For many years, having the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft was a curse. High risk coupled with a major financial investment that could cost you your job? You literally couldn't give that away. Things are significantly different now.
Teams will consider trading for the No. 1 overall pick nowadays, assuming whoever's holding it will actually give it up. Thanks to a new CBA, picking up top is significantly better from a cost standpoint than it used to be. What about talent though?
In a world run by robots, if you're picking first you end up with the best player. The team picking second would land the second-best player, third the third-best and so on and so on until someone is finally forced to draft Teddy Bridgewater.
Mix in the difficulty of NFL scouting, differing opinions of different players, positional value and the general inability of NFL teams to keep it in their pants when staring at quarterbacks on the board come draft day and, well, it doesn't quite work that way.
Not even close, actually. We took a look back at the success of each draft slot -- 1st through 32nd -- from 2002 (when the Texans first entered the NFL) through 2013 to figure out whether there was a tangible benefit to acquiring talent up top of the draft.
Using Pro-Football-Reference's Career Approximate Value, we created an average for each position over the last 12 years as well as the last five years. (In case you didn't click and read, this is an accumulating stat: guys drafted in 2002 are probably going to be "better" than guys drafted in 2014. Nature of the game. Please don't come on Twitter and yell at me for it.)
The five-year span is to see if drafts are improving with a few years of financially-stable drafting under our belt.
The two spikes really stand out, huh?
24th is the biggest surprise, only because it's so low in the draft. It'd be bizarre if a bunch of teams just hit on really good players late in the round at that specific pick.
But that's kind of what's happened since 2002. The biggest outlier is the Packers taking Aaron Rodgers (88 CarAV). But the Ravens got Ed Reed (107), the Rams got Steven Jackson (70), the Colts got Dallas Clark (51), the Titans got Chris Johnson (63), the Bengals got Johnathan Joseph (49), the Cowboys got Dez Bryant (36) and the Saints got Cameron Jordan (26).
My theory? Lots of quality teams allowed to sit in a sweet spot of the draft. Being a better team means not drafting for need, which means the ability to take the best player on the board (like CJ2K). It also means you can swoop on a guy who inexplicably drops to you there (a la Rodgers).
That mostly holds true. Even Dallas managed to be good that year and somehow didn't make an awkwardly aggressive move up the board for their guy.
What's the theory for the spike at the 11th spot then? Somewhat similar: teams found themself just outside the "top 10" for prospects and picking up value that fell for whatever reason. Also, it's easier to use a pick that's not "in the top 10" on a guy you have a conviction about. J.J. Watt is a great example; seems dumb now but he wasn't a lock to go early in 2011.
In a perfect world, you'd have a steady declining value beginning from the first pick and then on to the 32nd overall pick. Each pick is worth less than the one before it for a number of reasons.
This isn't a perfect world -- over the past five years we see some serious dip from the first pick on, with value rising and falling fairly randomly and then surging above where it should be based on averages.
Those are the five-year CarAV numbers so you see a lot less variance in terms of highs and lows than you would against the last decade. It's an accumulating stat so the guys who are outperforming certain slots aren't doing it wildly over the competition yet.
But teams are getting more value out of certain draft spots than others. That's partly a by-product of many teams making terrible picks. The NFL strives for parity but no sports league is going to create a completely even playing field.
It is nice, at least from a "hey, this is kind of working!" perspective, to see that earlier picks are doing well relative to their later counterparts.
Here's the full breakdown of All-Pro selections by draft slot, as well as Pro Bowl picks:
Dear fourth- and sixth-overall picks: you're all embarrassing yourselves! But seriously, want to know why the first-overall guys don't have many All-Pro awards? Because there are a lot of quarterbacks taken -- nine of 12 in our time frame -- and only so many spots for them to land.
Plenty of Pro Bowls in that crowd though!
Because it wouldn't be a good draft breakdown if we didn't name names, let's look at the best and worst picks by CarAV for each position. For the most part we avoided choosing anyone from the last two classes and went strictly "by the book," picking the best and worst player based on the numbers. Some liberties were taken, and noted.
The Good: Eli Manning (2004, CarAV 89) -- A pair of Super Bowl rings later, the Giants franchise quarterback has three-straight 4,000-yard seasons despite leading the league in interceptions three times.
The Bad: JaMarcus Russell (2006, CarAV 6) -- An all-time flame-out of a first pick, Jam-Jam is out of the NFL after being selected ahead of Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson.
The Good: Julius Peppers (2002, CarAV 118) -- Epic prize for the Panthers when the Texans took David Carr with the franchise's first-overall pick. Don't think this disaster of a decision isn't sitting in the back of Rick Smith's mind this year.
The Bad: Charles Rogers (2003, CarAV 4) -- One of Matt Millen's many failed first-round wideouts, Rogers finished with 36 catches ... in his career.
The Good: Andre Johnson (2003, CarAV 90) -- Johnson is just another reason why Rogers was such a bad pick, having been taken immediately after. He's still going strong for the Texans more than a decade later.
The Bad: Trent Richardson (2012, CarAV 13) -- Cleveland traded up to grab Richardson, part of their draft-day bonanza with Brandon Weeden. Ugh. He's not even on the roster, getting dealt to the Colts last year. At least they've got two first-round picks again.
The Good: Philip Rivers (204, CarAV 107) -- Drafted by the Giants and eventually traded to the Chargers, Rivers was the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year after coming back from being below average for a couple years. He's been a franchise quarterback for San Diego.
The Bad: Aaron Curry (2009, CarAV 17) -- Coming out of Wake Forest as a highly-productive player and high-character guy, Curry single-handedly murdered the phrase "safe pick." He wasn't bad out of the gate but retired in August 2013.
The Good: Patrick Peterson (2011, CarAV 43) -- Cheating because A.J. Hawk (53), Quentin Jammer (53) and Terrance Newman (64) have higher values, but Peterson's already a stud. Barring a major dip in production he'll end up being the top No. 5 for a while after this coming year.
The Bad: Cadillac Williams (2005, CarAV 26) -- Caddy ran for 1,178 yards in his rookie season but never topped 1,000 again. Jon Gruden passed over Aaron Rodgers with this pick, eventually got fired and hasn't coached since.
The Good: Vernon Davis (2006, CarAV 41) -- Not a good draft position over the last few years. Davis is one of the better tight ends in the NFL though.
The Bad: Vernon Gholston (2008, CarAV 8) -- Still doesn't have a sack in the NFL.
The Good: Adrian Peterson (2007, CarAV 76) -- How did he get all the way down to seventh?
The Bad: Troy Williamson (2005, CarAV 8) -- Topped 1,000 yards for his career when he joined on with the Jaguars (he was drafted by the Vikings initially) because they love bad first-round wide receivers apparently.
The Good: Jordan Gross (2003, CarAV 73) -- The recently retired Gross was the definition of a 10-year plug-and-play franchise left tackle.
The Bad: Derrick Harvey (2008, CarAV 14) -- Technically higher than Jake Locker but Harvey's got several more years in the league and less injuries.
The Good: Kevin Williams (2003, CarAV 94) -- Williams has been a rock in the middle of the Vikings defensive line since being drafted, recording 60 sacks from the defensive tackle spot.
The Bad: Keith Rivers (2008, CarAV 22) -- Not the greatest draft slot in the world but fairly steady. Luke Kuechly, drafted ninth in 2012, has the same CarAV already as Rivers.
The Good: Terrell Suggs (2003, CarAV 91) -- T-Sizzle was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and returned from an Achilles injury in 2012 to make a major impact on the Ravens Super Bowl run.
The Bad: Blaine Gabbert (2011, CarAV 8) -- 10th is where draft busts go to die. Matt Leinert and Mike Williams (the really bad one) both make this list. Gabbert was such a phenomenal bust for the Jaguars he takes the cake though.
The Good: Ben Roethlisberger (2004, CarAV 94) -- 11's my lucky number; it's been REAL good to some NFL teams too. The Cowboys got DeMarcus Ware, the 49ers got Anthony Davis, the Colts got Dwight Freeney, the Texans got J.J. Watt and Pittsburgh was "stuck" with a consolation prize in Big Ben.
The Bad: Aaron Maybin (2009, CarAV 5) -- Not everyone was so lucky. Sorry, Bills.
The Good: Haloti Ngata (2006, CarAV 88) -- Ngata's been putting the middle of the Ravens defensive line on lock down for years. One of the more underrated defensive players in the league, really.
The Bad: Wendell Bryant (2002, CarAV 4) -- Suspended in 2005 for his third substance-abuse violation, Bryant never played in the NFL again.
The Good: Sheldon Richardson (2013, CarAV 6) -- Making an exception here for the numbers. Richardson was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and should've done better. Lee Evans and Ty Warren are the other potential choices here.
The Bad: Brandon Graham (2010, CarAV 9) -- Just a very ... average position. No devastating choices in terms of busts in the last decade or so.
The Good: Darrelle Revis (2007, CarAV 72) -- Now on his third team, Revis is the rare player who's moved a lot while remaining one of the best in the game. 14's been straight fire lately: Earl Thomas of the Seahawks, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers of the Rams and Star Lotulelei of the Panthers are the last four picks.
The Bad: Michael Haynes (2003, CarAV 8) -- Major washout for the Bears who played just three years. Tommie Harris was taken a year later by Chicago for whatever that's worth.
The Good: Derrick Johnson (2005, CarAV 65) -- Thomas has really blossomed in the last three years, reaching the Pro Bowl in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
The Bad: Jerome McDougle (2003, CarAV 3) -- Philly jumped up in the draft for him but he ultimately dealt with too many injuries and was never successful.
The Good: Troy Polamalu (2003, CarAV 93) -- Polamalu's been wrecking the field and cranking out shampoo commercials for the Steelers for more than a decade now.
The Bad: Justin Harrell (2007, CarAV 2) -- Have a friend from college named Justin Harrell so we all loved this pick. "Chuck" weighs half as much and probably would've given the Packers twice the production.
The Good: Chad Greenway (2006, CarAV 54) -- Greenway's a good player but pretty uninspiring for this pick, huh? Also considered were Josh Freeman (!), Mike Iupati and Nate Solder.
The Bad: David Pollack (2005, CarAV 3) -- Kind of unfair since Pollack suffered a major back injury and was forced out of the game. He's recovered nicely to do good work on the college football side for ESPN though. We would also accept Jarvis Moss as an answer here.
The Good: Joe Flacco (2007, CarAV 61) -- Say what you want about Flacco but he took any target off his back after that epic postseason run in 2012.
The Bad: Erasmus James (2005, CarAV 6) -- Five total sacks before being traded to the Redskins after three years with the Vikings.
The Good: Antonio Cromartie (2006, CarAV 52) -- Cromartie is a national treasure.
The Bad: Jeff Otah (2008, CarAV 13) -- The crazy thing is at one point Marty Hurney's decision to trade back up into the first round and grab Otah looked smart. No, really. I promise.
The Good: Tamba Hali (2006, CarAV 60) -- Really interesting how this crop of defensive players for the Chiefs keeps maturing. Hali's a pass-rushing stud now.
The Bad: Kenechi Udeze (2004, CarAV 19) -- Really interesting how this crop of defensive players for the Vikings never matured.
The Good: Vince Wilfork (2004, CarAV 76) -- Going on a decade with Wilfork straight dominating for the Patriots.
The Bad: Matt Jones (Year, CarAV 22) -- Technically Daniel Graham is lower than Jones but I can't fathom putting anyone else on this list. His four season with Jacksonville were, um, better than I thought?
The Good: Bryan Thomas (2002, CarAV 50) -- Percy Harvin could qualify as a choice but this is what 10 years of solid production will do for you in the NFL. Not a very good draft slot.
The Bad: Brady Quinn (2007, CarAV 2) -- Murderers' Row of bad quarterbacking at 22 overall: Quinn, J.P. Losman, Rex Grossman and another Cleveland selection, Brandon Weeden. In case you were wondering why the Browns weren't very good.
The Good: Willis McGahee (2003, CarAV 55) -- People forget how good McGahee was with the Bills out of the gates and then once he got to Baltimore.
The Bad: Danny Watkins (2011, CarAV 9) -- Watkins is the rare blemish on the great 2011 NFL Draft class, having already been cut by the Eagles.
The Good: Ed Reed (2002, CarAV 108) -- Related: Ozzie Newsome is kind of good at drafting football players. The spike here is crazy by the way: Packers got Aaron Rodgers, Titans got Chris Johnson, Rams got Steven Jackson, Cowboys got Dez Bryant, Bengals got Johnathan Joseph and Saints got Cameron Jordan. Lot of talent here.
The Bad: Peria Jerry (2009, CarAV 15) -- That doesn't mean you're guaranteed a stud however.
The Good: Jon Beason (2007, CarAV 57) -- Pretty stunned, frankly, that Beason topped this list. He's dealt with a lot of injuries and already changed teams. But it's not like Santonio Holmes, Jason Campbell and Vontae Davis are stalwarts of a single franchise.
The Bad: Tim Tebow (2010, CarAV 12) -- Technically William Joseph was worse (CarAV 11) but if you're having a discussion of first-round picks and don't shoehorn Tebow into the conversation you've failed. NFL writer by-laws and whatnot.
The Good: Clay Matthews (2009, CarAV 50) -- Narrowly edged out Duane Brown. A perfect example of how draft slot success is random: the Packers also took B.J. Raji ninth overall in this draft and the two are on divergent paths.
The Bad: John McCargo (2006, CarAV 3) -- The Bills got caught in the hype of that epic N.C. State defensive line (Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, McCargo and Tank Tyler started withWillie Young backing up, not to mention Stephen Tulloch at linebacker) and reached big time for the big man in the middle. Sadly McCargo's selection means I don't get to mention the time I started Chris Perry (2004, 9) in a fantasy league. It didn't end well.
The Good: Roddy White (2005, CarAV 81) -- Missed his first career start in 2013. About as consistent as it gets at wide receiver.
The Bad: Mike Rumph (2002, CarAV 9) -- Drafted as corner and switched to safety, never got off the ground.
The Good: Joe Staley (2007, CarAV 51) -- Still grinding away as a franchise left tackle to this day. Eric Fisher only hopes he can live up to Staley's Central Michigan rep at a much higher pick.
The Bad: Andre Woolfolk (2003, CarAV 5) -- There's probably some joke about the Titans thinking they drafted Vince here but I'm running long as it is.
The Good: Nick Mangold (2006, CarAV 64) -- Great game, better beard. Mangold's an interesting case study in the undervaluing of centers given how bad the draft was around him.
The Bad: Kentwan Balmer (2008, CarAV 7) -- Crazy to think Balmer was born in 1986. Dude should be just now hitting his prime as a pass rusher and he's basically out of the league.
The Good: Muhammad Wilkerson (2011, CarAV 28) -- Totally cheating because Joseph Addai (50) and Heath Miller (40) are both higher and played for really good teams. But Wilkerson hasn't even sniffed the end of his rookie contract and is closing in on them. Dude is a beast.
The Bad: Craig Davis (2007, CarAV 7) -- This is probably the point in time where the A.J. Smith regime in San Diego officially derailed.
The Good: Nnamdi Asomugha (2003, CarAV 63) -- The cliff Nnamdi went off after leaving the Raiders is crazy. 30's not just bad for running backs and average dudes. Sigh.
The Bad: Rashaun Woods (2002, CarAV 1) -- One year, seven catches, a single touchdown, a season lost to injury and *poof* an NFL career over.
The Good: Logan Mankins (2005, CarAV 91) -- When you can hit a home run on the last pick of the first round and pencil in a decade's worth of Pro Bowl production at the guard position (from a college tackle no less!) that's never a bad thing.
The Bad: Patrick Ramsey (2002, CarAV 14) -- Pretty amazing to get drafted by the OBC in the first round and end up with that number plus less than 6,000 passing yards for your career.