We already know what the average draft pick is worth, thanks to the Football Perspective Draft Value Chart. If we assign the draft value associated with each pick to the college of that player, then we can determine which school had the most draft value in any given year. As it turns out, the best single draft since 1967 came courtesy of USC in 1968. Look at this pretty incredible draft for the Trojans, with five players in the top 24:
Pk Team Player Pos School 1 MIN Ron Yary T USC 10 PIT Mike Taylor T USC 14 PHI Tim Rossovich LB USC 16 CHI Mike Hull RB USC 24 DET Earl McCullouch WR USC 68 PHI Adrian Young LB USC 94 WAS Dennis Crane DT USC 101 NYJ Gary Magner DT USC 298 OAK Chip Oliver LB USC 438 DEN Steve Grady RB USC 439 NOR James Ferguson C USC
In modern times, the best draft class (in terms of draft pick value) by a single school came in 2004, when the Miami Hurricanes sent this impressive haul to the NFL:
Rk Team Player Pos School 5 WAS Sean Taylor DB Miami (FL) 6 CLE Kellen Winslow Jr. TE Miami (FL) 12 NYJ Jonathan Vilma LB Miami (FL) 17 DEN D.J. Williams LB Miami (FL) 19 MIA Vernon Carey T Miami (FL) 21 NWE Vince Wilfork NT Miami (FL) 213 NYJ Darrell McClover LB Miami (FL) 215 CHI Alfonso Marshall DB Miami (FL) 254 SDG Carlos Joseph T Miami (FL)
After grading each school in each season, I then came up with program grades (longtime readers will recall I previously did this in 2010). A program grade consists of the draft value that school received in each season plus the school’s draft value in the three prior seasons and the three next seasons.1 By grading a college over a seven-year period, we can get a sense of which schools were big schools and which schools were barely sending anyone to the draft.
After you classify a school, you can then separate the “big school” prospects — anyone from a school that had over 200 points of value in a seven-year period — and “small school” prospects (less than 50 points of value). For example, from 2000 to 2009, there were 95 running backs drafted: 44 from Big Schools and 51 from Small schools. On average, the Big School prospects went with the 103rd pick in the draft, while the Small School prospects went at pick 150. More importantly, the Big School backs were expected to produce 7.6 points of AV compared to just 3.9 points for the Small School backs. In reality, the difference between Big School (10.2 points of marginal AV through five years) and Small School backs was negligible (8.3 points).
LaDainian Tomlinson was the best Small School back, although he obviously wasn’t overlooked. But Brian Westbrook (Villanova, 91st pick) would qualify, as would Matt Forte (Tulane, 44th pick). Marion Barber III (Minnesota), Ahmad Bradshaw (Marshall), Brandon Jacobs (Southern Illinois), Derrick Ward (Ottawa), Michael Turner (Northern Illinois), Mewelde Moore (Tulane), and Chester Taylor (Toledo) were all drafted in the fourth round or later.
On the other hand, the biggest busts — Cedric Benson (Texas), Chris Perry (Michigan), Kenny Irons (Auburn), Glen Coffee (Alabama), Lorenzo Booker (Florida State) — were all Big School backs. And none of the five Small School backs selected in the first two rounds — Tomlinson, Chris Johnson, Laurence Maroney, DeAngelo Williams, and Forte — were busts.
To be clear, the author makes no representation that this trend will continue. Of course, it’s hard not to notice this trend and not think about Alfred Morris (Florida Atlantic) last year. That might be good news for the team that takes Stony Brook’s Miguel Maysonet. Why am I talking about Maysonet? Because I grew up five minutes from Stony Brook, and my brother will be interviewing him after the draft. (Plug!)
At wide receiver, there doesn’t seem to be much of a bias in favor of either Big or Small school players. From 2000 to 2009, 201 receivers were drafted. As you’d expect, the 82 Big School WRs had a higher average draft pick (98 to 152), but they also wound up being more productive (8.4 points of marginal AV to 4.7).
Only three Small School players were selected in the first round. One was Michael Crabtree, who certainly doesn’t feel like a Small School player (Texas Tech was in the BCS title race in his last season), but the Red Raiders had few players drafted from 2006 to 2012.
The other two Small School receivers were Roddy White (Alabama-Birmingham) and Sylvester Morris (Jackson State), so we’ll call that one a split. The Big School prospects were all over the board, as you might imagine, from people like Craig Davis and Mike Williams to Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson.
If we look at the best receivers drafted outside of the first round, the Small School prospects tend to dominate (but remember, there are more of them): Marques Colston (Hofstra), Greg Jennings (Western Michigan), Brandon Marshall (Central Florida), Vincent Jackson (Northern Colorado), Pierre Garcon (Mount Union), Deion Branch (Louisville), and Justin McCareins (Northern Illinois) were all very good values. Of the Big School players, the “slipped through the cracks” players would be Darrell Jackson (Florida), Laveranues Coles and Anquan Boldin (Florida State), Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham (Michigan), and Devery Henderson (LSU).
There were more than their share of busts from Small Schools, too. In the second round alone there was Devin Thomas (Michigan State — not a Small School in reality, but they met the definition), James Hardy (Indiana), Dexter Jackson (Appalachian State), Tyrone Calico (MTSU), Donnie Avery (Houston), and Darius Watts (Marshall). The third round rounds brought in such luminaries as JaJuan Dawson (Tulane), Ramses Barden (Cal Poly), and Ron Dixon (Lambuth).
I’m not sure if there is much we can take away much from the data. But if your favorite team takes a Small School wide receiver on draft day, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing.
The sample sizes are obviously smaller at quarterback. One interesting difference is that Big School players aren’t generally drafted much earlier than Small School passers. That seems to be reinforced this year, where someone like Ryan Nassib (Syracuse) could go ahead of Matt Barkley (USC). As it turns out, both the average Big School quarterback and the average Small School quarterback slightly under-produced relative to expectations for their draft slot.
The biggest busts were JaMarcus Russell and Matt Leinart, two Big School players, but John Beck (BYU), Drew Stanton (Michigan State), Pat White (West Virginia), Giovanni Carmazzi (Hoftra), Kevin Kolb (Houston), Chris Redman (Louisville), and Charlie Frye (Akron) were relatively high picks from Small Schools who produced almost nothing in their first five years. And David Carr (Houston), J.P. Losman and Patrick Ramsey (Tulane) were first round busts.
On the positive side of the ledger you have Tom Brady (Michigan) as the biggest draft steal. But if we look at the first round quarterbacks that excelled (ignoring the middle school prospects), they’re mostly from Small Schools — think Ben Roethlisberger (Miami of Ohio), Joe Flacco (Delaware), and Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt). The best Big School quarterback was Carson Palmer (USC), but after him, you get into the Vince Young (Texas)/Mark Sanchez (USC)/Rex Grossman (Florida) tier of NFL history. When it comes to later round picks, outside of Brady, it’s just Matt Cassel (USC) and David Garrard (East Carolina).
But I wouldn’t expect to see any systematic bias at quarterback. Say what you want about scouting,but if there was a way to find undervalued quarterbacks in the draft, I think NFL teams would figure that out pretty quickly (unless the quarterback was really short).
We get a similar story at tight end. The best picks were pretty evenly split, with Jason Witten (Tennessee), Randy McMichael (Georgia), Alge Crumpler (North Carolina), Bo Scaife (Texas), Jeremy Shockey (Miami), Jermichael Finley (Texas), and Ben Watson (Georgia) coming from Big Schools, and Brent Celek (Cincinnati), Chris Cooley (Utah State), Kevin Boss (Western Oregon), Eric Johnson (Yale), L.J. Smith (Rutgers), Tony Scheffler (Western Michigan), and Jacob Tamme (Kentucky) from Small Schools.
There were 37 Big School tight ends selected over the ten-year period and 41 Small School players. Again, the Big School players were drafted much earlier, but they also were much more productive. All five first round picks were from Big Schools, with an incredible four of them coming from Miami of Florida (Kellen Winslow, Bubba Franks, Greg Olsen, and Shockey) joined by Watson, and none of them were busts. Bennie Joppru (Michigan) and Ben Troupe (Florida) were second round busts, but it’s hard to compare since so few Small School tight ends end up getting drafted early. None were selected in the top sixty, with Scheffler and L.J. Smith being the highest drafted at the position. But I wouldn’t say that Small School tight ends are necessarily overlooked, when players like Witten and Finley are falling to the third round, too. As is always the case with late round picks, it’s possible that some Small School players at all positions are being overlooked once they’re on NFL rosters, and therefore never really get a fair chance. But since the best Small School tight ends over a ten-year period were Celek, Cooley, and Boss, perhaps NFL teams are appropriately overlooking these players.
It’s hard to think that there is any bias in the NFL Draft — if one exists, other NFL teams will catch it, and exploit it, and that edge will disappear pretty quickly. As you guys know, I think the NFL draft is a very efficient market, and this seems to back up those results.
- I also removed the player’s draft value from the program grade, as that just felt right to me. [↩]