NFL Draft: High Expectations vs Reality

If I told you right now that Blaine Gabbert was going to have a career like Jim Everett, how high would you take him? I don’t mean literally every detail, because it’s hard to make a reference to a female tennis player with his name, but generally the same type of career. Jim Everett started for 10 seasons in the NFL, led the league in touchdown passes twice, and was above the league average in more than half of his seasons as a starter. He is nowhere near a Hall of Famer, but he had a reasonably long career as a slightly above average player at his position.

Still, my guess is most people would shy away from such a proposition, or at least undervalue where Gabbert should be drafted if we could see his, and only his, career among the 2011 draft class was such clarity. A player with the career of Jim Everett would end up being somewhere between the 10th and 15th best player in a draft class when we look back, maybe a little higher if you place greater emphasis on the quarterback position. Some of those guys were of the late round pick variety that came out of nowhere, and weren’t on any teams radar at the draft. Thus, if I told you what Gabbert’s career would be like, but didn’t reveal anyone else, you should probably consider him at a position higher than 10th to 15th. If I told you that your 5th pick in the draft would produce a guaranteed player that was between the 10th and 15th best, it would be an above average use of the pick.

Now, I’m not saying Blaine Gabbert will have a career like Jim Everett. Everett was the third overall pick in 1986, and as it turns out, he represents the top 25% of quarterbacks selected with a top ten pick since 1980. The median, that would be someone like Trent Dilfer, who many would consider a disappointment.

Is this to say that quarterback is a risky position compared to others, knowing that the average result is Trent Dilfer? Well, here’s a look at the 25th percentile (above average), 50th percentile (average), and 75th percentile (below average but not the worst) for players drafted from 1980-2005 at various positions:


Position 25th percentile 50th percentile 75th percentile
Quarterback Jim Everett Trent Dilfer Todd Blackledge
Offensive Line Lomas Brown Jimbo Covert Robert Gallery
Wide Receivers Irving Fryar Roy Williams Reggie Williams
Running Backs Ricky Williams Ronnie Brown Tommy Vardell
Defensive Line Willie McGinest Sean Gilbert DeWayne Robertson
Linebackers Carl Banks Marvin Jones Mike Croel
Secondary Mark Haynes Terry Kinard Duane Starks


I offer this as a dose of reality as I enter my grumpy middle-aged years. The average defensive linemen drafted in the top ten has a career roughly like Sean Gilbert. The average receiver = Roy E. Williams. If you make a decent pick relative to your peers and avoid busts, you probably are still not going to get that Hall of Fame difference maker. And yes, more Hall of Famers come from the top ten than any other segment of the draft; they still represent about the top 10% of players taken at the very top of the draft.

This extends on down, because the “average” player gets worse as draft position decreases. You think Ron Dayne was a complete bust? He’s far closer to the average running back taken between picks 11-20, where Mark Ingram is projected this year. Emmitt Smith is the anomaly. By late first round, sure you can get a Ray Lewis if you hit it big; Rob Morris is a pretty average selection at linebacker, though. Todd Pinkston? He would be a pretty average result for a early second round wide receiver.

[photo via Getty]

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