Every season in the NFL, a sizeable portion of the thirty-two teams find themselves out of the race for the championship and looking forward to next year. The excitement of getting an elite college prospect gives a glimmer of hope to many fans for the future of their teams. Some fans, in their desire to improve, even prefer that their team loses more in the end so that they have a chance to get a “better” college prospect. This year because of the expectations for Andrew Luck, the idea of losing for draft status went to a whole new level, even becoming embodied in the catch phrase “Suck for Luck”. Sometimes these picks work out, sometimes they don't. With our #1 pick last year of Cam Newton we struck draft gold, and are finding out that we may have a once in a generation prospect that has the potential to revolutionize his position. To be honest, I did somewhat pull for us to end up with the number one pick in last year’s draft. It appears to have worked out for the Panthers thus far, but how often is this the case around the league?
I wish to briefly examine the top five picks in the NFL draft over the last few years, and view the effect said picks or players have had on their respective teams. The question is: How often does a losing team getting a high draft pick achieve success (think playoffs) in the near future? Bonus question: Have the Panthers been able to find quality player s in the first round outside of the top 5 picks? We all know about last year’s draft, plus it was only last year, so let’s start off with 2010.
1 St. Louis Rams- Sam Bradford QB: after some mild success last year, this year’s Rams will again finish in the bottom 3 of the NFL. They have not reached the playoffs in 7 seasons in the relatively weak NFC West.
5 Kansas City Chiefs - Eric Berry SS: KC made the playoffs last year in a weak division, but seem to epitomize the idea of a "up and down" team. They have finished with a winning record only twice in the last 6 seasons. This year their head coach lost his job.
Panthers First Round Pick: None
Panthers First Round Pick: None
4 Oakland Raiders- Darren McFadden: though they have a shot this year, it has been almost a decade since the Raiders have made the playoffs. This year they have the chance to finish with their first winning season in the past nine.
1 Oakland Raiders- JaMarcus Russell QB: a variety of jokes could be inserted here, but I’ll just say that he had a love for what’s known in the south/southwest as syrup (aka codeine) more than studying his playbook
Panthers First Round Pick: #25 Jon Beason MLB
Panthers First Round Pick: #27 DeAngelo Williams RB
In closing, I am not trying to make an argument that top 5 draft picks absolutely do not make a team better. With the talent level that a top picks brings in, the potential is always great. Many of the teams on the 2006 list are actually having good success. However, many of the teams bad enough to end up with a top 5 pick continue to find themselves bad enough to remain in that same situation. As evidenced by some of the Panthers picks, draft picks later in the first round can oftentimes be just as good. Draft picks anywhere in the first round are important building blocks to make a championship team.
In some aspects the draft can be the most exciting part of the season. Each year the rise and fall of prospects, potential stars, potential busts, and potential trades weave a story to which I look forward to and greatly enjoy. However, after reviewing the drafts over the past few years, I was actually a little surprised to find that the difference top five picks make in terms of a team’s overall success may be somewhat overrated. As a result, its best to win out, since difference making talent is infused throughout the first round…except for maybe when you have a once in a lifetime prospect waiting for you at the top of the draft.