Expected Drafted Player Snaps Over Rookie Years

The other day on Twitter I posted something looking at average snaps per year played by draft picks and UDFAs and I had a few requests for a larger time period so I went back and looked at every draft since 2011 to look at the snaps played by draft picks. Just to get a bit of the calculations out of the way the snaps are just for snaps played for the team that drafted the player (i.e. in 2021 any snaps played by Sam Darnold for Carolina would count as a 0 for the pick). Secondly I calculated the average snaps for each slot by year so I could easily adjust the numbers for players in the middle of their rookie contracts. I then summed up the average for each contract year to come up with the expected 4 year total. Here is what the data looks like.

The results here are pretty much what you would expect with a pretty predictable decline as we travel through the draft. While not all snaps are created equal it is somewhat notable that a good percentage of 2nd round picks track similar to many of the 1st round picks. This pretty much goes right in line with the findings Brad and I had in the Drafting Stage (and many others have had when doing draft research) that the gap traditionally assigned to draft picks makes little sense and that it is more based on the emotion involved that leads to the “we cant miss” attitude that leads to big trade ups. If you hold that false assumption that every trade up is going to land you Patrick Mahomes rather than Mitch Trubisky it makes sense to overpay but in probably about 75% of the cases you land Trubisky.

Using the numbers above I calculated the expected “return” for a draft slot. For the most part this was the average of the four draft slots before the pick and then three after the pick. There are other ways to do it but this was a quick and dirty method for something I wanted to do which was see what teams had gotten the most or least out of their draft picks since 2011. Here is a look at the average snaps above expected per year for each teams draft picks since 2011.

Basically the teams in the top right had a lot of picks and did really well with those picks while those in the top left hit a home run despite a limited quantity of picks. For those on the bottom the results have been poor in the draft. The avg. line isn’t at zero because of the method I used to calculate the projected snaps which wasn’t going to zero out.

Since 2011 the Falcons have been the top drafting team with pretty big contributions from players like DeVondre Campbell, Grady Jarrett, Ricardo Allen, etc… and not really busting out at the top though they did have misses in the second round. The Falcons players averaged about 50 snaps more per year than expected based on where they were selected. That produced around a total of 3,800 excess snaps per contract year for their draft picks.

The worst team was New England. This was in part driven by the use of a 2nd round pick on Jimmy Garoppolo who never had a chance to really play because of Tom Brady but they also had major whiffs with Ras-I Dowling, Dominique Easley, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson, etc… which wasn’t enough to overcome the picks of players like Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. The average of 50 snaps per year less than expected per player was worst in the NFL.

Here is how the teams stack up since 2017.

We have the Bills in the top spot over the last few years which is a big reason why the team has made such a turnaround. The Patriots have still struggled and have maintained their spot as the worst return on the draft. I think the performance of the Packers and Seahawks picks should be troubling for their future as clearly their strength was prior to 2017.

Here are the numbers for each team in a table format.

TeamDraft PicksExcess Snaps/YearSnaps/PlayerDraft Picks 17-20Excess Snaps/Year, 17-20Snaps/Player
Football Team89225925.436178449.6