The Illusion That Is The NFL Draft


What is the NFL Draft? According to Wikipedia, the draft is “the most common source of player recruitment” That cannot be argued with. The draft is a great place to recruit talent and build your team.

Since 1936 the draft has been a time that all teams look forward to in hopes of selecting a player they believe fits their mold and gives them the best chance to win. In recent history it has become a spectacle witnessed by millions on cable television around the world. This is what we know.

What fans fail to realize s that draft is all based on potential and teams make decisions that at the time seemed right for them. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. Each year 224 players enter the NFL through the draft and are soon after labeled a star or a bust. Never anything in between. I made a note in my last article about fans looking at the draft as if it’s an ATM full of talent and each team has the pin code for the same account.

May 8, 2014; New York, NY, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell before the 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

What I meant by that is the assumption too often is that every player in the 1st round is a superstar and your team must select the best one of them all. In fact that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Looking at the last two first rounds and analyzing each player has led me to believe that most teams are riding a roller coaster without a seat belt and hoping they don’t fall out.

I broke players down into 4 categories and what I found was of the last 64 1st round picks only 16% of them have become stars. 25% are slightly above average and 13% are below average. The largest percentage coming in at 47% is average. That explains what the draft is as a whole. A large collection of average players with a few stars peppered in.

Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions /

Detroit Lions

Average is certainly not an insult. Average is a guy like Nate Burleson. A great receiver that contributed to every team he ever played for but never got over the hump to become a guy like Randy Moss or Calvin Johnson. That’s not a mark on Nate. If you asked him he would probably tell you he is happy with all that he accomplished and he should be.

The thing about percentages and stats is that they always change. That’s sort of the point of this article. Too many fans take things at face value and make a snap judgement on a player. Eric Ebron for example is a 2nd year player that has a lot of talent and potential but also plays in a position that requires time and development all across the board, not just for him.

Taking a look at every tight end selected in the first three rounds of the last three drafts will show you just how similar Ebron is to any tight end selected in the NFL Draft.

Graph by Mike Payton

Ebron’s stats are right in line with everyone else. To say that Ebron is a flop would be to say that the NFL hasn’t had a successful tight end taken in the first 3 rounds of the last three drafts. It’s crazy when you put it that way. Another thing that the guys from 2012 and 2013 had in common is that they all improved in their 2nd years. That is directly attributed to the tight end position being a position of development.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates all had rough rookie seasons. These three are widely considered to be the best tight ends of the last 10 years.

Revisionist History

May 8, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) poses for a photo with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the number twelve overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to the New York Giants at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

You have to love revisionist history. Without it, fans would have nothing to complain about. It happens every year, your team selects a guy that you may or may not like and if that guy doesn’t win the NFL MVP in his rookie year you say “we should have pick so and so.” Usually it’s the guy that had a breakout season that nobody could have predicted he would have. Not me and no, not even you.

One of the most famous cases of revisionist history in Detroit is the 2003 NBA Draft. I know it’s not a football story but it’s a forever perfect explanation of revisionist history. You know the story the Pistons select some Serbian kid Named Darko Milicic instead of Dwayne Wade or Carmello Anthony.

More from Detroit Jock City

To look back it now it seems like insanity and was always brought up when fans called for Joe Dumars dismissal. But what really happened? Joe got baited. Darko is a perfect example of pre draft hype. In the days leading up to the draft, Darko was considered to be the next Dirk Nowitzki and there were rumblings that Denver wanted to trade up with Detroit to get him. Joe Dumars like any GM got himself excited about the prospect and decided to forgo Carmello and Wade in favor of Darko.

After all the Pistons were on the doorstep of wining a championship and could afford to further develop the 19 year olds game. Darko never worked out in the NBA. If he were a 2nd round pick then he may be considered a success story after a 10 year career in the NBA. Now that we know what we know it’s incredibly easy to say the Pistons should have taken Dwayne Wade. This is Revisionist history. It doesn’t mean you’re smarter than the GM when you say 10 years later that they should have taken the guy that’s a superstar now.

May 8, 2014; New York, NY, USA; A general view of the stage and podium before the start of the 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s all an illusion. Mel Kiper or Todd Mcshay will tell you who they think is a star, beat writers will make mock drafts and the NFL will tell you the next morning who won or lost the NFL Draft. At the end of the day it means nothing. There are very few cases when you can look at a player and just know that he’s ready for the pro’s.

Teams are not selecting a player, they are selecting an idea. The idea that this player could be what they need him to be and help bring their team one step closer to a championship. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. At the NFL Draft, teams are buying potential and paying for it with hope.

What do you think? What is the NFL Draft in your eyes? Leave a comment below and feel free to argue with me on Twitter @Lionmike26

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