What Was the Worst NFL Draft of the New Millennium?

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What Was the Worst NFL Draft of the New Millennium?
Safe bet? Aaron Curry proved there's no such thing in a bad draft. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Despite all the advanced scouting methods and enhanced coverage of football, the NFL’s annual draft process is still very much one big lottery. A lot of teams are going to lose, while only a few will cash in big. 

No draft since the 1970 merger has produced more Hall of Fame players than the seven picked in 1983. Most drafts will produce merely a handful of Hall of Fame players at best.

But the Hall of Fame is the highest standard. Teams are hoping to find good players and contributing starters.

What happens when an entire draft class is subpar compared to the usual standard of talent? It means less success, and teams will have to dig extra hard for those diamonds in the rough.

Since the 2000 draft to kick off this new millennium, there is one draft class that stands out as especially unspectacular, and that would be 2009.

After recently wrapping up an eight-part series at Cold, Hard Football Facts on the 2009 draft, it became abundantly clear that this was not a normal draft. The top dozen picks were unusually bad. “Sure things” turned into colossal flops with huge contracts under the old rookie system. There were very few steals in the second half of the draft.

After just three seasons, here are some shocking facts about the 2009 draft:

  • 121 of the 256 players drafted (47.3 percent) have already moved on to a new team(s)
  • 58 of the 256 players drafted (22.7 percent) are not currently on a NFL roster
  • 27 of the 256 players drafted (10.5 percent) never played a single regular season game in the NFL
  • 75 of the 256 players drafted (29.3 percent) have started at least 16 regular season games
  • Only 11 of those 75 players were drafted in rounds 5-7

As Rick Gosselin wrote at The Dallas Morning News just 17 games into the careers of these players, 85 of them were no longer with their drafting team. This draft has been looked down upon for several years already.

This is more than just the late-round picks being tossed aside too. Of the 100 players chosen in the first three rounds (the “premium” picks,) 25exactly one quarterof them are no longer with the team that drafted them.

The numbers could easily get worse in the coming weeks as training camps open up and roster cuts begin. There is a great chance we hit 50 percent on the 2009 draftee’s movement from their original team. The preseason is one of the best times of the year to analyze your team’s drafts. Just holding onto a roster spot is crucial.

 

Measuring a Draft’s Talent

There is no one best method of analyzing the quality of draft, so you have to consider multiple metrics. Some are not an exact science, but neither is the draft itself. Right, Dallas?

 

2009 Draft Summary

First, here is a table showing each team’s 2009 draft in regards to how many players they picked, how many are still with the team, the total number of games played by the picks, the total number of games started, and the total career Approximate Value (based on data from Pro-Football-Reference).

2009 NFL draft summary

The average player drafted in 2009 has played in a total of 25.8 games (out of a possible 48), made 11.5 starts, and has a career AV of 6.5.

 

Pro Bowls

You can always look at how many Pro Bowl players a draft produces. There were 254 players drafted in both 2000 and 2011, so it is reasonable to compare the numbers straight up, but with keeping respect to the number of years in the league.

It is safe to say any player drafted in 2000 that was going to be a Pro Bowl player has already made that trip at least once. Players from 2009 may still bloom later on and increase the number, but right now, it is an unimpressive figure.

Number of Pro Bowl players drafted (2000-2010)

In one fewer season, the 2010 draft has already produced the same number of Pro Bowl players as 2009’s 10. 

Only Clay Matthews (three) and Brian Orakpo (two) have made multiple trips. Wide receivers Percy Harvin and Johnny Knox have each made it for return duties, with Knox even replacing Harvin (a replacement himself) as rookies in 2010.

Of course with the Pro Bowl, there are always snubs and reputation picks. It would be easy to assume Matthew Stafford (should have made it last year), Sebastian Vollmer, Hakeem Nicks, James Laurinaitis, and Lardarius Webb will all make a future Pro Bowl.

Still, that assumption only brings the total to 15. With the 2000-07 drafts averaging 27.8 Pro Bowl players and with no fewer than 20 in any year, it is hard to imagine that 2009 will ever double their number or do better.

 

2009’s Dirty Dozen

Most people will remember a draft based on the players taken at the top of it. While there may have been worse starts to a draft (see 1972 for example), none have been worse this millennium than 2009’s first 12 picks.

The 2002 draft had a horrific top 12 as well, but at least it produced two of the best pass-rushing defensive ends of the last decade (Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney). 2009 will be lucky to produce two great players of that caliber when counting all positions.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
It was all downhill after Stafford went No. 1 in 2009

After Detroit’s no-brainer pickwell, for most a no-brainer (no offense, Don)of Matthew Stafford at No. 1 to start the draft, the floodgates were opened for epic moments of failure.

Jason Smith (No. 2 to St. Louis), Tyson Jackson (No. 3 to Kansas City), and Aaron Curry (No. 4 to Seattle) went off the board, and have signed contracts worth a total of $178 million. That is a lot of money the three likely will not see, while the amount they have already made is regrettable by the teams that picked them.

Much was given up to get Mark Sanchez (No. 5 to New York Jets), but they may be spoiling their investment in a make-or-break year after bringing Tim Tebow to town.

Andre Smith (No. 6 to Cincinnati) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (No. 7 to Oakland) were strongly criticized picks after the draft, but each may have turned a corner in the 2011 season. We will see.

Players at those positions who may be considered superior were Eugene Monroe (No. 8 to Jacksonville) and Michael Crabtree (No. 10 to San Francisco), but each has been inconsistent so far in their careers.

B.J. Raji (No. 9 to Green Bay) has also been inconsistent. After a potential Pro Bowl snub in 2010, he got an undeserved invitation last year after struggling on Green Bay’s porous defense. Take away the pick-six dance in the 2010 NFC Championship and his career stock is way down. Raji should have Caleb Hanie on his Christmas card list. 

Aaron Maybin (No. 11 to Buffalo), a one-year wonder from Penn State, was the biggest bust of them all. He only played 332 snaps with Buffalo, and was cut in August of 2011. Maybin is trying to find his way in Rex Ryan’s defense with rival New York, but it’s highly unlikely he ever lives up to his draft spot.

That just leaves Knowshon Moreno (No. 12 to Denver), who has been less than impressive in the Broncos’ running game. He will try to compete with Willis McGahee for carries in the Peyton Manning-led offense this year.

See anything you like? Even Stafford, clearly the best player here, is no safe bet. After shaking the “injury prone” tag last year with a breakout season, he must come back and follow it up with something good.

Is Stafford another Peyton Manning, or is he the NFC North’s new Daunte Culpeppera guy that will put up huge numbers at times and gets to throw to the league’s top athletic freak at wide receiver?

Either way, Stafford will likely be the best member of 2009’s Dirty Dozen. Call him Lee Marvin.

 

Late-Round Steals

A good way to bolster a draft’s talent is by finding quality players that fell through the cracks in the early rounds and were picked up later. Houston’s Arian Foster was actually not one of the 23 running backs drafted in 2009, and he has become one of the best running backs in the league.

But in looking at the drafted players that did work out in the second half of the draft (picks 129-256,) the pickings are slim.

The Jets found guard Matt Slauson with the 193rd pick in the sixth round, and he has made 32 starts, which are the most by any player taken in the second half of the draft.

Some of the players with a lot of starts have either played minor roles on their teams (think David Johnson as a backup tight end/now fullback in Pittsburgh), or have been weak points that need to be improved or replaced (Jamarca Sanford in Minnesota or Lance Louis in Chicago).

The best late-round steals in 2009?

Jason McCourty has been the more consistent McCourty twin in the NFL, and Tennessee only had to use the 203rd overall pick to get him. Captain Munnerlyn has also been a solid cornerback taken in the seventh round by Carolina. Johnny Knox and Brandon Gibson have been productive receivers.

Other than that, we are looking at a lot of situational players and depth guys: Julian Edelman (New England,) Bernard Scott (Cincinnati,) Moise Fokou (Philadelphia) and Chris Clemons (Miami) to name a few.

If you wanted the “steals of the draft” in 2009, then you needed to spend a third round pick on Mike Wallace or Lardarius Webb.

Believe it or not, wide receivers like Derrick Williams (Detroit) and Brandon Tate (New England) were drafted right before Wallace. Similarly, cornerbacks like Kevin Barnes (Washington) and Asher Allen (Minnesota; already retired) went just before Webb.

 

Elite Players

Regardless of draft position, fans just want to see elite players enter the league from a draft. It is hard to find many of them from 2009.

Using Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value (AV) system, I looked at the top five players from each draft class since 2000 in two ways.

First, the top five players are listed based on their AV from only their first three seasons. So for players drafted in 2000, only 2000-02 would be considered. At the end of that row is the total AV for those five players after three seasons.

Next, that was compared (in gray below each year) to the top five players in AV today, which is through the 2011 season. The number at the end of this row indicates how many of the top five players from the first three years remained the same today.

The whole idea is to see if the top five players in a draft after three years are a good predictor of the top five players in a draft for the long-term. (Click here for large table)

The Total AV for 2009’s first three seasons is 155, which is the second lowest on the list, just ahead of 2003’s 154. That could simply be explained by Troy Polamalu not being a starter his rookie year.

As for the top five remaining the top five, 24 of the 45 players (53.3 percent) retained their status. So while not the greatest indicator, you usually know at least two of the best players in a draft just based on the first three years alone.

The two biggest reasons for changes in the top five are injuries and late bloomers. The former is fairly random, while late bloomers are more about the situation you were drafted into.

Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for three years before starting, just as Philip Rivers spent two seasons behind Drew Brees in San Diego. It was also in San Diego where Brees did very little through three seasons, before becoming one of the best quarterbacks in league history.

Some other observations of note:

  • The 2001 draft appears to be the deepest of the new millennium, with the most Pro Bowl players, five or six potential Hall of Famers, and the best Top 10 AV
  • The 2000 draft may only end up producing two Hall of Fame players, but one is Brian Urlacher, and the other is the extreme example of a sixth-round steal in Tom Brady
  • Chicago Bears are really good at drafting defenders (Urlacher, Brown, Harris, Briggs)
  • Some talented players can really be done in by injuries, such as Kendrell Bell, Kris Jenkins, Mike Brown, Corey Simon, Tommie Harris, etc.
  • Speaking of injuries, the “D.Williams” in 2003 is actually Houston running back Domanick Williams, who was formerly known as Domanick Davis
  • Shane Olivea was a pretty good tackle for San Diego, but problems with drug tests and a back injury ended his NFL career early
  • Lofa Tatupu and Shawne Merriman (2005) were once two of the best young linebackers in the game, but injuries and off-field issues have really halted their careers
  • The top six players in AV from the 2007 draft have remained the same the last two years; just with LaMarr Woodley and David Harris flipping spots in the top five

So where will the late bloomers come from in the 2009 draft? Hard to say, but chances are one or two will come along to turn into one of the best players in the draft. Bet on Baltimore’s Lardarius Webb for that.

What is the worst NFL draft class since 2000?

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As for future Hall of Fame players in the 2009 draft, it is very early, but no one really stands out just yet.

Clay Matthews has started a good pace for himself, but he will need a lot of sacks to get into Canton, and the 6.0 he had last year on a bad defense will not help his cause. Same goes for Brian Orakpo, the other elite pass-rusher in the 2009 draft.

LeSean McCoy had a great 2011 season, but we have seen plenty of running backs put up big stats, and will likely never get into the Hall of Fame. Think of Priest Holmes, Tiki Barber, Fred Taylor, Corey Dillon, Eddie George, Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, etc.

Mike Wallace and Hakeem Nicks look like the best 2009 wide receivers and are currently playing with top quarterbacks, but they play one of the toughest positions to get into the Hall of Fame for. Long way to go before having this conversation.

 

Final 2009 Outlook

Right now, the 2009 draft is the worst NFL draft of the new millennium. For it not to hold that distinction, many of these things need to happen:

  • Matthew Stafford becomes a consistently elite quarterback in Detroit
  • Either Mark Sanchez or Josh Freeman become a very good, if not elite quarterback (think Matt Hasselbeck in the mid-2000’s)
  • At least one of Jason Smith/Tyson Jackson/Aaron Curry actually develop into a respectable starter
  • Andre Smith or Eugene Monroe becomes a franchise tackle
  • Michael Crabtree actually lives up to his Texas Tech-style production in San Francisco
  • Lardarius Webb joins Revis as one of the league’s premiere shut-down corners
  • Mike Wallace continues being an elite deep threat, and Hakeem Nicks remains a dynamic weapon for the class of 2004 quarterbacks
  • Someone other than McCoy has a very productive career running the ball (Shonn Greene? Beanie Wells?)
  • Clay Matthews and/or Brian Orakpo notch 150 career sacks
  • Kenny Britt stays on the field all season for Tennessee
  • B.J. Raji and Donald Brown become known for more than a dance and causing a Peyton Manning outburst, respectively

We have run out of draft bullets, meaning there is no salvation for Miami taking Pat White 44th overall.

However, we know based on history most of these things will not happen. By large, a lot of these players are what they are, and the teams that came out alive with a couple of decent contributors should be congratulated.

They were able to wade through the minefield of mediocrity that was the 2009 NFL draft.

 

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