The NFL Draft of 2017 just completed today and every team and their fans are excited about all their recruits. All this is completely understandable given the overall hype and significance of the event. After all, this is where it all begins for the future NFL stars – right?
The survivorship bias in the sporting community is extremely pronounced and is present worldwide in all sports. That is, everybody talks about all those who make it big, with very minimal attention given to those who didn’t make it at all. With respect to the NFL Draft, this meant everybody was talking about who would become the next star quarterback or who will become the next Ezekiel-Elliot-inspired star Rookie Running Back. Or perhaps, which late round draft pick or the free agent would be the surprise success story. But I wasn’t interested in any of that.
What I was interested in was not who would make it big, but who would not make it at all? How many players would never see their names listed on Active Roster? How many players would be out of the picture within 2-3 years if not sooner? And what would happen to them?
To answer that, I decided to look into a small sample of a draft class from the past. Specifically, I chose the 2012 Draft class for Wide Receivers and see how they all panned out – each and every one of the 33 who were drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft. Which round did they get drafted? How many years – if at all – did they play? Are they still active?
What I found was partly expected but very revealing at the same time. And it is also clearly something that is generally ignored by the sporting community. I evaluated the following general parameters for this task:
- Current Status of players – Active, Retired, Free Agent, Non NFL Football
- No. of Years on Active Roster
- Correlation with which round the player was drafted
Based on these parameters, I went through the bios and stats of all the 33 players who were drafted in that WR position in 2012. Here are the charts:
Current Status of 2012 WR Drafts
As you can see above, only 30% of the original draft picks are currently still active and are scheduled to play in the 2017 season. About 20% are currently plying their football trade in the Canadian Football League or the Indoor Football League.
Distribution of Active Roster Years
There may be 10 players out of the 33 who have played all 5 years since being drafted, but this also means there are 23 other players who are no longer active and whose NFL football careers lasted less than 4 years, with 6 of them never seeing the football field.
Correlation of Current Active Status with Drafting Round
These two are my favorite charts. This tells me that which round the player was drafted appears to have some correlation with the player being currently on an active NFL roster – with those drafted higher having a higher percentage of staying active longer. This is a general positive correlation with the perceived skill level of the corresponding player at the time of the draft. Of course this is not a perfect correlation as we see that the 1st round picks have a lesser fraction of them still active as compared to the 3rd (or even the 5th) round picks.
It has to be noted that the issues of injury and NFL code violations (mostly drug abuse or DUI) are the unknowns in this analyses and cannot be quantified or predicted. It is also not possible to determine how a player would have panned out if he was not injured or did not commit those violations. (Case in point, the #1 WR pick of 2012 Justin Blackmon was suspended from the NFL after 2 incidents of drug abuse violations). But historical data can provide teams with some information that can be used to predict what fraction of players typically become inactive due to injury or NFL code violations.
But returning to my original point about all the players who will NOT make it in the NFL, I have some kind of an answer with this small sample size. About 70% of the recruits do not make it, with about 20% continuing their career in the Canadian Football League or the Indoor Football League.
Going further, I would like to do this same analyses for various draft classes, breaking up the data by drafting round, position, year of draft, etc. This can give some very valuable information for teams and fans to use while actively avoiding the survivorship bias. So what does this mean for the NFL Draft of 2017? Well, if the results from this small sample size were to hold, then expect only 1 to 3 players from each team’s recruits to actually pan out a proper career.
Now that should get some people talking!
On a related note, the HBO Show BALLERS is highly recommended for those wanting to see what happens to football players after their retirement. What do they do with their lives? How do they cope with the sudden change of lifestyle? What regrets haunt them from the past? Dwayne Johnson has excellently portrayed the character of a retired NFL RB who is trying to make it in the post-football era of his life. This is not a show which has the ‘party’ or the ‘high-end society’ lifestyle as its primary focus. This is a show that instead truly focuses on the off-season troubles faced by the folks who run the show from behind the scenes – including the ones who are now out of work. Highly recommended!
Raw data can be found here: 2012 WR NFL Status
Yes I do watch American football. I do find the game interesting at times but I tend to restrict myself to just College football. When I was at Virginia Tech last year, I did go to a few games there at the Lane Stadium and it was nice fun (especially the night game against Georgia Tech!). With regard to the NFL, I just watch the AFC and the NFC title games followed by the Superbowl. I have no allegiance to any team and I usually find myself rooting for the team that is lagging behind in the scoreline. I particularly despise the aspect of the game which gives rise to so many interruptions, which in turn gives rise to the inevitable ads. But I am not here to talk about that. Instead, I would like to talk about this one thing that I discovered recently that has fascinated me to no bounds. I am talking about the NFL Draft.
The NFL draft is an annual event in which the NFL teams recruit the best college football players who either just graduated or are ready to stop their college education in order to pursue their NFL dreams. This appears to be something totally boring and routine. But on the contrary, it has been one of the most fascinating revelations to me over the past few weeks. What has particularly caught my attention is the order in which the best college football players are picked.
You see, the way things would have been expected to work normally would primarily include the Super Bowl winning team to have the first pick in the draft. This can be looked at as some kind of a benefit for winning the Super Bowl. But the way the draft order is actually done is exactly the opposite. The Super Bowl champions get to pick the college football players right at the end. In fact, the first team that gets to have its pick among the best of the best players is the team that had the worst record in the previous season.
So if you finish with a 0-13 record (Zero wins and 13 losses), then you get to pick the best college quarterback in the country! And you are likely to get some leftover mediocre college kid to pick up if you are the Super Bowl champions (also called Mr. Irrelevant). So the basic idea is that the worse you perform, the earlier you get to have your pick among the new crop of the best college football players, thereby closing the gap to the champions.
The underlying idea behind this is what got me thinking. Rewarding the successful is what strikes as the most obvious and even the right thing to do. But this drafting policy goes beyond just that line of thinking. The underlying idea appears to be to create and maintain a level playing field among the many teams that compete in the NFL. So if one team is very weak and performs very bad, then they can be assured that they get to strengthen their team with the addition of the best college quarterback in the country. This also makes sure that the most successful or the strongest don’t become stronger. This is very much reflected in the results of the NFL teams. All except just 4 have won the Super Bowl at least once and have made their presence in the Super Bowl probably more than that.
Lets look at this another way. Say you are a business college graduate and there are a bunch of companies eyeing to recruit you and all fellow graduates into their companies. If the graduate is extremely brilliant and if the choice is up to the graduate, which is usually the case, he/she would choose the company which has shown to be the largest and the most successful. So the already successful company will increase its chances of becoming even more successful. And at the other extreme, the least successful company gets to choose only the leftovers or the big company rejects. This does not necessarily improve the chances of the smaller companies to become more successful. It may even hinder it. But hey! This is a free world. Mutual agreement and benefit should be totally free of any outside interference.
The situation I described above is the trademark feature of a capitalistic way of thinking. And this is usually what happens. The strong become stronger and more successful while the weak and the not so successful become weaker and do not really achieve any comparable success. Now at the other extreme, you have the communistic way of thinking which specifically aims at creating a level playing field and maintaining it that way. Add to this, the fact that America is pretty much considered to be the bastion of capitalism. And you have a fascinating presence of blatant communism right inside the bastion of capitalism!
Dont get me wrong. I am not at all saying that this is a wrong thing or that this is not fair. On the contrary, I feel that if at all one aspect of this world needs to be treated in a communistic perspective, it should be sports. And I am just fascinated to see this being implemented right inside the country which has long been accepted to be the epitome of capitalism.