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NFL Draft 2010: Bust Factors on Offense

[Note: This is an update to a long-running analysis by Blogging The Boys lead writer Rafael Vela, in which he quantified the bust factors for every position picked in the first round of the draft]

Are you a risk taker, or are you a draft conservative? If an offensive tackle and a wide receiver were both available at pick 27, and both graded out evenly on your draft board, which would you choose?

Would you choose the player with the higher potential, or the player with the lower risk? Would you take a BPA approach or would you draft for need? 

The problem with missing on a first round draft pick isn't simply that you've wasted a pick, it's: A) a different pick might have yielded a future Hall of Famer vs the bust you're now stuck with, B) the wasted money/cap space and C) having to wait the obligatory grace period of three to four years for your pick pan out.

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at Bust Factors for Wide Receivers. This time we look at all positions on offense. We maintain the very straightforward criteria we used for labeling someone a bust: If you become a consistent starter on your team, you’re a hit. If not, you’re a bust. For better or for worse, guys who looked promising but don’t start because of injuries are also listed as busts.

Based partly on your feedback, and partly on the traditional 'it-takes-3-years-to-really-know' formula, I have excluded the draft picks from 2008 and 2009 from the analysis. All the numbers below are therefore based on the 314 first round picks (excluding one kicker) over the ten years from 1998-2007, of which 155 were offensive positions

Bust factors on offense

About a third of all offensive first round picks ended up as busts. The bust risk is highest on offensive skill positions (QB, WR and RB), with the RBs perhaps the most plug-and-play position among the three.

You can't do much wrong picking an offensive lineman or a tight end in the first.

Bust factors for first round draft picks by position, 1998-2007
Position 1st Rd Top 10 Busts Bust %
Quarterbacks 28 16 13 46%
Running Backs
30 12 9 30%
Wide Receivers 43 17 20 47%
Tight Ends 13 2 1 8%
Total O-Line
41 11 3 7%
4 0 0 0%
9 0 1 11%
28 11 2 7%
155 58 46 31%

Hit factors on offense

To determine the 'hit factor' I used equally simple, and equally debatable criteria: Pro Bowl nominations. If a player made the Pro Bowl, even once, I consider him a hit, regardless of what happened before or after. Yes, the Pro Bowl is a popularity contest, but it is also a measure of success that says that a given player has been better/more popular than his peers, and it's at least partly based on his play at some point in his career.

Hit factors for first round draft picks by position, 1998-2007
Position 1st Rd All Pro Pro Bowl Pro Bowl %
Quarterbacks 28 1 11 39%
Running Backs
30 7 17 57%
Wide Receivers 43 5 12 28%
Tight Ends 13 2 6 46%
Total O-Line
41 8 15 37%
4 1 2 50%
9 3 5 56%
28 4 8 29%
155 23 61

On the hit and bust scale for the first round for offensive talent, 39% of all players drafted can be considered hits and 30% can be considered busts, and the remaining third have delivered good to very good performances over a number of years - solid picks for the most part.

There is  value in drafting high

Remarkably, every second top ten offensive pick we looked at here made it to the Pro Bowl at least once in his career (so far). Surprisingly, the bust factor stays relative constant at around 30%, regardless of where you draft in the first round. Perhaps this is an effect of teams chasing the proverbial shiny things in the draft.

Offensive Hit/Bust Factor by draft position, 1998-2007
Picks Hit Factor Bust Factor
1-10 52% 26%
11-20 37% 32%
21-32 29% 31%

Franchise rankings

Some franchises draft better than others, no big secret there. In the table below, you can see who has been winning the hit/bust game over the ten years of this analysis.

The Cowboys are noticeably absent from this list, as they did not spend a first rounder on offensive talent in the draft.

The Vikings and Colts displayed a keen eye for offensive talent, both scoring five hits out of six picks. Minnesota's latest pick, Percy Harvin, made the Pro Bowl in his first year, making the Vikings six out of seven over the last twelve years on offense. The absence of any busts on the Jets, Saints and Packers is also noteworthy.

The Raiders, Bears, Jaguars and Bengals are all case studies in first round draft futility.

First round offensive picks by team, 1998-2007 (click column header to sort)

Team Picks Hits Busts
Colts 6 5 1
Vikings 6 5 1
Cardinals 8 4 2
Browns 7 3 3
Packers 3 3 0
Saints 7 3 0
Jets 5 3 0
Eagles 4 3 1
Seahawks 6 3 2
Falcons 4 2 1
Ravens 6 2 2
Bills 5 2 1
Panthers 2 2 0
Patriots 6 2 2
Giants 4 2 1
Steelers 7 2 1
Chargers 4 2 2
Rams 4 2 1
Bengals 5 1 3
Broncos 4 1 2
Lions 9 1 3
Texans 2 1 0
Jaguars 6 1 4
Chiefs 5 1 1
Dolphins 4 1 1
49ers 5 1 2
Buccaneers 4 1 1
Titans 2 1 0
Redskins 4 1 2
Bears 7 0 4
Raiders 4 0 2


Sifting through the top-tier rubble

Below are the busts that went into this list. If you disagree with a a rating for a player, simply adjust the values in the tables above by that player and you'll get a bust rate that's more to your liking.

Quarterbacks — I have 13 busts out of 28 first rounders: Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Cade McNoun, Tim Couch, Patrick Ramsey, Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich, J.P. Losman, Alex Smith, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell.

Running Backs - The safest of the skill positions, 9 busts out of 30:  Curtis Enis, Robert Edwards, John Avery, Ron Dayne, Trung Canidate, William Green, T.J. Duckett, Chris Perry and Laurence Maroney qualify as washouts.

Wide Receivers - The most drafted offensive position and also one of the riskiest; almost half of the 43 first round receivers the past decade fail to make the grade: Marcus Nash, Troy Edwards, Peter Warrick, Travis Taylor, Sylvester Morris, R.J. Soward, David Terrell, Rod Gardner, Freddie Mitchell, Charles Rogers, Ashley Lelie, Bryant Johnson, Reggie Williams, Michael Clayton, Rashaun Woods, Troy Williamson, Mike Williams, Matt Jones, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez.

O-Line and Tight Ends - By far the safest picks on offense; we can count the number of busts on one hand: Aaron Gibson and Chris McIntosh (tackles), Matt Stinchcomb (G) and Jerramy Stevens (TE).

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