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Pro success of college award winners

Posted by Doug on January 3, 2008

This post is a fuller description of a study I did for ESPN Magazine. They asked me to look at the NFL success of the winners of the various postseason college football awards, such as the Heisman, the Outland, the Lombardi, and so on. Do Heisman Trophy winners, in general, have more or less NFL success than winners of the Doak Walker Award, or the Jim Thorpe, or the Biletnikoff? Which college award has traditionally produced the best pros? Let's find out.

The first thing I did was to collect the winners of 17 awards:

  • The Heisman Trophy
  • The Butkus Award (top linebacker)
  • The Outland Trophy (top interior lineman)
  • The Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year)
  • The O'Brien Award (top QB)
  • The Unitas Golden Arm Award (top senior QB)
  • The Doak Walker Award (top running back)
  • The Fred Biletnikoff Award (top wide receiver)
  • The Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back)
  • The John Mackey Award (top tight end)
  • The Lou Groza Award (top place kicker)
  • The Bronco Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year)
  • The Ray Guy Award (top punter)
  • The Vince Lombardi Award (top lineman)
  • The Hendricks Award (top defensive end)
  • The Rimington Trophy (top center)
  • The Tatupu Award (top special teams player)

The study covers the award winners from 1993 to 2005. For the several awards that didn't exist in 1993, it covers all award winners through 2005.

So, with all the players in place, I need a way to measure their NFL success. As we go through it, keep in mind that it is not meant to be a precise metric, but rather an approximate measure of value. Comparing a linebacker who has been in the league for nine years to a running back who is in his second year is very tough to do, so all I'm hoping to do is group guys into broad categories that seem reasonable. I'm going to put a number between 0 and 18 on each player. Peyton Manning is an 18. So are Warren Sapp and Randy Moss. Julius Peppers is a 14, Garrison Hearst a 12, Terrell Suggs a 10, Dominic Raiola an 8, E.J. Henderson a 6, Rashaan Salaam was a 4, Byron Hanspard a 2, and Eric Crouch a zero.

Again remember that the goal here is not to forever put an end to the debate about whether Daniel Graham or Antonio Bryant has had the better career. That's too ambitious a goal. We simply want to classify them both as being a bit better than Michael Bishop or Travis Dorsch, but not as good as Terry Glenn or Carson Palmer.

OK, so here's how I arrived at these ratings:

First, I ignored the 2007 NFL season altogether. At the time I had to turn the study in, many of the metrics I would be using --- pro bowl status, for example --- weren't yet determined. One consequence of this is that the 2006 award winners are not included in the study at all. Another is that players who had great 2007 seasons will be slightly undervalued.

For players whose college careers ended in 2003 or earlier, their rating is

Score = YP + YS + 2*PB

where YP = years played (that is, number of seasons in which he appeared in an NFL game), YS = years starting (the number of years in which he was his team's main starter at his position), and PB = Pro Bowls.

Further, I put a cap on each category. If a player had a YP of more than 3, I simply counted it as 3. If he had a YS of more than 5, it counts as 5. If he had a PB of more than 5, it counts as 5. The reasoning here is that it doesn't really tell us much about Will Shields and Orlando Pace that Shields went to 12 pro bowls and Pace only went to 7. If you went to five or more pro bowls, you were pretty great. And, for this exercise, we're not interested in splitting hairs of greatness.

Now, for players who haven't had as much of a chance to pad their resume, we need to project just a little bit. We'll do so by giving them a bit of extra credit for being a starter and for making a pro bowl. For players whose college careers ended in 2004, their rating is:

Score = YP + 3*YS + 5*PB

For players whose college careers ended in 2005:

Score = YP + 5*YS + 8*PB

Now that we've got all the players rated, it's just a matter of adding up the average rating of the winners of each award. Note that multiple winners of the same award are only counted once. Jason White won the O'Brien Award twice, for instance, but his zero only counts once in the average for the O'Brien Award.

Here is the summary:

           Players Pts     AVG
-------------------------------
lombardi      13   114     8.8
outland       14   122     8.7
nagurski      12   103     8.6
bednarik       9    73     8.1
walker        13    83     6.4
thorpe        14    89     6.4
butkus        13    81     6.2
biletnikoff   12    70     5.8
heisman       14    75     5.4
unitas        14    62     4.4
obrien        12    53     4.4
hendricks      3    13     4.3
rimington      6    26     4.3
mackey         6    25     4.2
tatupu         9    34     3.8
groza         12    38     3.2
guy            5    11     2.2

I'll attach the complete data set below, but the one-sentence summary is that, while the awards for the glory positions sometimes go to NFL non-entities (Danny Wuerffel, Eric Crouch, Luke Staley, Mike Hass), the trophies for defenders and linemen seem to go to players who are always at least adequate performers at the NFL level. Even the worst Lombardi winners of the period studied ended up being NFL starters for at least two seasons.

Here's the full data set:

Year  Award       Player            NFL value    Notes
==============================================================================================
2006 heisman      Troy Smith                 still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 heisman      Reggie Bush            1
2004 heisman      Matt Leinart           6
2003 heisman      Jason White                never played in NFL (before 2007)
2002 heisman      Carson Palmer         10
2001 heisman      Eric Crouch                never played in NFL (before 2007)
2000 heisman      Chris Weinke           4
1999 heisman      Ron Dayne              3
1998 heisman      Ricky Williams        10
1997 heisman      Charles Woodson       16
1996 heisman      Danny Wuerffel         3
1995 heisman      Eddie George          16
1994 heisman      Rashaan Salaam         4
1993 heisman      Charlie Ward               never played in NFL (before 2007)
1992 heisman      Gino Torretta          2
2006 bednarik     Paul Posluszny             still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 bednarik     Paul Posluszny             still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2004 bednarik     David Pollack          2
2003 bednarik     Teddy Lehman           4
2002 bednarik     E.J. Henderson         6
2001 bednarik     Julius Peppers        14
2000 bednarik     Dan Morgan            10
1999 bednarik     LaVar Arrington       14
1998 bednarik     Dat Nguyen             7
1997 bednarik     Charles Woodson       16
1996 bednarik     Pat Fitzgerald             never played in NFL (before 2007)
1995 bednarik     Pat Fitzgerald             multiple winner, this row not counted
2006 biletnikoff  Calvin Johnson             still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 biletnikoff  Mike Hass                  never played in NFL (before 2007)
2004 biletnikoff  Braylon Edwards        5
2003 biletnikoff  Larry Fitzgerald       8
2002 biletnikoff  Charles Rogers         3
2001 biletnikoff  Josh Reed              4
2000 biletnikoff  Antonio Bryant         7
1999 biletnikoff  Troy Walters           3
1998 biletnikoff  Troy Edwards           4
1997 biletnikoff  Randy Moss            18
1996 biletnikoff  Marcus Harris              never played in NFL (before 2007)
1995 biletnikoff  Terry Glenn           10
1994 biletnikoff  Bobby Engram           8
2006 butkus       Patrick Willis             still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 butkus       Paul Posluszny             still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2004 butkus       Derrick O. Johnson     8
2003 butkus       Teddy Lehman           4
2002 butkus       E.J. Henderson         6
2001 butkus       Rocky Calmus           4
2000 butkus       Dan Morgan            10
1999 butkus       LaVar Arrington       14
1998 butkus       Chris Claiborne        8
1997 butkus       Andy Katzenmoyer       3
1996 butkus       Matt Russell           1
1995 butkus       Kevin Hardy           10
1994 butkus       Dana Howard            2
1993 butkus       Trev Alberts           3
1992 butkus       Marvin Jones           8
2006 groza        Art Carmody                still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 groza        Alexis Serna               still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2004 groza        Mike Nugent            8
2003 groza        Jonathan Nichols           never played in NFL (before 2007)
2002 groza        Nate Kaeding           8
2001 groza        Seth Marler            2
2000 groza        Jonathan Ruffin            never played in NFL (before 2007)
1999 groza        Sebastian Janikowski   8
1998 groza        Sebastian Janikowski       multiple winner, this row not counted
1997 groza        Martin Gramatica      10
1996 groza        Marc Primanti              never played in NFL (before 2007)
1995 groza        Michael Reeder             never played in NFL (before 2007)
1994 groza        Steve McLaughlin       2
1993 groza        Judd Davis                 never played in NFL (before 2007)
1992 groza        Joe Allison                never played in NFL (before 2007)
2006 lombardi     Lamar Woodley              still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 lombardi     A.J. Hawk              6
2004 lombardi     David Pollack          2
2003 lombardi     Tommie Harris         10
2002 lombardi     Terrell Suggs         10
2001 lombardi     Julius Peppers        14
2000 lombardi     Jamal Reynolds         3
1999 lombardi     Corey Moore            2
1998 lombardi     Dat Nguyen             7
1997 lombardi     Grant Wistrom          8
1996 lombardi     Orlando Pace          18
1995 lombardi     Orlando Pace               multiple winner, this row not counted
1994 lombardi     Warren Sapp           18
1993 lombardi     Aaron Taylor           8
1992 lombardi     Marvin Jones           8
2006 walker       Darren McFadden            still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 walker       Reggie Bush            1
2004 walker       Cedric Benson          2
2003 walker       Chris Perry            3
2002 walker       Larry Johnson          9
2001 walker       Luke Staley                never played in NFL (before 2007)
2000 walker       LaDainian Tomlinson   16
1999 walker       Ron Dayne              3
1998 walker       Ricky Williams        10
1997 walker       Ricky Williams             multiple winner, this row not counted
1996 walker       Byron Hanspard         2
1995 walker       Eddie George          16
1994 walker       Rashaan Salaam         4
1993 walker       Bam Morris             5
1992 walker       Garrison Hearst       12
2006 nagurski     James Laurinaitis          still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 nagurski     Elvis Dumervil         1
2004 nagurski     Derrick O. Johnson     8
2003 nagurski     Derrick Strait         3
2002 nagurski     Terrell Suggs         10
2001 nagurski     Roy Williams          16
2000 nagurski     Dan Morgan            10
1999 nagurski     Corey Moore            2
1998 nagurski     Champ Bailey          18
1997 nagurski     Charles Woodson       16
1996 nagurski     Pat Fitzgerald             never played in NFL (before 2007)
1995 nagurski     Pat Fitzgerald             multiple winner, this row not counted
1994 nagurski     Warren Sapp           18
1993 nagurski     Rob Waldrop            1
2006 obrien       Troy Smith                 still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 obrien       Vince Young           14
2004 obrien       Jason White                never played in NFL (before 2007)
2003 obrien       Jason White                multiple winner, this row not counted
2002 obrien       Brad Banks                 never played in NFL (before 2007)
2001 obrien       Eric Crouch                never played in NFL (before 2007)
2000 obrien       Chris Weinke           4
1999 obrien       Joe Hamilton           1
1998 obrien       Michael Bishop         1
1997 obrien       Peyton Manning        18
1996 obrien       Danny Wuerffel         3
1995 obrien       Danny Wuerffel             multiple winner, this row not counted
1994 obrien       Kerry Collins         10
1993 obrien       Charlie Ward               never played in NFL (before 2007)
1992 obrien       Gino Torretta          2
2006 outland      Joe Thomas                 still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 outland      Greg Eslinger              never played in NFL (before 2007)
2004 outland      Jammal Brown          13
2003 outland      Robert Gallery         6
2002 outland      Rien Long              3
2001 outland      Bryant McKinnie        8
2000 outland      John Henderson        12
1999 outland      Chris Samuels         16
1998 outland      Kris Farris            1
1997 outland      Aaron Taylor               never played in NFL (before 2007)
1996 outland      Orlando Pace          18
1995 outland      Jonathan Ogden        18
1994 outland      Zach Wiegert           8
1993 outland      Rob Waldrop            1
1992 outland      Will Shields          18
2006 rimington    Dan Mozes                  still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 rimington    Greg Eslinger              never played in NFL (before 2007)
2004 rimington    Ben Wilkerson          1
2003 rimington    Jake Grove             5
2002 rimington    Brett Romberg          1
2001 rimington    LeCharles Bentley     11
2000 rimington    Dominic Raiola         8
2006 tatupu       A.J. Trapasso              still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 tatupu       Ryan Hoffman               never played in NFL (before 2007)
2004 tatupu       Chad Owens             2
2003 tatupu       Wes Welker             3
2002 tatupu       Glen Pakulak               never played in NFL (before 2007)
2001 tatupu       Kahlil Hill            1
2000 tatupu       J.T. Thatcher              never played in NFL (before 2007)
1999 tatupu       Deltha O'Neal         11
1998 tatupu       Chris McAlister       14
1997 tatupu       Brock Olivo            3
2006 thorpe       Aaron Ross                 still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 thorpe       Michael Huff           6
2004 thorpe       Carlos Rogers          5
2003 thorpe       Derrick Strait         3
2002 thorpe       Terence Newman         7
2001 thorpe       Roy Williams          16
2000 thorpe       Jamar Fletcher         3
1999 thorpe       Tyrone Carter          4
1998 thorpe       Antoine Winfield       8
1997 thorpe       Charles Woodson       16
1996 thorpe       Lawrence Wright        2
1995 thorpe       Greg Meyers                never played in NFL (before 2007)
1994 thorpe       Chris Hudson           7
1993 thorpe       Antonio Langham        7
1992 thorpe       Deon Figures           5
2006 unitas       Brady Quinn                still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 unitas       Matt Leinart           6
2004 unitas       Jason White                never played in NFL (before 2007)
2003 unitas       Eli Manning            5
2002 unitas       Carson Palmer         10
2001 unitas       David Carr             8
2000 unitas       Chris Weinke           4
1999 unitas       Chris Redman           3
1998 unitas       Cade McNown            3
1997 unitas       Peyton Manning        18
1996 unitas       Danny Wuerffel         3
1995 unitas       Tommie Frazier             never played in NFL (before 2007)
1994 unitas       Jay Barker                 never played in NFL (before 2007)
1993 unitas       Charlie Ward               never played in NFL (before 2007)
1992 unitas       Gino Torretta          2
2006 mackey       Matt Spaeth                still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 mackey       Marcedes Lewis         1
2004 mackey       Heath Miller           8
2003 mackey       Kellen Jr. Winslow     3
2002 mackey       Dallas Clark           7
2001 mackey       Daniel Graham          6
2000 mackey       Tim Stratton               never played in NFL (before 2007)
2006 guy          Dan Sepulveda              still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 guy          Ryan Plackemeier       6
2004 guy          Dan Sepulveda              still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2003 guy          B.J. Sander            2
2002 guy          Mark Mariscal              never played in NFL (before 2007)
2001 guy          Travis Dorsch          1
2000 guy          Kevin Stemke           2
2006 hendricks    Lamar Woodley              still in college or rookie in 2007, not counted.
2005 hendricks    Elvis Dumervil         1
2004 hendricks    David Pollack          2
2003 hendricks    David Pollack              multiple winner, this row not counted
2002 hendricks    Terrell Suggs         10

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 3rd, 2008 at 11:02 am and is filed under Approximate Value, College, General, History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.