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For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

Grading Ten Years of NFL Drafts: From 1996-2005

Posted by Chase Stuart on May 26, 2008

Which NFL teams have done the best job drafting in recent history? It's way too early to grade any of the last three drafts, but we can start looking at drafts from 2005 and go back about ten years. That should give us a good look at which teams have "overperformed" and which teams have "underperformed" relative to their draft positions in recent years. We can also see which picks were the biggest "steals" and which were the biggest "busts" over that time.

Let's get one thing out of the way. Any list that doesn't have Tom Brady as the biggest steal and Ryan Leaf as the biggest bust is just wrong. We all know that. Fortunately, my system -- which combines Doug's Approximate Value System for grading NFL players and my NFL draft value system which assigns appropriate value to each draft pick -- does just that.

Before I get to the nuts and bolts of how I graded a player, let's skip to what everyone wants to see first -- the best 35 draft picks from 1996-2005. The middle column shows what pick the player was selected with, and the third column shows that player's value (explained in a bit).

Tom Brady            199     2.21
Zach Thomas          154     2.07
Jason Taylor          73     2.06
Terrell Owens         89     1.89
Ronde Barber          66     1.84
Ray Lewis             26     1.81
Tiki Barber           36     1.67
Randy Moss            21     1.65
La'Roi Glover        166     1.62
Marvin Harrison       19     1.60
Lofa Tatupu           45     1.50
Matt Hasselbeck      187     1.48
Sam Madison           44     1.45
Lance Briggs          68     1.41
LaDainian Tomlinson    5     1.41
Brian Westbrook       91     1.40
Ahman Green           76     1.39
Hines Ward            92     1.37
Joey Porter           73     1.36
Trent Cole           146     1.35
Clinton Portis        51     1.35
Peyton Manning         1     1.33
Edgerrin James         4     1.33
Adalius Thomas       186     1.33
Aaron Brooks         131     1.32
Shane Olivea         209     1.30
Frank Gore            65     1.29
Jared Allen          126     1.28
Derrick Mason         98     1.28
Donald Driver        213     1.26
Chad Johnson          36     1.24
Brian Urlacher         9     1.23
Donnie Edwards        98     1.22
Darren Sharper        60     1.22
Jeremiah Trotter      72     1.21

And perhaps more itneresting, the worst 35 picks, from 35th worst to worst.

Tom Knight             9    -0.74
Willie Middlebrooks   24    -0.74
Bryant Westbrook       5    -0.74
Troy Williamson        7    -0.75
Nathan Davis          32    -0.75
Dimitrius Underwood   29    -0.75
Leon Bender           31    -0.75
Andre T. Johnson      30    -0.75
Michael Haynes        14    -0.75
David Pollack         17    -0.75
Aaron Rodgers         24    -0.77
Jason Peter           14    -0.77
Jim Druckenmiller     26    -0.79
Ryan Sims              6    -0.80
Mike D. Williams       4    -0.80
Mike Williams         10    -0.81
Reggie McGrew         24    -0.81
Jerome McDougle       15    -0.87
Cade McNown           12    -0.88
David Terrell          8    -0.89
Michael Booker        11    -0.89
Cedric Jones           5    -0.89
Johnathan Sullivan     6    -0.92
Wendell Bryant        12    -0.92
Yatil Green           15    -0.94
Lawrence Phillips      6    -1.03
Jamal Reynolds        10    -1.06
Tim Couch              1    -1.08
Curtis Enis            5    -1.09
Courtney Brown         1    -1.10
Andre Wadsworth        3    -1.19
Alex Smith             1    -1.33
Charles Rogers         2    -1.46
Akili Smith            3    -1.47
Ryan Leaf              2    -1.54

I think those tables should match up pretty well with most people's pre-conceived notions of which players were big time steals and busts. Let's get to the formula.

I examined the ten drafts from 1996 to 2005, with only punters and kickers excluded. Initially, I compared the approximate value of each player selected at any spot in the draft, relative to the draft value of that pick. If the players a team has drafted have accumulated more value than the pick is worth, he's a good pick and that team did well. So even Peyton Manning -- approximate value of 133 -- is a "value" pick, since the expected value of the number one pick is only 73 points. Similarly, Donnie Edwards -- approximate career value of 76 -- is a value pick of +60, because the 98th pick in the draft has an expected value of only 16 points.

Problems occur when you look at recent draft picks, though. There's no way that Larry Fitzgerald - expected career value of 59 based on being the third pick in the draft - can reach that level after just four seasons. So even though he's played well, his approximate value to date is just 34 points. To remedy that, I complicated the formula a little bit. Instead of subtracting expected value (based on draft position) from career value (based on NFL production), I subtracted the expected value of a player's draft pick divided by the sum of the expected values of all players in that draft class, from the career value of that player by the sum of the career value of all the players in that draft class. This way, people like Julius Peppers and Larry Fitzgerald aren't penalized for failing to achieve lofty career goals in just a few seasons.

So here's how to interpret Tom Brady's score of 2.21. The expected career value of the 199th pick in the draft is 7, and of all the picks in the 2000 draft, the 199th pick is only expected to get 0.167% of the group's career value. Brady, in fact, has to date a career value of 91, which is 2.373% of the career value of all the players in the draft. The difference, 2.21%, is Brady's grade -- i.e., the value he produced above and beyond his expected draft position, relative to the other players in his draft class. Ryan Leaf is the worst, at -1.54. Being the 2nd pick, we would expect him to have accumulated about 1.614% of all the career value in the '98 draft; being Ryan Leaf, he only produced 0.071% of the value in that draft; therefore he's graded at -1.54 relative to his draft peers.

So which teams have done the best? Not surprisingly, it's the Colts. Indianapolis has been a great team for the past decade, and it's almost all because of homegrown players. The worst drafting team probably isn't much of a surprise, either.

                       AV       DV       Diff
Indianapolis Colts     40.74    31.12     9.62
Green Bay Packers      34.89    28.87     6.02
Baltimore Ravens       35.99    30.54     5.45
Pittsburgh Steelers    36.61    31.19     5.42
Philadelphia Eagles    38.42    33.26     5.16
Dallas Cowboys         34.79    31.07     3.72
Tennessee Titans       37.90    34.83     3.07
Buffalo Bills          32.25    29.38     2.88
New York Giants        31.40    28.78     2.62
Jacksonville Jaguars   37.47    35.15     2.33
Chicago Bears          37.36    35.30     2.05
New England Patriots   35.75    34.55     1.20
Kansas City Chiefs     27.47    27.08     0.39
St. Louis Rams         36.19    35.80     0.39
Seattle Seahawks       34.62    34.59     0.03
New York Jets          32.24    32.25    -0.01
Denver Broncos         30.47    30.71    -0.24
Miami Dolphins         30.06    30.36    -0.30
Tampa Bay Buccaneers   29.18    29.63    -0.46
Atlanta Falcons        28.30    29.10    -0.80
Carolina Panthers      29.91    31.60    -1.69
Cincinnati Bengals     34.15    36.19    -2.05
San Francisco 49ers    28.70    30.84    -2.14
Washington Redskins    23.95    26.58    -2.63
San Diego Chargers     28.54    31.46    -2.93
Minnesota Vikings      29.50    32.65    -3.15
Houston Texans         12.37    15.58    -3.21
Oakland Raiders        26.76    31.17    -4.42
Arizona Cardinals      34.13    38.78    -4.65
New Orleans Saints     25.01    30.81    -5.80
Cleveland Browns       21.24    28.12    -6.87
Detroit Lions          23.66    32.66    -9.01

Which teams have been the best and worst drafters in the first round?

                        AV	DV	 Diff
Indianapolis Colts	16.42	 9.26	 7.16
Baltimore Ravens	17.01	12.67	 4.34
Pittsburgh Steelers	12.20	 9.07	 3.12
Minnesota Vikings	13.27	11.57	 1.71
Jacksonville Jaguars	12.81	11.41	 1.40
Kansas City Chiefs	 8.70	 7.51	 1.19
Denver Broncos		 8.97	 7.81	 1.15
Dallas Cowboys		 8.50	 7.38 	 1.12
New York Jets		12.12	11.05	 1.06
Buffalo Bills		 9.17	 8.32	 0.84
Tennessee Titans	 8.30	 7.62	 0.68
St. Louis Rams		14.22	13.56	 0.66
New Orleans Saints	11.19	10.62	 0.57
New England Patriots	11.41	11.01	 0.40
Seattle Seahawks	13.04	12.85	 0.19
Atlanta Falcons		 8.43	 8.41	 0.02
Philadelphia Eagles	 9.77	 9.91	-0.14
San Diego Chargers	 8.45	 8.69	-0.24
Tampa Bay Buccaneers	 7.31	 8.21	-0.90
Washington Redskins	10.11	11.05	-0.94
New York Giants		 8.07	 9.43	-1.36
Houston Texans		 4.63	 6.16	-1.52
Green Bay Packers	 6.94	 8.70	-1.76
Miami Dolphins		 3.49	 5.97	-2.48
Carolina Panthers	 6.92	 9.45	-2.53
Chicago Bears		 8.11	10.73	-2.62
Oakland Raiders		 9.38	12.42	-3.04
Cincinnati Bengals	 9.93	13.03	-3.10
Cleveland Browns	 6.11	 9.75	-3.64
San Francisco 49ers	 5.48	 9.63	-4.15
Arizona Cardinals	10.41	14.56	-4.15
Detroit Lions		 9.04	13.92	-4.88

Here are the best and worst drafting teams in rounds four through seven:

                        AV	DV	 Diff
Green Bay Packers	18.06	10.63	 7.43
Tennessee Titans	16.79	13.51	 3.28
Baltimore Ravens	12.46	10.23	 2.24
Indianapolis Colts	12.78	10.56	 2.21
Chicago Bears	        14.97	12.83	 2.14
Dallas Cowboys	        12.52	10.69	 1.83
Kansas City Chiefs	12.56	10.72	 1.83
Atlanta Falcons	        13.58	11.89	 1.69
New York Giants	        10.92	 9.29	 1.63
Pittsburgh Steelers	11.90	10.39	 1.51
Philadelphia Eagles	12.63	11.70	 0.92
San Francisco 49ers	 9.98	 9.62	 0.35
Oakland Raiders	         8.75	 8.44	 0.31
Jacksonville Jaguars	11.40	11.49	-0.10
New York Jets	        10.94	11.31	-0.37
Houston Texans	         4.26	 4.64	-0.38
Cincinnati Bengals	 9.66	10.11	-0.45
Buffalo Bills	         9.68	10.13	-0.45
Denver Broncos	         9.38	 9.95	-0.56
St. Louis Rams	        10.36	11.08	-0.71
New England Patriots	11.10	12.08	-0.98
Miami Dolphins	        10.46	11.69	-1.23
Minnesota Vikings	 8.72	10.18	-1.46
Arizona Cardinals	 9.56	11.14	-1.58
Carolina Panthers	 8.14	 9.98	-1.84
Cleveland Browns	 6.68	 9.12	-2.44
Tampa Bay Buccaneers	 8.78	11.24	-2.46
Washington Redskins	 5.96	 8.54	-2.58
Seattle Seahawks	 8.37	10.96	-2.59
Detroit Lions	         5.62	 8.36	-2.73
San Diego Chargers	 7.84	10.89	-3.05
New Orleans Saints	 6.62	10.28	-3.66

Here's a look at the best three draft picks by each team:

team	year	ovr
atl	1998	199	1.12	Ephraim Salaam
atl	2005	160	0.89	Michael Boley
atl	1999	237	0.87	Todd McClure
buf	2003	111	1.07	Terrence McGee
buf	2001	46	0.81	Aaron Schobel
buf	1996	24	0.75	Eric Moulds
car	2001	74	0.96	Steve Smith
car	1996	43	0.92	Muhsin Muhammad
car	1997	56	0.79	Mike Minter
chi	2003	68	1.41	Lance Briggs
chi	2000	9	1.23	Brian Urlacher
chi	2002	104	0.95	Alex Brown
cin	2001	36	1.24	Chad Johnson
cin	1997	43	1.12	Corey Dillon
cin	2001	204	1.02	T.J. Houshmandzadeh
cle	2002	141	0.74	Andra Davis
cle	2001	97	0.39	Anthony Henry
cle	2003	84	0.37	Chris Crocker
clt	1996	19	1.60	Marvin Harrison
clt	1998	1	1.33	Peyton Manning
clt	1999	4	1.33	Edgerrin James
crd	1997	42	1.17	Jake Plummer
crd	2003	54	0.79	Anquan Boldin
crd	2004	64	0.76	Darnell Dockett
dal	1997	65	1.06	Dexter Coakley
dal	2003	69	1.03	Jason Witten
dal	2005	109	1.02	Marion Barber
den	2002	51	1.35	Clinton Portis
den	1999	31	1.01	Al Wilson
den	1997	28	0.92	Trevor Pryce
det	1998	207	0.76	Chris Liwienski
det	2001	61	0.63	Shaun Rogers
det	2000	253	0.45	Alfonso Boone
gnb	1998	187	1.48	Matt Hasselbeck
gnb	1999	131	1.32	Aaron Brooks
gnb	1999	213	1.26	Donald Driver
htx	2003	101	0.71	Domanick Williams
htx	2005	188	0.71	C.C. Brown
htx	2002	50	0.48	Chester Pitts
jax	2005	52	0.95	Khalif Barnes
jax	1998	9	0.91	Fred Taylor
jax	2001	233	0.89	Marlon McCree
kan	2004	126	1.28	Jared Allen
kan	1996	98	1.22	Donnie Edwards
kan	1997	13	1.17	Tony Gonzalez
mia	1996	154	2.07	Zach Thomas
mia	1997	73	2.06	Jason Taylor
mia	1997	44	1.45	Sam Madison
min	1998	21	1.65	Randy Moss
min	1999	11	1.07	Daunte Culpepper
min	1998	173	1.05	Matt Birk
nor	2000	168	1.11	Marc Bulger
nor	2005	13	0.65	Jammal Brown
nor	2001	23	0.51	Deuce McAllister
nwe	2000	199	2.21	Tom Brady
nwe	2003	164	1.02	Dan Koppen
nwe	2001	48	0.98	Matt Light
nyg	1997	36	1.67	Tiki Barber
nyg	2003	160	0.78	David Diehl
nyg	2000	177	0.77	Dhani Jones
nyj	2000	78	1.08	Laveranues Coles
nyj	2005	123	0.99	Kerry Rhodes
nyj	1997	229	0.96	Jason Ferguson
oti	1997	98	1.28	Derrick Mason
oti	1996	109	1.07	Jon Runyan
oti	1998	46	0.83	Samari Rolle
phi	2002	91	1.40	Brian Westbrook
phi	2005	146	1.35	Trent Cole
phi	1998	72	1.21	Jeremiah Trotter
pit	1998	92	1.37	Hines Ward
pit	1999	73	1.36	Joey Porter
pit	1999	109	1.21	Aaron Smith
rai	1996	166	1.62	La'Roi Glover
rai	1997	193	0.98	Grady Jackson
rai	2005	78	0.84	Kirk Morrison
ram	1999	6	1.07	Torry Holt
ram	1996	141	1.03	Fred Miller
ram	2004	24	0.80	Steven Jackson
rav	1996	26	1.81	Ray Lewis
rav	2000	186	1.33	Adalius Thomas
rav	2002	24	1.08	Ed Reed
sdg	2001	5	1.41	LaDainian Tomlinson
sdg	2004	209	1.30	Shane Olivea
sdg	2001	32	1.05	Drew Brees
sea	2005	45	1.50	Lofa Tatupu
sea	1998	76	1.39	Ahman Green
sea	2000	80	1.03	Darrell Jackson
sfo	1996	89	1.89	Terrell Owens
sfo	2005	65	1.29	Frank Gore
sfo	2002	249	0.76	Kyle Kosier
tam	1997	66	1.84	Ronde Barber
tam	1997	12	1.05	Warrick Dunn
tam	1997	169	0.91	Al Harris
was	1999	7	1.06	Champ Bailey
was	1997	80	0.99	Derek Smith
was	1996	102	0.86	Stephen Davis

And finally, the worst three draft picks of each team:

team	year	ovr
atl	1997	11	-0.89	Michael Booker
atl	1997	32	-0.75	Nathan Davis
atl	1997	41	-0.46	Byron Hanspard
buf	2002	4	-0.80	Mike D. Williams
buf	2000	26	-0.66	Erik Flowers
buf	2000	89	-0.37	Corey Moore
car	1998	14	-0.77	Jason Peter
car	2000	23	-0.69	Rashard Anderson
car	1996	8	-0.65	Tim Biakabutuka
chi	1998	5	-1.09	Curtis Enis
chi	2001	8	-0.89	David Terrell
chi	1999	12	-0.88	Cade McNown
cin	1999	3	-1.47	Akili Smith
cin	2005	17	-0.75	David Pollack
cin	1999	33	-0.73	Charles Fisher
cle	2000	1	-1.10	Courtney Brown
cle	1999	1	-1.08	Tim Couch
cle	2002	16	-0.51	William Green
clt	1999	63	-0.53	Brandon Burlsworth
clt	1996	51	-0.48	Dedric Mathis
clt	2005	92	-0.41	Vincent Burns
crd	1998	3	-1.19	Andre Wadsworth
crd	2002	12	-0.92	Wendell Bryant
crd	1997	9	-0.74	Tom Knight
dal	2004	52	-0.59	Jacob Rogers
dal	2000	49	-0.58	Dwayne Goodrich
dal	1997	22	-0.57	David LaFleur
den	2001	24	-0.74	Willie Middlebrooks
den	1998	30	-0.74	Marcus Nash
den	2001	51	-0.60	Paul Toviessi
det	2003	2	-1.46	Charles Rogers
det	2005	10	-0.81	Mike Williams
det	1997	5	-0.74	Bryant Westbrook
gnb	2001	10	-1.06	Jamal Reynolds
gnb	2005	24	-0.77	Aaron Rodgers
gnb	1996	27	-0.60	John Michels
htx	2003	41	-0.62	Bennie Joppru
htx	2002	1	-0.49	David Carr
htx	2005	16	-0.42	Travis Johnson
jax	2000	29	-0.72	R. Jay Soward
jax	1998	57	-0.54	Cordell Taylor
jax	1996	60	-0.47	Michael Cheever
kan	2002	6	-0.80	Ryan Sims
kan	2000	21	-0.72	Sylvester Morris
kan	2004	36	-0.62	Junior Siavii
mia	1997	15	-0.94	Yatil Green
mia	1998	29	-0.68	John Avery
mia	2001	26	-0.58	Jamar Fletcher
min	1999	29	-0.75	Dimitrius Underwood
min	2005	7	-0.75	Troy Williamson
min	1996	45	-0.63	James Manley
nor	2003	6	-0.92	Johnathan Sullivan
nor	1997	33	-0.56	Rob Kelly
nor	1996	11	-0.52	Alex Molden
nwe	1998	18	-0.62	Robert Edwards
nwe	1997	29	-0.60	Chris Canty
nwe	1999	28	-0.56	Andy Katzenmoyer
nyg	1996	5	-0.89	Cedric Jones
nyg	1999	49	-0.56	Joe Montgomery
nyg	1998	70	-0.49	Brian Alford
nyj	1996	31	-0.70	Alex Van Dyke
nyj	1997	31	-0.64	Rick Terry
nyj	1998	56	-0.48	Dorian Boose
oti	1996	38	-0.66	Bryant Mix
oti	1997	46	-0.59	Joey Kent
oti	2003	28	-0.58	Andre Woolfolk
phi	2003	15	-0.87	Jerome McDougle
phi	1997	25	-0.69	Jon Harris
phi	2001	25	-0.47	Freddie Mitchell
pit	1996	29	-0.64	Jamain Stephens
pit	2004	38	-0.60	Ricardo Colclough
pit	1998	41	-0.59	Jeremy Staat
rai	1998	31	-0.75	Leon Bender
rai	2004	2	-0.73	Robert Gallery
rai	1999	18	-0.56	Matt Stinchcomb
ram	1996	6	-1.03	Lawrence Phillips
ram	2003	12	-0.57	Jimmy Kennedy
ram	2001	12	-0.55	Damione Lewis
rav	2005	53	-0.58	Dan Cody
rav	1997	64	-0.46	Jay Graham
rav	1998	42	-0.39	Patrick Johnson
sdg	1998	2	-1.54	Ryan Leaf
sdg	1996	41	-0.49	Bryan Still
sdg	1999	60	-0.42	Jermaine Fazande
sea	2000	22	-0.68	Chris McIntosh
sea	2003	73	-0.47	Wayne Hunter
sea	2000	52	-0.47	Ike Charlton
sfo	2005	1	-1.33	Alex Smith
sfo	1999	24	-0.81	Reggie McGrew
sfo	1997	26	-0.79	Jim Druckenmiller
tam	1997	16	-0.48	Reidel Anthony
tam	2002	86	-0.43	Marquis Walker
tam	2005	5	-0.42	Cadillac Williams
was	1996	30	-0.75	Andre T. Johnson
was	2003	44	-0.56	Taylor Jacobs
was	2000	64	-0.50	Lloyd Harrison

Notes: This study does not look at draft pick trades. If a team traded the 1st pick in the draft for the 50th pick, and the 50th pick ended up being pretty good, said team would be given credit in my study for drafting a good player with the 50th pick, and docked zero points for not valuing the first pick properly. Further, trading your 4th round pick for a HOF WR earns you zero points, too. I'm looking ONLY at the specific, narrow task of player selection. Further, some of the elite teams simply don't have the roster space for many picks. To the extent that the Colts or Patriots get penalized for drafting a better player with the 200th pick than the Cardinals do with the 199th pick, but the Cardinals get more points from that player since he started for Arizona and the 200th pick did not start for New England or Indianapolis, then the top teams are unfairly penalized. Further, players like Joe Horn will be good picks for the teams that drafted them, even though they weren't good in the way we normally think.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 26th, 2008 at 6:55 am and is filed under Approximate Value, General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.