Alrighty, what we're talking about here is the seemingly logical and oft-cited idea that the more players a college team loses in the draft, the worse they'll do the next season. Phil Steele posted in March that from his analysis, "7 out of every 10 teams that rank among the top in the NCAA in players drafted struggle the next year and have a weaker record". On the surface it makes sense, but as you'll see it's not as simple as team - good players = more losses. Let's start at the beginning.
No, there's not a concrete direct correlation between number of draftees and how much a team falls the next year. If there was, they wouldn't need to play the games. But at the same time, it's pretty logical that the better a team performs, the more players it'll have drafted, the more talent they'll have to replace. So all of these things are related, but very loosely. Another thing that we have to take into account are all the players who graduate or end their college careers without being drafted. The average FBS team has 1.95 players drafted each year, but loses anywhere between 18-26 players annually due to graduation or used-up eligibility. So of the players that a team must replace, probably less than 10% of those are drafted. Does that mean the other 90% aren't any good? No, it just means they weren't in the upper echelon at their position. Here's some other things to know about the draft for context:
In any given year, draftees usually come from around 100 different schools, 80% of those being DI-A (FBS) schools, the other 20% being DI-AA, DII & DIII. But since the BCS began, only 28 teams have had at least one player drafted every year. The average number of players drafted per team per year comes out to about 1.95 for the FBS schools - for the non-FBS schools, the average is .18.
So now with that settled, let me explain my process a bit more. I'm only going back 11 years here, starting with 1999 NFL draft, mainly because it covers the whole BCS era and should help us zero in on more recent trends. The main stat I'm using is losses, not wins or winning percentage or any other "winning" measurement. But negative numbers signal more losses, so if you see -2, it means that a team had 2 more losses the following season, not that their total number of losses went down 2.
The first thing I set out to do was double-check Steele's 7 of 10 stat, not only because he doesn't provide any explanation of how he crunched the numbers but also because I like seeing the data for myself. Roughly, when he's talking about the teams that "rank among the top in the NCAA in players drafted", I'm going to take that to mean teams that had 6 or more players drafted in any given year. It's basically a Top 10, if you average it out.
|Year||# of team's with 6+ draftees||Teams|
||8: Ohio St, Florida, Nebraska
7: Notre Dame
6: Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas A&M, Kansas St, North Carolina, Clemson, West Virginia
7: Arkansas, Florida St, Michigan St
6: Ohio St, Texas A&M, Michigan, Arizona St, Florida
||9: Florida St
8: Miami (FL), Wisconsin
6: Ohio St, Kansas St, Georgia, Notre Dame, TCU
||11: Miami (FL)
8: Ohio St, Georgia, Florida, Virginia Tech
6: Kansas St, Notre Dame, North Carolina
||8: Miami (FL), Tennessee, Florida
7: Georgia, Notre Dame
6: Colorado, Michigan, Florida St, Texas A&M
||14: Ohio St
9: Miami (FL), Purdue
6: Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Arkansas
9: Florida St
7: Wisconsin, Virginia
6: Georgia, Stanford, Louisville
9: Miami (FL), Ohio St, Virginia Tech
8: Florida St
7: Georgia, LSU
6: Oklahoma, Texas
8: Ohio St
7: Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame
8: Texas, Virginia Tech
6: Michigan, California, Arkansas
7: Ohio St, Oregon St, South Carolina
6: LSU, Georgia, Oregon, Cincinnati, Missouri
If we examine how each of these teams did the following season, here's what we get (along with the other categories of teams, just to be complete).
|Losses the Following Season, 1998-2009 DI-A: by draftees|
|Draftees||# of team-seasons||More L's following||Same L's following||Fewer L's following||% more||% fewer||avg # of losses the following season|
It appears that this method pretty much confirms Steele's 7 of 10 assertion.
But as I said, that's not the whole story. I can go along with the 7 of 10 statistic, but there's a few caveats that we definitely have to add on.
The first is that even though there might be better than a 66% chance that a team with 6+ draft picks will lose more games next year, that number is made up of teams that have a penchant for staying on top. Of those 98 teams-seasons in the table above with 6 or more players drafted in a single year since 1999, there are 39 teams represented. Of those 39, 24 of them had at least one season where they had 6 or more players drafted but lost the same or fewer games the next season. (7 of those 24 had multiple season like that, including an amazing 4 such seasons from Ohio State.) So if your team is good enough to have 6+ players drafted, they're also probably good enough to overcome it.
And you've got to remember too, we're dealing with the cream of the crop here. That means that even if they technically have more losses the following season, it is most likely a drop from going 12-1 or 11-2 to 10-3 or 9-4. The vast majority (86%) of those 98 teams that lost 6+ draftees lost 6 games or less the following season, and the majority (56%) lost 4 games or less.
Overall, of the 117 DI-A teams that have had players drafted since 1999, 107 of them have had at least one year in which they did better (fewer losses) after having 2 or more players taken in the draft. Remember the average is 1.95 players per draft, so even after losing more talent than average, they still won more. (For clarification, just because 107 teams have done it doesn't mean it's really frequent - just that it's possible for any team. Adding up some of the above numbers, teams do better after losing 2+ draftees about 35% of the time.)
My second caveat to the 7 of 10 stat is this - there are a lot of other stats to look at that correlate better with the next season's losses than draftees does.
I looked at nearly 200 different seasonal variables, tracking their correlation with number of losses the following season. And as I said at the beginning, the correlations aren't significantly strong, but they're stronger with some stats than with others. I pared down the list due to a lot of overlap (for instance, if we're looking at # of TD's scored, we don't really need to look at # of extra points attempted as well). So here are the results of the relevant stats:
*blue = offensive stats, red = defensive stats, green = draft stats
*O/D Pairing refers to which stat's variable, offense or defense, has the higher correlation
|Correlations with Losses the Following Season|
|4||avg Margin of Victory||-.330|
|5||Points per game||-.299||off|
|6||Points per Play||-.295||off|
|9||avg spread +/-||.284|
|11||Yards per Pass||-.255||off|
|13||Opp. Points per Play||.241||off|
|14||Opp. Points per game||.239||off|
|15||Yards per Play||-.231||off|
|17||Spread cover %||-.227|
|18||Opp. Total TD's||.224||off|
|22||Opp. Yards per Pass||.213||off|
|24||Total First Downs||-.206||off|
|27||drafted by position||-.201|
|29||Opp. Rush TD's||.198||off|
|30||drafted by weight||-.193|
|32||Spreads not covered||.193|
|34||Opp. Yards per Play||.184||off|
|35||Opp. Total Yards||.178||off|
|38||Opp. Pass Attempts||-.162*||def|
|39||Opp. Yards per Rush||.161||def|
|41||Yards per Rush||-.150||def|
|44||Opp. Punt Yards||-.138*||off|
|45||Opp. Total First Downs||.132||off|
|49||Opp. Fumbles Lost||-.067||off|
|51||Opp. Pass Completions||-.044||def|
|52||Opp. Penalty Yards||.043*||off|
Right off the bat you can see that there's a whole lot of variables that correlate with the next season's losses a lot better than # drafted. Losses, Wins, and Winning% are all above .4, right at the top, then there's a pretty big drop down to Avg. MoV, the only other variable above .3.
In addition to the simple # drafted, I've also added the variables of drafted by position, drafted by weight, and draft multiplier. (For drafted by position, I assigned each position a number of importance 10-1, based on their average draft spot. For drafted by weight, the #1 pick scored a 100, then on down exponentially to the low teens for the last players taken. For the multiplier, I just multiplied the position number and the weight number.) Interestingly, of those four variables, straight # drafted had the lowest correlation.
Even more interstingly, all of the top-ranked variables have the opposite correlation you might expect. For instance, since Points per game (-.299) is negative, that means the more points per game a team scored this year, the more losses they're likely to have next year. Or since Opp. Total TD's (.224) is positive, that means the more TD's a teams' opponents scored, the fewer losses they're likely to have next year. The only relevant stats that correlate the other way, (pass attempts, penalties, and penalty yards), have asterisks. So not too generally, the better you do this year, the worse you're likely to do next year. (But again, these correlations aren't too strong overall.)
Let's look at that most relevant correlation, between losses this year and losses next year, a bit more in depth. We know that it's hard to stay at the top season after season, and that's in part because the natural pull for all teams is .500. Here's the proof:
|Losses the Following Season, 1998-2009 DI-A: by previous season losses|
|L's per season||# of team-seasons||More L's following||Same L's following||Fewer L's following||% more||% fewer||avg # of losses the following season|
1) The number of seasons when a team loses between 4-8 games are the majority (852 of 1,286, or 66%), and the seasons when a team loses 2 or fewer or more than 10 games are exceedingly rare (165 of 1,286, or 13%).
2) the fewer losses you have in a year the better your chances of having more losses the next season, and vice versa. (Meaning that in a 12-game season, if you lose 5 or fewer games, you're more likely to lose more than that the next season, and if you lose 7 or more games, you're more likely to lose fewer than that the next season.)
3) the number of losses you'll incur goes higher or lower as you get further away from 6, as seen in the last column.
4) all of this makes sense when you realize that a teams that wins 0 or 1 game(s) has little chance to do worse, and teams that win 12 or 13 games have little chance to do better - that's just pure probability.
So my point is that you can't really use number of players drafted as an accurate barometer of how well your team is going to do next season, but if you insist on some sort of measurement, just know that there are a lot of options that are better than that one.
(And if you're wondering, here's the table with teams, draft picks, each year, and whether or not they did better (blue) or worse (red) the following season.)
|1998-2009 DI-A: draftees / # losses following season|
|Conf||Team||1999||2000||2001||2002||2003||2004||2005||2006||2007||2008||2009||total draftees||avg per year|
|MtnWest||San Diego St||0||3||0||3||1||1||3||2||0||5||1||19||1.7|
|WAC||San Jose St||2||0||1||0||1||1||0||0||2||1||3||11||1.0|
|SunBelt||Mid Tenn St||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||3||0.3|
|SunBelt||New Mexico St||0||0||1||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0.2|