Originally Posted by The Importance of the Second Round
I started my first day by posting an article about the impact of first-round picks. This article used math and common sense to determine whether the first round is truly important for building a successful team. To build on this study, I have decided to compare the impact of the first round and the impact of the second round.
The goal in this study was similar: using the last six drafts and last six seasons, compare the play of first- and second-round picks to their team’s success during the regular season and playoffs. However, after looking back on the study, I realized there was a flaw in the original study. The flaw was that my grading system for the teams was too subjective; some people who replied to the article had drastically different opinions about certain teams and players.
The solution was to give each player an objective grade. This grade, a number between 0 and 4, would be based on that player’s performance for their team. Each team would receive a straight average grade and a median grade, to help reduce the significance of outliers. This decision made the task simpler and more objective, but made it necessary for me to regrade the entire first round along with the second round.
The scoring system worked as follows (players must meet some or all criteria): 4 – Played in 2 or more Pro Bowls; played in 1 Pro Bowl and played consistently well in other seasons; received some other significant award (i.e. Defensive Rookie of the Year) and played well in other seasons (if applicable). 3 – Played in 1 Pro Bowl but played inconsistently in other seasons; played consistently well as a starter. 2 – Played inconsistently, or simply average, as a starter; played as a key role player but not a starter (i.e. Kevin Faulk) 1 – Played below average as a starter and was demoted or released; played for less than 2 years for the team and now plays elsewhere in the NFL; played as a career backup; otherwise had no positive impact on the team. 0 – Played well below average as a starter or backup; no longer plays in the NFL.
Finding the Average Talent
The final step was to find the average talent-per-team and the average talent per player. The average talent-per-team is the average of every team’s average and median grades. The average talent-per-player is the average of every player’s grade. These numbers, though closely related, represent two very different things. The average talent-per-team represents the NFL’s general ability to grade talent in the selected round, represented by a grade in the 0-4 system. The average talent-per-player represents the general talent level available in the selected round, also represented in a 0-4 system grade.
Teams were then ranked based on their success in the 1st and second rounds. This ranking system was established by taking the average of each teams average and median scores and dividing it by the average talent-per-player, determining the percentage of success that they have in drafting above-average players in that round.
Regular Season Success?
Next, each team’s success record was compared to their record during the regular season over the six-year time period. For the first round, the average difference of the success % from the six-year record was about .194. For the second round, the average difference of the success % from the six-year record was about .255. In other words, a team’s success drafting in the first round is more closely related to its record than its success drafting in the second round. Though this was my expected result, the large difference between the two results was surprising; I had thought that the first round would be only slightly more related to a team’s regular-season record than the second round.
The next comparison would involve winning in the playoffs. The average success rates in both rounds would be calculated for three groups: teams who never won in the playoffs; teams that only won once in the playoffs; and teams that won twice or more in the playoffs.
Playoff Wins 1st round success % 2nd round success %
Zero 45.88% 46.91%
One 49.23% 55.17%
2+ 55.37% 49.34%
The results were very interesting. Over six years, teams that have made the playoffs rarely have only drafted successfully in the first round 45.8% of the time; this was not a surprise. What was a surprise was that teams who made the playoffs often drafted successfully in the first round only 49.2% of the time, well below the average. However, the teams that often made the playoffs more than made up for it in the 2nd round, where they drafted far better than the teams that consistently made the playoffs.
These success rates by team lead to some interesting ideas. One barely revolutionary idea is that teams that don’t draft well in either round aren’t going to make the playoffs (I know, it’s a shocker). However, this data shows that teams that draft well in the second round but not in the first will still make the playoffs some of the time, but will not have the talent to consistently succeed due to their failings in the first round. It seems that to consistently have postseason success, you must draft well in the first round, not the second round.
Let us assess the accuracy of my interpretation of the data so far: that first-round success is more important to success in the regular season and in the playoffs by seeing if the theory works in reverse: teams that draft well in the first round do well in the playoffs, whereas teams that draft well in the second round do okay in the playoffs.
To do this, I created two groups: groups with success in the first round and groups with success in the second round. Group members were allowed to overlap.
Group A (First Round Success): Baltimore, Dallas, Green Bay, Houston, Minnesota, Tampa Bay. Group B (Second Round Success): Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, N.Y. Jets, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Tennessee.
Each group had their average regular-season and postseason success calculated, as follows:
Season Group A's Record Group B's Record
Regular 51.05% (8.17 wins) 49.7% (7.95 wins)
Post 2.33 wins/team 2.2 wins/team
Both results are conclusive. Teams that had good first-round picks did better in both the regular season and the post-season than the teams that had good second-round picks.
Conclusion: First-round picks are more important to both regular season success and postseason success that second-round picks are.
The idea that second-round picks are less important than first-round picks seems, to the casual observer, to be obvious. However, to those of us that study the NFL draft in detail, the idea that first-round players, who are usually thrust into a starting position and often before they are ready, help success more than a second-round player, who is given time to grow into their position at the NFL level and provides valuable depth, is somewhat counterintuitive. Perhaps this idea can be explained by the idea of the impact player: a player that is so good that his presence helps others around him be better. Players like Richard Seymour, whose presence on the Patriots’ defensive line brought their defense from one of the worst in the league back to one of the best. Larry Johnson, who lit up the NFL with 1750 yards rushing in only 9 starts last year. Carson Palmer, who almost single-handedly brought the Bengals from the bottom of the AFC North to the top in only his second year starting. Players like these are usually recognized and selected in the 1st round because they did the same thing in college football, and teams noticed. Perhaps impact players like these are the reason that teams make the playoffs or not, and perhaps the idea of impact players can explain the phenomenon of the first-round player, thrust into a starting position, making such an impact on his team’s performance.
-The average talent-per-player in the first round was 2.26, or an above-average starter. The average talent-per-player in the second round was 1.85, or a slightly-below-average starter.
-The average talent-per-team in the first round was only 2.24, lower than the talent-per-player in that round, suggesting that teams in the NFL aren’t picking as well in the first round as they could be.
-According to the numbers, the worst team drafting in the first round was San Francisco. In the second round, it was Minnesota. Overall, the worst drafting team was Arizona.
-Oakland, the team I dubbed as the worst team drafting in the first round in my first article, tied for 30th with Arizona.
-The best drafting team overall was the New York Giants, selecting players with an average grade of 2.75 (a good starter) with each of their picks. Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and New England were the next best teams.
-Teams with an overall drafting grade of 1.5 or lower have no playoff wins, only two Pro Bowlers and a combined six-year record of .399, or about 6.3 wins per season. Anyone who can guess which teams gets bragging rights!