Thoughts on the 2014 NFL Draft

The NFL draft is tonight.  And if you are a Detroit Lions fan — as the following t-shirt makes clear (got this picture from a Darren Rovell tweet!) — this is the Super Bowl.



Of course, for other fans it is also a pretty big night.  After all, this is the night where your team adds a “star”.  Or at least, that is what you are probably going to hear for each selection.

When we look back at history — and this is definitely true for Lions fans — those “stars” don’t seem to always appear.  Such is the story I told in my latest for the Atlantic.  The story focuses on competing views on Johnny Manziel.  On the one hand, it appears – if the mock drafts are to be believed – that Manziel will be a first round pick.  On the other hand, there are many NFL observers that doubt Manziel’s ability to be successful in the NFL.  In the article, I note that Manziel has many of the characteristics (although not all!) that are prized by those selecting in the draft.  I also note that those characteristics are not related to future NFL performance.

This story is related to another piece I worked on for the Retro Report.  The video focuses on the drafting of Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf.  Towards the end they note the results of an update of a paper I published with Rob Simmons a few years ago.  This update notes – as Rob and I argued before — that where a quarterback is drafted doesn’t seem to tell us much about NFL performance.

The idea teams do not really know which players will be NFL “stars” (and which will not) seemed somewhat controversial when this was said a few years ago.  But Rob and I are not alone in reaching this conclusion.

  • Cade Massey (co-author of one of the best academic articles on the NFL draft with Richard Thaler), expressed quite a bit of skepticism about how teams make decision on draft day during a recent podcast at AdvancedFootballAnalytics.
  • The Massey-Thaler research was the focus of an article by Joseph Stromberg at  This article included the following quote from Eric DeCosta (assistant GM of the Baltimore Ravens): “We look at the draft as, in some respects, a luck-driven process. The more picks you have, the more chances you have to get a good player. When we look at teams that draft well, it’s not necessarily that they’re drafting better than anybody else. It seems to be that they have more picks. There’s definitely a correlation between the amount of picks and drafting good players.”
  •  Joseph Stromberg also noted how the Wonderlic test – which Rob and I looked at in our research – doesn’t tell us anything about NFL prospects.  The NFL is starting to use a new test.  Remains to be seen if that is actually an improvement.

All of this should be kept in mind as we watch the selections tonight.  Most of these players are probably not going to be stars.  And who the stars will be… well, we probably don’t know their identities tonight.

All we do know is that the Lions are probably not selecting a “star”.

Okay, I won’t believe that tonight.  I just know from past experience that it is probably true!

– DJ