It was late Sunday night, draft weekend. I had just finished scouring the Internet for any final potential scraps of info on Michael Lehan and Antonio Garay… the final two draft selections of my beloved Cleveland Browns. I slammed a disk into my laptop and started hammering out my annual post draft analysis column.
After four years of following the same post draft ritual, the foolishness of what I was doing finally hit me.
I was about to spend three to four hours predicting how the games of 262 college kids, many of whom I had never had a chance to see play, would project onto the next level. I had read trees worth of scouting reports on most of the draftees, and seen many of them on television last season or on film this off-season. "I can do this", I said to myself.
Then, I went back and read a copy of my post draft analysis from last year. I chided the Broncos for taking Clinton Portis in the 2nd round and insisted that the Colts reached at #11 by selecting Dwight Freeney. Ouch. It was then that I disembarked on train of thought and hopped onto another..
Instead of a traditional draft evaluation, why not take a look back and grade how the 32 NFL franchises have drafted over the past 6 seasons as an indicator of likely success in 2003? I printed a draft history out for each NFL franchise dating back to the 1998 draft. I spit out the most recent team depth charts off of www.ourlads.com. I grabbed a couple of pens and a hi-liter and went to work.
I need some sort of base formula to make early sense of this all.. I told myself. After some internal debate, this is what I went with for players drafted from 1998-2002:
|Players drafted who are starters||6 points|
|Players drafted who are starters on other teams||4 points|
|Players drafted who have made a Pro Bowl||12 points|
|Players drafted in round 4 or later who are starters (sleepers)||6 additional points/player|
|Players drafted in rounds 1 or 2 that are no longer on team and are not starters on another team (busts)||minus 10 points|
I added each team's total points at that point to the percentage of players selected that are still on that team for final individual team totals. Amazingly the league average was exactly 50%. Omitting the Texans, the percentages ranged from Miami, (who has only 34.2% of the players picked over those 5 seasons still on their roster) to Seattle (who still has 64.4% of the players taken over that span on their team).
After a bit of tinkering, I was comfortable with the formula. I had decided that I would not strictly use it as the basis of my rankings. For the above formula obviously said nothing about the '03 draft classes, and little about last season's draft as many of the players had yet to work their way in as starters and even fewer had made the Pro Bowl. I took one more look over each team's 6 year history and tweaked my rankings using my analysis of how each team drafted over the past two seasons as well as the overall impact of the '98-'01 draft classes.
Now that you know the method to my madness, here are draft success rankings of the 32 NFL franchises over the past six years. Capsules for the 17th through 32nd ranked teams will follow next week:
It was a challenge to decide which team had done the best job evaluating college talent over the past 6 years. The decision came down to the Colts and the 49ers. Many will probably be surprised to see the Colts ranked first, but few will still be surprised after they finish reading this.
The Colts five 1st round picks from '98-'02 (QB Peyton Manning, RB Edgerrin James, LB Rob Morris, WR Reggie Wayne, DE Dwight Freeney) are all starters and are all key cogs to the team. Nine other selections start for the team, giving the Colts 14 starters from these draft classes…which tied the Bears for tops in the league. In addition to doing well in the early rounds, the Colts have also done well late. Two of the teams starters on the offensive line (Ryan Diem and Rick DeMulling) were picked in the 4th and 7th rounds of the '01 draft and DE Brad Scioli was a steal as a 5th rounder in '99.
The Colts top 4 selections from a season ago should all start for them on defense this season, including rookie phenom D-linemen Dwight Freeney and Larry Triplett as well as 4th round LB David Thornton, whose encouraging play allowed the team to let '99 2nd rounder Mike Peterson leave in free agency.
You won't find many bad picks for the Colts during this time
period. The closest you'll get are WR's Jerome Pathon and E.G. Green as 2nd and
3rd rounders in '98. I also really liked the Colts '03 draft class as they
plucked TE Dallas Clark off the board to revitalize the 2 TE packages hurt
by the loss of Ken Dilger last season. Michael Doss simply knows how to play
the game and will contribute this season. And CB Donald Strickland and OT Steve
Sciullo are two players I'm very high on.
The 49er franchise used canny drafts selections to key their quick return to winning ways after well-publicized salary cap problems plagued them in the mid ‘90's. The 2000 draft sticks out, as the team nabbed 5 current defensive starters (LB Julian Peterson, CB Ahmed Plummer, DE John Engelberger, CB Jason Webster, and LB Jeff Ulrich) in the 1st 3 rounds of the draft that year. They followed that up the next season by picking starting DE Andre Carter in the 1st and grabbing LB Jamie Winborn and RB Kevan Barlow in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.
The Niners also have a nice little string going of successful 7th round selections. In 2000 they picked backup QB Tim Rattay, who has shown promise and came back and picked their starting TE in the 7th round of the 2001 draft. Last season they took OG Eric Heitmann in the 7th and he ended up starting all season. This year, the Niners took Ken Dorsey in the 7th.
Even going back to '98 and '99 the Niners made smart picks. In addition to the selections of S Lance Schulters, CB R.W. McQuarters, and DT Chike Okafor (all starting for other teams)…the team scored on Pro Bowl C Jeremy Newberry, as well as 6th round picks FB Fred Beasley and Tai Streets. The only really bad pick during this time frame was that of DT Reggie McGrew in the 1st round of the '99 draft. Last year's draft, in addition to Heitmann, produced CB Mike Rumph and LB Saleem Rasheed, both of whom saw plenty of action, as well as K Jeff Chandler. This year, they nabbed OT Kwame Harris and DT Anthony Adams for help in the trenches and grabbed a pair of very interesting WR options in Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle on day two.
3. Chicago Bears
45 picks, 14 starters, 24 on team, 3 Pro Bowlers, 3 busts, 5 sleepers
Favorite Team: Florida (6 picks)
Like the Colts, the Bears have produced 14 of their 24 starters from these draft classes. Highlights: C Olin Kreutz in the 3rd round in 1998…OG Rex Tucker, WR Marty Booker, LB Warrick Holdman, and CB Jerry Azumah in the 3rd through 6th rounds in 1999…and Brian Urlacher with the 9th overall pick in 2000. The 2000 draft also produced K Paul Edinger, WR Dez White, and S Mike Brown.
The success of next seasons Bears offensive attack will be largely dependant on the success of WR David Terrell, RB Anthony Thomas, and OG Mike Gandy - their 1st 3 picks of the 2001 draft, and a trio the jury is still out on.
The 2002 draft appears to be a very solid one for the Bears as 1st round OT Marc Colombo, as well as 4th and 5th round selections DE Alex Brown and LB Bryan Knight, showed excellent promise. 36% of all players selected during this period are now Bears starters and they have not really missed on a high pick since the Curtis Enis / Cade McNown disasters of '98 and '99.
This season's draft saw the Bears essentially deal DT DeWayne Robertson for DE Michael Haynes and QB Rex Grossman…a move that will be highly scrutinized in the windy city as the years pass. They nabbed two guys I'm very high early on day two when they selected S Todd Johnson and WR Justin Gage. The Bears took 4 Florida Gators in this year's draft, and have taken 6 kids from Gainesville over the past 3 seasons.
Despite only having 34 selections over the past 5 years (3rd lowest behind Houston and Detroit), the Ravens have made them count. Nearly 60% of those kids are still on the team and 12 of them start for the franchise. Their last 4 top picks are considered the backbone of the team: CB Chris McAlister, RB Jamal Lewis, TE Todd Heap, and S Ed Reed. To add momentum, the Ravens added DE/OLB Terrell Suggs and QB Kyle Boller in the 1st round of this years draft.
The Ravens have also hit on some late picks, with OG Edwin Mulitallo coming over in the 4th round in '99, DE Adalius Thomas in the 6th in '00, and LB Edgerton Hartwell in the 4th round in '01. Last years draft saw several additional late picks make big contributions as well.
Basically, the Ravens have been flawless thus far in the Ozzie Newsome era. You have to go back to the 1998 1st and 3nd round selections of CB Duane Starks and WR Pat Johnson if you are looking for mistakes. This years draft class was consistently rated as one of the best by the "pundits" as they added one of the drafts top RB's and FB's in Musa Smith and Ovie Mughelli after the aforementioned 1st round power duo. OT Tony Pashos, S Gerome Sapp, and S Antwoine Sanders also were players that represented great value as late 2nd day picks in my opinion.
The Steelers have been very successful drafting players over the years by continuing to subscribe to the "best player available" theory. Their totals of 25 players still on their team as well as 4 Pro Bowlers are amongst the league leaders for this period.
There are names aplenty: Faneca, Ward, Ma'afala, Porter, Burress, Zeroue, Tuman, Hampton, Bell, Simmons, and Randle El. Like the Ravens, the Steelers have been nearly perfect on high selections since the late ‘90's. We have to go back to WR Troy Edwards and DB Scott Shields in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the '99 draft to find the latest Steeler busts.
With Hampton and Bell, they rebuilt the middle of their defense with the first 2 picks of the 2001 draft and OG Kendall Simmons, WR Antwaan Randle El, S Chris Hope, and LB Larry Foote all made significant contributions as rookies last season. This year, Pittsburgh uncharacteristically traded up to select S Troy Polamalu from USC and then took DE Alonzo Jackson and CB Ivan Taylor in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Of note on day two was their 4th round pick of QB Brian St. Pierre.
6. Tennessee Titans
43 picks, 9 starters, 21 on team, 2 Pro Bowlers, 0 busts, 3 sleepers
Favorite school: Florida, Florida St., and Utah (3 picks)
With McNair, Mason, and George all remaining in the fold, the Titans have used the draft over the past 6 seasons to rebuild their defense. The following 6 players are all current Titan defensive starters and all were 1st or 2nd round picks from '98-'02: CB Samari Rolle, DE Jevon Kearse, LB Keith Bulluck, DB Andre Dyson, DT Albert Haynesworth, and S Tank Williams.
They also added 2 starters on their offensive line in '98 and '99 with the 5th and 3rd round picks of OG's Benji Olson and Zach Piller and selected LB Peter Sirmon in the 4th round in '00. Aside from that, the Titans have little else to show of from '98-'01…but they have rattled off 3 impressive drafts in a row from '01-'03. Receiving threats Shad Meier, Justin McCareins, and Eddie Berlin (from the '01 draft) all started to show something last season and the Titans added some nice defensive depth in the later rounds of the '02 draft.
Tennessee has not really swung and missed on any day one picks over the past 5 years and their '03 draft class was one of my favorites in the entire NFL as they snagged CB Andre Woolfolk, WR Tyrone Calico, RB Chris Brown, DT Rien Long, S Donnie Nickey, and OG Todd Williams.
Highlighted by the selection of Donovan McNabb at #2 overall in '99, the Eagles have been largely successful with their draft picks since 1998. They started off with a bang in '98 with the selections of OT Tra Thomas, LB Jeremiah Trotter, and DT Brandon Whiting. McNabb, LB Barry Gardner, OG Doug Brzezinski, and OT John Welbourn followed in 1999 and DT Corey Simon and WR Todd Pinkston were the top picks in 2000. 2001 was an off year that saw them select busts WR Freddie Mitchell and DE Quinton Caver in the 1st two rounds, but they did get RB Correll Buckhalter and QB A.J. Feeley in late rounds.
In 2002, the Eagles took DB's with their top three picks even though that was a team strength at the time. Second round pick Michael Lewis was the most productive of that trio as a rookie, and RB Brian Westbrook played a role for the team as a rookie as well. This year's draft saw the Eagles make a move I really liked as they moved up to select DE Jerome McDougle to replace the departed Hugh Douglas. Also, TE L.J. Smith and WR Billy McMullen are possession-receiving threats that could flourish in Philly's west coast offense.
8. New Orleans Saints
34 picks, 9 starters, 13 on team, 2 Pro Bowlers, 0 busts, 2 sleepers
Favorite school: Florida St., Georgia, and Ohio St. (3 picks)
Like Baltimore, the Saints have not had many picks (34) over the past five years, but have made the most of them. Top picks in '98 and '99 OT Kyle Turley, TE Cam Cleeland, and RB Ricky Williams have since departed, but all remain solid players. Williams was their only selection in '99 as coach at the time Mike Ditka traded the teams' entire draft to move up and select him. DE Darren Howard and FB Terrelle Smith, the top 2 picks in '00 both start for the team as do phenom RB Deuce McAllister and LB Sedrick Hodge, who were the top 2 picks in '01. Like several of the teams ranked above them, the Saints have also not missed on a first day pick over this time frame. Last year's draft was an a stellar one for the Saints as their first 6 picks (WR Donte Stallworth, DE Charles Grant, OG LeCharles Bentley, LB James Allen, CB Keyou Craver, S Mel Mitchell) will all likely start for them this year. This season, the Saints moved up to take monstrous DT Jonathon Sullivan from Georgia, and selected OT Jon Stinchcomb and LB Cie Grant in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.
9. Minnesota Vikings
42 picks, 9 starters, 18 on team, 4 Pro Bowlers, 2 busts, 2 sleepers
Favorite school: Stanford (3 picks)
I originally had the Vikings ranked 7th, but they let time elapse and slipped down to 9th.
The Vikings are unique for several reasons: First, they are the highest ranked team not to make the playoffs in either of the last two seasons. Secondly, they've drafted 4 players that have went on to play in Pro Bowls since '98 (NOT counting Hovan and McKinnie, two more likely perennial Pro Bowlers). This is tied with Washington and Pittsburgh for tops in the league. Lastly, they've had great success picking offensive players, but have struggled picking defenders, which is clear if you've seen the Vikings play in the last 3 years.
The Vikings first-round picks from '98, '99, '01, and '02 are Moss, Culpepper, Bennett, and McKinnie, who represent the heart of their offense. They also scored on C Matt Birk in the 6th round in '98, who has been a rock in the middle of their O-line. Of the 8 defensive players Minnesota has taken on day one over the past 5 years, only Chris Hovan will be starting for them on opening day this year. LB Kailee Wong was let go, DT Dimitrius Underwood tried to kill himself, and DE Michael Boireau and DE Willie Howard were 2nd round busts.
As far as this years draft was concerned, I thought the Vikings did very well despite embarrassing themselves by letting the time run out on their 1st round pick AGAIN! And if that was truly done to save themselves from paying #7 money, I have even less respect for them. Kevin Williams was allegedly the guy they wanted all along and was a fast riser due to his DT strength and DE speed. LB E.J. Henderson was a steal at #40 overall, and WR Nate Burleson, RB Onterrio Smith, and WR Keenan Howry have a real chance to help this offense.
10. Green Bay Packers
44 picks, 10 starters, 21 on team, 2 Pro Bowlers, 1 bust, 5 sleepers
Favorite school: Ohio St. (4 picks)
While the Pack hasn't had the best of success in their early draft picks since'98, they've been among the best in the league in finding legitimate talent in the later rounds. Consider this list of players of starters, all taken in the 4th round or later: WR Corey Bradford ('98), QB Matt Hasselback ('98), QB Aaron Brooks ('99), WR Donald Driver ('99), LB Na'il Diggs ('00), DT Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila ('00), OT Mark Tauscher ('00), and FB Najeh Davenport ('02).
When you take a look their eight 1st and 2nd round picks from '98-'02, only TE Bubba Franks, WR Javon Walker, and OT Chad Clifton project as starters on this years team. DB's Antwan Edwards and Fred Vinson, their top two picks in '99, as well as defensive linemen Vonnie Holliday and Jamal Reynolds (1st rounders from '98 and '01 respectively) have been huge disappointments. With no heir apparent to Brett Favre left on the board at #29 overall, the Pack ended up going defense with their first four selections this year. OLB Nick Barnett was their first pick, and is a very athletic player that Green Bay is hoping can restore some speed to a slow defense. DE Kenny Peterson slipped to them in the 3rd round and they took DT James Lee from Oregon St. and OLB Hunter Hillenmeyer from Vanderbilt off the board in the 5th round.
11. Washington Redskins
36 picks, 7 starters, 18 on team, 4 Pro Bowlers, 0 busts, 1 sleeper
Favorite school: Tennessee (3 picks)
The ‘Skins have had just 36 total draft selections over the past five years and only seven of those picks are projected to be starters for the 2003 edition. However, quality not quantity has been the prevailing theme in the nation's capital.
Washington scored big with their first two selections in the '99, '00, and '01 drafts, essentially building the framework for their team going forward. In '99 it was CB Champ Bailey and OT Jon Jansen. In '00, LB LaVar Arrington and OT Chris Samuels. And in 2001, they selected WR Rod Gardner and CB Fred Smoot. Some would even argue that last years first two selections, QB Patrick Ramsey and RB Ladell Betts, will be good ones as well. The bad news here is that just four other players from the '98-'01 drafts are still even on the team, although TE Stephen Alexander, LB Shawn Barber, and K Jeff Hall are starters elsewhere throughout the league. This most recent draft, Washington had only three draft selections on account of the restricted free agent spending spree they went on this off-season. With their 1st two picks, in the 2nd and 3rd round, they got two legitimately talented offensive players that were targeted to go much higher in WR Taylor Jacobs and OG Derrick Dockery.
Take away the 2000 draft and the Bills would be in the top 5 of these rankings. The last two years have been especially good ones for Buffalo, as they've selected 9 players projected to be starters next season and another 3-4 who could be soon.
For starters, they nabbed RB Travis Henry and WR Josh Reed in the 2nd rounds of those two drafts, as well as landing 60% of their suddenly formidable offensive line. OT Mike Williams, the 4th overall pick last year, appears to be a budding star and OT Jonas Jennings ('01 3rd round) and OG Marques Sullivan ('01 5th round) have developed into solid starters. Also taken in the second round of those two drafts were DE's Aaron Schobel and Ryan Denney as well as CB Nate Clements and S Coy Wire.
The 2000 draft, as I mentioned, as only RB Sammy Morris remains, but in 1999 they hit on CB Antoine Winfield and WR Peerless Price (who was traded for the McGahee pick this year) with their first 2 picks. The Bills do not have anyone remaining from the '98 draft, but were without a 1st or 4th rounder that year, and did select LB Sam Cowart in the 2nd as well as RB Jonathon Linton in the 5th.
This year, the Bills shocked a lot of people when they went after Willis McGahee at #23 overall in a classic boom or bust selection. They went DE for the 3rd year in a row in the 2nd round with the selection of Chris Kelsay from Nebraska, who was being bandied about as a 1st round pick in the weeks leading up to the draft. A couple of later selections that may be able to help include ILB's Angelo Crowell and Mario Haggan as well as WR Sam Aiken from North Carolina, one of the Bills favorite schools to pull players from.
13. Oakland Raiders
37 picks, 9 starters, 21 on team, 2 Pro Bowlers, 3 busts, 3 sleepers
Favorite school: BYU, California, Florida St. (3 picks)
While free agents Gannon, Garner, Rice, Brown, and Romanowski come to mind when thinking of the Raiders, their draft classes over the past 5 seasons played a big role in their return to the Super Bowl this past season.
57% of all selections from those seasons are still on the team, which is one of the highest percentages in the league. Save S Derrick Gibson, their bust 1st round pick from '01, everyone of their 1st round picks (CB Charles Woodson, OT Matt Stinchcomb, K Sebastian Janikowski, and CB Phillip Buchanon) from those years are all projected starters next year. In 1998. the Raiders hit the jackpot getting 3 current defensive starters in the 2nd through 5th rounds when they selected DE Tony Bryant, and LB's Eric Barton and Rod Coleman. In 1999, after the Janikowski pick, they got Jerry Porter in the 2nd round, who at the time was a converted CB. He appears set to follow in the footsteps of the great Raider wideouts he currently plays behind. Also Shane Lechler, a Pro Bowl punter, was taken that year in the 5th. 2000 was a weak draft for the Raiders, headlined by the Gibson bust pick, although the team is still high on QB Marques Tuiasasopo as the heir apparent to Rich Gannon. Their 2002 draft has the makings of being a good one, as CB Phillip Buchanon looked good before getting hurt and Napolean Harris evolved into a starter at MLB in the Super Bowl for them. Doug Jolley is the TE of the future and OT Langston Walker and DE Kenyon Coleman will push hard for starting spots this year.
This year, the Raiders shocked some people by going DE Tyler Brayton and S Nnamdi Asomugha with the last two picks of the 1st round, but got great value late on guys like WR Teyo Johnson, RB Justin Fargas, DE Shurron Pierson, and WR Doug Gabriel (a kid I really like out of Central Florida).
The Falcons still only have 40% of their draft selections from the '98-'02 period, but they have been money in the bank on their high draft selections. Their top pick from every season has been a key contributor to the team. From OLB Keith Brooking in '98, to DE Patrick Kerney in '99, to OT Travis Claridge in '00, to hitting the lottery on Michael Vick in '01, the Falcons have been solid in the early rounds. Also, their '02 #1, T.J. Duckett, looked good at times as a change of pace to Warrick Dunn.
It's also worth mentioning that 2 of Atlanta's starting offensive linemen, Todd McClure and Kynan Forney, were 7th round draft picks in 1999 and 2001 respectively. The problem with the Falcons drafts has been the 35 guys they've taken, as 25 of them are no longer on the team. This season the Falcons traded #23 overall for WR Peerless Price, who brought his game to a Pro Bowl level last year. The trade was a good one for Atlanta, and gives Michael Vick a dangerous target to throw to for many years. In the 2nd round, they took S Bryan Scott from Penn St., and went FB, WR, WR in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th. All three picks were considered reaches, but the Falcons contend that all 3 players can help this offense sooner rather than later.
The Broncos have had their share of early misses, as well as late finds, over the past five seasons and the end result is that the Broncos have done slightly better than average when compared against the rest of the league. The late ‘90's were tough on the Broncos as just one of their eight first day selections (LB Al Wilson-'99 1st rd) will be on the roster after Brian Griese is fed to the Dolphins on June 1st. I will add that they did make nice selections on RB Olandis Gary and TE Desmond Clark in the 4th and 6th rounds in '99, who are now members of the Bills and the Dolphins.
Their first three picks in 2000: CB Deltha O'Neal (Pro Bowler), LB Ian Gold (Pro Bowlers as special teamer), and S Kenoy Kennedy are all starters now, and they also got RB turned FB Mike Anderson in the 6th that year. CB Willie Middlebrooks and DE Paul Toviessi were both busts as 1st and 2nd round selections in 2001, but once again Denver scored late with the 3rd and 4th round picks of DE Reggie Hayward and C Ben Hamilton, both starters. Last year's draft looks promising for the Broncos as WR Ashley Lelie and RB Clinton Portis should be key cogs to the Bronco offense for years to come.
This season, the Broncos went after OT George Foster in the first round when the more highly regarded Eric Steinbach, and Kwame Harris were still on the board - a pick that will be closely watched by Bronco fans. LB Terry Pierce was their 2nd round pick, and with their three picks in the 4th round, Denver took three players I really like off the board in RB Quentin Griffin, and defensive linemen Nick Eason and Bryant McNeal from Clemson.
16. Seattle Seahawks
45 picks, 9 starters, 29 on team, 2 Pro Bowlers, 1 bust, 2 sleepers
Favorite school: Eight schools tied (2 picks)
The numbers are a bit misleading on Seattle, who has a league high 29 players (64.4%!!) from the last 5 drafts still on their current roster. However, just nine of those players are starters and only Shaun Alexander has gone to the Pro Bowl. Their 2nd best pick of this era behind Alexander was Ahman Green, who was unceremoniously dealt to Green Bay for what was I believe a second-round pick.
Some names of note on the good side are LB Anthony Simmons in the 1st round in '98, DE Antonio Cochran in the 4th round in '99, and WR Darrell Jackson in the 3rd in '00. The jury is still very much out on their first five picks in 2001. WR Koren Robinson, OG Steve Hutchinson, CB Ken Lucas, FB Heath Evans and LB Orlando Huff have all seen their share of playing time, but with mixed results.
Last year, the Seahawks traded up to get TE Daniel Graham, only to get trumped by the Patriots who surprised them by taking him. They settled for TE Jerramy Stephens, who had a decent rookie campaign between injuries. 2nd round pick RB Maurice Morris did a decent job taking back kicks and spelling Shaun Alexander. Seattle addressed their porous secondary in this most recent draft, taking CB Marcus Trufaunt and S Ken Hamlin in rounds one and two. OT Wayne Hunter was a steal in the 3rd round, and the Seahawks took a flier on QB Seneca Wallace in the 4th.
Coming Next Week: Teams 17 - 32!