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There is no such thing as a good drafting team in the NFL


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If you're old enough, you remember Aaron Curry.

In 2009, the Wake Forest linebacker was dubbed "the safest pick in the draft" by Mike Mayock, then an analyst for NFL Network, now the general manager of the Las Vegas Raiders.

ESPN's Mel Kiper offered a similar assessment: "He can rush the passer and drop in coverage ... maybe not a boom, but certainly not a bust."

Evidently agreeing, the Seattle Seahawks chose him fourth overall. Four years later, Curry was out of the NFL.


Every year, teams exhaust their resources to determine which players from college will turn into quality NFLers. Scouts visit stadiums across the country, coaches dissect film, doctors examine medical reports, and front offices conduct background checks. The prospects sign up for athletic drills, intellectual testing, and private interviews, then tour team facilities for individual workouts and follow-up meetings.

So much information is collected, yet nearly one-third of the players selected in the first round this century have panned out like Curry.

Curry played in 33 games over two-plus seasons with the Seahawks. He averaged 0.34 tackles for loss per game, posted only 5.5 sacks, and allowed 62 catches for 613 yards and six touchdowns on 76 targets in coverage. He was no more successful with the Raiders, who acquired him in 2011 and cut him in 2012.

Curry finished his career with an approximate value (AV) of 4.5 per year. The AV statistic was created by Pro Football Reference. While imperfect, it calculates a player's general worth, similar to wins above replacement (WAR) in baseball.

An average AV of 4.5 represents former first-round picks Travis Taylor, Rod Gardner, Donte Stallworth, Anthony Spencer, Darren McFadden, Ziggy Hood, Eric Ebron, Billy Price, and Curry.

Of the 600-plus players drafted in Round 1 since 2000, half of them have accumulated an AV per year of 5.6 or lower. At 5.6 AV per season, we're talking about fine contributors like Jeff Faine, Manny Lawson, Kareem Jackson, Teddy Bridgewater, and Shaq Thompson. However, these weren't long-term standouts and certainly not the best players to come out of their respective classes.

For perspective, players with distinguished careers - like Tamba Hali, Demaryius Thomas, and Harrison Smith - are above 8 AV per season. The true elites - like Reggie Wayne, Von Miller, and Ed Reed - are in double digits.


A year after choosing Curry, the struggling Seahawks gave way to a new regime led by general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll. It didn't take long for them to turn around the franchise, or be celebrated as the best drafters in the NFL.

From 2010-12, Seattle selected Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, and Russell Wilson, and signed Doug Baldwin as a rookie free agent. With that nucleus, the Seahawks morphed into perennial championship contenders, appeared in two Super Bowls, and won one.

But the same methods that led them to discover all that talent haven't paid dividends lately. Since 2013, Schneider and Carroll have chosen Germain Ifedi, Rashaad Penny, and L.J. Collier in the first round. In the years they didn't pick in the opening round, their top selections were Christine Michael, Paul Richardson, Frank Clark, and Malik McDowell.

Other than Chris Carson, the Seahawks haven't uncovered a gem on Day 3 of the draft since Sherman - a fifth-rounder in 2011.


In March, legendary college coach Urban Meyer said his recruiting misses at Ohio State were "almost non-existent" after applying some advice from Bill Belichick.

Meyer revealed the retooled recruiting philosophy he used, which focused on a player's competitiveness, toughness, leadership, intelligence, and adaptability. Noticeably, his updated criteria didn't emphasize physical attributes, raw athleticism, or statistical production.

While those words of wisdom may have worked for Meyer, they haven't given Belichick - supposedly a master at spotting talent where no one else can - a leg up in the draft.

Of the 144 players Belichick drafted for the New England Patriots between 2000 and 2015, only 34 have become primary starters for four or more seasons.

Granted, the list of four-year starters doesn't include players like Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Flowers, who began their careers in reserve roles but are certain to reach the benchmark eventually. However, it does include low-level starters like Matt Cassell, Brandon Spikes, and Lee Smith.

His four-year starters hit rate of 23.61% between 2000 and 2015 is the 10th-worst mark in the league. But it's not as if any team has really pulled away from the pack - almost all of them extract two eventual starters per class.

Four-year starters from 2000-15 drafts

Team 4-year starters Draft picks Percentage
Panthers 39 121 32.23
Saints 34 107 31.78
Jets 32 110 29.09
Steelers 37 130 28.46
Ravens 37 132 28.03
Chargers 32 115 27.83
Cowboys 34 125 27.20
Dolphins 33 122 27.05
Jaguars 35 130 26.92
Falcons 33 123 26.83
Broncos 34 127 26.77
Giants 31 116 26.72
Titans 38 143 26.57
Bengals 36 137 26.28
Rams 36 142 25.35
Bears 31 123 25.20
Lions 30 121 24.79
49ers 36 146 24.66
Chiefs 31 127 24.41
Cardinals 29 119 24.37
Packers 35 144 24.31
Texans 28 117 23.93
Patriots 34 144 23.61
Seahawks 33 140 23.57
Raiders 30 128 23.44
Eagles 31 136 22.79
Bills 30 132 22.73
Colts 28 125 22.40
Vikings 28 128 21.88
Buccaneers 27 124 21.77
Redskins 25 115 21.74
Browns 24 130 18.46

This year, teams raised concerns about their ability to accurately evaluate prospects after pro days and private workouts were wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert reportedly went so far as to ask the NFL to add three rounds to the draft to make up for the reduction in available resources.

But the numbers indicate Colbert - who was promoted to Steelers general manager in 2010 - and his peers will whiff on most of their selections no matter how many tools are at their disposal.

In his inaugural draft, Colbert netted Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown. He also picked up Jason Worilds, who was a solid edge rusher for five seasons before he unexpectedly retired. But his next nine drafts have yielded exactly two full-time NFL starters per class, and he's had minimal success beyond Round 3:

Year Player (round drafted)
2011 Cameron Heyward (R1)
Marcus Gilbert (R2)
2012 David DeCastro (R1)
Kelvin Beachum (R7)
2013 Le'Veon Bell (R2)
Vince Williams (R6)
2014 Ryan Shazier (R1)
Stephon Tuitt (R2)
2015 Bud Dupree (R1)
Jesse James (R5)
2016 Javon Hargrave (R3)
2017 T.J. Watt (R1)
JuJu Smith-Schuster (R2)
James Conner (R3)
2018 Terrell Edmunds (R1)
James Washington (R2)
2019 Devin Bush (R1)
Diontae Johnson (R3)

As a matter of fact, 12 of the 16 players Colbert drafted in 2014 or 2015 are already out of the league or on the free-agent market looking for a job. (Ryan Shazier is excluded from those numbers since he was having a formidable career up until his debilitating spine injury in 2017.)


Different teams look for different traits in the players they pick, yet none can avoid poor drafts.

The Dallas Cowboys hit the jackpot in 2016, landing Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, and Dak Prescott within the first four rounds, but got far less from their 2017 crop:

Round Player Status
1 Taco Charlton Cut
2 Chidobe Awuzie Starter
3 Jourdan Lewis Reserve
4 Ryan Switzer Traded
6 Xavier Woods Starter
6 Marquez White Cut
7 Joey Ivie Cut
7 Noah Brown Reserve*
7 Jordan Carrell Cut

*Spent last two seasons on injured reserve

The Atlanta Falcons also enjoyed a fruitful 2016 draft, plucking Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Austin Hooper, and De'Vondre Campbell, but the returns on their 2017 class were modest:

Round Player Status
1 Takkarist McKinley Starter
3 Duke Riley Traded
4 Sean Harlow Cut*
5 Damontae Kazee Starter
5 Brian Hill Cut**
5 Eric Saubert Traded

*Spent most of 2019 season on Falcons' practice squad
**Later returned to Falcons, spent most of 2019 in reserve role

In 2017, the New Orleans Saints came away with Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, and Alvin Kamara. In 2018, their haul was mostly disappointing:

Round Player Status
1 Marcus Davenport Starter
3 Tre'Quan Smith Reserve
4 Rick Leonard Cut
5 Natrell Jamerson Cut
6 Kamrin Moore Cut
6 Boston Scott Cut
7 Will Clapp Reserve

In all three cases, the same general manager-head coach tandem was responsible for the great draft and the poor draft that followed.

For years, Ozzie Newsome was regarded as a draft savant. His first two selections for the Baltimore Ravens, Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, had Hall of Fame careers. From 1996-03, all but one of his classes featured at least one player who made multiple Pro Bowls. But from 2004-05, his best picks were Dwan Edwards, a rotational defensive tackle, and Jason Brown, a center who played four seasons for Baltimore and three for the St. Louis Rams.

He fared better from 2006-08, but from 2009-15, his classes were mostly clunkers. Only one of his top picks from the aforementioned seven-year period signed a second contract with the Ravens.

Ozzie Newsome's top selections: 2009-15

Year Player Round
2009 Michael Oher 1
2010 Sergio Kindle 2
2011 Jimmy Smith 1
2012 Courtney Upshaw 2
2013 Matt Elam 1
2014 C.J. Mosley 1
2015 Breshad Perriman 1

The regression couldn't have been a case of Newsome failing to evolve with the game because he started to get back on track over his final years in Baltimore. Three of his last four first-round picks have already become All-Pros. In 2018, his farewell draft, he snatched three Pro Bowlers in Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown Jr., and Mark Andrews.

But before he took Jackson, an MVP by the end of his sophomore campaign, Newsome selected Hayden Hurst, a tight end who started four games in two years and averaged 3 AV before being traded. The fact the Ravens' evaluation on Hurst was strong enough to draft him over a quarterback is startling.


It's not like the NFL draft is all about luck. By any reasonable metric, including average career length, the success rate of draft picks will drop from one round to the next, which suggests teams have a general idea of what they're doing.

But in a world where clubs and general managers are constantly labeled good or bad drafters, it's fascinating that none of them have managed to identify the right players the majority of the time, despite having more experience to draw on with each passing draft.

In 2009, Tim Ruskell all but sealed his fate with the Seahawks by taking Curry fourth overall. His five draft classes in Seattle were undeniably bad, but his successor may not have fared much better.

After all, there is no such thing as a good drafting team in the NFL.

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