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Updated July 12, 2010
Welcome to the most recent lecture in my NFL Draftology course. In Draftology 408, we are going to explore our expectations for what is a bust and not a bust, as well as introduce WalterFootball.com's 10-year Draft Study.
I think whenever you truly analyze something and break it down, you have to get back to the basics. What are our perceptions? Why do we believe what we believe? What the hell do we believe in the first place?
For example, how do we determine the difference between a bust and a non-bust in the NFL Draft?
As I have been working on my 10-year NFL Draft Study, I have realized there is a lot of gray area, and not everything is black and white in terms of players being busts or not. For example, they can endure injuries, do nothing for their first four or five years and then be productive, or simply have marginal careers where it is difficult to call them busts or not.
What is a bust? A bust is a player who greatly failed to live up to expectations. They generally were underproductive and made little impact.
The next question that must be asked is "What are our expectations?" and then "Are our expectations impractical?"
My 10-year NFL Draft Study is designed to give us some parameters to work with in terms of our expectations for teams and prospects. Often, fans and the media have very unrealistic expectations for how their teams perform in the NFL Draft. Every first-round pick needs to hit, and every top-10 pick needs to be a superstar. If this isn't the case, then the media and fans simply go back and blame the team for passing on other prospects drafted later who excelled.
It simply isn't this easy, and hindsight is always 20-20. Don't get me wrong; teams definitely make mistakes, and criticism is often warranted. I am saying we need to re-evaluate ourselves and how we analyze the NFL Draft before critiquing teams because we would then be coming from an ignorant viewpoint.
The next question we must ask is what is an impact player? An impact player is a player who made a significant contribution to his team for an extended period of time (generally four years or more for first-round picks, but later-round picks hit if they have two good years) whether it was as a starter or backup regardless of position except for special teams personnel not including the kicker, punter or long snapper.
It must also be noted that first-round picks have higher expectations than other positions. A player has to be a bust if he has had a relatively short career unless it was cut off by injuries. In the case of injuries, we simply can't blame teams unless the player had durability issues in college - teams can't predict which players will get injuries in the future and which won't because it is a part of the game.
I understand this process is incredibly subjective, but there is no other way to do it. If you want to criticize me for not having a supercomputer and program to digest all of this information in a very objective manner, then that's fine but please understand it isn't practical.
There are certainly debates on how we categorize players in hindsight in terms of their level or lack of success, but we need a starting point.
If you go on any NFL team message board prior to the NFL Draft, you will see fans have their own mocks for their teams. They believe their later-round picks will all hit and they have the recipe to complete the depth chart. As Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast my friend!" These expectations are ridiculously impractical. You can't expect your team to hit every pick or even half their picks. I have been studying the NFL Draft religiously for the past six years, and from my research I have determined that a solid draft for a team is when you get two impact players from it. Just two. Three impact players is a good draft, and four or more is an amazing draft.
The 10-year NFL Draft study (it didn't take me 10 years; it just uses the 1998 to 2007 NFL Drafts) breaks down each round in terms of "hits" and "busts," and gives us some statistics to work with to help us better mold our expectations for the league.
Introduction to the 10-Year NFL Draft Study:
The 10-Year NFL Draft Study: Round 1
The 10-Year NFL Draft Study: Round 2
NFL Draftology Home
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2016 NBA Mock Draft - April 12
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NFL Picks - Feb. 7