I have a couple of questions about the correlation between when a player is drafted and how well his career pans out.

1) How strong is the correlation between which round a prospective NFL player is picked and how successful their career is?

2) Do almost all first round picks have relatively successful careers? How rare is it that an 'Elite' player comes from the second round or lower?

  • Do you want this answered from a player/fan perspective or from a coach/owner perspective? If player A is drafted in the first round and makes 5 million a year and his performance is a 85 out of 100 (over contract years) and player B is drafted in the 3rd round and makes about 1.2 million a year and his performance is 81 out of 100 who is better? Player A will be picked by fans as better, Player B will be picked by the teams.
    – Coach-D
    Jan 14, 2015 at 22:12
  • I was thinking about the 'quality' (I know that is a bit subjective) of the player rather than their 'value' (for money). Both perspectives would be great if possible though. Jan 14, 2015 at 23:34
  • To get a vague idea to which extent they are correlated I would simply check List of first overall National Football League draft picks and look how many of those players became stars or how many of them I know. (Which, in the case of NFL is none, since I do not follow american football. But if I check similar list from NHL, I see many familiar names there.) I hope that you'll get better answers from others, this is just a remark.
    – Martin
    Jan 15, 2015 at 9:09

3 Answers 3


Depending on your meaning of success, I believe it can be yes in two different ways. Due to the fact that teams generally do not like to give up on early round picks, they usually hang around longer than guys who were picked in the later rounds. Therefore due to their drafted position and the length for which they are on their teams, they make a lot more money and therefore would be more successful than guys drafted later. It should also be yes statistically as well, based off of the high competition in college it's easier to project what a player would be able to do at the next level. Also with technology today, scouts also have access to all of the players games and can watch a player for what he is good and bad at. While in the draft all of the players are very talented the best players for the most part have been taken in the earlier rounds.

I would not say all first round picks have successful careers as some may have burned out in college and can not keep up with everyone being as talented if not more talented than they are. Elite players are the hardest ones to find. A draft usually will only have 2-5 elite guys that will simply tear up competition at the next level no matter who they go up against. For example, there has not been an elite QB drafted since Andrew Luck in the 2012 draft. Before that, Aaron Rodgers in 2005.


There is a heavy heavy correlation between performance between rounds. ESPN did a study a couple of years ago and basically about 1/3 of the players that start on offense or defense are 1st rounders. Teams with more first rounders starting having better records too (on average). Think about 7 rounds in the draft and then the street free agents and 33% is an outrageous number for one round. We may focus on the draft busts but take a look at the 5th round of a draft from 5 years ago and see if you know more than 5 names.

On the flip side of this is value. First rounds currently also give you the most bang for your buck. It isn't a huge factor over 2nd and 3rd rounders but they win. Now 5 years ago before the rookie cap restrictions were implemented 2nd-3rd rounders were the best investment for a team (and why you saw several good franchises consistently trade down). With the rookie wage scale set though this has flipped and getting a stud in the first round is worth the price.


How rare is it that an 'Elite' player comes from the second round or lower?

Pretty rare, The last one in my opinion is Tom Brady (2000)

  • 3
    That requires a pretty narrow definition of "elite". Le'Veon Bell is currently the best RB in the league and was drafted in the 2nd round in 2013. Does that count? Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were 5th-rounders. Gronkowski 2nd. Antonio Brown 6th. Oct 21, 2015 at 0:11
  • ok, What is your definition of 'Elite' then? Yes they are great and young players. Let's call the above list 'Elite' after may be they have 10 seasons. In my opinion 'Elite' are those maintain their dominance thru years and have the stats to show for. Oct 21, 2015 at 15:22

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