Which NFL Teams Have Drafted Offensive Players Best Since the Turn of the Century?

Roster construction is no easy task. Which franchises are the best at finding value on draft day?

I’m sure you may have figured it out by now: I'm an absolute NFL Draft junkie. The actual event ended weeks ago, but I can't get enough of analyzing it, speculating about the players that were in it, and –- most of all –- pulling apart the data behind these picks.

We outside analysts make educated guesses about player value, team fit, and the like, giving our own opinions and views but, without fail, we seem to view team need and player value differently than the NFL at points. It's one of my goals to build better understanding about the ways teams look at this annual process of valuation and roster re-stocking, and whether or not they actually succeed at it.

We all have perceptions about how certain teams do at drafting, especially when it comes to certain positions, but are those perceptions accurate? Today, the culmination of a months-long project of mine will reveal these answers and more.

Which teams have excelled on draft day?

The Process

First of all, I examined players through this study on the basis of their career Total Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is a metric that we’ve pioneered here at numberFire. It helps us take the statistics we get from the box score and assign them contextual value so that they relate even closer to the game on the field. By adding down-and-distance value, we can see just how much each play and each player actually influence the outcome of the game. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary. Total NEP, specifically, looks at the combined values of all forms of NEP (Passing, Rushing, Reception).

I added up each player’s career Total NEP, and then assigned each player their draft information. Each player’s original draft team, draft round, overall pick, and pick value by the standard Jimmy Johnson chart was assigned to them. What resulted was the sum of draft capital (by the standard chart) that each team has spent over the past 15 years, and the amount of production those picks generated (by career Total NEP) in that same span of time.

By ranking these in order, and comparing the ranks of draft capital spent to Total NEP production received, we can see just how successful each team has been at player evaluation on draft day. Remember, some of these players didn't play most of their careers for their original drafting team, so the career Total NEP rank is not how well teams have done at each position over the years; it is merely how well the players they selected at those positions have done.

Let’s get into the analysis!


The most important position on the NFL field is also our greatest generator of Total NEP in the numberFire database. Success in the draft at quarterback is crucial to an NFL team succeeding on the field, so it’s unsurprising that some of the highest per-pick draft capital totals are spent at this position. When we examine the ranks of each team in terms of the expenditure and return, though, what do we find?

The table below shows the top five teams by cost rank minus production rank, in terms of the quarterback position in the draft (in other words, if a team spent the 32nd most draft value on the position, but earned the first rank in production, their score is 31). Who has been the most successful at drafting quarterbacks?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score

Interestingly, the team whose drafted quarterbacks have generated the most Total NEP does not make this list. The San Diego Chargers ranked first in quarterback Total NEP, but they also have spent the seventh-most of all teams on the position over the past 15 years.

Most teams that do make this list are no real surprise. New England tops the chart by a country mile, as Tom Brady has been one of the best quarterbacks in league history (1,534.3 career Total NEP), but was drafted 199th Overall (11.8 points on the standard chart). Seattle, too, found a major discount with Russell Wilson (319.2 career Total NEP) at pick 75 Overall (215 points).

The real shocker here is the New Orleans Saints, who have had Drew Brees at the helm for nearly the last decade. Brees, however, was drafted by the San Diego Chargers, so his points don’t count for New Orleans. Where they really made a good pick was Marc Bulger (94.2 career Total NEP) at 168th Overall. The Saints only rank 14th in Total NEP for quarterbacks, but they rank this high because they’ve spent absolutely nothing on the position, thanks to Brees.

Running Backs

What about the running back position? While becoming heavily discounted in recent years, some teams still prioritize the rushing game, and therefore have invested a fair amount of stock in the tailback. Which teams have come away with the best haul, however?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score
JAX1032nd 6th26

Here, too, we don’t see the teams with the highest-producing running backs ranked in our top tier. That honor goes instead to the Atlanta Falcons. They, however, also spent the most draft value on the position over the past 15 years, making them exactly middle-of-the-pack in terms of cost-benefit.

The top of our efficiency chart goes to the somewhat-surprising Jacksonville Jaguars. Though recency bias pegs Maurice Jones-Drew (233.5 career Total NEP) as a slowed-down plodder who busted in Oakland, his career with the Jaguars was fairly prolific, especially considering his status as just the 60th Overall pick (300.0 points). Rashad Jennings (38.5 career Total NEP) –- though he’s had a modest career -– was also a large boon, based on his cost at 250th Overall (0.0 points).

The overarching theme of top teams here is saving on expenditure at the position. The four teams that have spent the least at the position over the past decade and a half make up 80% of this list. Running back is still a position to skimp on.

Wide Receivers

Based on how the league has transitioned from a run-heavy to pass-happy orientation, one would expect many more picks to be spent on this position than any other in the past 15 years. Sure enough, half of the teams in the league have spent an average of one pick a year on a receiver. Who has been the most effective with their selections of pass-catchers?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score
IND1131st 5th26

Yet again, the top-producing wide receiver team does not make our top-five chart here. The Cincinnati Bengals have produced an impressive amount of Total NEP from their wide receiver draft picks in the last 15 years, but they have spent the third-most on the position in this span of time.

What's moderately unsurprising is that the Indianapolis Colts rank far above anyone else in the league. Having had generational talents Peyton Manning and now Andrew Luck under center means that even discount receivers will get a huge boost in value. Still, Reggie Wayne’s (1,269.6 career Total NEP) natural ability cannot go overlooked either, even if he was a 30th overall selection (620.0 points).

A team that I would not have pegged for this list is the New York Jets. They’ve made the most of some discounted receiver talents, however, having selected Laveranues Coles (778.2 career Total NEP) as the 2000 78th Overall pick (200.0 points), and Jerricho Cotchery (553.2 career Total NEP) as the 108th Overall selection (78.0 points) in 2004. Their receiving corps in the early 2000’s was not nearly as decimated as the last few years have seen.

Tight Ends

The tight end is no longer an extra lineman. Now they are vitally important red zone targets and offensive mismatches, as coordinators now integrate them into all phases of the offense. This is a position, however, that some teams still devalue highly on Draft Day. Is this the right way to go about it?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score

Finally, we see the top-ranked team in production make a top-five list at a position. The Dallas Cowboys have spent some premium picks on tight ends recently, ranking ninth in total draft value spent, but they have brought in by far the most production. Veteran stalwart Jason Witten (862.1 career Total NEP) was selected as just the 69th overall pick (32.2 points) in 2003, but has far outperformed that draft slot in Big D.

Surprisingly, the Washington Redskins top our chart for draft efficiency. They’ve spent just the 23rd-most on tight ends since 2000, but have brought in the eighth-most production in this span of time. From Chris Cooley (400.89 career Total NEP), who was selected 81st overall (185 points), to Fred Davis (165.66 career Total NEP), who was selected 48th overall (420 points), the Redskins have been excellent at finding mid-round talent at the tight end position.

The Best of the Best

Finally, we come to the best in show. Who are our most effective teams –- both in cost and production –- when they’re on the clock?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score

Sure enough, the mythical prowess of Bill Belichick and Ted Thompson are retained. Surprisingly, though, Jerry Jones joins their ranks as one of the best drafting general managers in the league. Maybe this will help us rethink a few of our assumptions about the ability of certain teams when it comes to the draft.