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NFL Draft Picks and the Numbers Game


Yesterday I speculated that what might be perceived as skill in picking players is actually just a numbers advantage. Going back to 2010, only one team in the NFL had drafted more players than the Seahawks and the Seahawks draft picks didn’t exhibit properties you would expect if it was mostly a skill based endeavor.

I figured I would look a little further back in time as it’s sort of an issue that interests me. I added up all draft picks for all franchises going back to 1990.  Then I looked at how many more picks each team made than average both on a per season basis and cumulatively. I came up with two graphs. The first one shows each franchise’s picks over average for each season visualized in a bar graph.


* OTI = Titans/Oilers, CRD = Cardinals

Then I also graphed the picks as a running total:


Some thoughts:

  • This doesn’t even take into account pick value (like the difference between a 1st and 3rd round pick) this is just sheer counting.
  • Even though ATL has made negative draft picks moves in the last few years (they gave up several picks for a high value pick), when Tom Dimitroff got to ATL they actually had two consecutive years of making lots of picks.
  • SEA has had two separate periods of surplus pick drafts following each other over the past 15 years. They played in a Super Bowl shortly after the first period and they won a Super Bowl following the 2nd period.
  • The Redskins, Lions and Raiders have really negative looking cumulative graphs.
  • Since 1990, I only counted 7 drafts where the Patriots picked fewer than the average number of players selected by each team in the draft.
  • NE, GB and PIT have the most surplus picks over the period studied by the graphs. They’re also all in the top 5 in point differential over that period while NE and GB are both top 2 in differential.
  • The Bears were in the surplus range for almost all of Lovie Smith’s tenure and then just dipped into negative pick territory at the end.
  • Given how negative the Saints graph looks, I do wonder if they don’t have some really lucky picks as deodorant strong enough to cover up not having very many picks.
  • Off the success of the Herschel Walker trade, Dallas was in really positive territory in the early 90s, then in slightly positive territory through the mid-90s and then have been negative or even since.
  • PHI has been in positive territory since the Andy Reid era began and they’ve made a number of picks in recent years that should provide fuel for the Chip Kelly era. Going back to 2010, PHI is the only team to have picked more players in the draft than SEA.
  • I was surprised to see the Titans in such positive territory, although they do have the 10th best point differential over this time.


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