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What Is a Good NFL Drafter?

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What Is a Good NFL Drafter?
(Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images)

With the spring of eternal hope in the NFL just a few days away, draft talk is abound.  From ESPN, to our favorite message board, to the office water cooler, the talk is focused on who your team is going to draft.  Along with this talk always comes the opinion on the GM of your favorite team. 

As a Packer fan with a terribly polarizing GM I'm forced to endure quite a bit of bickering.  Some deride Ted Thompson for drafting Justin Harrell, others praise him for getting young talent.  He sucks or he's great.

So I ask, "What is a good drafter?"

A common answer is that a "hit percentage" of 30 percent is the dividing line.  I've searched and searched and I've never been able to figure out what is and isn't a "hit".  Is A.J. Hawk a hit because he's a solid starter, therefore counting the same as Aaron Kampman, a 5th rounder? 

Personally, I think that logic is stinks.  What makes a player a successful pick depends on their draft position. 

So I'm grading based on expectations by round.  I assumed that 1st & 2nd rounders are expected to be starters, 3rd-5th rounders to be career backups, and 6th & 7th rounders to be cut w/in a few years.

There are 5 grades:

Great

1st or 2nd Round  Hall of Fame caliber (Ben Roethlisberger)

3rd-5th Round Pro Bowler (Antonio Freeman/Lance Briggs)

6th or 7th round Consistent Starter or Better (Jonny Jolly/Doug Evans)

 

Good 

1st or 2nd Round  Pro Bowler

3rd-5th Round  Consistent Starter

6th or 7th Round  Career Backup (T. Moll/Chris Kemoeatu)

 

Average/Mediocre

1st or 2nd Round Starter

3rd-5th Round Career Backup

6th or 7th Round Out of league in less than 6 years (over half of NFL players)

 

Bad

1st or 2nd Round Career Backup

3rd-5th Round Out of League < 6 years

 

Horrible

1st Round ONLY Out of League < 6 years (Charles Rogers/Jamal Reynolds)

The reason that "Horrible" only applies to first rounders is because of the salary that is allotted to those picks.  When you miss big on those you send ripples through your organization that can hurt you for years.

I'm going to look at the teams considered the best and worst drafting teams, along with the NFC North, and then compare all of them to Green Bay GM's, past and present.

 

New England Patriots Belichick/Pioli Era '00-'06

13 1st/2nd picks - 1.9 per year - 0 Great - 4 Good - 6 Ave - 3 Bad - 0 Horrible

25 3rd-5th picks - 3.6 per year - 1 Great - 5 Good - 3 Ave - 16 Bad

21 6th/7th Picks - 3 per year   - 3 Great - 3 Good - 15 Ave

59 Overall Picks - 8.4 per year - 4 Great 7% - 12 Good 20% - 24 Ave 41% - 19 Bad 32% - 0 Horrible

If you look at New England's drafts you can see how they succeeded mainly in the top and bottom of their draft.  Asante Samuel was actually their only great middle round pick, 64 percent of the middle rounders were out of the league in less than 6 years. But, they do wind up drafting 2.7 starters every year, which is pretty good.

The top of their draft includes good picks like Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Matt Light. Along with average picks like Daniel Graham, Deon Branch, and Ben Watson. Many of these players were key contributors for some if not all of their Super Bowls.

The thing that shows how good NE drafts in the top 2 rounds is that 77% of their picks are solid starters, that is great, especially considering they usually draft late in the round.

And, of course, they have some amazing late round picks including Tom Brady and Matt Cassel.  Tom Brady is one of the best picks ever.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers  '00-'06

13 1st/2nd picks - 1.9 per year - 2 Great - 1 Good - 7 Ave - 2 Bad - 1 Horrible

22 3rd-5th picks - 3.1 per year - 1 Great - 3 Good - 8 Ave - 10 Bad

18 6th/7th Picks - 2.5 per year - 1 Great - 1 Good - 16 Ave

53 Overall Picks - 7.6 per year - 4 Great 8% - 5 Good 9% - 31 Ave 58% - 12 Bad 23% - 1 Horrible 2%

Like the Pats, the Steelers do excellent in the top of the draft.  The 2 great players are Roethlisberger and Polamalu.  Some of the Average high round players are pretty good too like Casey Hampton, Plaxico Burress, Bryant McFadden, and Heith Miller, but I had to put as average because they are not Pro Bowlers.

There middle round picks really were pretty average, Max Starks probably being the best player in this group. 

The late rounds look bad, only two players stayed in the league more than five years, with one starter.  But when you consider that the Defensive Player of the Year was an undrafted FA for them, they aren't that bad.

The Steelers success mainly comes from picking top end talent. In seven drafts they had 15 starters, four of them being Pro Bowlers and many others being high quality starters. 

That means 28 percent of their picks are starting caliber, or 2.1 starters a draft.  Not bad, but not great either. Compare that to the Pats who have almost 3 starters per draft or 19 starters over 7 drafts, nearly an entire starting lineup.

Now for the bad:

 

Detroit Lions the Millen Era '01-'06

14 1st/2nd picks - 2.3 per year - 0 Great - 1 Good - 7 Ave - 4 Bad - 2 Horrible

15 3rd-5th picks - 2.5 per year - 0 Great - 1 Good - 7 Ave - 7 Bad

16 6th/7th Picks - 2.7 per year - 0 Great - 1 Good - 15 Ave

45 Overall Picks - 7.5 per year - 0 Great 0% - 3 Good 7% - 29 Ave 64% - 11 Bad 2% - 2 Horrible 5%

The big thing you can see is ZERO great picks in 6 years.  This is horrible.

The top of the draft only had one Pro Bowl caliber guy which was Shaun Rogers.  It also included such Horrible picks as Charles Rodgers and Mike Williams.  The Bad includes Joey Harrington and Kevin Jones.

The other thing that really strikes me is the fact that in 16 late round picks he didn't get lucky at least one time and the only starter that he got out of the middle rounds was Cory Redding who plays for Seattle

Pure and simple Matt Millen was a horrible drafter, our of the 48 picks only 9 became starters, or 18 %.  That means that he only picked 1.3 starters per draft.

So that is the best and worst, at least what most people would consider best and worst. So, what about some average teams?  

Because I'm a Packer fan and my focus centered squarely in the NFC Central, I'm going to look at Green Bay's competition to show middle of the road drafting.

Minnesota Vikings  3 drafters this decade '00-'06

18 1st/2nd picks - 2.6 per year - 1 Great - 0 Good - 9 Ave - 7 Bad - 1 Horrible

21 3rd-5th picks - 3 per year - 0 Great - 2 Good - 4 Ave - 15 Bad

14 6th/7th Picks - 2 per year - 0 Great - 2 Good - 12 Ave

53 Overall Picks - 7.6 per year - 1 Great 2% - 4 Good 8% - 21 Ave 47% - 22 Bad 42% - 1 Horrible 2%

This is a more normal drafting history I think.  Definitely in between the Pats and Lions.

The Vikings have a pretty good track record of picking starters out of the top 2 rounds.  The best pick they've made was actually one of the most memorable draft day blunders I can remember, they let the clock run out and ended up picking a couple spots later.  They wound up w/ Kevin Williams, who is one of if not the most dominant DT in the league.  

They do have a problem with their middle and late round picks, only getting one starters out of the 3rd round or later in 7 years is pitiful. 

All in all Minnesota averages 1.7 starters per draft, Okay, but not great.

 

Chicago Bears  Jerry Angelo Era  '01-'06

12 1st/2nd picks - 2 per year - 0 Great - 2 Good - 4 Ave - 3 Bad - 3 Horrible

24 3rd-5th picks - 4 per year - 1 Great - 6 Good - 8 Ave - 9 Bad

12 6th/7th Picks - 2 per year - 1 Great - 1 Good - 10 Ave

48 Overall Picks - 8 per year - 2 Great 4% - 9 Good 19% - 22 Ave 46% - 12 Bad 25% - 3 Horrible 6%

In the six years we are looking at you can see that Angelo does his best work in the middle and late rounds.  He's actually picked more starters out of the middle rounds than the top rounds.

There have definitely been some memorable first round busts with the Bears, Michael Haynes and David Terrell being the worst.

Far and away, Angelo's best pick is Lance Briggs out of 3rd round. 

Of their 48 picks 13 are starters, averaging 2.2 per year.

 

As you can see, Ted's NFC North rivals don't set the bar all that high when it comes to drafting, but what about former Green Bay GM's?  The GM god of Ron Wolf surely had to have great drafts, right?  On the other end of the spectrum, Mike Sherman must have been almost as bad as Millen?  Well the answers might surprise some of us, especially concerning Mike Sherman.

 

Ron Wolf's Green Bay Packers  '92-'01

17 1st/2nd picks - 1.7 per year - 0 Great - 2 Good - 7 Ave - 6 Bad - 2 Horrible

42 3rd-5th picks - 4.2 per year - 3 Great - 9 Good - 12 Ave - 18 Bad

31 6th/7th Picks - 3.1 per year - 8 Great - 5 Good - 18 Ave

90 Overall Picks - 9 per year - 11 Great 12% - 16 Good 18% - 37 Ave 41% - 24 Bad 27% - 2 Horrible 2%

As I thought he really didn't draft well in the top rounds, which he didn't, but I didn't know how good he was at drafting in the late rounds. The other thing that strikes me when looking at Wolf is that he averages an additional 2 picks per year.

Wolf averaged 2.9 starters per year drafted, compared to our other GM's that's top dog so far, even better than the Patriots.  Going through Wolf's drafts was a pleasure, seeing where many of my old favorites came from was interesting. 

I many of the best players he drafted came out of the final two rounds, guys like Driver, Taucher, Doug Evans, Rivera, and Matt Hasselbeck.  His prowess in the late rounds was incredible.

The biggest blemish on his record was his final draft in 2001, the draft that many blame on Mike Sherman even though Ron Wolf was still running the draft room.  This was the only draft he had less than seven picks, and it was the only draft that he didn't draft a single starter.  It was the infamous Jamal Reynolds draft. The best pick was David Martin or a 2nd rounder Robert Ferguson, neither all that great. 

Mike Sherman's Green Bay Packers  '02-'04

3 1st/2nd picks - 1 per year - 0 Great - 0 Good - 2 Ave - 1 Bad - 0 Horrible

10 3rd-5th picks - 3.3 per year - 1 Great - 1 Good - 5 Ave - 3 Bad

8 6th/7th Picks - 2.7 per year - 2 Great - 1 Good - 5 Ave

21 Overall Picks - 7 per year - 3 Great 14% - 2 Good 10% - 12 Ave 57% - 4 Bad 19% - 0 Horrible

Really not that bad, and even, dare I say, good.  Sherman wasn't the most horrible drafter ever.  He managed to snag A. Kampman out of the 5th round along with Scott Wells and Corey Williams out of the late rounds, all considered "great" picks. 

His main issue was that he didn't have many picks overall, averaging just 7 a year.  And, more specifically, very few top round picks, averaging only 1 a year. 

I'm not praising Sherman as a GM, he really did a bad job when dealing with free agents and the cap, but he was not the awful drafter that so many think of him. 

 

Ted Thompson's Green Bay Packers  '05-'06

6 1st/2nd picks - 3 per year - 0 Great - 1 Good - 4 Ave - 1 Bad - 0 Horrible

10 3rd-5th picks - 5 per year - 0 Great - 2 Good - 2 Ave - 6 Bad

7 6th/7th Picks - 3.5 per year - 1 Great - 2 Good - 4 Ave

23 Overall Picks - 11.5 per year - 1 Great 4% - 5 Good 22% - 10 Ave 43% - 7 Bad 30% - 0 Horrible

DISCLAIMER: There is only two years of history on TT that can even be graded, so I had to grade on today, not two years from now.  Rodgers and Jennings are both "Average" picks, they haven't made a pro bowl, period.  I did the same for every team I looked at, which very well coud've hurt every team's draft history except Sherman and Wolf's.

Ted's drafting looks average at this time, but when you look closer at one big figure you see he's done a pretty good job.  TT picked eight starters in his first two years, these include Jolly, Spitz, College, Collins, Poppinga, and Hawk.  But if you include TT's 2007 draft the average goes down.  That draft looks to have only 2 starters in Crosby and Korey Hall.

 

So, is Thompson a great drafter?  Is he dirt?  I don't know, personally it looks like he's somewhere in the middle.

All I hoped to show is how close a good drafter is to a crummy drafter.  It really comes down to a pick or 2 a year.  There is a lot of ways to be a good drafter too, you can do it with your first round picks like the Steelers or by accumulating picks and taking late round fliers like Ron Wolf, all that matter is that you don't always blow it in the first round and you find a few greats.

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