12 new players have joined the Patriots via this year’s NFL draft, but what can we expect from them, both this year and beyond? We all know that some will succeed and some will fail, but we don’t know who will do what. I like Butler a lot, but he could be a bust. Late round picks rarely pan out, but George Bussey could turn out to be a mauler at guard, making us all comfortable with the eventual departure of Stephen Neal. So, how can we at least get an idea what to expect?
Marima is currently doing great breakdowns of the individual draft picks. My approach will be different. I will look back at the previous 13 Patriots drafts – 1996 to 2008 – to see how draft picks have historically been developed and contributed. 1996 has been chosen as the starting point to include all drafted players currently on the roster, Tedy Bruschi being the oldest of the group. It will be somewhat long, so it will be a three-part endeavour.
Draft picks – how long do they stay?
The Patriots drafted a total of 117 players 1996-2008. They were pretty evenly distributed by round: 13-15 in round one to three and 14-21 in round four to seven. More picks in the later are rounds are to be expected since they are often included in trades and awarded as compensatory picks.
To contribute a draft pick has to be on the 53-man roster, so that is the starting point for the analysis. Years on the practice squad or injured reserve is not counted. (E.g. Bo Ruud has 0 years even though he was with the club last year.) The average is surprisingly low, 2,7 years:
Not surprisingly players picked early tend to stay longer on the team. They have more obvious talent – that’s why they were picked early in the first place – more money is invested in them, and it is harder on the club’s image to part with a high-profile bust. Still, even high round picks have an average below five years. Every year hundreds of hopefuls are put in the meat grinder of the NFL, and most of them are out of the league again in a couple of years.
Now, averages are tricky, especially with such a small sample size. Let’s take a closer look at how the careers of draft picks develop:
This graph shows how many drafted players COULD be on the team after 1-13 years and how many players actually are on the team. The numbers are declining to the right since we still don’t know how the recent drafts will look over that period of time. I do believe they throw some more light on the trends observed earlier.
First- and second round picks partly have a high average because they are given more time to establish themselves. All are on the club after two years. At this point injured players are cut and busts released (Chad Jackson). The next significant cut-off is after five years, e.g. when their rookie contracts expire. Some are deemed essential to keep (Ty Warren) others are allowed to test free agency (Daniel Graham). I don’t know this for certain, but I have a feeling this is where the Patriots differ from clubs relying heavily on the draft. Unless a player is really special, they are let go and replaced with another draft pick or a cheaper free agent. Overpaying for mediocre players is probably the worst thing you can do in the salary cap era.
Third- and fourth-round picks follow the same pattern, but it is speeded up. They get only one year to prove themselves and a lot of them are dropped after three years. Apparently that is the time allotted for developmental players to fulfil their promise. Late-round picks are even worse off. A third of them are cut without even making the active roster, so they better show up at camp. They are not just lottery tickets; they are lottery tickets with short expiration dates. However, IF a player is retained after five years, it really doesn’t matter where they were drafted.
Being on the roster doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything noteworthy. The next part will look at the impact of drafts over time and discuss the best – and worst – drafts of the period.