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Washington’s draft was packed with elite athletes. How has that worked out in the past?

2021 NFL Draft Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If there was a single theme unifying the picks that the Washington Football Team made in the 2021 draft - beyond being “good culture guys” - it would be top-end athleticism. Mathematician Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb, on Twitter) developed a tool called “Relative Athletic Score” (RAS) to compare how players at various positions stack up against one another on key stature and athleticism metrics. Washington’s 2021 draft class is pretty impressive in that regard:

Of the 10 players Washington selected, 8 of them (including the long snapper), had elite RAS scores. Only John Bates (TE) and Dax Milne (WR) fell outside the “elite” range. According to Platte, this makes Washington’s draft class the 69th most athletic (out of 881) since 1987, but ties it for the 4th most elite athletes (out of 1,076 draft classes) during that same period.

Seeing that statistic, I was curious how those three drafts above us have performed over time (a curiosity that poster puck.qatt, shared, and wrote about a bit this morning).

Below, I’ll look at the draft classes of the 1999 Bears, the 2004 Titans, and the 2018 Packers through the lens of CareerAV, in order to see if any interesting patterns arise.

New York Jets vs Chicago Bears

1999 Bears

The 1999 Bears had a remarkable 13 draft picks (and 9 elite athletes), which is actually a lower percentage (69%) of elite players taken than Washington’s 2021 draft (80%). The full draft class is below:

  1. Cade McNown (QB) - Elite (9.23) - CarAV (7) - Games played (25)

2. Russell Davis (DT) - Elite (8.65) - CarAV (33) - Games played (114)

3. Rex Tucker (G) - Elite (9.61) - CarAV (15) - Games played (49)

3. D’Wayne Bates (WR) - Elite (8.5) - CarAV (10) - Games played (47)

3. Marty Booker (WR) - Elite (9.12) - CarAV (47) - Games played (157)

4. Warrick Holdman (LB) - Elite (9.38) - CarAV (36) - Games played (105)

4. Rosevelt Colvin (LB) - Elite (9.01) - CarAV (39) - Games played (121)

5. Jerry Wisne (T) - Elite (9.13) - CarAV (0) - Games played (9)

5. Khari Samuel (LB) - Good (7.83) - CarAV (3) - Games played (39)

5. Jerry Azumah (DB) - Elite (9.56), but “poor” size - CarAV (29) - Games played (105)

6. Rashard Cook (DB) - Poor (3.3) - CarAV (1) - Games played (47)

7. Sulecio Sanford (WR) - N/A - CarAV (0) - Games played (0)

7. Jim Finn (FB) - Good (7.76) - CarAV (4) - Games played (106)

There are a lot of numbers here, and not a ton of context, admittedly. There are a few clear wash-outs - Sanford, Wisne - but overall, the class seems curiously strong. To try to add a little context to these numbers, I’ll provide the details of two Washington draft picks (the only two who did anything of note) from the same draft class:

  • Champ Bailey (CB) - Elite (9.94) - CarAV (120) - Games played (215) - Hall of Fame career.
  • Jon Jansen (T) - Elite (8.84) - CarAV (61) - Games played (137) - Second team All Pro (2005).

Both these players were better than the Bears’ top performers from the 1999 class, so I did a little more digging for contemporary Redskins comps and came up with the following, to give a better sense of the caliber of player we’re talking about:

  • Fred Smoot (CB, 2001) - CarAV (42) - Games played (129)
  • Ladell Betts (RB, 2002) - CarAV (32) - Games played (111)
  • Derrick Dockery (T, 2003) - CarAV (39) - Games played (141)
  • Chris Cooley (TE, 2004) - CarAV (34) - Games played (117)

So, this 1999 Bears draft, in essence, produced 5 players - Davis, Booker, Holdman, Colvin, and Azumah (all with elite RAS’s) - who all were average to above average starting caliber players PLUS the fullback Finn, who stuck around the league for 7 years. That’s a very solid haul for a single draft class. And, from the looks of it, the “elite” players had a higher hit rate than the non-elite ones, though not all the elite players succeeded (McNown and Wisne missed).

NFL Preseason - Green Bay Packers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

2004 Titans

This was another huge draft class (13), with a lower “elite” hit rate (69%) than Washington’s this year. From a league productivity standpoint, however, it ended up looking remarkably like the 1999 Bears’ class.

2. Ben Troupe (TE) - Elite (9.81) - CarAV (8) - Games played (57)

2. Travis LaBoy (DE) - Elite (9.87) - CarAV (21) - Games played (95)

2. Antwan Odom (DE) - Elite (9.49) - CarAV (23) - Games played (74)

3. Randy Starks (DT) - Good (7.98) - CarAV (59) - Games played (186)

3. Rich Gardner (DB) - Elite (8.91) - CarAV (2) - Games played (29)

4. Bo Schobel (DE) - Elite (8.93) - CarAV (3) - Games played (29)

4. Michael Waddell (DB) - Elite (9.54) - CarAV (3) - Games played (33)

5. Jacob Bell (G) - Good (6.86) - CarAV (34) - Games played (109)

5. Robert Reynolds (LB) - Good (7.84) - CarAV (2) - Games played (33)

6. Troy Fleming (RB) - Elite (8.46) - CarAV (3) - Games played (29)

7. Jared Clauss (DT) - Elite (9.74) - CarAV (2) - Games played (29)

7. Eugene Amano (C) - N/A - CarAV (30) - Games played (124)

7. Sean McHugh (FB) - Good (6.02) - CarAV (2) - Games played (40)

In this class, the top performers actually weren’t the best athletes. The 3 linemen (1 DL and 2 OL) who had the best careers of the class all fell in the “good” range (Starks and Bell) or didn’t have their athleticism measured in the lead up to the draft (Amano). Starks - probably the best player from this class - was a 2-time Pro Bowler. There were several elite washouts from this class, though not a single player who didn’t play in at least 29 games in his career, which seems to me a fairly significant accomplishment.

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

2018 Packers

This class is still too young to be able to make any definitive proclamations about it, but we’ll take a look nonetheless. This class had 11 players, and 10 elite athletes, an astounding 91% elite athleticism rate.

  1. Jaire Alexander (CB) - Elite (9.54) - CarAV (25) - Games played (44)

2. Josh Jackson (CB) - Elite (9.27) - CarAV (7) - Games played (42)

3. Oren Burks (LB) - Elite (9.72) - CarAV (5) - Games played (43)

4. J’Mon Moore (WR) - Elite (8.4) - CarAV (0) - Games played (12)

5. Cole Madison (G) - Poor (4.58) - CarAV (0) - Games played (0)

5. JK Scott (P) - Elite (8.6) - CarAV (6) - Games played (48)

5. Marquez Valdez-Scantling (WR) - Elite (9.3) - CarAV (14) - Games played (48)

6. Equanimeous St. Brown (WR) - Elite (9.8) - CarAV (3) - Games played (24)

7. James Looney (DE) - Elite (9.75) - CarAV (0) - Games played (3)

7. Hunter Bradley (LS) - Elite (9.03) - CarAV (0) - Games played (48)

7. Kendall Donnerson (LB) - Elite (9.89) - CarAV (0) - Games played (0)

Here the one non-elite player, Madison, was a complete bust, having yet to play a game in the pros yet, apparently due to a “personal issue.”

Alexander has played great, already making a Pro Bowl and being named second team All Pro. Valdez-Scantling has been complimentary piece in the Packers offense, but has yet to set himself apart. The two special teams players, Scott and Bradley have each started every game since they’ve become Packers, and worked out well. Both Jackson and Burks have averaged 14 games per season over the past 3 years in defensive depth roles. St. Brown is still a work in progress. Looney and Donnerson were essentially washouts, even with elite athleticism.

So, in this 11 player draft, of the 10 elite athletes, 1 is a rising start, 3 are regular contributors, 2 are depth players, and 1 is still developing.

Conclusion

So what does this mean for Washington’s 2021 draft class? I can’t say exactly, but in looking at these other three, ultra athletic, draft classes, I’m encouraged. It’s a very small sample size, and while these classes generally didn’t produce superstars, they do appear to have produced more than their fair share of very solid starting and depth players. That having been said, elite athleticism is clearly no guarantee of professional success in the NFL.

I think it’s also important to note that of the three drafts, the Titans had no first round pick, the Bears busted their first round pick on a QB, and the Packers’ first round pick, Alexander, is on a career trajectory to eventually be the best player on this list. If Washington hits big with Jamin Davis, and 50% of the rest of the draft becomes reliable depth for four plus years, this class will be a grand slam. I’ll have to revisit the exercise 3-4 years down the road.

Poll

What do you think of the WFT’s focus on elite athleticism in the draft?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    I don’t think it will matter.
    (270 votes)
  • 63%
    I think it should result in a better than average draft class.
    (740 votes)
  • 13%
    I think it should be a top priority, and will result in one of the best 2021 draft classes in the league.
    (157 votes)
1167 votes total Vote Now