Looking at the Impact of Good and Bad Drafting in the NFL

The other day I took a big picture look at rookie performance and how teams had performed from 2015 to 2020 and I wanted to expand on that a little bit to see if we could go back in time and try to put more focus on the rookie impact during those rookie years. To do this I went back and retroactively applied the second contract value for a draft pick to the team that drafted them/signed them as an undrafted player as the “player value” while he was a rookie.

To measure the direct impact I grouped rookies into three year bins for each team. Bin 1 would be rookies from 2011 to 2013, bin 2 is 2012 to 2014 and so on. We would then apply each bins value to a record in a given year, that is at least one year beyond the most recent draft class in the bin. Basically what that means is we would take bin 1 and say that that group of players directly impacted the teams record in 2014.

Just to give an illustration to explain it further here is the breakdown for bin 1. The players drafted in 2011 would be in their 4th year with the team, those from 2012 their 3rd year, and 2013 their 2nd year. By throwing out 2014 we are making the assumption that the 2014 classes direct impact is marginal. That may not be true and we could test that somewhat but for a first run through the analysis this should work ok.

Finally, to normalize the data a little bit I inflated each bins value to a $198.2 million cap which was the salary cap in 2020. While this is not the perfect way to really value contracts since the market for most positions is by no means pegged to the salary cap it is the quickest and gives fair values.

Much like the run where we looked at recent performance the impact of good draft picks is clearly important and much more so than the impact of free agents which usually does not lead to anything positive long term and in many cases not anything short term either.

We often measure success in the NFL based on playoff appearances and our typical threshold for success is 10 or more wins. I broke down the groups in above average drafting (approx. $96.5M in value for the three years of players) and below average drafting and then looked at the wins for each group. Here were the results over the five year period.

Draft Value12+ wins10 to 12 wins8 to 10 wins5 to 8 winsUnder 5 wins
Over Avg.202016195
Under Avg311163218

These are pretty damning numbers for teams that draft poorly and try to overcome it through alternate means like trades and free agent signings. 50% of the top drafting clubs wound up with at least 10 wins while over 60% of the poor teams wound up with a losing record.

As for the good teams who didn’t perform well in the draft- the high end teams were the quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger (2017), Carson Palmer (2015), and the MVPesque miracle season for Carson Wentz (2017). The 11 teams close to high end featured Andrew Luck (2014 and 2018), Palmer (2014), Roethlisberger (2016), Aaron Rodgers (2016), Russell Wilson (2016), Cam Newton (2017), Drew Brees (2017), and Tom Brady (2018). The other two were Ryan Tannehill (2016) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (2015). While both had good years nobody would consider those two high end QBs but the others were likely covering up flaws from bad drafts. Basically it is high end QBs making up for the level of play. Brady would probably show up multiple times on the list if we took out Garoppolo and Brissett from the mix as they had no value to the team winning but made up most of their drafting success.

Among the teams with good draft performance and over 12 wins you do get sneak ins by players like Andy Dalton (2015), Brock Osweiler and broken down Peyton Manning (2015), Alex Smith (2016 and 2018), Derek Carr (2016), Case Keenum (2017), Mitch Trubisky (2018), and Jared Goff (2018). You can include the Cowboys QBs in that mix a few times too if you want to have that debate. When you move the needle down further you include Joe Flacco (2014 and part of 2018), Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez (2014), Matt Stafford (2014), Smith (2015 and 2017), Teddy Bridgewater (2015), Eli Manning (2016), Blake Bortles (2017), Goff (2017), rookie Lamar Jackson (part of 2018). You can argue the pros and cons of some of these players but these are more the occasions where you can get by with a mid grade QB for a year or more when the draft quality helps out.

As for the best draft classes that is hard to say because of the way the QB position is valued. For instance the best run on drafts that we saw was the 2011 to 2013 Broncos but part of that number is inflated by Osweiler who did not contribute at all to that team. The same goes for the Jaguars in from 2014 to 2016 with Blake Bortles. That would leave the 2015 Rams as potentially the best of the bunch with their draft from 2012 to 2014. The Rams really were the team that did the least with some great drafts in that period and were sunk by the Shaun Hill, Austin Davis, Nick Foles types at QB. Here is the big list of teams with their record and inflated draft value.

TEAMYEARDraft ClassesWin PctInflated Rookie Value
Broncos20142011 to 20130.750$179,687,673
Jaguars20172014 to 20160.625$174,922,300
Rams20152012 to 20140.438$173,517,228
Cowboys20172014 to 20160.563$172,960,556
Bengals20142011 to 20130.656$168,846,282
Raiders20162013 to 20150.750$167,699,427
Seahawks20142011 to 20130.750$165,635,789
Jaguars20162013 to 20150.188$161,360,525
Rams20142011 to 20130.375$157,344,939
Raiders20152012 to 20140.438$155,443,182
Chiefs20172014 to 20160.625$154,586,743
Jaguars20152012 to 20140.313$150,132,350
Ravens20172014 to 20160.563$149,965,756
Patriots20152012 to 20140.750$148,101,288
Rams20172014 to 20160.688$146,502,240
Ravens20182015 to 20170.625$142,689,273
Raiders20172014 to 20160.375$142,574,438
Chiefs20162013 to 20150.750$142,442,618
Vikings20162013 to 20150.500$141,774,846
Cowboys20182015 to 20170.625$141,293,745
Chiefs20182015 to 20170.750$137,981,091
Saints20182015 to 20170.813$137,922,705
Rams20182015 to 20170.813$137,132,142
Texans20142011 to 20130.563$136,436,360
Dolphins20152012 to 20140.375$135,861,341
Texans20182015 to 20170.688$134,204,454
Chargers20182015 to 20170.750$133,210,086
Dolphins20142011 to 20130.500$132,816,353
Rams20162013 to 20150.250$131,301,490
Patriots20162013 to 20150.875$129,136,782
Seahawks20152012 to 20140.625$128,743,958
Panthers20142011 to 20130.469$127,763,086
Ravens20162013 to 20150.500$127,715,926
Bengals20152012 to 20140.750$127,613,383
Dolphins20172014 to 20160.375$127,013,760
Chiefs20152012 to 20140.688$126,052,046
Panthers20152012 to 20140.938$124,178,026
Packers20152012 to 20140.625$123,239,832
Buccaneers20162013 to 20150.563$123,021,350
Broncos20152012 to 20140.750$121,890,648
Cowboys20162013 to 20150.813$120,802,285
Cowboys20152012 to 20140.250$120,691,437
Ravens20142011 to 20130.625$119,406,658
Vikings20172014 to 20160.813$117,921,879
Falcons20162013 to 20150.688$117,762,227
Chiefs20142011 to 20130.563$117,376,474
Vikings20152012 to 20140.688$117,368,623
Patriots20142011 to 20130.750$117,330,525
Bills20142011 to 20130.563$117,276,219
Panthers20162013 to 20150.375$117,111,219
Eagles20142011 to 20130.625$116,738,806
Falcons20172014 to 20160.625$116,540,413
Ravens20152012 to 20140.313$115,878,665
Lions20152012 to 20140.438$111,584,427
Cowboys20142011 to 20130.750$111,417,513
Packers20142011 to 20130.750$110,963,437
Panthers20182015 to 20170.438$110,609,305
Titans20182015 to 20170.563$109,786,246
Steelers20142011 to 20130.688$109,774,784
Eagles20152012 to 20140.438$109,606,205
Football Team20142011 to 20130.250$108,577,835
Texans20152012 to 20140.563$108,492,644
Texans20172014 to 20160.250$107,535,381
Football Team20162013 to 20150.531$107,106,121
Bears20172014 to 20160.313$105,838,800
Football Team20152012 to 20140.563$104,391,143
Vikings20182015 to 20170.531$104,266,398
Bengals20182015 to 20170.375$104,058,356
Football Team20172014 to 20160.438$103,728,623
Titans20172014 to 20160.563$103,151,825
Vikings20142011 to 20130.438$102,581,912
Buccaneers20152012 to 20140.375$101,313,289
Seahawks20182015 to 20170.625$101,086,623
Lions20142011 to 20130.688$100,632,055
Giants20162013 to 20150.688$100,387,123
Patriots20172014 to 20160.813$99,887,459
Cardinals20162013 to 20150.469$99,315,191
Steelers20152012 to 20140.625$98,762,530
Bears20182015 to 20170.750$98,021,197
Texans20162013 to 20150.563$97,204,418
Dolphins20182015 to 20170.438$95,679,783
Steelers20162013 to 20150.688$95,556,527
Seahawks20172014 to 20160.563$95,302,512
Jaguars20182015 to 20170.313$95,069,449
Falcons20152012 to 20140.500$95,000,229
Packers20172014 to 20160.438$94,979,339
Colts20142011 to 20130.688$94,945,251
49ers20182015 to 20170.250$94,818,902
Packers20162013 to 20150.625$94,556,773
49ers20172014 to 20160.375$94,507,971
Panthers20172014 to 20160.688$94,174,671
Buccaneers20172014 to 20160.313$93,605,692
49ers20162013 to 20150.125$93,503,545
Bills20152012 to 20140.500$93,366,195
Chargers20142011 to 20130.563$93,191,256
Giants20172014 to 20160.188$91,994,391
Lions20162013 to 20150.563$91,990,060
Eagles20172014 to 20160.813$90,395,613
Cardinals20142011 to 20130.688$89,920,331
Chargers20172014 to 20160.563$89,787,923
Colts20152012 to 20140.500$88,881,800
Bears20162013 to 20150.188$88,010,527
Seahawks20162013 to 20150.656$87,758,421
Eagles20182015 to 20170.563$86,380,522
Patriots20182015 to 20170.688$86,039,716
Falcons20142011 to 20130.375$85,663,605
Falcons20182015 to 20170.438$85,596,786
Jets20142011 to 20130.250$85,426,808
Buccaneers20182015 to 20170.313$85,193,102
Lions20182015 to 20170.375$85,146,586
Browns20152012 to 20140.188$84,167,788
Bears20152012 to 20140.375$82,977,344
Football Team20182015 to 20170.438$82,626,672
Steelers20172014 to 20160.813$81,789,593
49ers20142011 to 20130.500$80,765,111
Steelers20182015 to 20170.594$80,548,950
Dolphins20162013 to 20150.625$80,388,841
Bengals20172014 to 20160.438$79,481,760
Giants20152012 to 20140.375$78,862,518
Packers20182015 to 20170.406$78,297,389
Cardinals20152012 to 20140.813$78,066,953
Browns20182015 to 20170.469$77,463,912
Buccaneers20142011 to 20130.125$75,092,466
Saints20142011 to 20130.438$74,957,105
Chargers20162013 to 20150.313$74,751,027
Browns20142011 to 20130.438$72,479,224
Browns20172014 to 20160.000$71,095,843
Lions20172014 to 20160.563$71,073,724
Eagles20162013 to 20150.438$69,316,388
Bills20182015 to 20170.375$69,210,612
Chargers20152012 to 20140.250$69,006,191
Bengals20162013 to 20150.406$68,418,593
Broncos20172014 to 20160.313$67,140,547
Saints20172014 to 20160.688$66,986,615
Cardinals20182015 to 20170.188$64,939,581
Jets20182015 to 20170.250$64,623,043
Titans20162013 to 20150.563$64,092,368
Bills20162013 to 20150.438$63,760,478
Broncos20162013 to 20150.563$62,436,766
Saints20162013 to 20150.438$62,428,682
Jets20172014 to 20160.313$61,914,950
Jets20152012 to 20140.625$60,072,804
Bears20142011 to 20130.313$59,511,909
Titans20152012 to 20140.188$58,562,235
Jets20162013 to 20150.313$58,179,684
Broncos20182015 to 20170.375$57,744,205
Cardinals20172014 to 20160.500$57,105,930
Colts20172014 to 20160.250$49,719,276
Raiders20142011 to 20130.188$49,604,642
Saints20152012 to 20140.438$49,209,938
Giants20182015 to 20170.313$48,506,430
Colts20182015 to 20170.625$48,303,980
Browns20162013 to 20150.063$45,293,483
Jaguars20142011 to 20130.188$44,874,417
49ers20152012 to 20140.313$42,423,534
Giants20142011 to 20130.375$40,043,851
Colts20162013 to 20150.500$35,944,828
Titans20142011 to 20130.125$33,828,120
Bills20172014 to 20160.563$31,118,587
Raiders20182015 to 20170.250$20,896,566