Has Tom Brady's Success Changed the Value of a 6th-Round Pick in the NFL Draft
Everyone knows the story by now.
In what was not even a strong quarterback class, Brady was the seventh quarterback chosen. He was passed over for Chad Pennington (Round 1, 18 overall), Giovanni Carmazzi (Round 3, 65 overall), Chris Redman (Round 3, 75 overall), Tee Martin (Round 5, 163 overall), Marc Bulger (Round 6, 168 overall) and Spergon Wynn (Round 6, 183 overall). Yes, Spergon Wynn. That really happened.
After three Super Bowl wins and a Hall of Fame career, Brady gets the last laugh as the most successful sixth-round pick in NFL history.
But what does this really say about the draft process? Brady’s 2000 scouting report from an unnamed source reads as incredibly accurate to this day. New England was reportedly the only NFL team to call Michigan about Brady before the draft.
Were the Patriots, in the first year on the job for Bill Belichick and GM Scott Pioli able to see what no other team could in Brady, or was this just a random stroke of luck?
While fans may think of sixth-round picks as throwaway picks or something you use to find a punter or third-string quarterback, quality starters can be found. Antonio Brown (Steelers) and Alfred Morris (Redskins) are likely to lead their teams in receiving and rushing, respectively, this season.
It may be like finding a needle in a haystack, but it is possible. Next month you can count on a minority of fans to keep the dream alive:
Don’t forget about our franchise-saving steal from the sixth round. He can be the next Tom Brady!
But what does history say about your team’s chances to land a Brady-level player in the sixth round?
The Data on Sixth-Round Picks
To understand the sixth-round landscape post-Brady, we needed some data on what it was like before his selection in 2000. Using Pro-Football-Reference, a list of players drafted in the sixth round since 1995 was created with some manual verification done for games played.
A total of 688 players have been drafted in the sixth round since 1995.
Since this data includes active players, some just entering their sophomore seasons, it is obviously subject to change. The story is far from complete on many of these players. This is probably the biggest problem with doing draft analysis as the results are rarely finalized. With that in mind, onto the data.
“AV” is the Approximate Value calculation from Pro-Football-Reference. It is just an approximation, but it gives us a way to compare players regardless of position. It is a weighted value. However, keep in mind kickers and punters do not have any AV.
Games played (GP) and games started (GS) data is for the regular season only.
The average sixth-round pick since 1995 has played in 32.5 games with 11.2 starts.
It would appear we have diminishing returns in the sixth round post-Brady. But this is the flaw in comparing a two-year player to a four-year player to an eight-year player. All but three players from the 1995-02 drafts are retired, so their numbers are not going to increase. We have plenty of players still hanging on or even thriving from recent drafts.
In an attempt to remedy this, here are the year-by-year draft results with average AV being calculated as dividing AV by games played. A similar method could be tried for games played by using years, though at some point you have to give a guy a break for not being around in his 10th season. Careers are not that long in the NFL.
Also included is “Active” at the end of the table. This is an estimate of how many of the players from each draft class are still actively in the league, which is mostly based on playing in a game in the 2012 season. For 2012, everyone is assumed to still be actively pursing a NFL job.
The 2000 draft really stands out for having the most average starts (22.6) and highest AV/game (.28). Brady helps a lot with that, though as you will see, it was a strong sixth round. Even without Brady the 2000 draft would rank second in starts (18.6) and still have the highest AV/game (.23).
Roughly 154 players are still active, which is 22.4 percent of the entire sample.
Ryan Grigson is now the general manager for the Colts, but he was a sixth-round offensive tackle chosen by the Bengals in 1995. He did not make the final roster and spent some time with the Lions.
Grigson is one of 151 of these players to never play in a regular-season game. That is 21.9 percent of the sixth-round picks since 1995. That percentage has remained consistent with time, though it’s not like just playing in one game means the pick was good. At the very least it means the player made someone’s 53-man roster at some point.
So far 53 players (7.7 percent) have played in at least 100 games. No one has played in more games than Chicago’s long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (231 games).
Due to his position, Mannelly has never started a game. A total of 12 players (1.74 percent) have started 100 games. Matt Birk (187), who just won a Super Bowl with Baltimore and retired, has the most starts with Brady, at 175, but Birk's number is done increasing.
As for the AV, the averages are low. Included are how many players had a career AV of a least 40, which is about the amount for a solid career. Consider some of these active players who are currently around 40 AV in their career: LeSean McCoy (39), Dashon Goldson (39), Jamaal Charles (39), Ahmad Bradshaw (39), Donte Whitner (40), Alex Smith (41), Matt Cassel (41), Shawne Merriman (42) and Ray Edwards (42).
For the sixth-round picks, just 18 of the players (2.62 percent) have currently hit that mark of 40 AV in their career. The 12 players with the highest AV were all drafted prior to 2001.
No other player is even at 45 AV. To get to the level of 40-AV, the amount from 1995-99, the 2001-12 drafts need to produce 22 such players. That is an additional 17 players to the current five (Chris Harris, Chris Myers, Charlie Johnson, Antoine Bethea and Jeromey Clary).
Some of the notable players the 2001-12 drafts will be leaning on to add 40-plus career value are Antonio Brown, Alfred Morris, Yeremiah Bell, Corey Williams, Pierre Garcon, John Sullivan and Jason McCourty. Suddenly that 17 number looks rather daunting.
Making an All-Pro or Pro Bowl roster helps with AV. It also helps with public perception of any draft pick. Here are the breakdowns for those.
The only All-Pro sixth-round pick from 1995-99 was Terrell Davis, who was the league’s MVP in 1998. The six Pro-Bowl players were Davis, Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Birk, Marco Rivera, Al Harris and Fred Beasley.
Perhaps the 2000 draft was an unusually strong one in terms of the sixth round. In addition to Brady, Neil Rackers and Adalius Thomas were 1st-Team All-Pro selections. Marc Bulger also made a pair of Pro Bowls for the Rams, though do recall he was drafted by New Orleans.
This means not only did the 2000 sixth round produce the best sixth-round quarterback, but Thomas is the best sixth-round linebacker since 1995. Rackers has been the best sixth-round kicker to this point, but 2012 rookies Blair Walsh and Greg Zuerlein look to surpass his career some day.
San Francisco punter Andy Lee is the only All-Pro drafted in the sixth round since 2001, though once again, many of these players still have time to change that fact. The other eight Pro-Bowl players are Antoine Bethea, Hanik Milligan (special teams), Cato June, David Tyree, Yeremiah Bell, Derek Anderson, Nick Folk and Antonio Brown.
So that means the Colts are the only team to draft multiple Pro-Bowl players (Bethea and June) in the sixth round since 2001. Bell actually only made the Pro Bowl in 2009 because Bethea was in the Super Bowl.
Even Brown was a special teams selection in 2011, though he had 1,108 receiving yards as well. Brown and Garcon have easily been the best wide receivers drafted in the sixth round since 1995, though they both share something else in common: They came along as secondary receivers with a great quarterback throwing to them.
Had teams like Oakland or Buffalo, who both had a pick right there, drafted Brown in 2010, he might be an unknown right now. The situation matters a great deal.
Overall, five of the nine Pro Bowl players from 2001-12 were a special teams selection while Bell and Anderson were alternates.
To match the 1995-00 period in percentage of Pro Bowl players (that would be 4.35 percent), the 2001-12 drafts will need to produce an additional 11 Pro-Bowl players (a total of 20). Good luck with that.
While I want to keep stressing it is not fair to judge the active players as if they were finished, the data and names are underwhelming for the sixth round, especially post-Brady.
In focusing on the 1995-99 period, the Brady of that era was Terrell Davis. Though his career was brief due to injuries, Davis did about everything a running back could accomplish for the Broncos.
Many still say Davis could not have done it without the system Mike Shanahan’s offense used to run the ball. Mike Anderson was taken 10 spots ahead of Brady in the 2000 draft and had an incredible rookie season with 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns. But his success was not as significant or sustained as Davis’.
Davis and Anderson are examples of how a player, especially from the later rounds, can benefit greatly from being in the right system. Maybe their careers would have never taken off if drafted by any other team, but Denver was the right fit for both.
Food for thought: only four running backs drafted in the sixth round since 1995 have topped 1,500 rushing yards in their careers. Three of them (Davis, Anderson and Alfred Morris last year) played for Shanahan. The other is Chester Taylor.
Maybe the system argument carries more weight than some are willing to admit.
In summary, your probability of landing a quality starter and/or Pro-Bowl player in the sixth round is about 2.7 percent. Getting an All-Pro is 0.73 percent. Meanwhile, you have a better than one-in-five chance of drafting a player who will never play a single game in the NFL for any team.
That is the reality of the sixth round. Brady is the extreme outlier.
Brady vs. Other sixth-Round Quarterbacks
If Brady has done anything to the value of a sixth-round pick, he may have decreased it. Finding a quality quarterback in that round has been especially difficult.
Some players made such little impact that NFL.com does not even list the position they played. Fortunately, quarterbacks get at least that much glamour.
But if teams have hoped for the next Brady in the sixth round, then they better start praying more often because no one has been even close to his success.
A total of 25 quarterbacks have been drafted in the sixth round from 2001-12. While these career numbers are not final, compared to Brady, it is a massacre.
Brady has 37 more completions than these 25 quarterbacks have attempts. Brady triples them in touchdown passes and is nearly 30 points better in passer rating. He has won 77.7 percent of his starts compared to the putrid 31-70 (.307) record for the sixth-round quarterbacks.
This comparison would be a massacre if you took just about any three-year sample of Brady’s career. The only quarterback to have a “winning record” was Brady’s college teammate Drew Henson. He went 1-0. That win was a 2004 Thanksgiving game against Dallas in which Henson was benched for poor play and Vinny Testaverde led the victory.
The only quarterback to start a playoff game was Minnesota’s Joe Webb. The only reason it happened was because of a surprise scratch of Christian Ponder on game day.
Nine of the 25 quarterbacks never even played a game. That includes Hawaii’s prolific system quarterback Colt Brennan and 2010 pick Dan LeFevour.
Of the 16 that have played, they often played terribly:
- The Colts were 0-11 in games Curtis Painter appeared in. He was 0-8 as a starter.
- You could not make a Peyton-to-Eli and Carson-to-Jordan analogy, as Jordan Palmer threw two interceptions in 15 career attempts.
- Keith Null managed to throw nine interceptions on 119 pass attempts for the Rams.
- Rusty Smith was basically the 2010 version of Null, throwing four picks on 45 attempts with the Titans. You knew Vince Young was finished when he was benched for Smith.
- Ryan Lindley was the lone 2012 sixth-round rookie, making Arizona fans long for the return of John Skelton or to give Brian Hoyer a shot.
The gap between Brady and these players should only continue to grow, unless backup Tyrod Taylor is a hidden gem for the Ravens. But it should be noted Baltimore had no problem bending over backwards to pay Joe Flacco instead of handing the keys to Taylor.
When the best it gets with 25 picks is Derek Anderson’s half-good season (2007) and Bruce Gradkowski, then you know teams have been nowhere close to finding that next Brady.
Even compared to Matt Hasselbeck (6.187 in 1998) or Marc Bulger (6.168 in 2000) these post-2000 sixth-round quarterbacks are a joke. Apparently there was some shrewd drafting taking place around the 1998-00 range as it relates to late-round quarterbacks. The results since then have been laughable.
But maybe teams are finding the Bradys better. They just have to pull the trigger earlier in the draft now instead of waiting for the sixth round.
Yet, it is not like quarterback drafting has improved in Rounds 3 to 5 either. The best players taken in those rounds since 2001 have been Matt Schaub (3.90 in 2004), David Garrard (4.108 in 2002) and Russell Wilson (3.75 in 2012).
As for the other positions? That is another study for another day.
Advanced Scouting is Both Good and Bad for Late Rounds
If drafting was more astute compared to over a decade ago, it would have to be thanks to technological advancements that make mass scouting more efficient.
In 2000 a scout could not quickly digest several game tapes from a prospect. Now he can easily get a DVD copy with player-specific plays broken down into a shorter video with better (high-definition) picture quality.
Having time to watch such videos has never been easier with smart phones, tablets and other devices that make what was once non-value added time—think of the wait time involved with a flight—a good opportunity to catch up on work.
Prospects, small-school or otherwise, can also make a bigger name for themselves thanks to social media sites, such as YouTube. Uploading a video of an incredible highlight to put your name on the map is a piece of cake now.
But with football being a more profitable business than ever before, and the nitpicking that goes on with the draft, we may actually be decreasing the value of a sixth-round pick.
Bleacher Report’s own Ryan Riddle was one of the 688 players drafted in the sixth round included in this study. He was the 212th overall pick by the Raiders in the 2005 draft, playing a total of 17 games for Oakland and Atlanta.
On Twitter, Riddle pointed out that “if the best players are easier to identify they’re less likely to be available later on.”
While technology has evened the playing field for the scouting departments, this could be making it less likely to find a steal late in the draft if more teams are now aware of such a player.
But as examples like Brady show, someone can always fall through the cracks. Keeping that hope alive to nab that player is like hoping to win a lottery’s jackpot. All rational analysis and odds suggest forgetting it, but the draft is hardly the science we treat it to be.
Conclusion: The NFL Draft is Weird Science at Best
Brady’s success has managed to increase the expectations for a sixth-round pick to unrealistic heights. When people talk about “one in a million” odds, Brady’s career is that one.
His three Super Bowl wins mostly came during a strange era in NFL history that tainted people’s perceptions of how to find a good starting quarterback.
This is the 1999-03 period, when grocery-bagger Kurt Warner was a two-time MVP, the undrafted Jake Delhomme nearly beat Brady in the Super Bowl and ninth-round pick Brad Johnson won a Super Bowl over former reject Rich Gannon. Jeff Garcia, another undrafted player from the CFL, was setting franchise records in San Francisco.
All the Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks from the past decades were retired while the next wave was watching the progression of Peyton Manning and some decay of Brett Favre. This is when Trent Green, Steve McNair, Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb were thought of very highly as top quarterbacks.
It was not until 2004 when drafting a franchise quarterback in the first round made a comeback with Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. This was followed by successes like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III got off to incredible starts last year.
To find a good quarterback now, you almost need to draft one in the first round. That was considered heresy at the height of Brady’s championship success, because of the misleading circumstances of the time, though the facts prove it is the truth.
Since 2001, the best quarterbacks drafted after the first round have been Drew Brees (2.32 in 2001), David Garrard (4.108 in 2002), Matt Schaub (3.90 in 2004), Kyle Orton (4.106 in 2005), Matt Cassel (7.230 in 2003), Ryan Fitzpatrick (7.250 in 2005), Andy Dalton (2.35 in 2011), Colin Kaepernick (2.36 in 2011) and Russell Wilson (3.75 in 2012).
Really, millions of dollars go into scouting and these players, and nine are as good as it gets after 72 rounds of drafting? Consider Tony Romo went undrafted in 2003. He is better than most of these players. The three second-round picks were all taken within four picks of that round too, putting them in striking distance of the first round.
The first round may be a coin toss at best, but it is still the best odds to land a quarterback.
Late-round players are not guaranteed a roster spot let alone an opportunity to start games. That is why getting a player who will be the right fit is more important than any physical attributes, which are likely lacking by the sixth round.
Remember, Brady’s combine was historically bad (he ran his 40-yard dash in 5.23 seconds) and was bashed by draft guru Mel Kiper. While Brady’s scouting report nailed the intangibles in his game, there are many things left out of a player’s control. We may not even be doing this piece had a few things gone differently.
Forget the Tuck Rule. If Mo Lewis never knocks out Drew Bledsoe on Sept. 23, 2001, Brady may have never cut it in New England or the NFL. Then there is always the ultimate “What if?” scenario.
What if the Colts used the 138th-overall pick in the fifth round of the 2000 draft on Brady instead of guard Matt Johnson?
Just like that, everything changes. Brady plays the Jim Sorgi backup role to ironman Peyton Manning, ending the decade’s best rivalry before it ever began.
Brady is hardly alone here. Four picks before Terrell Davis was selected by Denver in 1995, the Detroit Lions took fullback Cory Schlesinger. Had the Lions opted for a backup to Barry Sanders instead, we may have never seen much out of Davis. Does anyone remember Ron Rivers?
Late-round picks usually need some twist of luck or push to achieve greatness. If they didn’t, they would likely not have been late-round picks in the first place.
NFL teams will continue to spend countless hours on their draft preparation. But by the time that sixth round comes, they will be scraping the barrel for remaining talent. Those willing to dive in deeper to the bottom are unlikely to be rewarded any more than the team who turns in the card with a name that just felt right to them.
It takes many stars to align for a sixth-round pick to become a star himself.
Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.
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