Cowboys Q&A: "Ask BTB" - Is The Third Round A Crapshoot? Part II: The Successful Teams

Although there have been some terrific third-round choices in the past decade, few of them compare to Jason Witten

In Part One of this post, we looked at several methods of assessing draft success, focusing specifically on the third round of the draft, as that's where Eli Landy, the man who submitted the question, asked us to look. He asked us to look specifically at the Steelers, Patriots, Ravens, Eagles and Packers respective draft success rates in the third round (and I added the Giants and Colts), with the presupposition that their success rates are considerably higher, and would be a much better indicator of the success of draft picks by successful teams. Moreover, he asks, if their success rates are indeed higher, it would show that "the draft may not be a total crapshoot if the team knows what it's doing."


Related: Is The Third Round A Total Crapshoot? Part I: Measuring Success

In his question, Eli reports hearing that only 13% of third rounders are successful. I think he got that from a terrific post by a gentleman named "Matches" on, of all places, a Cleveland Cavaliers blog. Matches breaks down every draft pick from 1999-2006 into one of seven discrete categories (Superstar, Star, Upper Tier Starter, Good Starter, Depth, JAG, >8 games played) and tracks the success rates of picks from one to Mr. Irrelevant. According to his work, a third-rounder ends up becoming a "good starter" (who has been a starter for more than 80% of his seasons in the league) 13% of the time. Although I admire Matches work, I think his criteria are a bit unrealistic (not to mention subjective), which is why I turned to a few others in responding to Eli's query:

Pro Bowls: In 442 third-round selections since 2000, there have been 20 Pro Bowlers, with an accumulated total of 49 nominations, so 4.5%, or approximately one in 22 picks, become Pro Bowl players.

Remaining on the Roster: Using the 2008 draft as a test case, I noted that just over half (19) of that draft's 36 third-rounders (including end-of-round supplemental picks) remained with the team all four possible years.

Games Played: The average number of games played for these 2008 third-rounders is 41.5, or almost 65% of all possible games.

Starts: Although only 9 guys (25%) were full time starters for more than one of their four years with the team, the average number of starts is roughly half that of games played: 20.5, or 32% of all possible games.

Massey-Thaler: According to Cade Massey and Richard Thaler, third rounders from 1991-2004 were roughly 40% (pick 33) to 28 percent (pick 65) as successful as the first overall selection.

Looking at these, we have a set of standards against which we can compare the third round picks from the aforementioned teams. How do they compare? Well, you'll just have to make the jump to find out!

Okay, so now it's time to look at the league's top drafting teams. For each, I've gone back far enough (to 2000), to get a clear sense of the franchise's drafting over time. For each, I've included seasons played (to get a sense of the duration of a player's career); his last season with the team (did the franchise offer him a second contract?); career games and starts (to get a sense of his total career, even if not all of it is with his original team); Pro Bowl nods (was he considered elite? how often?); and, from Pro Football Reference, Career Approximate Value (a shaky metric, but one that at least gives us some sense of a player's career).

And: I cannot continue without a shoutout to O.C.C. for his help beautifying these tables.

Let's start with this year's (cough, hack, retch) Super Bowl champs, the Giants:

Seasons
Played
Last Season
w/ Team
Career
Games
Career
Starts
Pro
Bowls
Career
AV
Notes
2000 Ron Dixon, WR 2000-02 2002 37 3
2001 Will James, CB 2001-10 2005 97 60 24 5 teams
2002 Jeff Hatch, OT 2002-03 2003 4 4 1 Didn’t play in 2002
2003 Vishanthe Shiancoe, TE 2003-11 2006 144 88 34 2007-11: Vikings
2004 None
2005 Justin Tuck, DE 2005-11 2011 96 61 2 (’08;’10) 47 Starter since 2008
2006 Gerris Wilkinson, LB 2006-11 2010 58 7 6 2011: Jaguars
2007 Jay Alford, DT 2007-2011 2008 36 3 4 3 teams
2008 Mario Manningham, WR 2008-11 2011 50 28 18 2012: 49ers
2009 Ramses Barden 2009-11 2011 12 0 2
2009 Travis Beckum 2009-11 2011 44 4 6 Injured in Super Bowl
2010 Chad Jones, DB 2010-11 2011 0 0 0 Car accident
2011 Jerrel Jernigan, WR 2011 2011 8 0 0

Since players drafted in, say, 2002 and 2007 have a wide disparity on possible games played and starts, I've had to factor in possible starts per year for each season. With this in mind, the Giants' third-rounders have played in 586 of a possible 1,168 games (50.2%), and started 258 of those (22.1%). They have one Pro Bowl player, who has gone to two Pro Bowls, and their eight picks between 2000-08 spent a total of 34 seasons on the Giants roster, for an average of 4.25 years (the highest among teams I studied).

If you thought it was tough to stomach the Giants, here are the Eagles:

Seasons
Played
Last Season
w/ Team
Career
Games
Career
Starts
Pro
Bowls
Career
AV
Notes
2000 None
2001 Derrick Burgess, DE 2001-10 2004 102 73 2 (’05; ‘06) 41 Pro Bowls with Raiders
2002 Brian Westbrook, RB 2002-10 2009 121 90 2 (’04; ’07) 69
2003 Billy MacMullen, WR 2003-08 2005 49 2 5 3 teams
2004 Matt Ware, DB 2004-10 2005 95 3 6 2006-10: Cardinals
2005 Ryan Moats, RB 2005-09 2006 38 3 7 2008-09: Texans
2006 Chris Gocong, LB 2006-11 2009 79 67 33 2010-11: Browns
2007 Stewart Bradley, LB 2007-11 2010 60 31 18 2011: Cardinals
2008 Bryan Smith, LB 2008-10 2008 0 0 0 2010: Jaguars
2009 None
2010 Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, DE 2010-11 2011 6 0 0 2011: Bucs
2011 Curtis Marsh, DB 2011 2011 7 0 0

The Eagles amassed 550 of 1008 possible games played (54.6%), with 269 starts (26.7%). They drafted two Pro Bowlers in the third round (although one of those, Burgess, didn't earn his nods with the Eagles). The players drafted from 2000-08 averages 3.5 years on the Eagles roster.

Next up: the Packers:

Seasons
Played
Last Season
w/ Team
Career
Games
Career
Starts
Pro
Bowls
Career
AV
Notes
2000 Steve Warren, DT 2000-02 2002 25 0 2 Injury-plagued career
2001 Bhawoh Jue, DB 2001-07 2004 76 27 14 4 teams
2001 Torrance Marshall, LB 2001-2004 2004 51 2 6
2002 Marques Anderson, SS 2002-05 2003 54 28 6 4 teams
2003 Kenny Petersen, DT 2003-09 2005 76 15 11 2006-09: Broncos
2004 Joey Thomas, DB 2004-09 2005 31 1 4 4 teams
2004 Donnell Washington, DT 2004-05 2005 0 0 0 washout
2005 None
2006 Abdul Hodge, LB 2006-10 2006 35 1 2 3 teams
2006 Jason Spitz, OG 20006-11 2010 74 45 19 2011: Jaguars
2007 James Jones, WR 2007-11 2011 74 17 26
2007 Aaron Rouse, DB 2007-09 2009 41 18 11 Half of 2009: Giants
2008 Jermichael Finley, TE 2008-11 2011 48 29 25 Starter since ‘09
2009 None
2010 Morgan Burnett, FS 2010-11 2011 20 20 7
2011 Alex Green, RB 2011 2011 4 0

0

Green Bay tied for the most third round picks in the years under examination (14). Of a possible 1,568 games, their players played in 609 (38.8%) but started only 203 (a study-low 12.9%). Also, they managed no Pro Bowl nods, and their players stayed on the Packers' roster an average of 3.8 seasons.

Now, let's move on to the AFC, with the team that most recently won a Lombardi, the Steelers:

Seasons
Played
Last Season
w/ Team
Career
Games
Career
Starts
Pro
Bowls
Career
AV
Notes
2000 Kendrick Clancy, DL 2000-09 2004 109 46 23 4 teams
2000 Hank Poteat, CB 2000-08 2002 110 20 20 5 teams
2001 None
2002 Chris Hope, FS 2002-11 2005 147 109 1 (2008) 43 ’06-’11: Titans
2003 None
2004 Max Starks, OT 2004-11 2011 107 79 37
2005 Trai Essex, OT 2005-11 2011 75 28 16
2006 Anthony Smith, FS 2006-11 2008 76 19 15 5 teams
2006 Willie Reid, WR 2006-07 2007 7 0 1 out of NFL
2007 Matt Spaeth, TE 2007-11 2010 75 47 11 2011: Bears
2008 Bruce Davis, LB 2008-11 2008 15 0 0 3 teams
2009 Kraig Urbik, OL 2009-11 2009 23 15 7 2011: starter w/ Bills
2009 Mike Wallace, WR 2009-11 2011 1(2011) 27 #1 career YPC among active players
2009 Keenan Lewis, CB 2009-11 2011 29 1 3 ST; backup
2010 Emmanuel Sanders, WR 2010-11 2011 24 2 5 contributor
2011 Curtis Brown, DB 2011 2011 12 0 1

The Steelers also had 14 third-round selections between 2000-11. Of a possible 1,312 games, their draftees played in 809 (a whopping 61.7%), starting 366 of them (27.9%), both highs for this study. Of their two Pro Bowlers, only one, Mike Wallace, made it as a member of the Steelers. Their third round selections averaged 4.11 seasons on the Steelers' roster.

And here is the Patriots' recent third-round draft history:

Seasons
Played
Last Season
w/ Team
Career
Games
Career
Starts
Pro
Bowls
Career
AV
Notes
2000 JR Redmond, RB 2000-04 2002 50 6
‘03-’04:Raiders
2001 Brock Williams, DB 2001-04 2001 3 teams
2002 None
2003 None
2004 Guss Scott, DB 2005-06 2006 17 2 1 ’06: Texans
2005 Ellis Hobbs, CB 2005-10 2008 79 56 29 2009-10:Eagles
2005 Nick Kaczur, OT 2005-09 2009 68 62 35 career-ending injury ‘09
2006 David Thomas, TE 2006-11 2008 65 31 14 2010-11:Saints
2007 None
2008 Shawn Crable, LB 2008-10 2010 6 0 0 injured 2008-09
2008 Kevin O’Connell, QB 2008-11 2008 2 0 4 teams
2009 Brandon Tate, WR 2009-11 2010 34 11 9 2011:Bengals
2009 Tyrone MacKenzie, LB 2009-11 2010 3 0 0 Never played for Pats
2010 Taylor Price, WR 2010-11 2010 6 0 1 2011: Jaguars
2011 Stevan Ridley 2011 2011 15 2 4 rookie starter
2011 Ryan Mallett 2011 2011 0 0 0

It's not so pretty. Of a possible 1,104 games, New England's third round picks played in 345 (31.3%, the lowest in the study) and started 170 (15.9%). They drafted no Pro Bowlers and the players they selected remained on the Pats' roster an average of 3.14 years (insert joke about Bill Belichick and Pi here).

Moving back to the AFC North, here are the Ravens' third rounders this millennium:

Seasons
Played
Last Season
w/ Team
Career
Games
Career
Starts
Pro
Bowls
Career
AV
Notes
2000 Chris Redman, QB 2000-11 2003 30 12 9 2007-11: Falcons
2001 Casey Rabach, OC 2001-10 2004 137 118 2005-10: Redskins
2002 None
2003 Musa Smith, RB 2003-07 2007 49 1 6 Entire career with Ravens
2004 Devard Darling, WR 2004-08 2007 46 10 1 2008: Chiefs
2005 None
2006 David Pittman, DB 2006-07 2007 7 1 1 Played only ‘07
2007 Yamon Figures, WR 2007-10 2008 34 0 2 4 teams
2007 Marshall Yanda, OG 2007-11 2011 69 58 1 (2011) 28
2008 Tavares Gooden, LB 2008-11 2010 42 12 7 2011: 49ers
2008 Tom Zbikowski, DB 2008-11 2011 53 14 8 key backup
2009 Ladarius Webb 2009-11 2011 44 19 15 starter in 2011
2010 Ed Dickson, TE 2010-11 2011 31 19 10 played in 31 out of 32 games
2011 Jah Reid, OT 2011 2011 15 0 1

Baltimore's third-rounders have played in 557 of a possible 1,120 games (49.7%), starting 264 of them (23.6%). They have one Pro Bowler, and it was for last season. Their draftees have averaged 3.6 years on the Ravens' roster.

And, finally, the Indianapolis Colts, our final AFC representative:

Seasons
Played
Last Season
w/ Team
Career
Games
Career
Starts
Pro
Bowls
Career
AV
Notes
2000 David Macklin, DB 2000-08 2003 120 75 30 5 teams
2001 Cory Bird, DB 2001-04 2004 45 8 6
2002 Joe Jefferson, DB 2002-05 2005 27 5 3
2003 Donald Strickland, CB 2003-11 2005 89 25 12 6 teams
2004 Ben Hartsock, TE 2004-11 2005 103 41 10 career backup
2004 Gilbert Gardner, LB 2004-08 2006 53 15 8 4 teams
2005 Vincent Burns, DT 2005-06 2006 0 0 0 Injury bug
2006 Freddy Keiaho, LB 2006-10 2009 55 27 16 2010: Jaguars
2007 Dante Hughes, DB 2007-11 2008 52 2 4 2009-11: Chargers
2007 Quinn Pitcock, DT 2007 2007 9 1 2 quit due to video game addiction
2008 Phillip Wheeler, LB 2008-11 2011 61 24
2009 Jerraud Powers, DB 2009-11 2011 34 34 9 Starter from jump
2010 Kevin Thomas, DB 2010-11 2011 0 0 0 Knee injury
2011 Drake Nevis, DT 2011 2011 5 0 1

It looks like Bill Polian likes to take defensive backs in the third round. Of a possible 1,456 games, the Colts third rounders have played in 653 (44.8%) and started 17.7 % of them (257). The other numbers are fairly dismal: no Pro Bowlers and a study-low average of 3.0 years on the Colts' roster.

Conclusions: I found the totals to be interesting. The averages for all of these teams are as follows: their third round picks played in 47.0% of total possible games, starting 20.5% of those. Comparing those numbers to our league-wide totals from the 2008 draft, 41.5% and 20.5%, respectively, we see that these teams managed to get more games played out of their third rounders, but that the percentage of games started is exactly the same.

Of 89 picks, these teams drafted 6 Pro Bowlers (6.7%), 4 of whom (4.5%) played for the team that drafted them. Comparing those totals to the league-wide totals, we see similar numbers - and, if we only count home-grown Pro Bowls, they are exactly the same: 4.5%.

So, what's the takeaway? I'm inclined to agree with Cade Massey, who posits that, over the long haul, wherein we can accrue a large enough sample size, there is no difference in drafting ability between teams relative to the location of the pick. As Massey notes, the best drafting teams acquire more high-round choices, because they know that, for every Brian Westbrook there will be a Bryan Smith.

As Cowboys fans, its important to step back and take this in. We have vilified the Cowboys' braintrust for their third round ineptitude; certainly, it hasn't been pretty. But looking back over their history, not all is bad: DeMarco Murray, Jason Hatcher and, yes, one Jason Witten. A central problem had been that they have traded away third rounders in otherwise stellar drafts in 2005, 2008 and 2010. As Massey makes clear, you can't win the lottery if you don't have a ticket.

ADDED BY POPULAR DEMAND:

Seasons
Played
Last Season
w/ Team
Career
Games
Career
Starts
Pro
Bowls
Career
AV
Notes
2001 Willie Blade 2003-04 2003 20 15 8 3 Teams
2002 Derek Ross 2002-04 2003 33 9 8 3 teams
2003 Jason Witten 2003-11 2011 143 133 7 76 Future HoF
2004 Stephen Peterman 2005-11 2005 74 70 25 2006: Lions
2006 Jason Hatcher 2006-11 2011 88 11 11 Breakout in 2012?
2007 James Marten 2008 2008 1 0 0 4 teams
2009 Robert Brewster - - 2010 0 0 0 Playing in AFL
2009 Jason Williams 2009-11 2010 28 4 3 2010: Panthers
2011 DeMarco Murray 2011 2011 13 7 7 Stud

The numbers for the Cowboys are obviously dominated by Jason Witten, but other teams have Pro Bowlers as well, so it is what it is. The Cowboys' third-rounders have played in 399 of a possible 896 games (44.5%), and started 250 of those (27.9%). The start percentage is tied with the Steelers for the best value among all teams in this survey. They have one Pro Bowl player, who has gone to seven Pro Bowls (again, the best value among all teams here), and their six picks between 2000-08 spent a total of 34 seasons on the Cowboys roster, for an average of 3.83 years, the third highest value among the teams here.

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