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What forever changed my view of the NFL draft

Like just about everyone else in the Blogging The Boys community, I slavishly followed draft boards and mock drafts over the last few weeks. In fact, since I discovered Blogging The Boys less than a year ago, I probably read more about the draft and the scouting reports of our team (and players we didn't draft) than I ever have. It was a lot of fun.

Sure, I've got many painful memories of blown draft picks and silly trades by our beloved owner, but I'm very optimistic about the changes made by Jason Garrett so far and have high hopes. Yes, I didn't like giving up a second rounder to move up a few spots. But I know how important cover corners are to the defense that Ryan wants to run and so I'm more than willing to give him and Garrett and the entire Cowboys team the benefit of the doubt.

At least until September 5th when we play the Giants.

Like many who read these posts, of course, I'm hoping that Morris Claiborne has 10 interceptions next year and is a 10-year All Pro, Tyrone Crawford gets 7-10 sacks in his rookie year, Kyle Wilbur gets 5-7 sacks and becomes another defensive force over time, Matt Johnson becomes the ball-hawking, bone-jarring, quarterbacking safety we've been missing, Danny Coale becomes a reliable slot receiver in the image of Wes Welker, and James Hanna becomes the heir apparent to Jason Witten and the receiving threat we all hoped Bennett would be.

I've read their measurables, I know they are the RKGs. I like them all. I really do. Sure, I wish we could have gotten DeCastro, Fletcher Cox, and the next Joe Montana as an undrafted free agent, but I'm trying to keep it real.

I'd have some superlatives for Caleb McSurdy and all the undrafted free agents, but I know I've already overdone it with picks one through six. Plus, I was kind of curious what a more analytical, less emotional perspective might do to our hopes and dreams in the NFL draft.


So I looked up every player on the 2011 rosters of every team in the NFL and created a database. I had their position, the number of games they were active, and the number of games they started, the year they were drafted, the round they were drafted, and even where in the round they were drafted. (It was a lot of work but this community has done more for more football entertainment and education than I would have thought possible, especially since it's free, so I want to give back).

My analysis was sobering and changed my thinking about the draft forever.

Much more after the jump.

What percentage of NFL rosters are comprised of players in each round of the draft? How many are undrafted free agents? More importantly, where do NFL starters come from? What about real impact players?

We all know about guys like Tony Romo, Jay Ratlif, Wes Welker, and Tom Brady, to name a few, star players drafted in the sixth or seventh round or not drafted at all.

But we also know the dark side of the draft. The scrapheap of players who never pan out. I mean who among us can forget the pain of the 2009 Cowboys draft?

Many fans and analysts talk about the need for young players to develop. So I went back to the 2008 draft and looked at the players from each round who started at least eight games in 2011, which would have been their all important four year. Here's what I discovered:

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>

Round Starting Players Picks % Starters /Round
1 21 32 66%
2 12 32 38%
3 7 33 21%
4 4 34 12%
5 3 34 9%
6 3 38 8%
7 2 53 4%

It's not surprising that a lot of starters come from the first round. Still, more than 1 in three are NOT starters. The second round isn't even a 50-50 proposition, at least it wasn't in the case of players drafted in 2008 and playing in 2011.

But look at how few starters come from rounds 4-7, where in most years, there are additional compensatory picks awarded.

OK, then how does this compare to players drafted last year?

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Starting Players Picks % Starters /Round
21 32 66%
12 32 38%
7 33 21%
4 34 12%
3 34 9%
3 38 8%
2 53 4%

It's pretty comparable (as was the 2010 year, by the way). OK, the third round and every round thereafter was somewhat worse. The first round and second rounds were slightly better.

What about a bigger sample size? So I looked at all players in 2011 who started at least 9 games, regardless of what year they were drafted. This allowed me to include undrafted free agents into the mix. Again, the stats are sobering, at least for me:

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Draft Round Starters Percentage of Starters
1 197 30.4%
2 120 18.5%
3 86 13.3%
4 57 8.8%
5 39 6.0%
6 34 5.3%
7 28 4.3%
Undrafted 86 13.3%
Total 647 100.0%

No wonder the 2009 draft was so bad. The odds of finding a starter in the 7th round is worse than a one-in-twenty proposition. Round six is only slightly better. Ditto for round five, really. Interestingly, there are more starters who were undrafted free agents than come from rounds six and seven combined. To me, that speaks to the randomness of the draft after about the third round. And get this: you're just as like to find a NFL starter as an undrafted free agent as you are to find one in the third round of the draft. Sure, there are a LOT more undrafted free agents to choose from, but still.

In future posts, if there is interest in this kind of analysis, I'm going to look more deeply at production levels and snaps played by round drafted and pick number within the draft. If I'm really bored out of my mind, I might even plug in player salaries and look for correlations and write about cap management and resources allocation issues.

I'm thinking this kind of information will turn us all into more sober minded GMs in our never ending quest to help take Jerry back to the Super Bowl.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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