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After hearing/reading much debate about if more draft picks were washing out in the NFL more quickly stirred up by a run of draft picks that were cut recently, I decided to pull out some metrics and see if this meme had any truth in it using the 2nd, 3rd and 4th round picks from 1998-2009 split into 4 3 draft cohorts. I’ve put it together in graph form to make it easier to grasp and the raw data in the first link. A couple notes:
1-The games played is for the first 3 seasons after the players was drafted. In the case of the 08 and 09 draftees, I’ve scaled the games played by 133%. The previous 3 draft cohorts have a maximum of 9 seasons looked at in their data, but there’s a maximum of 6 seasons for the most recent group. I admit its slightly raw, but I think that the numbers show the proper view of things.

2-By Washout/retention rate, I mean the number of players drafted in each cohort who was cut, traded, left the league by injury/finding religion/finding pot/died/decided they preferred Canada/whatever. If a draftee left the roster(or practice squad) and ended up at home, jail or another team, he was marked as a washout.

Raw data: Link

2nd round washout rate: Link
2nd round games played per pick: Link

Conclusions: I was blown away by this data. 2nd round picks washed out from 07-09 at nearly 35% higher rate than they did from 2004-2006. Nearly 20% of 2nd rounders washed out from the team who drafted them, and I count 9 2nd rounders just from 2008 who are hanging on by their finger nails(Kelly, Sweed, Bennett, Johnson, Simpson, Laws, Merling, Rachal, and Thomas). Not only that but the games played per pick rate was flat, so these players in this group aren’t seeing much playing time(or can’t beat out who’s in front of them). There is a valid(and supported) case that NFL teams are not only dumping 2nd round picks at a significantly higher rate recently but they aren’t able to get on the field as much as they should.

3rd round washout rate: Link
3rd round games played per pick: Link

Conclusions: The theory hits a snag here. The retention rate improved nearly by a third from the 3rd to the 4th cohort, but interestingly enough the games played per pick rate dropped 35% in that same grouping. While GMs weren’t dumping these draft picks nearly as much, they also weren’t being played by the coaches nearly as much as they had been in previous years. The 19.9 rate is the lowest in the entire data set for games played per pick. The most likely conclusion is that the 3rd round picks from 07-09 were primarily projects who are apprenticing to vets. I would suspect that the games played per pick rate will jump(or should jump) after the 2010 season, or the washout rate will be closer to 30-35%. If guys like Marshall Yanda, Jonathan Wade, Trent Edwards, Jaron Gilbert, Roy Miller, Jared Cook, Kevin Smith, Reggie Smith and Steve Slaton get dealt/cut in the next 12 months, we’ll have our answer.

4th round washout rate: Link
4th round games played per pick: Link

Conclusions: Here, it becomes more clear what’s going on with these pick cohorts overall. The retention/washout rate jumps 20% while the games played per pick rate drops 28%. 4th rounders from the 3rd to the 4th group are playing less and washing out more. The 07-09 retention rate is about 10% lower than the peak in 01-03 but the games played per pick was way down from that 2nd cohort.

Overall washout rate: Link
Overall games player per pick: Link

Conclusions: While the overall retention/washout rate has gone down 27% from 98-00 to 07-09, look at the games played per pick numbers. Its dropped nearly 29% in that same comparison. While the 2nd round retention/washout rate has taken a massive jump, the overall pattern of what’s going on in the NFL looks extremely clear: NFL decision makers, at least with their 2nd-4th round picks, are taking much more risk with their choices and seem to be more following the “perceived best talent/player available” theory in their drafting. There’s a lot of draftees in this examination from the 07-09 cohort that are stuck behind veteran starters and can’t seem to get on the field. The dropping of so many 2nd round picks in this most recent cohort, combined with the same years’ 3rd rounders averaging about 6-7 games played per season reinforce this conclusion(along with the drop in the 4th rounders rates).

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One thought on “Draft Retention Trends

  1. I think this is some excellent work. I’d like to see the numbers as adjusted for players who might have been cut by their drafting team but who caught on with another team. Often, players get cut or traded because they didn’t fit the sustem well or when coaching regimes change. That manner of “washout” isn’t really a league washout but a team washout.

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