Sunday, June 6, 2010

A History of Draft Busts, 2000-2008

[I've had this sitting on my hard drive since just after the draft. Time to set it free]


So the draft is over. Did your team do well? Is there even a way to tell? I decided to use's draft history data to take a look at how draft picks have done.

What is a bust?

This is a tricky question, especially given the limited information in PFR's draft tables. Ultimately, I settled on anyone who did not last at least to the following year in the NFL (using the 'To' column in the various draft listings).

This does have a couple issues:

  • False positives: some guys, particularly in the more recent seasons, might still be productive. Also, there are some players still active (e.g. Drew Stanton, Brian Brohm, and Patrick Lee) that PFR has listed as done.

  • False negatives: particularly for first and second round guys, two years in the NFL doesn't mean much. Even Ryan Leaf (one of the most spectacular busts of recent memory) clears this hurdle.

I considered using the "Career Average Value" (the 'CarAV' column in the draft listings), but that had some issues of its own. One big problem is every Kicker and Punter drafted has a zero (or blank) CarAV value. It also doesn't give any value to backups (is Jim Sorgi really a bust?)

Anyway, as we'll see below, the at-least-two-years criteria does yield some useful information.

By round:


About what you'd expect; if a player doesn't get drafted in the first few rounds, there's usually a good reason.. Although some notable players have been drafted late: Tom Brady, Adalius Thomas, Marc Bulger, Mark Tauscher, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were all drafted in the 6th and 7th rounds.

By position:

P119 5.3%
DB38439 8.7%
LB27287 9.4%

Note that with the exception of Defensive End, all the offensive positions have a higher bust-rate than defensive positions. It's said that quarterbacks get too much of the blame when things go wrong, but it looks like the rest of the offensive squad bears that stigma too.

Note that PFR categorizes cornerbacks and safties as "DB" (defensive back).

By team:

Another disclaimer: teams are judged by who they drafted, not who they got to play for them. That means, for example, Eli Manning counts as a successful pick for the San Diego Chargers, even though he never played a down for them.

Team BustsPicks%
Dallas Cowboys86811.8%
New York Giants86512.3%
Tennessee Titans118512.9%
Buffalo Bills107613.2%
Carolina Panthers107313.7%
Arizona Cardinals96513.8%
New York Jets106415.6%
Oakland Raiders127017.1%
Indianapolis Colts137417.6%
Baltimore Ravens147518.7%
Chicago Bears167820.5%
Cleveland Browns157220.8%
Kansas City Chiefs157220.8%
Seattle Seahawks167720.8%
Minnesota Vikings146720.9%
San Fransisco 49ers178121.0%
Miami Dolphins146521.5%
Detroit Lions156822.1%
San Diego Chargers156921.7%
St. Louis Rams187922.8%
Denver Broncos167022.9%
Philadelphia Eagles177423.0%
Houston Texans145824.1%
New Orleans Saints166624.2%
Green Bay Packers208224.4%
Pittsburgh Steelers176924.6%
Atlanta Falcons187324.7%
New England Patriots197724.7%
Cincinnati Bengals187225.0%
Washington Redskins165728.1%
Jacksonville Jaguars247930.4%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers267534.7%

The immediate obvious conclusion is that bad drafts (at least, under this measure) are not necessarily a deal breaker—some of the most successful franchises of the last decade (Eagles, Steelers, and Patriots) are on the high end of this list, while the Bills (who haven't done anything since they had Doug Flutie) have one of the lowest draft-bust rate in the league.

On the other hand, it can't be helping the Buccaneers to have one of every three draft picks washed out after just a year...