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

The road to rebuilding starts with the Draft. Which teams have been stuck in roster re-stock limbo?

The NFL Draft is an annual renewal of hope for every team in the league. Fans and teams alike are optimistic about their chances, thanks to the influx of talent to rosters. With unknown potential for each player, the end of April becomes a world of infinite possibility for the coming NFL season.

And somehow, without fail, certain teams seem to find a way to screw it up every year.

On the outside, folks like you and I can only make educated guesses about player value, team fit, and the like, giving our own opinions and views. We seem to view team need and player value differently than the NFL at points, however. It is 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 preconceived notions about how bad certain teams are 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 flopped on Draft Day over the past decade and a half?

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!


Perhaps the most crucial position to evaluate in the Draft, success at selecting a quarterback (see: Grigson, Ryan) or failure (see: Allen, Bruce) will define a general manager, a head coach, and a franchise. With success defined in the eye of the public -- and in the win-loss column -- under center, 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 cost and benefit, 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. For example, if a team spent the most draft value on the position (1st), but earned the lowest rank in production (32nd), their score is -31). Who has been the least successful at drafting quarterbacks?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score

By far, the worst team on the list is the Oakland Raiders. The specter of JaMarcus Russell (-168.3 career Total NEP) still hangs heavy over this team, after he was the 1st Overall selection (3,000 points on the standard chart) in 2007. Russell isn’t the only major issue here, though; even Derek Carr (-49.6 career Total NEP) -- the 36th Overall pick last season (540 points) -- has been a mess in terms of cost and production.

Both the team that has spent the most draft value in the last 15 years and the one who has gotten the least production make this list. The former -- the Detroit Lions -- found a highly productive passer in 2009 with Matthew Stafford. Prior to Stafford, though, they spent the third Overall pick in 2002 (2,200 points) on Joey Harrington (-274.6 career Total NEP) and the 43rd Overall pick (470 points) in 2008 on Drew Stanton (-16.9 career Total NEP). The 2000’s were a long decade for Lions fans, and it won’t get much better with the later positions.

While they have gotten the fewest career Total NEP out of their drafted quarterbacks, at least the Cleveland Browns can take solace in the fact that it only cost them middle-of-the-road value. The highest pick the Browns have invested in a quarterback was 22nd Overall (780 points), where they took all three of Brady Quinn (-102.1 career Total NEP) in 2007, Brandon Weeden (-30.3 career Total NEP) in 2012, and Johnny Manziel (-15.4 career Total NEP) in 2014. They’ve all been bad, but not terrible, and not as high-profile in the Drafts as other teams.

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 gotten the short end of this investment stick?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score

First of all, four total top-10 spending teams make an appearance on this list as our bottom-four franchises in the backfield. It’s pretty clear that running back is still a position to look for discounts on, on Draft Day.

The worst of the worst are our sad-sack Cleveland Browns. They have paid the fourth-most draft value and the least running back production in the last decade and a half. The poster boy for this excess is Trent Richardson (-2.5 career Total NEP), who was selected 3rd Overall (2,200 points) in 2012. Yet, the Browns also grabbed William Green (-77.1 career Total NEP) with the 16th Overall pick (1,000 points) in 2002. They have squandered a lot of value on offense across the years; that’s clear.

It’s no small wonder the Arizona Cardinals went to Bruce Arians as their head coach in the past few years; what do you do when you keep missing on running backs? Heave the ball downfield as far as you can. That’s what bad values like early-career Thomas Jones (-76.7 career Total NEP) at the 7th Overall pick (1,500 points) in 2000 and Beanie Wells (-19.3 career Total NEP) as the 31st Overall (600 points) in 2009 will drive a franchise to.

I’m a little surprised, though, to see the Chicago Bears here, too. Matt Forte has excelled for this team, but before he came around, Anthony Thomas (-53.2 career Total NEP) and Cedric Benson (-119.7 career Total NEP) ruled the roost. The former was drafted 38th Overall (520 points) in 2001, the latter fourth Overall (1,800 points) in 2005.

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. Despite the added volume of chances, though, some teams still whiff on the wideouts in the draft. Who has been the least effective with their selections of pass-catchers?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score

Former Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen was notorious for missing on high-priced receivers, but things come into stark contrast when you realize that they used the most draft value and the seventh-fewest draft picks on the position. Charles Rogers (42.1 career Total NEP) was the worst of all of these, drafted second Overall (2,600 points) in 2003, but Mike Williams (136.1 career Total NEP) as the 10th Overall selection (1,300 points) in 2005 and Titus Young (91.9 career Total NEP) as the 44th Overall (460 points) in 2011 were just as useless and just as costly.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have also been purely awful with this position, with just two of their drafted wide receivers ever accumulating more than 200 career Total NEP, and considering that they have used five picks in the top-40 of the NFL Draft on the position. R. Jay Soward (10.5 career Total NEP), drafted 29th Overall (640 points) in 2000, is the absolute worst of the worst of these picks.

The lowest honors go to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however. Mike Evans has only played one year in the league, and does look to be on the path to a promising career, but remember that he cost the 7th Overall selection in 2014; no discount there. The Bucs have had just seven of their 16 selections at the position even reach double digits in career Total NEP. That is the gold standard for awful.

Tight Ends

The NFL is a copycat league, so when one team finds massive success utilizing the tight end as a receiver, others will try to copy that strategy. Sometimes it doesn’t work so well, though. Which attempts to find a titanic pass-catcher have backfired for franchises?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score

I feel like I’m picking on Detroit here, but this is just the way the data breaks down. Brandon Pettigrew (232.27 career Total NEP) hasn’t done poorly, but did cost a fair sum, as the 20th Overall selection (850 points) in 2009. Eric Ebron -- their 2014 10th Overall selection -- might change this franchise’s tight end fortunes sooner rather than later, though.

The Buccaneers have been absolutely dreadful with this position, ranking dead last in production over the last 15 years. Their best career option to date? 71st Overall selection (235 points) in 2005, current Bengals in-line blocker Alex Smith (105.90 career Total NEP). Only four of their 10 selections at the position have even posted a smidge of Total NEP in their careers. Tampa Bay has been a graveyard for tight ends, but they just haven’t spent as much as our lowest two teams.

The Bottom of the Barrel

Finally, we come to the worst of the worst. Who chokes the most -- both in cost and production -- when they’re on the clock?

Team DraftedDraft Value RankTotal NEP RankDraft Score

It’s no small surprise that some of the worst teams of the past decade or so find themselves here on our list. Cleveland is the poster child for absolute dreadfulness on Draft Day, and their disturbing total of seven different general managers since 2000 exemplifies their status near the bottom of the league.

There have been a grand total of nine playoff appearances since the turn of the century between these five teams, and four of those came from the Kurt Warner-era St. Louis Rams. It’s a long climb from rock bottom, but the bright side for these franchises is that there’s literally nowhere to go but up.