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April 28, 2011

The NFL draft is tonight . . .

. . . and here's an interesting piece on how difficult it is to draft QBs.

Let's consider a broader sample of quarterbacks, with enough time passed so we can properly evaluate their careers: all quarterbacks drafted during the 1990s. There were 104 quarterbacks drafted during that decade, 20 of them in the first round. Of those 20 quarterbacks, only eight started for the equivalent of five seasons (80 games) or more. Meanwhile, another eight of those 20 had careers lasting for the equivalent of fewer than two seasons. So for an entire decade's worth of first-round quarterback picks, you were just as likely to get a total bust as you were to get a QB with a decent career. That's with a first-round pick.


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And this year the number of QB prospects is particularly weak. Guys like Gabbert and Mallett have strong arms, but neither are mobile at all and both throw a lot of interceptions even with simplified college offensives.

Newton could be good in the right offense, but he only has one good year of experience. You are taking a big chance with any of these guys.

Joe R..

It's all a huge crapshoot. No one knows who's going to make it in the NFL, and the NFL draft is even more predictable than the MLB draft.

Great players get chosen late or not at all; top selections are frequently busts, and expensive ones at that.

But then, that's what makes it so interesting to watch.

Aaron Gordon

I have studied the draft to some extent, and this is true of most positions. Offensive linemen are the safest position to draft in the first round. The NFL draft is mostly about risk aversion. The best teams in the NFL with the best draft history know talent evaluation is such a small part of the draft. The difference, over an adequate sample size, of teams with "good" talent evaluation and "bad" talent evaluation is a few percentage points of successful picks. The key to success in the draft is risk aversion; not drafting too high, not trading up too far, spreading out your picks, lots of 2nd and 3rd round selections, and having a medium amount of picks every year, not loading up on one draft.

Bill Belichick is an avid reader of many economics journals, and he puts them to practice during times like the draft. So when you hear people like Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay opining over the glory one player will experience, just remember, people like them have little to do with how well a team drafts.

Joe R..

Interesting, Aaron.

In past years I've wondered why teams with the first pick did not pass, thereby avoiding paying exorbitant first pick money, and having the ability to jump back in later on when they felt the pick on the board was worth the money risk.

The agents and union would scream, but ultimately what could they do?

Aaron Gordon

Joe: I have heard many analysts discuss that very proposition. Basically, what they say is the agent will just demand the money of the original pick the team passed on; so if Carolina passed on #1 because there was no one that satisfied their risk threshold for $50 million guaranteed, and selected at #4 instead, the #4 selection would just demand the same amount as a #1 selection. The logic behind this, from the player's perspective, is you obviously thought he was the best player in the draft, since you passed until you thought he would be selected. So, pay him like the best player in the draft. The team would likely refuse, and you would just get a prolonged holdout, which does neither party any good.

Aaron Gordon

Another interesting note: in the past 2 decades, the 1st and 2nd players drafted have had virtually identical "success rates" as the 1st and 2nd players taken in the second round. Similar pro bowl appearances and all pro teams made. The difference, of course, has been salary.


I think Jimmy Johnson (in the 90s) agreed to contract terms with some players (hours/minutes) before they were drafted. That is, if you agree to this salary, we'll take you otherwise we're picking a different player.

In a sense, he picked a player who would normally go lower at a higher spot probably at a lower salary. This would also eliminate the issue of a drafted player holding out which may have been more common at the time. The player would get picked higher than he normally would and probably gave up some $$.

I'm guessing some agents wised up to this practice since I don't hear about it happening any more.

Aaron Gordon

It basically only happens with the 1st overall pick, but not this year because of the labor dispute. I think today, coaches/teams value flexibility more than saving a few hundred thousand bucks.

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