Choudhry's Chronicles

By: Saleem Choudhry

Saleem Choudhry - Researcher
Saleem spends his days gathering, interpreting, and disseminating information about the game of pro football. He now shares in his blog some of the more unique stories and facts that he has uncovered while working with the Hall’s vast collection of more than 18 million pages of documents.

Cam Newton to Canton?

Apr 27, 2011

Spring is a great time of year. I definitely don't say this because of the mounting yard work that I continually ignore but because springtime means that the NFL's annual player draft is just around the corner. Pardon the pun but hope springs eternal and that is exactly the case for each NFL team leading into the NFL Draft. Teams and fans alike salivate at the possibility of improving their team with an infusion of new players, all in the quest for one thing – the Vince Lombardy Trophy.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you should know that the Carolina Panthers own the first pick in this year's draft. With every player on the board available for the plucking, I sometimes wonder whether it really is a good thing to have the first overall pick in the draft. Let alone that fact that the team with the first pick most likely went through a rather hellish season to earn the right to go first.

Let's take a look from a historical perspective.

How many members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame have been selected with the first overall pick in the draft? Well, if you're are looking for a Hall of Famer, the first overall pick is a great place to find one, 13 members of the Hall were chosen with the first selection, more than any other position in the draft. Next is the second and sixth picks with 10 Hall of Famers each. The third and fourth overall picks round out the top three positions with eight Hall of Fame selections. Only two draft positions from picks one through 32 have not resulted in a Hall of Famer, 24 and 25. Sorry Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens fans, your teams own those two picks in this year's draft -- start thinking trade.

Except from 1947 through 1958 when the first selection of the NFL draft was awarded to the winner of a random draw, the team with the worst record in the previous season is awarded the first overall pick. This is obviously an attempt to boost that team's performance on the field. Sometimes trades occur where a better team moves up to the top of the draft, but regardless, you have to ask the question. Is a team with the first overall pick guaranteed to improve on the field the next season?

A quick look at the previous season records of the teams with the first overall pick since 1936 (this includes the AFL Draft in the 1960s) show that 52 of 73 teams (71%) improved their record. Okay, I know what you are about to say. How hard is it to improve your win-loss record after having what was most likely the worst record in the league?

Alright then, how many teams improved in the win column by at least four games? That number is drastically smaller with 14 of 73 teams (19%) with an increase of four or more wins. The greatest improvement was not long ago. The Miami Dolphins, who turned in a 1-15 record in 2007, selected Michigan tackle Jake Long with the first pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and improved to 11-5.

Let's get back to the players themselves. We already know how many Hall of Famers were selected with the first pick (13), but that doesn't mean owning the first selection is a lock for a quality player. Looking at the men drafted from 1936-2000, (I figured 2000 was a good cut-off as most of those picks are still playing) 20 players (25%) played five years or less in the pros. The average playing career for a first overall pick from that time frame is 8.6 years.

If the length of the first overall pick's career is a litmus test for the quality of scouting in the pros, it has certainly improved. The average playing career of the first overall pick has increased in each 10-year period from the 1930s to the 1980s where it topped out with an average of 12 seasons. Watch the average for the 1990s, however. If quarterback Peyton Manning, the 1998 first overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts, plays at least seven more seasons, the average for the 1990s would equal 12 seasons as well.

Average playing career of first overall pick by decade:

1930s – 4.0 average
1940s – 5.8 average
1950s – 7.3 average
1960s – 8.75 average
1970s – 10.0 average
1980s – 12.0 average
1990s – 10.2 average

If you want my prediction of who the Panthers will take with their first pick, here it is -- Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Although he is not as refined as most teams with the first overall pick would like, he has too much upside potential to pass up. For the record, if Newton or another quarterback is selected first on Thursday night, that person would be the 30th quarterback selected first overall, more than any other position.

Number-one draft choices by position

Quarterbacks: 29
Running Backs: 23
Defensive Linemen: 13
Offensive Linemen: 6
Wide Receivers: 6
Linebackers: 3
Defensive Backs: 1

Here is PDF of some of the data I compiled to create this blog>>>

Enjoy the draft!