I see a lot of arguments based on what players should be drafted where. Certain players are pegged within a 5-pick continuum. Draft value at a particular position (say Trufant at #12) is highly debated - players who are a "reach" or a "steal". We seem to have a notion of what a player is worth. Hell, I'm guilty of it myself - it's fun to debate what a player is worth. But why? Does anybody else find this a bit absurd? Here's the thing, NO ONE KNOWS. Not Kiper, McShay, NFL GM's, Mayock, Kevin Nogle, me, you, or Alpha's live-in boyfriend. NO ONE. Am I crazy to think of the draft as more of a lottery than a science? Let me elaborate.
Here's my point: every single year, EVERY SINGLE YEAR, someone from the 5th round and beyond turns into one of the elite players in the NFL. Every single year, someone from the 1st round turns bad, sometimes even the #1 overall pick turns out to completely suck. That's why people who are paid millions of dollars, have been around football their whole life, wake up at 4 a.m. to watch tape, and are a part of a committee of scouts, personnel evaluators, psychologists, and so on that does some of the most exhaustive research of any enterprise of any company in the entire world CAN GET IT WRONG. Why? Why might you ask? They have privvy to the most sophisticated statistics, matrices, metrics, family background, college/high school coach interviews, personal interviews, personal workouts, pro days, the Combine, etc.. No matter how scientific we want this process to be, you cannot measure what is inside a person: their will to succeed, the chip on their shoulder, their leadership, etc.. By virtue of not being measurable, it is not scientific. But we so desperately want it to be.
Which brings me back to the lottery. I think this is the paradigm to view the draft. None of this is science, as much as draft experts want you to believe and the millions spent on the industry suggests, because why would you watch somebody claim this and that if they couldn't base their assertions on science? If it were all a big guess, then nobody would care about what the "experts" think, much the same as there is not fantasy "Pick 4" or fantasy "MegaMillions" advice from Ed McMahon. But in the back of our mind, we all know it's true. We know it's a big lottery. How else do you explain the crazy circumstances that have arisen from the draft? It's luck. Say it with me. You think New England did more research on Tom Brady than any other team? You think Miami was the only ballsy team in the NFL willing to draft an undersized LB from Texas Tech in the 5th round? Want more recent evidence? Just look at the top-10 in the 2009 NFL draft. Other than Stafford, who else was worthy of a top-10 pick (Crabtree, maybe)? And yet in this very same draft, the following players were selected: Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, Jairus Byrd (now into the 2nd round players),
Pat White, Andy Levitre, Lesean McCoy, Sebastian Vollmer, Louis Vasquez (now into the 3rd round players), Mike Wallace, Lardarius Webb, Jared Cook, Brian Hartline (now into the 4th round players)...you see my point? It doesn't matter who you draft where, it just matters that you get the player right. And whether you get the player right has a high degree of luck and a little bit of marriage with what you have seen on film, the research you have gathered (I'm not willing to admit that science has NOTHING to do with it, just very, very little), and how he fits with your schemes and locker room. You might reasonably predict how they mesh with a scheme, but you almost never know how they will mesh with the locker room. And you can NEVER know what kind of productivity you will get, no matter how many of the stars are aligned.
So how do you get the best players if it's not all science? The same way you increase the likelihood of winning a lottery game: you get more lottery tickets. In our case, you get as many draft picks as you can. Here's what we do know: in every draft, there will be a few Pro Bowl Players, there might even be a couple of Hall-of-Fame players, a small percentage will be starters, a decent percentage will be quality depth and eventual starters, but MOST players will never pan out and never be relevant. Of course, you rationalize, we should get as many 1st-round picks so we can get those Pro Bowlers and Hall-of-Famers, Sutton! Consider the following:
Of the 319 first-round picks taken in the last 10 years (I should clarify, this considers the 2002-2011 draft), 98 made at least one Pro Bowl (31%); 55 made multiple Pro Bowls (17%).
So less than 1 in 3 Round 1 prospects get even 1 Pro Bowl; less than 1 in 5 make it to Hawaii even twice. If you assume that a 1st rounder is a can't-miss, you are fooling yourself, because only 5 or 6 teams on average get that caliber of player in the 1st round. In other words, only 5 or 6 teams will draft a 1st rounder that lives up to expectations. When you consider position-by-position (for 1 Pro Bowl), it ranges from Safety 56.2% (9 of 16) to Defensive End 17% (7 of 41). Quarterback, you ask? 9 of 30, for 30%. When you consider position-by-position for multiple Pro Bowls, it ranges from Guard 42.8% (3 of 7) to Tight End 7.6% (1 of 13). The 4 positions with the most players selected in these 10 drafts were DE, CB, OT, and WR, none of which fared well at all in terms of producing Pro Bowl Players. Quarterback, again, you ask? 80% of those selected in the 1st round will not go to multiple Pro Bowls. Regardless of position, the chances of finding a Pro Bowl player, let alone a multiple Pro Bowl player, is very, very lucky. I'm sorry for using math and science to disprove that science is stupid. I'm sure it's full of round-about logic (like killing people to show that killing people is wrong) and frustrates you stone-cold logicians out there, but I had to make a point that you would understand. I used science to show that science doesn't cut it when it comes to the NFL draft. So sue me. Getting a good player in the draft has little to do with pre-draft rankings, it's really, mostly, luck. Sorry.
Which brings me back to the lottery. Although 1st rounders do better at achieving Pro Bowl status, it is not as disproportionate as you would think compared to the other rounds. This is essentially a quantity vs. quality argument, because the only thing we can do is get as many picks as we can and hope that we get the Pro Bowl or Hall-of-Fame franchise-changing player that we want. If 26 or 27 out of the 32 NFL teams picking get it wrong in the 1st round, year after year, then it's most prudent to get the most picks that you can and hope that you get it right. Just compare San Francisco's 15 picks with the Colts' 6. Assuming they put in relatively the same research and no team has more clairvoyance than the other, the 49ers have 9 more chances of getting it "right", 9 more lottery numbers in trying to reveal that elusive Pro Bowler. The 49ers have roughly 1 in every 21 picks in the draft (15 picks out of 324 total picks), whereas an average team would have approximately 8 picks in that same time frame (or 1 in 40 picks). Would you rather have a lottery ticket where your chance of winning was 1 in 21, or 1 in 40?
This doesn't even include the undrafted players who make it in the league like James Harrison, Davone Bess, and, oh, what's his name, Kurt Warner. Holy crap! The same team misses out on a player SEVERAL times. Remember that 2009 draft I was talking about? The Bills 1st selection? Aaron Maybin. Their 2 2nd rounders? Andy Levitre and Jairus Byrd. San Diego's 1st rounder? Larry English. Their 3rd rounder? Louis Vasquez. My point? Every team makes mistakes, but sometimes redeem themselves later. Some teams get it right in the 1st, and strike out everywhere else. Some teams just strike out, period. But with a ton of picks, the chances of getting some good players just get a little bit better. The NFL draft makes no sense, ESPECIALLY when you look at it in hindsight. What the hell were teams thinking? Were there scouts any worse than the others? Was their GM that much more Yoda-like than the others? The most brilliant GM's have made some ridiculous picks, and ridiculous GM's have made some brilliant picks. That's the nature of the NFL draft: it's erratic, it follows no order or logic, it's essentially chaotic. In other words, it's the lottery.
Boy, am I glad we have 11 picks! Go Dolphins!