Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Top 5 Pick Success Rate

Originally published by me at Draft Tek.

The debate rages on! Actually, this debate happens nearly every year. QBs are hot commodities; everyone wants to find the next Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman, or John Elway. In the 2009 Draft we are left with three prospects considered elite and possible first rounders: Matt Stafford (Georgia), Mark Sanchez (USC), and Josh Freeman (Kansas State). Generally speaking, Stafford and Sanchez are viewed as Top 10 picks - as Draft Tek Correspondent Mike Schottey pointed out here. However, our model and correspondents seem to disagree on team needs and the talent available compared with other mocks, “experts”, and you, the readers.

Let’s look at this using statistics. What are the odds that a player taken in the Top 5 will become an All Pro/Pro Bowl-caliber performer? Looking at 43 seasons of data (1966 through 2008, or the “Super Bowl Era”) we get these percentages for each position:

QB - There have been 39 taken in the Top 5 since 1966. Of those only 4 (~10%) have been named 1st Team All Pro with 20 (~51%) making the Pro Bowl at least once. But when using a high draft pick you’re not expecting someone to make the Pro Bowl once, you expect multiple trips - like an average of once every three seasons. That brings down the list to 11 out of 39 (~28%). Basically, 1 out of every 4 QBs selected in the Top 5 will really be worth that status and be “franchise” QBs. But because of sample size there are some outliers. Here is the list of the 10 “franchise” QBs drafted since 1966: Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Drew Beldsoe, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Donovan McNabb, Vince Young, Philip Rivers, and Bob Griese. Vick and Young? Not viewed in that light anymore. There’s also the some young QBs that could fall off and not have prolonged success: Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, and Philip Rivers. Assuming those three maintain their high level of play over the last three years that really leaves us with 9 out of the 39 (~23%) QBs that were Top 5 picks who are/were truly worthy of the “franchise” label; someone you’d actually want to take in the Top 5. As of now, 4 of the 39 (~10%) have been elected to the Hall of Fame (Troy Aikman, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, and Bob Griese). There will be at least one more joining them after Peyton manning retires. FINAL SUCCESS RATE: ~23%

RB - There have been 34 selected Top 5 since 1966, with 13 (~38%) being selected 1st Team All Pro at least once. 20 of the 34 (~59%) have made at least one Pro Bowl. Going back to the “1 Pro Bowl for every 3 years as a starter” rule, we’re left with 16 “franchise” RBs, which is ~47%. Of those 16, 3 have/had 5 or less years of playing experience (Billy Sims, Ronnie Brown, and Brent Fullwood) so their sample size comes into question. We’ll keep them in but I wanted to point that out. Anyway, of those 16 “franchise” RBs, 6 have made the Hall of Fame (Earl Campbell, O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Barry Sanders, and Walter Payton). Most likely two more will join them in the near future (Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson). FINAL SUCCESS RATE: ~47%

WR - There have been a mere 16 taken in the Top 5 in the last 43 drafts. Only 3 of them (~19%) have made 1st Team All Pro, all only once. However, 10 of the 16 (~63%) have made at least one Pro Bowl. Expanding to our”franchise” requirement of 1 Pro Bowl every 3 years as starter leaves 7 of the 16 (44%). One of them, though, is Desmond Howard, more known for his return skills than for his receiving skills. He has only one accrued season as a WR (according to Pro Football Reference, where all these stats are from) and during it he made the Pro Bowl (most likely as a returner). We’ll throw him out, leaving 6 of the 16 (~38%). Three of the six have 5 or less years as a starter but are all young players (Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson). We’ll say they stay on their current pace and keep them in. It is interesting to note that none of the 16 Top 5 picks have been elected to the Hall of Fame… and it may not happen until Edwards, Fitzgerald, and Johnson hang it up for good. FINAL SUCCESS RATE: ~38%

TE - There has been only one TE taken in the Top 5, Riley Odoms (Houston) by Denver in 1972. He was a 10-year starter, made 1st Team All Pro twice, and was selected to 4 Pro Bowls. He was a success by my measure but the overall sample size is too small. FINAL SUCCESS RATE: N/A

OT - There have been 24 selected Top 5 since 1966. Of the 24, 8 have been named to the All Pro 1st Team (~33%) and 14 have made at least one Pro Bowl (~58%). Using the “1-every-3″ rule for a true franchise player we’re left with 11 out of 24, which is ~46%. Two of those 11 are young (Jake Long and Joe Thomas) but are viewed as perennial Pro Bowl players so they will remain in the group. There are currently 2 HOF Top 5 tackles - Ron Yary and Anthony Munoz. They’ll be joined by Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace in the coming years (and possibly Chris Samuels). FINAL SUCCESS RATE: ~46%

OG - There have been 7 taken in the Top 5 in the last 43 drafts. Though I’d like to have at least 10 players for this analysis, I’ll go ahead with the OGs anyway. Four of the 7 made the All Pro 1st Team at least once. The same 4 made the Pro Bowl on multiple occasions. And all 4 count as “franchise” guards by making at least 1 Pro bowl every 3 years: Bill Fralic, Tom Mack, John Hannah, and John Niland. Mack and Hannah are in the HOF. It’s a small sample size but the position looks promising. FINAL SUCCESS RATE: ~57%

OC - Like the TE position, OCs are not normally selected high. There has been only one OC taken in the Top 5 in the “Super Bowl Era”, Bob Johnson (Tennessee) by the Bengals in 1968. He was the #2 overall pick, just behind HOF Tackle Ron Yary. FINAL SUCCESS RATE: N/A

DE - 34 have been selected in the Top 5 since 1966. Of those 34, only 10 have made an All Pro squad (~29%) with 13 making at least one Pro Bowl (~38%). Following my “franchise player rule” results in 10 elite players, which is again ~29%. Mario Williams is the youngest “franchise” player. We’ll keep him on the list because he has shown the skills necessary for a perennial Pro Bowl performer. FINAL SUCCESS RATE: ~29%

DT - Since 1966, 17 players have been selected Top 5. Of the 17, 7 (~41%) have made the All Pro 1st Team and 9 (~59%) have made at least one Pro bowl. However, only 5 ( are considered a “franchise” player and worthy of a Top 5 pick. Two of the 17 have made the Hall of Fame (Randy White and Joe Greene). It’s possible Cortez Kennedy could join them soon. FINAL SUCCESS RATE: ~29%

LB - There have been 26 taken in the Top 5 since 1966. ~39% have made the All Pro 1st Team (10 of 26) while 14 have made at least one Pro Bowl appearance (~54%). Satisfying the “franchise” player and justifying their draft position has been done so by 10 players, or ~39%. Two currently reside in the Hall of Fame (Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas). In about 5 years Junior Seau will join them. FINAL SUCCESS RATE: ~39%

DB - Unfortunately Pro Football Reference doesn’t distinguish between cornerbacks and safeties so we have the ambiguous “defensive back” category. In the last 43 drafts only 16 DBs have been taken in the first 5 selections. Five of the 16 have been named to the All Pro 1st Team (~31%) and 10 have made at least one Pro Bowl (~63%). Once again five justify their draft position by reaching the limits for a “franchise” player. Only one (Mike Haynes) has made the HOF, though he may be joined by Deion Sanders and/or Charles Woodson in the future. FINAL SUCCESS RATE: ~31%

K/P - No kickers or punters have been selected in the Top 5 of any draft since 1966 (though one K did go #6 overall; Charlie Gogolak from Princeton by the Redskins in 1966). FINAL SUCCESS RATE: N/A

So there is a statistical analysis of players picked in the Top 5 of any draft during the “Super Bowl Era”. What does it tell us? Well here’s a quick reminder of the success rates:

QB: ~23%
WR: ~38%
OG: ~57%

DE: ~29%
DT: ~29%
LB: ~39%
DB: ~31%
K/P: N/A

The safest positions to draft early seem to be offensive lineman. The OG group had a small sample size but the highest success rate and OT had the 3rd highest success rate. RBs had the 2nd highest rate. That really is not a surprise. It has been said for years that the easiest position to fill through the draft is RB because there is little change from their duties in college to those in the NFL. Want the safe pick? Go with a RB or OG/OT. But stay away from… QBs and defensive lineman! They had the worst success rate at fulfilling the “franchise” label and earning their Top 5 pick paycheck. WRs and LBs can be decent picks too.


This really doesn’t apply to just 2009 but for any draft. Teams in the Top 5 should not go for QBs because they are more miss then hit and they can set back and already dismal frnachise another 5-10 years. The 2009 QB class is already considered weak so why reach for someone now when there are many more needs to fill? I say grab that OT (like Joe Thomas in ‘07 and Jake Long in ‘08 ) or stud RB; the future dividends could be huge. Detroit, St. Louis, and Seattle should all be thinking “OT” with their 1st pick. There are at least three that could go in the Top 5 and statistically speaking they are less likely to bust then QBs. Add in a can’t-miss WR in Michael Crabtree and you should know who the Top 4 are come April 25. In no particular order it should be Andre Smith, Eugene Monroe, Jason Smith, and Michael Crabtree.

This in no way means a QB should never be taken. There are going to be times when a team may actually be a QB away from contending. Maybe a team had some injuries and bad luck the prior year and just need a QB. Whatever the case may be. It seems that scouts, front office personnel, and fans put the QB position on such a high pedestal that when one doesn’t go early it’s a travesty. Stafford, Sanchez, and Freeman are not Top 10 picks. 1st round, most likely. They would have much better value between picks 15-25 than Top 5. If a QB-needy team like Detroit or Kansas City really wants one, they can maneuver to get him there. Just not at 1 or 3.

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