Commentary

How ESPN ranked 13,808 draft picks

Originally Published: March 24, 2009
By ESPN Stats & Information | Special to Insider

The greatest player in NFL draft history is ...

Well, it depends.

Is it a player taken in the sixth round who leads his team to three Super Bowls?

Is it the No. 1 pick who won three MVPs and lived up to the hype?

Is it a player who amassed huge statistics but never won a Super Bowl because he played for a poor team?

What about the Hall of Fame left tackle from the 1960s whom everyone wanted on their team but wasn't a superstar household name?

ESPN Stats & Information set out to create a simple formula to judge NFL players drafted in the modern draft -- a formula that the average fan could understand without a Ph.D. in mathematics.

We ranked the 13,808 players drafted in 1967-2008 based on their performance during their NFL careers, regardless of how they fared with the team that drafted them.

THE POINTS SYSTEM

Players received points based on the following criteria:

Super Bowl loss (1 point)
Offensive rookie of the year (2 points)
Defensive rookie of the year (2 points)
Pro Bowl (2 points)
Super Bowl win (3 points)
AP All-Pro second team (3 points)
AP All-Pro first team (4 points)
AP Defensive Player of the Year (6 points)
AP Offensive Player of the Year (6 points)
AP Most Valuable Player (8 points)
Hall of Famer (15 points)

So, for example:

Peyton Manning has:

One AP Offensive Player of the Year award -- 6 points
Three AP MVP awards -- 24 points
Four AP All-Pro First Team awards -- 16 points
Three AP All-Pro Second Team awards -- 9 points
One Super Bowl win -- 3 points
Nine Pro Bowls -- 18 points
TOTAL: 76 points. That ranks Manning 13th out of 13,808 picks.

The keys to ESPN's rankings:

  • The rankings measure players' career performances. Some have done it for one team (Peyton Manning), others for five teams. The rankings don't account for players who are traded. Trying to rate players on their performances only with the teams that draft them is a whole other analysis.
  • The system ranks the best players regardless of draft position. We felt players such as Peyton Manning shouldn't be penalized for being drafted early.
  • ESPN tried to keep discrimination of position to a minimum. That means players didn't receive points in our system for 10,000 rushing yards (favors running backs) or 4,000-yard passing seasons (favors quarterbacks).
  • Players get rewarded for appearing on Super Bowl teams, but not for playoff wins (players after 1990 would benefit too greatly from an expanded playoff system with more playoff games).
  • Hall of Famers receive a huge bump. Players who could be Hall of Famers were not given points, because it's too subjective in some cases. Some might think Kurt Warner and Cris Carter are surefire Hall of Famers, but until they get inducted, one never knows.
  • The rankings will change each year. Players will move up and down based on awards handed out. Current players will rise up past retired players. For example: Peyton Manning could be the best player in our rankings by the time his career is over. But he's not there yet.

TEAM RANKINGS

We used the ranking system to determine the highest point total for a team's draft class. Some draft classes are boosted by just one player (drafting Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, for example, makes for a top draft class).

YOU GET YOUR VOICE

Fans will have a chance to vote for the all-time best draft classes starting April 2.

Special thanks to stats editor Jason Paradise and stats researcher Hank Gargiulo for their work on the rankings.