NFL Draft: How Good Were The Top 100 Picks?

The NFL Draft is fast approaching; there is no better time of the year to analyze the overall draft performance of the league and the relationship between draft position in NFL success. 
In order to quantify the league’s draft performance, I analyzed the 20 drafts from 1987-2006.  The study was limited to 20 years because it was big enough to be a sufficient sample size yet small enough to be completed in a short period of time.  Drafts after 2006 were not used because it is often difficult to analyze a draft at less than 5 years later.  The metric used to measure the draftee’s value and subsequently, the league’s drafting ability was “number of seasons in which the player was the primary starter at his position”; it’s a stat that I found at  This stat would not work well in comparing one player to another, but when comparing one set of 100 players to another set of another 100 players, it is probably the best measure to use.  (Even when taking into account that kickers and punters have the longest careers).  Draft position is a surprisingly good predictor of player quality.  I thought it was a good predictor through the first 30 picks or so, but it is actually a great predictor through 80-90 drafts picks.  The graph below shows the average number of years as a starter for the first 100 picks of the draft.  The important measure here is the Ten-Pick Moving Average; anything can happen from one pick to another, but the top 10 picks are almost always better than the next 10 picks, the second ten picks are almost always better than the next ten and so on.  Any fan would expect the further down in the draft you go, it’s less likely that you’re going to find starter material.

Some Notable Observations About The Graph

Although there is a downward trend as the draft progresses, this downward trend decreases at a slower rate, suggesting that difference between successive draft picks becomes smaller as the draft goes on.

The 98th pick in the draft, on average, has had 4.9 years as a starter, which is more
than draft picks 37-97.  It doesn’t suggest that a team wants to pick 98th over 37th, but it is an interesting, quirky stat.

The next graph uses the same attribute, seasons as a starter, to measure the NFL’s overall drafting effectiveness.  It takes the top 100 draft picks as measured by total seasons as a starter, and the top 100 draft picks in the order they were picked and measures the relationship between the two in terms of percentage.  The logic behind it is simple, even if the prior explanation seems convoluted.  It basically measures how many of the top 100 picks ended up being one of the top 100 players in the draft class.  Here’s an example to illustrate the measure:  In 1987, the top 100 picks totaled 358 seasons as a starter while the 100 players with the most seasons a starter had a total of 607; this translated to the top 100 picks having 59% of the total seasons as a starter.  This graph shows that in the last season of this study, 2006, NFL front offices did their worst job scouting and drafting since 1990. 

Which Teams Got The Most Value From Their Draft Picks?

(1997-2006) Top 100 Picks From Each Draft.

The adjacent table uses the aforementioned “seasons as a starter” metric to measure how much value a team received from its draft pick.  On this scale 75 is average; it very closely resembles grades given at school, i.e. 80 is a B, 90 is an A.  The table only measures draft picking ability
Attributes this table does not measure:

The team’s ability to keep their draft picks.
The team’s win-loss record.
The team’s ability to trade for multiple picks.
Any draft picks after 100th.

Some Notables About The Table:

Cleveland and Houston were not included; they weren’t in the league for the full ten-year period, having entered into the league in 1999 and 2002, respectively.

Don’t be fooled by the Patriots low score; this table only counts the picks 1-100, therefore no Tom Brady.

The Patriots, under Belichick, have been adept at acquiring extra picks, but the picks are usually in the later rounds.

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