The Broncos and the 5th Round Draft Pick Success Rate

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions battles against the block of offensive guard Chris Kuper of the Denver Broncos Sports Authority at Invesco Field at Mile High on October 30, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Topher’s recent post on Colt McCoy being available for a 5th round draft pick brought up a good conversation point on whether it was worth trading a Broncos fifth round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for the young Quarterback. It got me to thinking about the value of that pick and the success rate of that spot. So I put forth the research effort into finding out the statistics for that question in the entire league history. That way I could follow up with the success rate that the Broncos have had in the same scenario. You didn’t have anything else to do right now anyway, right?

After an extensive search on the subject, the best source I found was former Broncos General Manager Ted Sundquist. He listed a chart on his site from a study done by Chad Reuter of NFL Draft Scout. You may have seen it before from one or two of my posts in the past. The chart states that draft picks from 121st through 160th have a 3.8% chance of making at least 56 starts during their first 5 seasons. From 161st through 200, that figure drops to 2.5%. To give this some perspective, in this year’s draft, the 5th round consisted of picks 136-170.

That would be enough to convince me to give up a 5th round draft pick for a back up Quarterback. But I digress.

From 1967 to date, the Denver Broncos have drafted 41 players in the 5th round of the NFL Draft. Given that Malik Jackson has yet to see the field, out of the other 40 fifth round picks in Bronco history, nine of them never played a game in the NFL (22.5%). Another 20 started less than 10 games (72.5%). Eleven players started more than 10 games for the Broncos (27.5%). A grand total of five players hit that 56 or more games started mark (12.5%). That isn’t bad according to Reuter’s chart. One player (Sammy Winder) even went to two Pro Bowls. One out of 40 = 2.5%.
Taking it a bit further, I believe this chart is a bit hard on the expectations of a 5th round draft pick. Sure, a 1st or 2nd round pick should at least start in his second season and it is reasonable to expect those players to hit the 56 start mark, but I would think it acceptable for a 5th round pick to play in 56 games to be a success. After all, the average career for an NFL player is roughly 3.5 years, so getting 5 years out of a 5th round selection could be considered a rarity to begin with.
Looking at those 41 players in team history and knocking off the five most recent players, (four of which no longer even play for the Broncos) and we have Chris Kuper. Kupe is the only 5th rounder remaining on the team. Ryan Torain and Perrish Cox are still in the league. So, out of the other 36 players in Bronco history, ten played in at least 50 games (27.8%), fourteen played in at least 40 games (38.9%) and seventeen played in at least 20 games (47.2%).

I’m not so sure Chad Reuter’s chart works for late round draft picks, but 10 out of 36 (27.8%) for 50 games is a fair return for a 5th round pick in my opinion. I’m not about to go through all 32 teams history, but I would venture to say that 27.8% is closer to the average.
Taking things to a further extreme, lets look at the different regimes draft success rate in the fifth round.

From 1967-1971, Lou Saban was the GM/Head Coach for the Denver Broncos. Four players were selected in the 5th round during this time. Three of those players appeared in 43 games or more. (75%)

From 1972-1976, John Ralston was the GM/Head Coach and five players were 5th round picks. Out of those five, only one was successful, as Rubin Carter held the starting Nose Tackle spot for 10 years. (20%)

From 1977-1980, Fred Gehrke was the Vice President/General Manager. In that time, three players were drafted. One player, Mike Harden held a starting spot in the Defensive backfield for 9 seasons. (33.3%)

Grady Alderman was the Broncos GM from March 1981 to December 1982. Ken Lanier and Sammy Winder were drafted in those two classes. Lanier held a starting Tackle spot for 11 years and Winder celebrated the "Mississippi Mud Walk" as a 6 year starter and appeared in 2 Pro Bowls. (100%)

In 1983, Hein Poulos, a lawyer and right hand man of owner Edgar Kaiser Jr., held the position of General Manager for the Broncos. Two 5th round draft picks never played a down for the Broncos, but this was the year that John Elway came to Denver. (0%)

It should be noted that Mike Shanahan became the V.P. of Football Operations and pretty much drafted who he wanted from 1995-2008.

From 1983 to 1998, John Beake held the title of GM for the Broncos. Fourteen players were taken in the 5th round during this era. Three players made at least 43 game appearances out of 12 drafts. Defensive Back Darren Carrington was a 3-year starter, Guard Jeff Davidson started for 2 seasons and Wide Receiver Patrick Jeffers started one season. (21.4%)

From 1999-2001, Neal Dahlen was the GM. Three players were drafted in the 5th round. That yielded Defensive End David Bowens, who ended up a 2-year starter. (33.3%)

From 2002-2008, Ted Sundquist held the GM position. Out of seven 5th round draft picks, Chris Kuper (2006) has held the starting Right Guard spot for 5 seasons. Ted was relieved of his duties by Mike Shanahan and Jim and John Goodman filled in for the remainder of 2008, when Pat Bowlen decided to clean house. (14.3%)

I’m sure it is still recent enough to know that Josh McDaniels will held sway during 2009-2010. Kenny McKinley and Perrish Cox were taken in the 5th round in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Cox started 9 games for the Broncos.(0%)

In 2011 and 2012, Brian Xanders, was GM in name only. Still, he should get a measure of credit/blame in the selections of McKinley, Cox and this years 5th rounder Malik Jackson.

In conclusion, I would say that the Reuters chart should be redeveloped and adjusted. Especially since the Broncos success rate for 5th round draft picks in their history is 27.8%. That’s a far cry from 2.5 - 3.2%.

Go Broncos!

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