Given their propensity to trade future draft picks in the early 1990s, the Dallas Cowboys developed a quantitative tool to help them make better decisions. Commonly referred to as Jimmy Johnson’s Trade Value Chart, the methodology actually came into existence because of team executive Mike McCoy. Specifically, McCoy developed a numerical value for each draft position such that proposed trades could be evaluated quickly and objectively. Still in use today, that chart reflects how teams seemingly value future draft picks. Similarly, I created the T10B Football Index (TFI) as a mechanism to value future picks based on expected production. McCoy showed what teams are willing to do. In comparison, I’m trying to show what teams should do.
With only a couple days to go before the start of the NFL season, I feel compelled to put a stake in the ground regarding potential 2016 NFL Draft Busts. Prior to the start of training camp this summer, I thought the most likely (although still improbable) busts included: #1 pick Jared Goff; #9 pick Leonard Floyd; and #10 pick Eli Apple. However, #3 pick Joey Bosa has become my overwhelming favorite as a potential Top 10 Bust based on his extended holdout. Jameis Winston received that same designation last year so Bosa shouldn’t be too worried. Or should he?
In an earlier post, I evaluated the trades made by the Rams and Eagles to move up to the first two spots in the 2016 NFL Draft. At that time, I commented that #1 overall pick Jared Goff needed to match the career of Eli Manning and #2 overall pick Carson Wentz needed to match the career of Philip Rivers to be worthy of those trades. Since then, Philadelphia traded QB Sam Bradford so the bar for Wentz has been lowered to Jay Cutler. With respect to these comparisons, Wentz has a reasonable chance to meet the target whereas Goff doesn’t. Even on an absolute basis, I predict the #2 pick will outshine the #1 pick throughout their careers.
Before I provide my assessment of this year’s draft, it’s only fair that I revisit my evaluation of potential 2015 NFL Draft busts. At this point, there don’t appear to be any likely Top 10 Busts from last year’s draft. However, two players seem to be on their way to becoming stars. As the only two rookies selected to the 2016 Pro Bowl, #1 pick Jameis Winston and #10 pick Todd Gurley have started their careers very solidly. I’ll take credit for calling Gurley a worthy top ten pick. Then again, I have to admit that I thought Winston would be a bust. Overall, I give myself a B- for my predictions. Just like most of the top picks in the 2015 Draft, I had moments to remember and moments to forget.
On the eve of the 2016 NFL Draft, much of the drama surrounding the top two picks has subsided. Over the last two weeks, both the Rams and Eagles traded up in order to secure a potential franchise quarterback. Arguably, it will take several years before anyone can properly evaluate the trades. However, I believe the evaluation can begin already based on the expected value of the draft picks involved. For example, the Rams will win if their pick matches the career of Eli Manning. Similarly, the Eagles will win if their pick matches the career of Philip Rivers. Is either case possible? Certainly. Probable? Certainly not.
Influenced by impressive combine results, the St. Louis Rams took Baylor OT Jason Smith with the #2 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Despite high expectations, Smith ended his four-year career as the least productive offensive lineman ever taken with a top 5 overall pick. While he seemingly deserves to be labeled a Top 10 Bust, his lack of production can be attributed to a history of serious head injuries. In particular, he suffered two season-ending concussions during his first three years in the league. Smith recovered from the first one, but never started again after the second. It’s uncertain how good he might have been without the injuries, but it’s unfair to label him as an all-time bust because of them.
Prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, I identified Jameis Winston as a potential Top 10 Bust. In particular, I labeled him as an interception-prone QB lacking the maturity needed to lead an NFL franchise. Winston proved me wrong by having a productive rookie year on the field and avoiding problems off of it. Of note, he earned a spot in the Pro Bowl and became the inspirational leader of the significantly improved Buccaneers. If his career stalls for whatever reason (e.g. over confidence, decline in work ethic), Winston still may end up being a bust. For now, however, it appears that Tampa Bay made a good choice with its #1 overall pick.
Throughout the opening night coverage of the 2015 NFL Draft, Mel Kiper continually stated that teams should avoid running backs such as Todd Gurley and Mel Gordon in the first round even though they were top prospects. Kiper is well known for making bold speculative predictions, but it seemed like this one could be analyzed. In response, I reviewed drafts from 1977-2007 to evaluate top ten draft picks by position. I’ve already written two posts (one focused on offense and the other on defense) discussing the upside and downside associated with those draft picks. In this post, I’ll use that analysis to evaluate the first ten overall picks in the 2015 Draft to try to identify the most likely future Top 10 Busts.
As detailed in my last post, I was intrigued by Mel Kiper’s pre-draft comment that running backs such as Todd Gurley and Mel Gordon should be avoided in the first round even though they were top prospects. In response, I reviewed previous drafts from 1977-2007 to evaluate top ten draft picks by position. In this post, I evaluate draft picks on the defensive side of the ball to determine which positions are the most worthwhile. As a quick summary:
Defensive Linemen: 5% are complete busts / 45% make at least one Pro Bowl / 20% are truly game changers;
Defensive Backs: 10% are complete busts / 60% make at least one Pro Bowl / 15% are truly game changers; and
Linebackers: 5% are complete busts / 50% make at least one Pro Bowl / 15% are truly game changers.
Based on these numbers, it appears that defensive linemen offer the best risk/return profile with the lowest percentage of busts and highest percentage of game changers. With respect to defensive backs vs. linebackers, the decision is less clear with DBs having more upside and more downside.
The most interesting debate from the first night of the 2015 NFL Draft involved the exchange between Chris Berman and Mel Kiper regarding the sensibility of taking a running back in the first round. As Berman pushed for teams to select highly rated running backs Todd Gurley and Mel Gordon, Kiper argued that teams shouldn’t waste a first round pick on either player. Specifically, the long-time NFL draft expert claimed productive running backs could be found in later rounds. In response, I researched early first round picks to determine which positions provide the most value.
Quarterbacks: 25% were complete busts / 50% became Pro Bowl players / 20% won at least one Super Bowl;
Running Backs: 20% were complete busts / 55% became Pro Bowl players / 25% are Hall-of-Fame caliber;
Receivers: 10% were complete busts / 50% became Pro Bowl players / 30% could be considered game changers; and
Offensive Linemen: 5% were complete busts / 60% became Pro Bowl players /25% made at least five Pro Bowls.
So, which position offers the best risk/return profile? You’ll just have to read on.