1st, hop on it--only a 12% bust rate. The WAC is also a great conference to draft from. The Big 12 and the Pac-10 have a hgh bust rate, so you might want to avoid them.