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NFL Draft: Analyzing the Success Rate of Mid-Round Picks

Are mid-round picks a good place to find NFL talent?

We are about three weeks into the NFL offseason, which means that the only big NFL event left on the calendar is the draft. Fans across the country are either mocking their picks, reading up on scouting report or drawing up scenarios in their head. Most of these scenarios and mocking usually just involve first and second round picks simply because they are fairly easy to predict. At the same time, 3rd and 4th round picks—the mid round picks—are often ignored, even though these picks seem to have a ton of value.

Think of it this way: last year the Baltimore Ravens landed a former Pro Bowl receiver for a 3rd round draft choice and change. The New York Jets landed a former All Pro cornerback for about the same price. This trend of trading away these mid round picks are quite common in the NFL, but the question is who gets the better end of the deal? Is it the team that received those picks or the team that received the proven NFL veteran?

Of course, each situation is different, and the team receiving the draft pick doesn’t always receive the better end of the deal, neither does the team receiving the former Pro Bowler. Last year, the team receiving the player got the better end of the deal with the Jets receiving a great complementary corner to Darrelle Revis and the Ravens finally getting a number one receiver.  However, that hasn’t always been the case.

Take, for example, the deal Cleveland made to send a third round pick and cornerback Leigh Bodden to Detroit a couple of years ago. Rogers is no longer in the roster and had been inconsistent at best in his time in Cleveland. In turn, the Lions turned that pick into Cliff Avril, a player that has been one of the top two sack guys on the team since entering the league and notched nine sacks last season.

The fact is that there is no consistent, universal way of measuring which team got the better end of the deal. However, we can take a look back at past drafts and find out just how many 3rd and 4th round draft picks are successful. Doing so would give us, the fans, a general sense of how much value these often forgotten, but critically important draft picks are.

Before I even get into how many of the mid round picks I consider to be successful, I think its best to share my criteria of what I considered to be a “successful” pick. To me, a 3rd or 4th round pick is successful if the player lasted at least four seasons in the NFL, and started at least one or significantly contributed as a backup. I believe that this is a good definition for a “successful” career simply because this is usually the term of their first contract, and if a player can fully play out a contract, then he is in some ways moderately successful.

Below are charts of players drafted in the 3rd and 4th round that I think are successful from each year’s draft between 2002 and 2006. I chose this period of time because it means that they have had enough time in the NFL to prove themselves and start in the NFL.

2002 3rd Round Successes 2002 4th Round Successes
Fred Weary André Goodman Alex Brown Brian Williams
Ben Leber Will Witherspoon David Gerrard Dave Zastudil
Melvin Fowler Josh McCown Randy McMichael Jarvis Green
Akin Ayodele Brian Westbrook Kevin Curtis Larry Foote
Chris Hope Seth McKinley Najeh Davenport Rocky Boiman
Terrence Metcalf David Thorton
Overall 11/33 Overall 11/36
2003 3rd Round Successes 2003 4th Round Successes
Cory Redding Lance Briggs Dominick Davis Bradie James
Jason Witten Gerald Hayes Shaun McDonald Todd Johnson
Nate Burleson Vince Manuwai Jarret Johnson Seneca Wallace
Kevin Curtis Derrick Dockery Terrence McGee Montrae Holland
Ricky Manning Chris Crocker George Wrighster Matt Wilhelm
B.J. Askew Kenny Peterson Asante Samuel Juntin Griffith
Sam Williams Visante Shiancoe Ian Scott Jeremy Johnson
Chirs Brown Angelo Crowell Ike Taylor Brandon Lloyd
Justin Fargas Chris Simms Ovie Mughelli
Overall 18/33 Overall 17/35
2004 3rd Round Successes 2004 4th Round Successes
Darnell Dockett Nate Kaeding Shaun Philips Demorio Williams
Stuart Schweigert Gilber Gardner Reggie Torbor Alex Stepanovich
Randy Starks Max Starks Jerricho Cotchery Nathan Vasher
Bernard Berrian Chirs Cooley Isaac Sopoga Will Allen
Stephen Peterman Sean Locklear Robert Geathers Mewelde Moore
Matt Schaub Anthony Hargrove Ernest Wilford Stacy Andrews
Travelle Wharton Landon Johnson Jason David Brandon Chillar
Overall 14/33 Glenn Earl Jared Allen
Overall 16/37
2005 3rd Round Successes 2005 4th Round Successes
Frank Gore Oshiomogho Atogwe Sean Considine Kyle Orton
Charlie Frye Andrew Walter Marion Barber Brandon Jacobs
Channing Crowder Justin Tuck Travis Daniels Ray Willis
Kirk Morrison Richie Incognito Jerome Mathis David Stewart
Eric Green Chris Henry Kerry Rhodes Jason Brown
Ellis Hobbs Trai Essex Brady Popinga Todd Herremans
Adam Snyder Dominique Foxsworth Darren Sproles Eric Ghiaciuc
Leroy Hill Dustin Colquit Duke Preston Chauncey Davis
Nick Kaczur Alex Smith Chris Canty James Sanders
Evan Mathis Sione Pouha Overall 18/34
Overall 20/33
2006 3rd Round Successes 2006 4th Round Successes
Charles Spencer Eric Winston Owen Daniels Max Jean-Gilles
Brandon Jones Chris Gocong Ko Simpson Jahri Evans
Leonard Pope Jason Spitz Jason Avant Stephen Tulloch
Jerious Norwood Clint Ingram Leon Washington Stephen Gostowski
Charlie Whitehurst Freddy Keiaho Brandon Marshall Elvis Dumervil
Jason Hatcher James Anderson Ray Edwards Rob Sims
Eric Smith Willie Colon Domata Peko
Overall 13/33 Barry Coefield
Overall 15/34

Now that I have listed all of the draft picks that I think have been successful, we can look at some numbers. To begin, there were 165 3rd round picks between 2002 and 2006. Out of those picks, 76 were deemed to be successful based on the formula above (4 seasons in the NFL, 1 starting or significant contributions). That means that about 46% of the 3rd round picks in that five year period were considered to be successful.

Looking at the 4th round, there were 176 total draft choices in the five year span we’re talking about. Out of those 176, 77 were thought to be successful, which gives us a rate of about 44% of 4th rounders being successful.  So, when a team trades away a 3rd round pick for an aging player, there is basically a 50/50 chance that the player they will be drafting will be an NFL starter or a significant contributor.

Of course, teams don’t trade away players for draft picks without reason. More often than not, it is because the team can no longer afford that player like Arizona couldn’t afford Anquan Boldin (or was too cheap to pay him). Other times, its because of the off the field issues that a player has issues that the current team simply doesn’t want to deal with, which was the case with Antonio Cromartie and the Chargers.

In either case, the team that trades away the player receives something in return, which is not always the case for the team getting the player, and statically one in two chances that a player turns out to be something aren’t bad odds at all. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense that NFL general managers ship away perennial Pro Bowler for what is deemed a “cheap price” at the time.

Latif Masud is a Featured Contributor for NFL Spinzone and the Editor of House of Spears, a blog dedicated to the Detroit Lions

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