Not all drafts are created equal. The 2014 NFL Draft was said to be very rich in talent, while last year’s iteration was considered relatively weak. We don’t have much data on which drafts scouts have labeled as “good” or “bad”, but I thought it might be fun to see which drafts have turned out to be the best and worst.
To do this, I looked at every draft from 1970 to 2008. Since there were only 222 picks in the 1994 draft, I looked at only the top 222 drafts in each of these drafts. The formula I used to measure each draft was pretty simple: use PFR’s Approximate Value grades to produce a value for each player, and then sum the values for each of the top 222 picks in each draft. More recent drafts will obviously be disadvantaged by this formula, since AV is a counting metric, which means the 2008, 2007, 2006, etc., drafts will look stronger in a few years. Regardless, take a look:
The top draft was in 1993, which has already produced a pair of Hall of Famers in Michael Strahan and Willie Roaf; Will Shields, Jerome Bettis, and John Lynch may soon join them in Canton. The first overall pick was Drew Bledsoe, but he wasn’t the only star quarterback: Mark Brunell was selected in the 5th round, while Trent Green and Elvis Grbac were 8th round picks (Rick Mirer, of course, was the second pick). Chad Brown, Michael McCrary, Dana Stubblefield and Chris Slade each topped 50 sacks, while Ray Buchanan, Brock Marion, and Ryan McNeil each hit the 30 career interceptions mark. The draft was filled with successful backs: In addition to the Bus, Garrison Hearst, Robert Smith, Natrone Means, Adrian Murrell, Terry Kirby, Richie Anderson, Lorenzo Neal, and Glyn Milburn were all drafted in 1993. This draft even produced some excellent kickers in Craig Hentrich and Jason Elam.
Excluding 2008, which is still accumulating value, the worst draft was in 1972.1 Franco Harris is the only Hall of Famer from this draft, while the first round was filled with busts. Eleven of the top 20 picks — Walt Patulski, Lionel Antoine, Greg Sampson, Royce Smith, Jerry Tagge, Craig Clemons, John Reaves, Clarence Ellis, Eldridge Small, Terry Beasley, and Michael Taylor — produced less than 30 points of career AV.
Mike Tanier recently wrote a great article on the USFL and the 1984 draft. The rival league held a draft in January of that season, and selected players like players like Reggie White, Steve Young, Gary Zimmerman, Gary Clark, William Fuller, and Mike Rozier. A few months later, the NFL held separate drafts for USFL players and for the regular collegiate prospects. As a result, it wasn’t Young or White that went first overall in the regular draft, but Irving Fryar. One might suspect that as a result, the 1984 draft would be a historical outlier; that’s not quite the case, although it clearly was a relatively weak draft (but, for example, it grades out as better than the ’82 draft). This analysis also ignores that Earnest Byner, who produced the third most AV of any player from that draft, was selected with the 280th pick.
Let me close with the top and bottom four values from each draft, taking into account draft position and career AV.