The Football Lifecycle of an NFL Draft Pick

With the NFL Rookie Symposium underway and one of the big topics of discussion being the lifetime of an NFL player I thought it would be a good task to actually dig up some data on the subject. I decided to look at the NFL drafts from 2000 thru 2008 to identify the success rate of players by round.

We’ll start with one of the areas that we as fans never seem to touch on and that’s the immediate picture. There are many players in the NFL who will never play a down in the NFL. The 1st round, simply due to the large guarantees, is the one round where no player has failed to log a season with a team. As the draft goes deeper the odds of a player making it drop dramatically, with it peaking in round 7 where 25.7% of the players never played in the NFL.

NFL Draft Success

The numbers significantly rise if we take it out to just 1 NFL season and we should keep in mind that 1 NFL season doesn’t mean 16 games. In many cases it just means 1. In fact the average games played is right around 5 for a 6th or 7th rounder who made the team but failed to last thru the 2nd season.

NFL Draft Success Rates


From a financial standpoint it paints a pretty bleak picture. The average signing bonus for a 7th round draft pick is about $53,000 and for the 6th round about $102,000.  For about 1/4 of the players drafted in the those rounds that is all that they will earn. About another 15% will earn an additional $120,000 for games played before being cut. For players who have spent years chasing the dream and think they have made it, a harsh reality is going to soon hit them.   While the money is nice it’s not enough to support you for anything more than a year and if the player is not getting sound financial advice from day 1 won’t even support you for that long.

As we look at the 3 year figure the claims are close to true about the life of the NFL player. The following chart shows percentage of players who last more than 3 years in the NFL.

NFL raft Success

Once you make the turns to round 5 it becomes a 50/50 proposition for the player to still be in the league. 63% of those drafted in the 7th round will be gone by the time year 4 rolls around. The point at which 50% of the draft class is expected to be out of the NFL is as follows:

NFL Cut Rate

Someone had asked on Twitter the other day about what separates a good and great agent and I think this is a category that helps identify some of the ways that it can happen. A good agent gets the player his signing bonus money, does his best to up his draft status, and negotiates the best scenarios possible to collect higher wages, but a great one should be managing the expectations of the player. If you are drafted in the 6th or 7th round the dream is going to end quickly and so will the money.

There are many avenues open to players to improve themselves off the field now from interning during down times to pursuing online education.  Once the dream ends so will the opportunity to earn the type of money we all think every football player makes. Playing football in college, especially in a big Division I program, is a full time job. It takes precedence over education and in many cases the athlete is likely less prepared to enter the work force than the average college graduate.

From day 1 the great agent should be steering his clients towards life after football. You are going to do everything in your power to make sure the NFL dream continues but they need to be made aware of what lies ahead. Learning what you might want to do after football, whether it’s working in business, communications, engineering, the arts, or something else and mapping out a plan as to how that can happen is doing the player a bigger service than telling him how great a player he is or how he is going to get him a team after his initial release.

In this case the numbers don’t lie. The odds of getting another NFL job for the low level draft pick are slim. Preparing them for the inevitable is a must if you really want to do a great job.  That’s the reality of the NFL.  The NFLPA does a good job in at least presenting the situations in a group environment but nothing can replace the one on one counseling and advice that they can get from those looking out for their best interests.

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  • mike jones

    The *%_of_players_never_playing_a_game* graph almost looks exponential from rounds 1 to 5, but then levels off a bit.
    Same with the *%_of_players_cut_after_year_1*.
    Cut rate and % lasting more than 3 years looks linear though.
    omg, what am I doing with my life…

    • Jason Fitzgerald

      Ha. I know that feeling.

  • jack_sprat2

    Many years ago, I worked, on the line at GM, alongside a rather imposing fellow, who seemed to me inexplicably unhappy with his lot in life. Eventually, I learned, from someone else, that he had been a Michigan Wolverine. That’s when his name registered with me. I didn’t need ESPN to run his highlight reel through my head. (He lugged the rock.)

    The guy who clued me in on his alter ego also told me that it was such a sore subject with this gridiron hero, that it was unwise even to raise the subject of football with him. Apparently, he had gotten it firmly in his mind that he was a failure, simply because he had washed out at camp.

    One day, he failed to show up at work. His absence remains a mystery to me to this day. I like to imagine that something better came along for him. Excepting his emotional resemblance to Jay Cutler, he was the kind of man whom others want (and expect) to succeed.

  • AeroDave

    It will be interesting to see if these data are similar for the period starting with the current CBA and its rookie wage scale. I would have to think that the reason the higher draft picks hang around longer is due at least in part to the teams’ financial commitment.