Picking a Winner

by Bo Mitchell

Any football fan who’s been paying an iota of attention knows by now that the Indianapolis Colts are taking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in this week’s NFL Draft. In fact, they’ve already told him he’s the pick. After Luck is gone, the Washington Redskins will be handing a jersey and hat to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III as the second pick. That much we know for sure.

The Minnesota Vikings have the third pick and their general manager Rick Spielman strategically told the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week that he’s considering taking one of three blue-chip prospects: USC left tackle Matt Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

All of the aforementioned players are sure-fire, can’t-miss prospects, right? Future Pro Bowlers? Maybe even Hall of Famers.

Not so fast.

The fact is recent history says most players selected in the first round of the NFL draft never live up to their lofty expectations. Actually, most of them (69% over the last 10 years) haven’t made it to Honolulu, Hawaii for even one Pro Bowl appearance. Top-three picks are no exception.

That reality is a swift kick to the store for frenzied fans and general managers. It’s enough to kill the buzz of anyone currently dreaming of an instant-impact or franchise type of player falling to them in Thursday night’s first round.

As SportsData’s “From 1st Round to Pro Bowl” Infographic below details, if the past decade is any indication only about 10 players selected in the first round this year will make it to the Pro Bowl.

The mathematicians among you might be thinking to yourself: “Hey, 10 years of 32 picks equals 320 players, not 319.” Well that’s correct, but remember the New England Patriots forfeited their top pick in the 2008 draft when they were busted for “SpyGate.”

As you can see, of those 319 players…

  • 69 percent didn’t even make one Pro Bowl
  • 83 percent didn’t make multiple Pro Bowls

That’s a lot of missing from “can’t-miss” players.

If those trends hold up, only five or six teams will draft a player on Thursday night who ultimately lives up to his billing as a multiple-time Pro Bowler, while 25 or more teams will ultimately feel like they got short-changed.

Sifting further through the data from the last 10 drafts, we also included in the graphic above exactly how many first-rounders turned into Pro Bowlers at each position. While the sample sizes aren’t huge for interior offensive linemen, those who have been good enough to warrant selection in the first round over the last 10 years have generally not disappointed. That’s a strong indicator for teams eyeing guards and centers with first round grades this year such as Stanford guard David DeCastro, Georgia guard Cordy Glenn, and Wisconsin center Peter Konz.

Most of the positions other than center and guard have been well-represented in the first round over the last decade of drafts. As the data reveals, your best bet of drafting a player who becomes a Pro Bowler is at safety and linebacker. In particular, safeties are a very (ahem) safe pick, with more than half of them developing into Pro Bowlers and more than a third of them making the trip to Honolulu on more than one occasion. Given this track record, the teams taking a look at Alabama safety Mark Barron ought to feel pretty good about his chances of becoming a perennial Pro Bowl-caliber player.

The four positions that have had the most players selected in the first round over the last decade are defensive end, cornerback, offensive tackle and wide receiver – none of which have fared well at all in terms of producing Pro Bowl players on a regular basis. Buyer beware.

As for Luck and RGIII, or even Ryan Tannehill, compared to most positions first round quarterbacks have done well in terms of developing into Pro Bowlers, as nearly one out of three have made it at least once. But when a team takes a quarterback in the first round, they are thinking “This is the guy that can lead us to a Super Bowl.” It’s a quarterback-driven league, which is why they go first so often. But the fact that 80 percent of those selected in the first round over the last 10 years have not been to multiple Pro Bowls has to be a bit deflating.

Of those eight quarterbacks who have gone first overall in the last 10 years, three have been to the Pro Bowl (Cam Newton, Eli Manning, and Carson Palmer) and Manning is the only one to win a Super Bowl.

Suffice it to say, regardless of where you are picking or what position your team targets, there are no sure things in the first round of the draft. Not even close. More often than not, your first-rounder will fail to reach his projected Pro Bowl potential. As the Indianapolis Colts will find out when they go on the clock April 26, it takes more than a little “Luck” for your first-rounder to become a Pro Bowl player.

More fun facts about the last 10 NFL Drafts, by pick:

  • Over the last 10 NFL Drafts every first-round draft position (1-32) has produced at least one Pro Bowler.
  • The draft positions that have produced the most Pro Bowl players in the last 10 years are the third pick, 11th pick, and 24th pick (6 Pro Bowlers each).
  • The first and second picks in the last 10 drafts have produced 10 players who have been to the Pro Bowl: five No. 1 picks and five No. 2 picks.
  • The 27th overall pick has produced exactly as many Pro Bowl players (five) as the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks over the last 10 years.
  • Over the last 10 years, the first, third, eighth, 11th, 12th, and 24th picks have each produced the most players (four) who have been to multiple Pro Bowls.
  • The sixth pick in the draft has been snake-bitten the last 10 years, with only two players who have been to a Pro Bowl and zero multiple-Pro Bowl players.


Copyright 2012 by SportsData