In the 2015 NFL draft with the 92nd pick, the Denver Broncos selected tight end Jeff Heuerman from Ohio State. Heuerman was a bust for all intents and purposes, but he did get a second contract after his rookie contract was up. That being said, he didn’t play a single NFL snap while on that second contract (2 years, 9 million) and he was out of the league after the 2019 season (when he rookie contract expired).
Pondering this got me thinking about how often teams draft players that play into (and beyond) their second NFL contracts. Under the current CBA, players drafted in the second round or later get four-year contracts, while players drafted in the first round get a team option for a fifth year. So players drafted in 2018, other than first rounders, have completed their rookie contracts. The Broncos picked up Bradley Chubb’s fifth year option and resigned Courtland Sutton and Josey Jewell. The rest of the 2018 Bronco draftees are either on other teams (Isaac Yiadom and Royce Freeman) or out of the league (Daesean Hamilton, Troy Fumagalli, Sam Jones, Keishawn Bierria and David Williams).
But how does this compare to other NFL teams? To answer this I looked at the drafts of each team. Pro-football-reference.com shows the final year in the league for every player drafted as you can see here in the “To” column. So I gathered this data for every team to see how many players from each year of their drafts are still in the league after their rookie contracts. I did not do any adjustment for total picks, but I have the data and we can discuss in the comments if you wish.
This method is simply a quantity measurement. In other words, how many competent and healthy players did each team pick in each draft. This is a very different evaluation relative to the method I used in January, or the use of AV (approximate value) which is shown below (and corrects for total picks). You might need to zoom/magnify your screen for the first one - apologies. The second one is the focus here.
Only one player drafted before 2004 was still in the league in 2021 - he who shall not be named. I guess we didn’t get all of his horcruxes. While there was a handful of players from 2011 or before who were still in the league in 2021, you have to go to 2012 to find a year where most franchises had at least one player that they drafted who was still in the the NFL in 2021.
For Denver those two 2012 draftees who were still in the NFL were Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. Jackson was a starter for the Browns, and Danny T was a back-up for the Bears. Danny spent most of the year on IR.
The team with the most players post-rookie deals still in the league in 2021 was the Bengals, which surprised me. They had 39 guys, including nine guys from their 2018 class. They had eleven picks in 2018. It’s quite impressive that nine of them got a second contract. The only two that didn’t were Mark Walton (RB, Miami-FL) and Rod Jones (G, Miss.). Both guys were day three picks (4th and 7th rounds).
While nine guys from one draft class still playing after their rookie deal is impressive, the Colts took the prize for the most. Ten players from their 2018 class were still in the league in 2021. Similar to the Bengals, they had eleven picks that year. Only Deon Cain (WR, Clemson) was not in the league in 2021.
On the flip-side, two teams, Houston and Tennessee, only had three guys left from their 2018 drafts. Houston had eight picks, but none before the third round. The Titans only had four picks in that draft, so having three of those still in the NFL is decent. Their lone “failed” pick was QB, Luke Falk, who was a sixth round pick.
While the Broncos only had three players taken prior to 2014 who were still in the league in 2021 (Von Miller, Jackson and Trevathan), that was not the worst. Four teams had only two guys (Chargers, Dolphins, Bears and Colts) while the 49ers had only one - punter Andy Lee, who they drafted back in 2004. Lee and Ben Roethlisberger were the only players from the 2004 draft still in the league in 2021.
The Broncos 24 total players still in the league, was T-24th. The Jets have the worst draft performance according to this measure, with only twenty post-rookie-deal guys still in the league in 2021.
There were 877 drafted players who got a second contract and were still in the league in 2021. Not surprisingly, the greatest percentage of those (22 percent) were from the 2018 class. There were 191 players from that class still getting snaps in 2021.
If you like graphs, here’s the plot of this data by draft year.
The value in the 2013 draft was supposed to be quite low, but apparently there was a “normal” number of quality players in that draft to make it fit the general trend in the plot above.
The group of 21 players drafted before 2009 is dominated by quarterbacks (9) and kickers (3), but there are other positions represented. Surprisingly there are two offensive tackles (Duane Brown and Andrew Whitworth) and two wide receivers (Matthew Slater and DeSean Jackson). One of the QBs is on the Broncos currently, Josh Johnson.
Did the Denver Bronco ranking here surprise you?
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