We are a day away from the 2013 NFL draft, and as we get excited about the prospects of who might end up where, it’s as good a time as any to ask whether the Patriots under Bill Belichick have been good at this drafting business. ¬†Well, I’ll give you the conclusion at the outset: ¬†Yes, they are. ¬†Very good, in fact.

Using pro-football-reference.com’s expansive database, I’ve taken time the past few months to put every draft pick from 2000-2012 into a spread sheet, along with numerous categories to analyze. ¬†The Patriots haven’t been the best in every possible way, but they are an elite NFL team when it comes to drafting, when the entire package is analyzed.

Let’s start with the basic truth that must be understood. ¬†The Patriots are a very good team and, by and large, draft late in each round. ¬†Of course, trades impact their draft position, but on average, the Patriots have had the third-worst draft position in the NFL. ¬†Here’s every team’s average draft pick #.

Rank – Team – Avg. Pick #

  1. Ari – 114.274
  2. Det – 117.928
  3. NYJ – 118.464
  4. Den – 118.619
  5. Cle – 119.140
  6. Cin – 121.109
  7. Min – 122.570
  8. SD – 123.408
  9. Hou – 123.615
  10. NO – 124.299
  11. KC – 125.471
  12. Oak – 126.020
  13. Car – 126.200
  14. StL – 126.739
  15. Chi – 127.165
  16. Buf – 127.703
  17. NYG – 129.309
  18. Bal – 129.990
  19. Phi – 130.157
  20. Dal – 130.693
  21. SF – 131.053
  22. Sea – 131.420
  23. Jax – 131.695
  24. Mia – 131.753
  25. Ten – 131.810
  26. Atl – 132.110
  27. Pit – 132.740
  28. Ind – 133.638
  29. GB – 134.026
  30. NE – 134.111
  31. Was – 139.589
  32. TB – 142.238

The Patriots, therefore start off every draft at a disadvantage compared to most other teams in the league.  This is no small matter, as over a 13-year period one would expect teams with such a draft disadvantage to perform significantly worse both in terms of the draft itself, and on the field as well.

Next, let’s look at the number of picks each team has actually taken since 2000. ¬†Again, keep in mind that teams trade picks (like the Pats’ dealing a 4th rounder for Randy Moss). ¬†I am only talking about actual draft picks, not players acquired in trades involving draft picks.

Rank – Team – # of picks from 2000-2012

  1. Ten – 121
  2. NE – 117
  3. StL – 115
  4. Phi – 115
  5. GB – 115
  6. SF – 113
  7. Sea – 112
  8. Buf – 111
  9. Cin – 110
  10. Cle – 107
  11. Den – 105
  12. Car – 105
  13. Jax – 105
  14. Ind – 105
  15. TB – 105
  16. KC – 104
  17. Bal – 104
  18. Pit – 104
  19. Chi – 103
  20. Dal – 101
  21. Min – 100
  22. Oak – 100
  23. Atl – 100
  24. SD – 98
  25. Det – 97
  26. NYG – 97
  27. Mia – 97
  28. Ari – 95
  29. Hou – 91
  30. Was – 90
  31. NO – 87
  32. NYJ – 84

So you see the difference between, say, New England and the NY Jets.  The Jets have a much higher average draft position, but a lot fewer picks, than the Patriots.  So we see the strategy here employed by both teams.  The Jets have traded a lot of picks to move up in the draft, hoping that the smaller quantity is made up for by improved quality.  The Patriots have adopted a different approach, on the whole, using picks to trade down and add future picks.  They have taken a longer-term approach, hoping that an increased volume would give them better odds at landing quality players.

Now, let’s see how these approaches have worked. ¬†Let’s look at the number of total years played in the NFL by these draft picks:

Rank – Team – Total Yrs Played

  1. Ten – 501
  2. SF – 492
  3. GB – 480
  4. Sea – 472
  5. Car – 464
  6. Buf – 463
  7. Phi – 462
  8. Bal – 449
  9. NE – 449
  10. NYG – 437
  11. SD – 436
  12. Ind – 435
  13. StL – 435
  14. Cle – 434
  15. Pit – 434
  16. Cin – 431
  17. Chi – 426
  18. Ari – 417
  19. Dal – 417
  20. Oak – 414
  21. Jax – 413
  22. NYJ – 412
  23. Den – 407
  24. Atl – 403
  25. KC – 394
  26. Det – 393
  27. Min – 386
  28. NO – 385
  29. Mia – 384
  30. TB – 375
  31. Hou – 349
  32. Was – 308

Those 117 draft picks have managed to play 449 years combined in the NFL. ¬†That comes to an average of 3.8 years per draft pick, which would rank the Patriots 27th in the NFL. ¬†So it’s pretty clear that¬†most of their draft picks don’t achieve a whole lot in the league. ¬†The Jets, conversely, have gotten 412 years out of their 84 draft picks, for an average of 4.9 years per pick. ¬†That’s much better.

But now let’s talk about quality. ¬†It’s one thing to have players stick in the league for a while. ¬†It’s another to have them be of high quality. ¬†So we’ll look at three levels of quality. ¬†The first is the number of years as a starter.

Rank – Team – # of Years as Starter

  1. SF – 203
  2. Ari – 199
  3. Jax – 194
  4. SD – 192
  5. Bal – 192
  6. NYJ – 183
  7. Ind – 180
  8. Car – 176
  9. GB – 173
  10. Cin – 173
  11. Ten – 171
  12. Chi – 170
  13. Sea – 169
  14. Pit – 165
  15. NE – 164
  16. Oak – 163
  17. NYG – 161
  18. StL – 159
  19. Atl – 157
  20. Phi – 156
  21. Buf – 154
  22. NO – 152
  23. Den – 151
  24. Cle – 151
  25. Dal – 149
  26. Det – 145
  27. Mia – 145
  28. Min – 139
  29. KC – 135
  30. Hou – 124
  31. TB – 113
  32. Was – 96

Here we see the Patriots in the middle of the pack in terms of starting seasons their draft picks have produced.

This next list shows each team’s number of player-years as an All-Pro 1st teamer, and years as a Pro Bowler.

Rank – Team – All-Pro Seasons – Pro Bowl Seasons – TOT AP+PB

  1. NE – 12 – 44 – 56
  2. SF – 14 – 30 – 44
  3. Bal – 11 – 33 – 44
  4. SD – 9 – 34 – 43
  5. Dal – 8 – 34 – 42
  6. Chi – 10 – 29 – 39
  7. Car – 9 – 27 – 36
  8. NYJ – 8 – 26 – 34
  9. Ind – 7 – 26 – 33
  10. Ari – 3 – 30 – 33
  11. Sea – 10 – 22 – 32
  12. Pit – 5 – 26 – 31
  13. Cin – 5 – 25 – 30
  14. NYG – 5 – 24 – 29
  15. Min – 9 – 19 – 28
  16. KC – 8 – 19 – 27
  17. NO – 6 – 21 – 27
  18. Den – 6 – 20 – 26
  19. Hou – 6 – 19 – 25
  20. GB – 2 – 23 – 25
  21. Atl – 1 – 20 – 21
  22. Oak – 8 – 12 – 20
  23. Ten – 6 – 13 – 19
  24. Phi – 4 – 15 – 19
  25. Was – 0 – 19 – 19
  26. Cle – 3 – 11 – 14
  27. Buf – 1 – 13 – 14
  28. Jax – 2 – 11 – 13
  29. Det – 3 – 9 – 12
  30. Mia – 1 – 9 – 10
  31. StL – 0 – 3 – 3
  32. TB – 0 – 3 – 3

The Patriots have produced by far the highest number of elite seasons from their draft picks than any other team in the league.  And lest we think this is just Tom Brady, consider that Brady accounts for 2 All-Pros and 8 Pro Bowls.  If we remove him from the mix, the Patriots still have the highest combined number in the league.  But of course, removing Tom Brady is silly, since he represents the single greatest single draft pick in this entire 13-year period, and he has had the single greatest influence in the success of the Patriots, from a player perspective.

And finally, we will look at pro-football-reference’s AV stat. ¬†They have a formula for determining the value of a player, and they apply it to every position – including linemen. ¬†If you take all the draft picks and total up their entire career AV numbers, we’ll see the total value each team’s draft picks have produced.

Rank – Team – Total AV

  1. SD – 1571
  2. NE – 1560
  3. GB – 1524
  4. NYJ – 1498
  5. SF – 1493
  6. Car – 1490
  7. Bal – 1486
  8. Ind – 1464
  9. Ari – 1461
  10. Chi – 1443
  11. Pit – 1436
  12. Ten – 1424
  13. Jax – 1403
  14. Atl – 1397
  15. NYG – 1392
  16. Sea – 1375
  17. Cin – 1363
  18. Phi – 1337
  19. Dal – 1293
  20. Buf – 1286
  21. Den – 1262
  22. NO – 1220
  23. Cle – 1188
  24. Min – 1188
  25. StL – 1145
  26. Det – 1092
  27. Hou – 1083
  28. KC – 1060
  29. Mia – 1045
  30. Oak – 1039
  31. TB – 885
  32. Was – 851

So let’s sum up what the Patriots have been able to do in the draft from 2000-2012. ¬†Starting from one of the worst average draft positions in the league, the Patriots have accumulated the highest number of draft picks in the NFL. ¬†They’ve used these picks to draft a better-than-average amount of player years, an average amount of player years as a starter, but, most importantly, by far the most amount of stars. ¬†The only teams that have drafted at the same level as New England are San Diego, San Francisco, Baltimore, and, somewhat surprisingly, Carolina. ¬†But when draft position is taken into consideration, the top two teams turn out to be New England and San Francisco.

Every team has significant misses in the draft, as well as significant hits.  The Patriots will likely draft a player or two this year that is a total bust, but also a player or two that ends up being very good.  What we do know is that, on the whole, the Patriots are one of the very best teams in the entire league at drafting, and the 13-year drafting record under Belichick is a testimony to that.