Is the NFL Draft Really That Important to a Team?

For the last month and a half, every sports network in the country has been focused on the upcoming NFL Draft. (This has been the case even during the best sports month of the year.)  But is the draft really that important to a team? I mean, it’s not like the NBA, where a team only starts five players–NFL teams have 33 starters.  In the NBA, one draft can make a world of difference.  For example, the 2003-04 Cleveland Cavaliers won 18 more games with LeBron than the previous season, a 102% increase.   The 2004-05 Orlando Magic won 17 more games with the addition of Dwight Howard, a 90% increase. But, in the NFL, can drafting that one LeBron or Dwight type player turn a team around in one season? What about an entire draft class?  

The answer is yes and no.  With 33 starters and 52 players on the roster, it’s hard for seven rookies to drastically affect a team.  Before 1993, it was much more likely.  In 1993, the NFL draft went from twelve to seven rounds, so it was a little more plausible for a single draft to have a huge impact.  An example of a team in the “7 Round Era” that made a huge turnaround in part based on their draft was the 1999 Indianapolis Colts. After the 1998 draft, the Colts went from 3-13 in 1998 to 13-3 in 1999.  This draft was of course headed by none other than Peyton Manning.  Other than Manning, however, the Colts 1998 draft really only yielded one other productive player, OG Steve McKinney.  And although McKinney started the majority of the games for the Colts for the next four season, he was never really much more than an average player.  Further, the turnaround really took two years since the Colts were 3-13 during Peyton’s rookie season, so  the Colts 1998 draft technically did not yield immediate results and was not the only reason for their turnaround.

The NFL Draft may be important over time, but in reality one draft won't turn around a franchise

The 2008 Dolphins (11-5) are another recent team that had a huge turnaround  after a horrible previous season (1-15 in 2007).  The Dolphins’ 2008 draft included OT Jake Long and QB Chad Henne, but the drastic turnaround was due more to personnel changes in  the front office and free agency aquisitions than it was to the draft.  In fact, Henne didn’t even start for the Dolphins that seson–Chad Pennington did.  Even the Detroit Lions seemingly “instant” turnaround recently where they went from 0-16 to 10-6, actually took three years (2008 to 2011) and four good draft classes.

Pre 1993, there is a little more evidence of a single draft drastically affecting a team.  One such example is the 1965 Chicago Bears.  In 1964, the Bears were 5-9.  Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers were taken in the draft that year and the Bears went on to go 9-5.  Even with Butkus and Sayers, however, the Bears didn’t make the playoffs the next year.  In fact, the Bears didn’t make the playoffs during Butkus’s entire career in Chicago.  (Their next playoff appearance was not until 1977). 

The 1991 Dallas Cowboys draft was also a draft that helped instantly turn around a franchise.  In 1990, the Cowboys were 7-9.  After drafting Emmit Smith and company, they went 11-5 the next year.  Although four wins can’t really be considered a huge turnaround, the Cowboys compounded their 1991 draft success with a good 1992 draft class and went 13-3 that season.  The two draft classes produced nine starters of the 1992, 1993, and 1995 Super Bowl winning teams.

The 1974 Steelers draft class is regarded as the best draft class of all time.  The draft included Mike Webster, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Donnie Shell–all of which were all-pro, four of which are in the hall of fame.  But the 1973 Steelers were already pretty good at 10-4.  They won the division in 1972 and made it to the playoffs in both 1972 and 1973.  The great 1974 draft class bolstered the already stellar Pittsburgh team Pittsburgh, helping them win the Super Bowl the next two years and then two more in 1978 and 1979.  If there was any draft class that could make the case for changing a franchise it was the 1974 Steelers class, but as I said, they were already a good team before the draft. 

So the 1991 Cowboys and 1974 Steelers may be two of the exceptions, but the twelve-round drafts are over.  Today, seven rookies aren’t going to make that big of an impact on a franchise. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the NFL draft doesn’t matter.  If a team has several good drafts in a row it can certainly affect a team positively in the long run, and vice versa.  But let’s face it, the days are gone where one draft can turnaround an entire franchise.  And the NFL is simply not a sport where one player can have an instant and dramatic effect on team (sorry Andrew Luck).  It takes more than one player or even one class of newbies to turn around a team.  I’m not saying that the NFL draft doesn’t matter, I’m just saying that it’s no where near as big a deal as it’s made out to be. 

By: Todd Davis

Top 10 Best Late-Round Running Backs in NFL Draft History

With the NFL draft just around the corner, teams are examining every player on their respective draft boards hoping they can get the right man.  In some instances, late round draft picks have turned out to be franchise players.  Teams never know what they’re going to get out of a fifth or sixth round pick on the second day of the draft and history has shown that quality players can be found in these late rounds.  The next three weeks on Big C’s corner of the blog, I will be examining the top-10 late round draft picks that have turned out to be NFL successes.  This week’s focus will be on the running back position.
 
#10- Jamal Anderson- 1994 (7th round- #201 by Atlanta Falcons)
Known by fans for his “Dirty-Bird” dance, Anderson had his career year in 1998 rushing for 1,846 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.  That season, he led the Falcons to the Super Bowl before losing to the Denver Broncos.  Anderson’s career was cut short due to an ACL tear in 2001.  He finished his career (all with Atlanta) with 5,336 rushing yards and 41 total touchdowns in only 4 full seasons played as a starter.
 
#9- Wilbert Montgomery- 1977 (6th round- #154 by Philadelphia Eagles)
Montgomery hold seven Eagles rushing records including: career attempts (1,465), rushing yards (6,538), attempts in a season (338 in 1979), and rushing yards in a season (1,512 in 1979).  1979 was a career year for Montgomery when he had 2,012 all-purpose yards, which led the NFL. For his career he had 6,789 rushing yards, 2,502 receiving yards, 814 kickoff return yards, and 57 touchdowns.  Montgomery also made two Pro Bowls in 1978 and 1979.
 
#8- Larry Brown- 1969 (8th round- #191 by Washington Redskins)
Brown has Vince Lombardi to thank for his success as a running back with the Washington Redskins.  In Lombardi’s first season as Redskins coach, he placed Brown in as the starter and he immediately produced making four straight Pro Bowl selections.  During that span, he became the first Redskins to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season and also led the Redskins to Super Bowl VII against the “Perfect Season” Miami Dolphins.  Brown finished his career rushing for 5,875 yards all with the Redskins.
 
#7- Terry Allen- 1990 (9th round- #241 by Minnesota Vikings)
After backing up Herschel Walker his rookie year in Minnesota, he became the starter  the next season and wasted no time in his starting role by rushing for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns.  Allen had 4 straight years with more than 1,000 yards rushing beginning in 1992.  Allen missed the entire 1993 season with an ACL tear.  His best season was in 1996 with the Washington Redskins where he rushed for 1,353 yards and a league best 21 touchdowns.  Only nine players in NFL history have ever rushed for more than 20 touchdowns.  Allen finished his career with 8,614 rushing yards and 79 total touchdowns.
 
#6- Joe Perry- 1948 (undrafted- by San Francisco 49ers)
After leading Compton Junior College to back-to-back National Titles in 1946 and 1947, he joined the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted player.  The 49ers were members of the AAFC (All-American Football Conference) until 1950 when they joined the NFL.  Perry, a WWII veteran was the first player in NFL history to rush for back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in 1953 and 1954.  Perry’s durability as a running back allowed him to play in parts of three decades (1948-1963).  Perry retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rushing with 9,723 yards, a record which was later broken by Jim Brown.
 
#5- Ernest Byner- 1984 (10th round- #280 by Cleveland Browns)
Byner is most remembered by fans for “The Fumble” in the 1987 AFC Championship game in which he fumbled on the 3 yard line allowing John Elway to have his memorable “Drive.” At the time of his retirement, Byner finished his fourteen-year career as the NFL’s sixteenth all-time leading rusher at 8,261 yards.  Other impressive career numbers for this 10th round pick are 13,442 all-purpose yards and 72 total touchdowns. 
 
#4- Bo Jackson- 1987 (7th round- #183 by Los Angeles Raiders)
Although picked number one by Tampa Bay in 1986, Jackson never signed with the Buccaneers.  Since they made him choose between baseball and football, Jackson stayed unsigned and played for the Kansas City Royals until his name was put back into the draft pool where Al Davis allowed him to play baseball and then football for the Los Angeles Raiders.  Playing between ten and eleven games each season due to the overlapping baseball season, Jackson finished his short four-year career with 2,782 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns.  He still holds the Monday Night Football single game rushing record with 221 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in November of 1987.  I’ve got him this high on the list because, if it weren’t for his hip injury, we might be talking about one of the best running backs in NFL history. 

#3- Michael Turner- 2004 (5th round- #154 by San Diego Chargers)
The only active player on my list, Turner backed up LT in San Diego for the first four years of his career before being traded to Atlanta where he has become a top fantasy football RB ever since.  A great red zone scoring option, Turner has had ten or more rushing touchdowns the past three seasons, with a high of 17 coming in 2008. On January 1, 2012, Michael Turner broke Gerald Riggs’ franchise rushing touchdown record against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scoring two touchdowns bringing his Falcons touchdown total to 50.  Not too shabby for a 5th round draft pick and former backup!
 
#2- Herschel Walker- 1985 (5th round- #114 by Dallas Cowboys)
Although a fifth round pick by Dallas in 1985, Walker probably would have been a top pick in 1983 coming out of Georgia if it weren’t for the three-year emergence of the USFL.  Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals could offer Walker more money, so he played in the USFL for the first three years of his pro career.  Probably the overall best athlete on this list (no offense to Bo), Walker played seven positions one season for the Dallas Cowboys going anywhere from halfback, fullback, H-back, tight-end, and wide receiver.  Walker is the only NFL player to gain 4,000 yards three different ways: rushing, receiving and kickoff returns.  He finished his twelve-year NFL career with 8,225 rushing yards.
 
#1- Terrell Davis- 1995 (6th round- #196 by Denver Broncos)

Terrell Davis was a steal for the Broncos as the 196th pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.

Davis entered training camp his rookie season as the sixth string running back, but continued to impress new coach Mike Shanahan with each passing pre-season game and was named a starter by week one of the 1995 season.  Before getting injured in his fifth season, Davis had increased his rushing totals each season from his rookie year starting at 1,117 yards to his career high of 2,008 yards in 1998 which was his MVP season.  He was also named Super Bowl XXXII MVP, his first of two Super Bowl victories.  In just seven total NFL seasons (three of which were injury shortened) Davis finished with 7,607 rushing yards, 169 receptions for 1,280 yards, and 65 touchdowns (60 rushing and 5 receiving).

By: Craig Emmert