In seven days, the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft takes place in Chicago and the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots pick at a familiar spot: at the (pre-compensatory) end of each round. Seeing the Patriots pick at or near the bottom of each draft round is nothing new.
Bill Belichick, who became head coach/general manager in 2000, has transformed New England into the most successful and most consistent franchise in the league. Four Super Bowls, six AFC Championships and 12 division titles, however, have a negative impact on where you are allowed to pick in the draft (although it is a price worth paying): as noted above, the Patriots usually pick late on draft days.
How late do they pick?
Let's compare their data to the rest of the league, to find out if the notion that New England has, on average, a worse draft position than other teams holds true.
In order to do that, we take a look at each of the last 13 drafts (we go back to the 2002 draft, when the first round was expanded to 32 selections) to find out when every franchise had selected its first player. The results should tell us which teams usually pick early and which ones usually pick late. We then compare our findings with the Patriots.
First, we take a look at the data:
|St. Louis Rams||31||12||24||19||15||13||2||2||1||14||14||8||2||12.1|
|Kansas City Chiefs||6||27||36||15||20||23||5||3||5||26||11||1||23||15.5|
|New York Jets||22||4||12||47||4||14||6||5||29||30||16||9||18||16.6|
|San Diego Chargers||5||30||1||12||19||30||27||16||12||18||18||11||25||17.2|
|San Francisco 49ers||27||26||21||1||6||11||29||10||11||8||30||18||30||17.5|
|New Orleans Saints||13||6||18||13||2||27||7||14||32||24||89||15||20||21.5|
|Green Bay Packers||20||29||25||24||5||16||36||9||23||32||28||26||21||22.6|
|New York Giants||14||25||4||43||32||20||31||29||15||19||32||19||12||22.7|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||86||64||15||5||23||4||20||17||3||20||7||43||7||24.2|
|New England Patriots||21||13||21||32||21||24||10||34||27||17||21||52||29||24.8|
By looking at the numbers, we can see that the Patriots' first selection, on average, was pick number 24.8; the fifth highest number over the course of the last 13 drafts. We can therefore say that, yes, New England starts picking later than most of the other franchises. Only the Ravens, Seahawks, Bears and Colts have, on average, picked later.
We need to add a little context to the ranking, though, to fully understand the numbers above.
1. The Patriots select late because they are consistently successful. Had they not made any trades (both pre-draft as well as on draft weekend), their mean would increase by five points to 29.8 – tops in the league and a stunning 5.6 slots worse than the second-placed Colts' average.
2. If we focus strictly on trades, the Patriots are the only team in the top five of worst average draft position to actually improve their initial slot via trading: New England's average decreases by five points from its original draft spot (29.8 → 24.8). The Colts, Bears, Seahawks and Ravens, on the other hand, worsen their first-pick-average after taking trades into account:
Indianapolis: 24.2 → 30.2
Chicago: 18.3 → 28.7
Seattle: 21.4 → 27.6
Baltimore: 21.7 → 26.4
3. New England improved the average position of its first draft pick by trading for the future: the team only traded up four times in the first round, while trading back eight times. Due to this method, the Patriots gained flexibility on several draft weekends. As a result, the team had three additional first round selections in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Those picks were originally acquired by trading away Drew Bledsoe (for a 2003 first-round pick), Deion Branch (for a 2007 first-round pick) and Richard Seymour (for a 2011 first-round pick).
4. The Colts, Bears, Seahawks and Ravens all have higher numbers than New England, which means that, on average, those franchises have picked later than the Patriots. Not picking in the first round obviously distorts the data a little bit. New England did not have a first round selection two times (2009, 2013), while all four teams with higher averages did not pick in the first round three times each.
5. The reasons why those teams did not pick in the first round a combined 12 times are as follows.
Indianapolis: 1 trade down (2004), 1 trade up (2008 draft affected), 1 trade for a player (2014 d.a.).
Chicago: 1 trade down (2006), 1 trade for a player (2009 and 2010 d.a.).
Seattle: 2 trades for players (2007 and 2013 d.a.), 1 trade down (2014).
Baltimore: 1 trade up (2004 d.a.), 2 trade downs (2010, 2012).
6. The Patriots under Bill Belichick have never traded away a future first-round selection (although the Patriots did trade a future first round selection for Bill Belichick in 2000). The Colts, Bears, Seahawks and Ravens did this a combined seven times. The two times New England did not pick in the first round the last 13 years was because of trade-downs.
7. The Patriots, Ravens and Steelers – winners of a combined seven Super Bowls this millennium – are the only three teams to not pick in the single digits even once over the course of the last 13 years. New England and Baltimore came close in 2008 (both the Ravens and Patriots traded out of the top-9 in 2008) and 2003, respectively, as both teams drafted their first player at the number 10 spot that year. Neither team will draft in the top ten this year.
8. New England's division rivals have on average selected at slots 13.8 (Buffalo), 16.6 (New York) and 21.8 (Miami) since the 2002 draft. Of course, those slots are calculated with draft-trades taken into account but they still reflect the power structure within the AFC East over the last 10+ years. The Bills were the weakest team and thus have the lowest picking-average, whereas the Patriots as the dominant force in the division have the highest.
Of course, the numbers above can also tell us a few other interesting, non-Patriots-related facts:
9. The Washington Redskins did not pick in the first round a league-leading five times. They are the only team to not draft in round one more often than thrice. Had the Redskins not traded away five of their first round selections, their average first pick would have been at slot 11.6 instead of 22.9.
10. Nine teams selected at least one first-round player in all 13 drafts. Of those nine teams, six are ranked in the bottom seven with the lowest average. This makes sense: teams with early day one selections basically never trade out of the first round.
11. Two teams, the Jaguars and Lions, made their first selection outside of the single-digit draft slots just five times. The Jaguars are scheduled to pick third next week, the Lions 23rd.
12. Even though, on average, they pick second earliest, the Jaguars have never selected number one overall since the league expanded to 32 teams. The Texans, on the other hand, have picked first a league-leading three times. No other team selected first more than once.
13. The Colts are notoriously late pickers. This is due to their success with quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, as well as their willingness to trade away future first-round choices (2008, 2014). In fact, had the Colts not "sucked for Luck" but instead picked at their average spot, their 13-year mean would increase by an additional four points to 34.5 – and out of the first round.
The notion that the Patriots usually pick late in the draft is not a myth, it is – as the numbers above show – reality.