Analyzing The Performance of the Top 10 Selections in the NFL Draft from 1997 thru 2006
***This is the first in a series of articles looking at the odds of finding productive talent in the NFL draft based on position and round of selection***
What comes next is the ultra sexy pick, the position that everyone dreams of filling, and thatís the Quarterback of the ball club. The QB of the team gets the most credit when things go well and most blame when things go poorly. Everyone is always searching and often missing when they select a QB. 15% of the top 10 selections have ended up being a quarterback, 2nd most in the NFL. 53% of the players taken in the top 10 have busted, and of all the positions for a bust this is the hardest to swallow. Of the 8 busts only 1, Byron Leftwich, actually played in a playoff game and only 2 have been on a team with a winning record. Because of the money and time invested in the position a team is often stuck with a bad player for at least 4 or 5 years taking up valuable cap space and playing time for the team, so the risk is very high for a team. But the reward is also very high. All 7 of the players who have at least been passable at the position all 7 have made the playoffs and 5 have played in their conference championship game. 2 have been named Super Bowl MVP and 3 have been in the Super Bowl. With players like Carson Palmer, Vince Young, and Phillip Rivers so young and already with playoff experience its possible those numbers will grow higher over time. It's why teams will always take the chance and draft the QB high even though its more likely they find a dud than a stud. The reward is there. Only 4 other Qbs selected on day 1 have made the conference championship game, 2 of whom were selected number 11 overall, so the odds of finding a high caliber selection elsewhere on day 1 is pretty much non existent.
That still leaves one position left, and itís the position that happens to be the most popular selection and riskiest in all of the draft- the wide receiver. 16 wide receivers have been selected in the top 10, 9 of whom have busted for a whopping 56%. Their career with their original team is lasting 4 years or less often bringing minimal production and a lot of headache both on the field, off the field, and from a financial standpoint during that time. Only 6 of the players have ended up being borderline pro bowl types or better so the odds are much more likely of finding a bust than finding a productive star. What is the level of the reward of these players? It hasnít been high. Only Torry Holt played in a Super Bowl with his original team and Plaxico Burress played in a few conference championship games with the Steelers before becoming a SB winner with the Giants this past season. None of the others have even made the playoffs, though many of the players are very young and still have a long ways to go in the league. Itís a time consuming process with the WR as most teams are still at the bottom of the NFL after taking the WR for another few years, so its been debatable as to how much they are even helping the team in the long run, though with rules changing the position is becoming more valuable.
So in the end where does all of this leave a team in their draft war rooms? The decision probably hinges on why the team is in the top 10 in the first place. Did they move up via trade? Did they fall down because of catastrophic injuries? Are they really that bad and looking at a major overhaul? Logically the smartest and safest thing for a really bad team to do is to build their team around a left tackle. Its extremely safe and is providing good payoff for the drafting clubs as the players have long careers and big impact on the team. If the team has some pieces in place and feels they can soon make the leap forward it might be a good time to use the selection on the running back, cornerback, or linebacker who can make the immediate impact and fill out the team. The team that feels the previous year was a fluke is going to be in a great position to get a tremendous player at LB or add an impact DE.
If you are making a trade to move into the top 10 the cost is so high it has to be for a potentially dominant player. QB, DE, and OT are really the only positions that would justify the cost of moving up for a player. So just when should you take the QB? There really is no set situation. Itís a giant leap of faith on the part of the organization to make the decision and you have to have the utmost confidence that this player is the stud you think he is. If you have any serious questions about him its probably best to turn away and find a safer option.