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Post-Drafting: Defending the Scouts

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Mike Lupica went off Sunday morning on Sports Reporters about Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick in 2000, with the insinuation that draft scouts have no idea what they're doing because this incredible, can't-miss Hall-of-Famer was passed over by x number of bums unworthy of his Super Bowl jock sweat. This is stupid, but it's also Sports Reporters, so, you know, yell at the TV at forget about it.

But the Wall Street Journal, too? Come on:

So, in general, how well does the NFL draft do in finding future stars? A look at the All-Pro teams of the past five years reveals some surprises. Of the 80 position players who made the All-Pro teams since 2002, 35, or 44%, were not drafted in the first round. That means that practically every NFL team passed on them at least once. And 21 All-Pros weren't picked until the third round -- or later.

How many No. 1 draft picks were All-Pros over that period? One: Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts. Five players who went totally undrafted -- running back Priest Holmes, tight end Antonio Gates, fullback Mack Strong, center Jeff Saturday and offensive lineman Brian Waters -- earned that honor.

(Hat tip: The Wiz, who I said in February was wrong about recruiting and I think is wrong in exactly the same way about the draft).

What is surprising about those findings?  First of all, they're dishonest about the success of top draft picks: No. 1 picks over that period include Carson Palmer, who most definitely was voted into the Pro Bowl in 2005 before a playoff injury kept him out, and Eli Manning, Alex Smith and Mario Williams, who are unchallenged starters still very far from the "bust" designation. Michael Vick, like Palmer, was a No. 1 pick voted into Pro Bowls in 2002 and 2004, years he guided the Falcons to the divisional and conference championship rounds of the playoffs, respectively.

Second, look at the number presented as "surprising": forty-four percent of all-pro players over the last five years weren't first rounders, which means a whopping 56 percent of all-pro players were first-rounders. The draft has seven rounds every year, meaning first-round picks make up about 14 percent of all players selected, yet in recent history have earned more all-pro selections than the other 86 percent of the league combined. That's a tremendous track record by first round picks - and remember, that's all-pro teams, not the Pro Bowl, which, as you can see with Palmer and Vick above, is likely to further demonstrate the general success of the highest-rated prospects.

As for more undrafted prospects earning top honors than No. 1 picks, you could look at the specific undrafted players in question - siren-worthy injury risk Priest Holmes (that tag stuck, too, eventually) and college basketball player Antonio Gates, especially, either of whom I can imagine and in fact would expect Lupica to trash to hell if the Jets or Giants had dared waste a precious choice on them - or you could look at the numbers: every year, there is one No. 1 pick, who enters along with several hundred undrafted free agents who will sign or try out for a team. Of the last ten No. 1 picks (since 1997: Orlando Pace, Peyton Manning, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Michael Vick, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Alex Smith and Mario Williams), I'd say four have proven worthy, so far, of that sort of investment: Pace, Manning the Elder, Vick and Palmer. That's a forty percent success rate, without factoring the potential future gains of Manning the Younger, Smith and Williams. What's the success rate of the 1,000-plus undrafted free agents that have bounced around the league over the same span? Judged against the same standards of a No. 1 overall pick - a bust like Tim Couch or David Carr is just a plucky overachiever like Jay Feidler or Tony Romo if he's not No. 1, after all - I'd guess well below two percent. You're far, far better off with the number one pick, at about the rate a reasonable person would predict. Shocking.


Case closed.
- - -

Tom Brady is a an astonishing anomaly among sixth round quarterbacks, the vast majority of whom either hold a clipboard for a while and quickly disappear or play horribly under pressure and quickly disappear. This could have happened to Brady, too, if Drew Bledsoe wasn't injured. Why is it Lupica is willing to select Brady as an example of scouts' ignorance, but not Spurgeon Wynn, Todd Husak, JaJuan Seider, Josh Heupel, J.T. O'Sullivan, Drew Henson, Brooks Bollinger, Kliff Kingsbury, Andy Hall, Jim Sorgi, Jeff Smoker, Derek Anderson, Reggie McNeal or Bruce Gradkowski as an example of their accuracy? All of those quarterbacks have been drafted in the sixth round with Brady or in years since. You mean two guys (Marc Bulger was also drafted a few picks ahead of Brady in 2000) out of sixteen have eventually become successful? Wow, what fool could have missed them? Again, compare that rate with the success rate of recent quarterbacks who went No. 1 overall - not even counting other top five picks like Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Philip Rivers, Vince Young, et al - and where would you place your trust?

Scouts know what they're doing, and they wouldn't have a job if they didn't. I'm going to take this back to recruiting. Brian at MGoBlog has done some work vindicating the scouts, and so has omnivorously prescient Phil Steele, who aggregates the ratings into his endlessly useful "P.S. number." In the 2006 draft, Steele's magazine last year reported ten of the first 23 players selected had a P.S. number in the top ten at their position out of high school (including eight of the top ten picks) and 17 entered college as "VHTs." Seventeen out of twenty-three is 74 percent, an unbelievably good rate of predicting success. Two others were "near VHTs." In 2007:

Pick Player P.S.# Pick Player P.S.#
1 JaMarcus Russell (QB) #4 QB 17 Jarvis Moss (DE) #3 LB
2 Calvin Johnson (WR) #17 WR 18 Leon Hall (DB) #23 DB
3 Joe Thomas (OL) #12 DL 19 Michael Griffin (DB) #20 DB
4 Gaines Adams (DE) ?* 20 Aaron Ross (DB) #40 DB
5 Levi Brown (OL) #47 DL 21 Reggie Nelson (DB) #10 DB
6 LaRon Landry (DB) #18 DB 22 Brady Quinn (QB) #12 QB
7 Adrian Peterson (RB) #1 RB 23 Dwayne Bowe (WR) #62 WR
8 Jamaal Anderson (DE) #76 WR 24 Brandon Meriweather (DB) #26 DB
9 Ted Ginn Jr. (WR) #1 DB 25 Jon Beason (LB) #24 DB
10 Amobi Okoye (DL) #397 DL 26 Anthony Spencer (DE) ?*
11 Patrick Willis (LB) ?* 27 Robert Meachem (WR) #5 WR
12 Marshawn Lynch (RB) #23 RB 28 Joe Staley (OL) ? (TE)*
13 Adam Carriker (DE) #92 DL 29 Ben Grubbs (OL) ? (DL/TE)*
14 Darrelle Revis (DB) #52 DB 30 Craig Davis (WR) #30 WR
15 Lawrence Timmons (LB) #11 LB 31 Greg Olsen (TE) #1 TE
16 Justin Harrell (DL) #52 DL 32 Anthony Gonzalez (WR) #25 WR

* - P.S. Numbers not available, but for those listed in Scout.com's database, Willis was an unranked two-star linebacker, Spencer was an unranked one-star end, Grubbs was an unranked, one-star defensive end/tight end and Staley was an unranked, two-star tight end.

Scouts get a pass on Okoye because he was just out of the womb, making Willis, Staley, Spencer and Grubbs the proper sleepers. Staley and Grubbs, frankly, were still unknown to all but the most diehard college fans before Mel Kiper freaked over their athleticism - both were projected as college tight ends. But 20 of the top 32 players as judged by the NFL were ranked among the top 40 at their position out of high school, and Russell, Thomas, Peterson, Ginn, Timmons, Moss, Nelson, Quinn, Meachem and Olsen were proper star recruits among the top dozen. Nearly 20 percent of the entire first round was ranked P.S. #5 or better, three of them P.S. #1. Given the regularly cruel fates of academics, injuries and circumstances over four or five years of sub-optimal hormonal, environmental and experiential conditions for decision-making, and the number of unquestionably successful college players who aren't even considered by the NFL - to whom we'll return later today - I think that's pretty solid predictin'.