Evaluating NFL rookie classes based on performance

The 2017 NFL Draft is completed and the over-analysis of how each team did in selecting their new players continues.

If you are a fan, you have no doubt read some of the analysis and the “grades” handed out on the various teams. One problem: Giving a grade to each team based on how each team drafted is absolutely no way to evaluate the success of the draft. Sure it makes for good reading, but none of these so-called experts has a clue how these rookies will perform next season or in any of the seasons thereafter, so a grade for the draft seems a little premature

Giving teams grades before any of those drafted players sets foot on an NFL field is crazy. The best analysis, in my opinion, is years after the fact, say, five or 10 years after a draft class. At that time you have a much clearer picture of how these players did on the NFL fields.

Let’s take a look at a couple of stats-based performance evaluators on NFL rookies. In the first stat, we see that 256 rookies over the past three NFL seasons played in all 16 games their first season in the league. Below are the number of rookies from 2014-16 that played in all 16 games for the team that first season in the NFL. Topping the list as you might expect are the Cleveland Browns with 14.

(Note: It’s important to keep in mind that just because a team had a lot of rookies play all 16 games in the first season does not mean the team did a great job in the draft; it could mean that team had a lot of holes to fill in their roster and depended on rookies to fill them. Conversely, a team with few rookies that played all 16 games does not mean they did a poor job in the draft; it could mean they had veterans who played before these rookies.)

Rookies that played all 16 games in their first season… 2014-16
14: Cleveland
13: Kansas City
11: Denver, Jacksonville, Miami
10: Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit
9: Indianapolis, New Orleans, Oakland, Tampa Bay
8: Arizona, Dallas, Green Bay, NY Jets, Pittsburgh, Rams, Tennessee
7: Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington
6: Baltimore, Houston, NY Giants
5: Buffalo, Minnesota, New England
3: Carolina, Seattle

The second stat focuses on points. Last season 26 of the 32 NFL teams had rookies score points for their team. The six teams that did not have a rookie score a point in 2016: Arizona, Carolina, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minnesota and San Francisco.

Leading the way were the New Orleans Saints with 187. Of course it helps that they used a rookie kicker, Wil Lutz, who tallied 133 of those 187 points scored by Saints rookies in 2016. The Cowboys were second with 132 points, those scored by their rookie duo of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Here is the total number of points scored in 2016 by rookies for each team.

187: New Orleans
132: Dallas
110: Tampa Bay
72: Kansas City
66: NY Giants
56: Chicago
50: Denver
48: Baltimore, Cleveland, San Diego, Washington
42: Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Tennessee
36: New England
32: NY Jets, Philadelphia
30: Houston, Miami, Oakland
24: Seattle
18: Green Bay
12: Jacksonville, LA Rams
6: Buffalo, Cincinnati
0: Arizona, Carolina, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minnesota, San Francisco

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