Momma Rollett Queries "Conventional Wisdom": One is Good, the Other – Cundiffed?

Recently, Ms. Rollett published a series of articles analyzing the draft: Assessing the Steelers' Drafting Success During the Kevin Colbert Era, Part I and Part II

In re-reading her pieces, I focused in on two questions she raised. The first one being:

"...So is there a decent amount of correlation between where a player is taken in the draft and how likely they are to succeed?.."

And the second one, in which she conjectured:

"...This, however, ignores something I will attempt to address now-why is the Steelers' record so much less impressive in the second round? I noted CHFF didn't even mention this, so either most teams struggle a lot more in the second round, or they missed it

So to return to the question of the second round, what's going on? I'm hardly an expert, but I have a theory. As we've already seen, in most positions the first couple of players taken, or at least the ones taken in the upper part of the first round, are the creme de la creme. They are much more likely to excel. By the time you get to the second round there tend to be a lot of "top talents" that slipped out of the first round, combined with lower round talents who raised their stock at the combine or other official events.

I wonder if, in the case of players that slip, there's a touch of hubris-the Steelers staff feel they know more than the majority of the scouts. Or they are prepared to gamble a bit more, feeling they have a coaching and development staff superior to other teams..."

In analyzing the data Momma references, provided by, including their Average Value and more especially their CarAvg value metric, and as attested to by Cold Hard Football Facts, I've come to the conclusion that Conventional Wisdom hit one of the issues dead between the uprights, but I believe it pulled a Cundiff and was wide of the mark on the other.

Before you respond and say: "...SMDH...Well duh, PaVa Steeler, of course players picked in the higher rounds do better, they're better players!", I have two words for you: JaMarcus Russell, or how about Ryan Leaf, or RaShaun Woods or Charles get my point?

Let's break it down this way for all players drafted and eligible for a CarAvg score since 2000 (2,409) :

18% (427) of all players drafted between 2000 and 2010 failed to play or perform well enough to even merit a "1" on the CarAvg score (the "Sweeds" of the league).

3 % (66) managed to perform to a CarAvg level equal to the average for their selected round (they "met expectations").

33% (807) exceeded the average score for their round

64% (1,536) earned a CarAvg score but it was below their respective round's average (they played "below the curve").

Of these 1,536 players, 47% came from the 1st and 2nd round. (25% and 22% respectively). The graph below illustrates this:



So, is Conventional Wisdom correct that the round in which a player is drafted is a predicator of their success?

And is that same Conventional Wisdom correct that the Steelers have (overall) lousy luck with 2nd Round picks?

Conventional Wisdom's First attempt:

Conventional Wisdom would say that the longer player is in the NFL, the higher his score. But as illustrated above, 67% of players perform at or below the average for their respective draft rounds.

Conventional Wisdom would also state that the longer a player plays, the higher his CarAvg score since presumably he has more opportunities to perform, and since he continues to play in the league, he must be contributing.

Let’s look at career length first; here’s the career length average, by round for the Steelers, and the League as a whole. Ironically, the two groups have matching overall career lengths of 3.92 years.




As you can see, the shared average career length of 3.92 is exceeded by the average career lengths of the first 4 rounds, thus lending validity to both CHFF and Ms. Rolletts's observation that being selected in the higher rounds is an indicator of (potential) success.

However, career length alone doesn't measure a draft pick's worth. Pro Football Reference has a metric called Career Average (CarAvg) which is a weighted average of a player's Average Value performance rating those folks calculate every year for each player. The CarAvg metric takes 100% of the player's best year, 95% of his second best year, 90% of his third, and so on.

Given that another respected site, Cold Hard Football Facts considers Pro Football Reference as "the Bible", it seems obvious then to use the CarAvg metric in the same manner as career length to ascertain whether there is a correlation, as Ms. Rollett asked, between where in the draft a player is selected, and how likely they are to succeed.

If we tabulate the CarAvg score given each player drafted between 2000 and 2010, the average CarAvg score is 13.3. When we segregate the data by round, we get the following graph:



As the descending slope of the graphs illustrates across the League, there is a steep decline in performance from the 1st round through the 3rd, but the performance ratings for players drafted in the first two rounds still meet or exceed the overall CarAvg performance, the third round is just below average, and the subsequent rounds worsen further, but at a lesser rate of decline.

(It's up, and....)

Thus, the CarAvg graph illustrates that a player picked in the first three rounds is more likely to perform at or above the average CarAvg performance of all draft picks combined, or in other words

...ITS GOOD!!!!

Conventional Wisdom nails it through the Uprights and is 1 for 1.

Conventional Wisdom's Second attempt:

These same graphs can help us with Conventional Wisdom's second attempt. As the graph illustrates, the Steeler's 2nd Round CarAvg score of 22.6 exceeds the League's 20.2 score by almost 12%, meaning, for every Limas Sweed or Alonzo Jackson the Steelers picked, the rest of the league picked more players of comparable skill and longevity.

Thus, conventional wisdom has pulled a Cundiff...

...and is wide to the left in its assertion that the Steelers are cursed with their 2nd round picks; the hard cold facts indicate that they are less likely to flub this pick than the rest of the League. Sorry Momma, but it is not a product of hubris, nor a "gambler's attitude" that bedevils the Steelers. Instead, it must be the frustration of the misses the Steelers do make that make it seem like they're cursed, for the rest of the League's 2nd round picks perform even worse than the Steelers'. Conventional Wisdom - 1 for 2

Finally, Some interesting points on the CarAvg graph:

(1) For 1st Round picks, the players the Steelers have selected out-performed the League's first rounders by almost 38%.

(2) The Steelers manage to select players as far down as the 4th round that exceed the league average, afterwhich they trail the League until the 7th round when, despite not lasting as long as the League's 7throunders, the players the Steelers select out-perform the League's by 25%.

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