Breaking down the NFL Draft

Draft Choice Trade Value Charts would have you believe that the NFL draft is an orderly process where a drafted player has less chance of succeeding than the player drafted right before him. That may be the only logical assumption that can be made for purposes of the Charts. In truth, though, the draft is a disorderly process where an undrafted player can succeed and a first round draft selection can fail. While not perfect, a better way to view the draft is as a series of draft selections that can be divided into groups (called Draft Ranges in this article). Each of the selections in a group is about equal in value (e.g., produces similar results). While this is useful information there can be no dispute that there are plenty of “blips” within the draft. The 44th draft slot, for example, has produced more players (nine) that were Pro Bowl selections than the 10th draft slot selection (four). This article proposes Draft Ranges based on historical data. These historical Draft Ranges can then be applied to the 2015 draft. In future articles, success probabilities for various metrics will be discussed for each Draft Range based on historical data. The information in this article sets the stage for pretty much all of the later draft articles. The Draft Ranges were determined by reviewing the outcome of draft selections over the past 20 years (1995-2014). For each individual draft slot the following data was accumulated and evaluated:
  • Average career length in years
  • Average number of starter years
    • A starter year is any season where a player started at least eight games
  • Average percentage of rookie starters
  • Average number of games started during a player’s career
  • The percentage of players earning post-season honors
    • Percentage of players selected to the Pro Bowl at least once and at least three times
    • Percentage of players named All Pro at least once and at least three times
It should be noted that a player receives credit for a Pro Bowl appearance only if he was the original selection, regardless of whether he played in the game or bowed out due to “injury” or his team being in the Super Bowl. Alternates and other substitutes do not receive credit for a Pro Bowl appearance. While the analysis is based on hard data there is definitely an element of subjectivity at play. This surfaces in determining the weighting of various factors. Should more importance be placed on players earning post-season awards or on the number of games started in a player’s career? The approach taken in this article is to make it less a calculation and more a balanced assessment of the individual factors. As a result of this process and analysis, there turned out to be eight Draft Ranges defined as follows: The following table summarizes the data used in setting the Draft Ranges: For those of you who have read some of my past work, it should be pointed out that this is a pretty significant difference from prior writings. Last year, for example, the first Draft Range included selections one through 13. This year, after much thought, more emphasis was placed on the percentage of players who earned post-season honors and two smaller Draft Ranges evolved. Future articles will further analyze the draft and use the Draft Ranges established in this article while using appropriate time periods for evaluation. Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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