We've had some spirited discussions over the past week or so about the Arizona Cardinals success, or lack their of in some people's opinion, when it comes to the NFL draft. As we all know, grading the success or failure of a draft class is often a very subjective under taking and placing a tangible 'grade' on a class can be tricky, to say the least. The past decade has seen the Cardinals get some outstanding value with some picks, such as Boldin in the second and Reggie Wells in the sixth, but they've also had their fair share of busts like (aptly named) Buster Davis in the third round and Wendell Bryant in the first. So how can a draft class or an entire organization be graded in terms of success or failure in the draft? Let's take a look....
Since we're much better at reporting other people's research than actually conducting our own, we ran across a site that studied the each organization's draft results between 1996 and 2008. The site, Advanced NFL Stats, measured success on two different levels: picks that became starters and picks that turned into Pro Bowlers. Obviously any study isn't going to be perfect, but every team was judged within the same parameters so we'll present it the same way.
Picks that Turned into Starters: Basically they looked at the average number of years as a starter for each team's picks, broken out by round, and the average starting years for all a team's draft picks. Overall the Cardinals tied with the Colts and Ravens with the highest percentage of picks that ended up becoming starters. Their 'success' in the first round wasn't as high as the Colts or Ravens but their level of success didn't drop off near as much in the third and fourth rounds. In comparison to the rest of the league, the Cardinals were on of the best teams at finding talent in the middle rounds, but their level of success in the first round was closer to middle of the road.
ROTB's Take: I'm sure the first argument that will get thrown out there is that it's been much easier to secure a starting spot on the Cardinals over the past decade then the Colts or Ravens. That's certainly a valid point, but the Browns, Lions and Texans could say the same thing yet they round out the bottom three.
Picks that Turned into Pro Bowlers: This is where it gets interesting because we all know how subjective the Pro Bowl voting can be at times with smaller market or bad teams often getting penalized or overshadowed by larger, more successful teams. The Cardinals though were middle of the road in this measurement (literally 15th) with 20 overall Pro Bowls, all selected in the first three rounds. The break down includes ten selections in the first round, seven in the second and three in third.
ROTB's Take: I really hate way the Pro Bowl is determined so I won't say much other than I think the Cardinals routinely get the shaft. Still though I'd love to see these stats updated in a couple of years once guys like Fitz, DRC and Wilson have a couple more trips to Hawaii (or wherever the PB is now).
Above Expected: Their third and final measure is the most inclusive and takes a team's drafting position vs. the level of starting or Pro Bowl experience. Basically they came up with an average level of success (both starting and PBs) for each slot in the draft and measured that against each team's overall results. For example, it's reasonable to assume that Matt Stafford should be more likely to become a starter and Pro Bowler than Chris Wells should, based solely on being the #1 pick versus the #31 pick. Using this metric the Cardinals were 14th in terms of starting experience above expected, but their Pro Bowl rank was 26th.
ROTB's Take: What can you say, when you've got early first round picks like Tom Knight, Andre Wadsworth, Thomas Jones, Leonard Davis Wendell Bryant, Bryant Johnson, Calvin Pace, Antrel Rolle, Matt Leinart and Levi Brown who have combined for a grand total of zero Pro Bowls, your not going to grade out well in this kind of metric. Again I can see this number improving in the next five years or so, but we'll see.
Defining success is often a nearly impossible task but these three metric take a stab at the impossible. The perfect example of this dilemma is Antrel Rolle. To this point in his career, would you grade his eighth overall selection as a success? He's started 44 games over the past four seasons and his five touchdowns over the past two seasons (playoffs included) are more than some of his offensive rivals. Still though he failed at the position in which he was drafted and is still learning his new position. In a world with no grey area would call him a success or failure?
In the end, I'd say the Cardinals are some where in the middle in terms of draft success and their recent drafts could move them much closer to the top 10. As with just about every aspect of the franchise, I think the Cardinals are improving in not only talent evaluation but also making smart, well informed moves on draft day. Building a sustained winner, always starts from within and very few successful teams are failures on draft day. How would you rate Rod Graves and the rest of the front office for their recent drafts? Are they trending upward?