We've talked for a month or so now about how much of an inexact science the NFL Draft is and how hard it is for scouts to project the success or failure of college prospects. With that in mind, I went back and looked at ten years of draft history looking specifically at the first ten picks each year. I chose the top ten because these guys should end up, in theory, being the most productive player at the next level plus the fact that analyzing the entire first round or some other sample size would take considerably more time.
For the sake of simplicity I chose the bar of success as having been to a single Pro Bowl. I know that's not a perfect system but for the most part it's fair to every player and removes any chance for bias on my part. I also started with the 2004 draft, so that every player has had at least four seasons to establish themselves. So before you read on, imagine that you're a GM with a top 10 pick in any given year. What percentage do you think you have a picking a guy who will play in at least one Pro Bowl?
First some raw stats on the first ten picks from 1995 through 2004 (100 total picks):
Positions Most Frequently Drafted: WR with 18; QB & DE tied with 14; CB with 11; and RB & OT tied with 10
Colleges Most Heavily Represented: Florida State with 7; Miami, Ohio State, Penn State, and Texas each had 6 picks
Teams With Most Top 10 Picks: Cincinnati, Baltimore and Arizona each had 7 top ten picks in the past ten years and Baltimore had two top tens in 2000
Players yet to reach a single Pro Bowl: 49 of 100
Players who have played in one Pro Bow: 17
Players who have played in more than one Pro-Bowl: 34
Obviously there are some guys included in the 49 who will make a Pro Bowl sometime in their career. Guys like Plaxico and Eli come to mind, but there are plenty of guys who made a Pro Bowl whose careers can hardly be called a success (David Boston and Koren Robinson). As the years unfold though in the future, I would imagine that the trend would remain relatively the same. I originally thought after looking at the data that it would be reasonable to assume that the older the draft, the more players from that draft would get at least a single Pro Bowl. Much to my surprise though, two of the worst years for players yet to be selected were in 1995 and in 1998 (each year had 6 players). The 2002 top ten has been the worst so far with seven players yet to reach Pro Bowl status, while the best draft has been the infamous 1999 draft that included Tim Couch and Akili Smith. In total only 3 players failed to reach a PB.
As far as the Steelers are concerned, they've only picked in the top ten once during this time period, selecting Plaxico Burress. He is no doubt a quality receiver but he's yet to make a Pro Bowl during his eight year career despite topping 1,000 yards 4 times and snagging double digit touchdowns twice. The Steelers picks over these ten years have averaged aroud the 20th overall and they have selected just four players that made the Pro Bowl so far in their career. The list of non-PB players includes Kendall Simmons, Plax, Troy Edwards, Chad Scott, Jamain Stephens, and Mark Bruener.
All in all, if NFL scouts and coaches can't pick a quality player in a top 10 pick how are we supposed to have any idea? Well that's the beauty of the draft. April 28th you can expect to hear every single team say something along the lines of 'we got exactly who we wanted' or 'we filled many important needs' and my personal favorite 'we got the guys who will ensure the sucess of this franchise for years to come.' The truth is though only time will tell.