Rankings of NFL Teams by Draft Class

For all the talk about the draft and teams that do well, there is one point that must be stressed. No team does well in the draft every year. Taking that statement to the next logical step, a team does not have to do well in the draft every year to be successful. To study this premise and associated issues, we reviewed drafts from 2005 through 2012. The drafts from 2013 and 2014 were omitted because it is too soon to make even a preliminary judgment on those. Before discussing the results we should discuss the key elements of the study. First, contrary to most of the other studies we have done, only a player’s career with the team that drafted him is considered. For example, the Jets do not receive credit for the years Darrelle Revis spent with the Bucs and the Patriots. Second, despite considerable thought on the matter, we could not come up with a formula or measure that would yield a meaningful comparative rating for the teams, so the ratings are subjective based on several factors. These factors include:
  • The number of two-year starters in a draft class
    • The cut-off of two years was used so that we could include as many current drafts as possible
  • The number of games started by a player over the course of their career with the team that drafted him
  • The number of Pro Bowl selections
  • The number of All Pro selections
It is acknowledged that there is an inherent advantage in being drafted by a “bad” team as the path to a starting job is likely to be an easier one, but this was not considered in the rankings. Draft position and number of choices were also not considered, so the result is an absolute and not relative grade. Based on these factors the drafts of each team for each draft class were analyzed with the teams ranked one through 32. The full rankings are shown at the end of this article. It is recognized that the rankings for at least some of the years might change over time as careers ebb and flow. One would expect, for example, that more post-season honors are likely to be won in the future by some of the more recent draftees. Perhaps the most striking results from the study is that no team was ranked #1 more than once. Similarly, no team was ranked last more than once either. While other factors may be at play, this supports the variability of draft results and the presence of the “luck factor” in the draft process. The same management team following the same process can garner different results in different years. Seven teams were ranked in the top 10 in at least half of the eight drafts. Those teams, with its ranking based on its won-lost record for 2005-2014 in parentheses, are: Several things stand out in the analysis:
  • The Packers were actually ranked in the top 10 in five of the first six years of the study before earning lower rankings in 2011 and 2012
    • The Packers have been in either the top or bottom 10 in each of the eight drafts
  • The Seahawks have finished in the top three in the 2010-2012 drafts
    • They are the only team with three top three grades
  • The 49ers were ranked in the top 10 in each draft from 2005-2007 but only once since then
  • Neither the Chargers nor the Raiders had even one top 10 grade
    • The Raiders had only one bottom ten grade as well
  • The Patriots, with the top won-lost record for 2005-2014 by a comfortable margin, were in the middle of the pack as far as draft grades with three top 10 rankings and three rankings in the bottom 10
Seven teams finished in the bottom ten at least half the time. These teams were: A few notes about the teams finishing at or near the bottom:
  • The Saints have finished in the bottom 10 for each of the last four drafts
  • The Jaguars and Giants have finished in the bottom 10 for each of the last three drafts
  • In addition to its four bottom 10 grades, the Bears have ranked 11th from the bottom on two other occasions
  • Every team but the Titans have finished in the bottom ten at least once
Here are the complete annual rankings for the 2005-2012 drafts: Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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