Sports fans are obsessed with potential. From high school recruits to baseball prospects to NFL and NBA draft picks. The allure of untapped and potentially endless potential is much more intriguing than a known average commodity. NFL fans throughout the country are currently gushing over the new and shiny NFL draft picks. There are press conferences, people smiling and players holding up jerseys. While that's a fun activity for May, eventually the latest crop of NFL draft picks will hit the field. Then the harsh reality hits. New isn't always better and while there are exceptions, that new rookie isn't likely to change the fate of the organization in one season.
Some rookies come in and become impact players from Week 1. Whether it's a first-round pick like Cam Newton or a late-round selection like Alfred Morris, rookies can contribute in a major way. The problem is, those players are the exception, not the rule. The majority of players have a much more difficult time transitioning from college to the NFL and make minimal impacts during their first professional season. First-round picks tend to produce more, like you'd expect, but even most don't break out in a major way.
Here's a look at how the draft picks in each round since 2008 have fared during their rookie seasons.
Data via Pro Football Reference.
|Round||Players||Avg games played||Avg starts||Pro Bowls||All Pros||Avg Approximate Value|
The average first-round pick produces at an average to slightly below level as a rookie. They will appear in the majority of games, getting some time in the starting lineup. An approximate value of 5.6 isn't going to help many teams go from worst-to-first, but it's a solid contributor. Patrick Peterson, Ndamukong Suh and Cordarrelle Patterson all earned first-team All-Pro honors.
The average second- and third-round pick sees the field a good amount, but less as a starter. There are some who find instant success while the majority are decent backups. Russell Wilson is the only third-round pick since 2008 to make the Pro Bowl during his rookie year. Andy Dalton, Eddie Lacy and Jairus Byrd made it as second-round rookies.
There is a substantial drop off in production from the first to second round, then again from the second to third. The average player picked in the fourth through seventh rounds isn't much more than depth chart fodder, barely contributing enough to justify a roster spot. Three players selected after the third round made the Pro Bowl during their rookie season, but all three were for special teams. Johnny Knox made it as a returner, Marc Mariani as a coverage specialist and Blair Walsh as a kicker.
Of the 1,421 players drafted since 2008, 28 made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Pro Bowl voting is far from an exact science, or even reputable. Approximate Value is a better judge of production, but it doesn't get much better for rookies. Only 35 player finished their rookie seasons with an approximate value of 10 or higher and just five of those were drafted after the second round. Of that same crop of players, 53 topped 10 or more in Approximate Value during their second year.
Dozens of players selected last week will go on to have fine careers; some will even become stars in the NFL. Just don't expect it to happen next season.