The NFL Draft’s Winners and Losers: A 10-Year Data Deep Dive

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The NFL Draft represents a lifelong dream for hundreds of college football players. However, for many, that dream and reality are short-lived, as the average NFL career lasts just over three years. 

The length of a career, including potential earnings, can be partially determined by injuries, performance, and opportunity. But for many professional football players, it’s the fit within the organization and the team’s ability to develop their draft picks that make all the difference. 

Being drafted to a specific organization can be the deciding factor between a long-lasting and successful NFL career or a career full of what-ifs. The NFL Draft is sure to produce future Hall of Famers, career journeyman, and even quick flameouts. There are 256 picks, after all.

So, which NFL teams produce the best first-round picks or find the biggest late-round hidden gems? Which colleges create the most draft busts? We compiled data from the last 10 NFL Drafts, dating back to 2014, and here’s what we found. 

Key Takeaways

  • Since 2014, first-round picks have earned an average of $34,683,891 on-field in their career.
  • 561 players drafted in the 5th round or later (since 2014) are still in the NFL, accounting for 33% of all active players.
  • The San Francisco 49ers have had the most late-round success, with 29 players still on NFL rosters.
  • While Alabama has produced the most first-round picks since 2014 (30), all 12 of LSU’s first-rounders remain in the league, the highest percentage among colleges.
  • 70% of players drafted by the Atlanta Falcons since 2014 are still in the NFL, the highest among all teams.

Top NFL Teams in Draft Pick Selection

The Atlanta Falcons are one of 12 NFL franchises that have yet to win a Super Bowl, but the NFC South foe sits atop the draft board rankings. Since 2014, 70% of their 70 draft picks find themselves on an NFL roster, the highest percentage in the NFL.

Over the last 10 years, the New England Patriots have created the most consistent pros, as 62 of their 92 draft picks remain in the NFL. Maybe Tom Brady was able to turn nearly any offensive weapon into a veteran playmaker. 

Unfortunately for the Dallas Cowboys, successful drafting doesn’t always equate to wins. Sixty of their 86 draft picks since 2014 are in the NFL and at 69.7%, it is the second-highest percentage in the league. America’s Team has drafted and produced star players like Micah Parsons or CeeDee Lamb, but won just three playoff games since 2014. 

For the Los Angeles Rams, quality over quantity is their drafting strategy, especially when picking in the first round. While the Rams have had just four first-round picks in the last 10 years, each of their draftees has made an average of $99,082,510 over the course of their career. This not only ranks first among all 32 teams but is more than double the next closest franchise, which is the Houston Texans at $43,941,294.

With first-round picks earning a majority of the spotlight and press, just two teams have an average first-round draft pick in the single digits (a minimum of 5 picks). The Chicago Bears have an average draft position of 8.7 since 2014, while the New York Jets soar away with second place at 9.8. 

Since 2014, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens are tied for the most first-round draft picks with 13. The AFC squads have used their Day One selection to acquire franchise quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Lamar Jackson.

Perhaps the best indicator of draft success can be found in the late rounds, where a majority of NFL rosters are constructed. Turning Day 3 selections into NFL stars is a talent, and the San Francisco 49ers do it best, with 29 draft picks in the 5th round or later still on an NFL roster. From finding a franchise quarterback in Brock Purdy to selecting Trent Brown in the 7th round, the 49ers certainly struck gold with these late-round gems.

Colleges That Produce the Most Successful Draft Picks

One measure of success for college football programs, beyond the amount of wins on the field or the number of trophies decorating their football facility, is the number of NFL players they produce.

Unless, of course, you’re Alabama, who has consistently done both over the last decade. Their 30 first-round picks since 2014 are the most among all FBS programs, while 27 of the 30 (90%) are still in the NFL. 

Seven FBS programs have witnessed all of their first-round picks since 2014 go on to have successful and still active NFL careers. At the top are the LSU Tigers, who have produced 12 first-round picks, including former No. 1 overall selection Joe Burrow. USC sits in second place with seven active selections, while Oregon and Iowa each are a perfect six-for-six. 

On the other hand, many programs have witnessed their former stars turn into draft busts and flops. Although Georgia has morphed into an NFL factory, their success in the SEC hasn’t always translated to prosperity in the NFL. With four of their first-round selections since 2014 no longer in the NFL, they rank first among all FBS programs in inactive draft picks.

Among schools that have produced five or more first-round picks in the last ten years, UCLA has the lowest success rate, with 40% of their Day One selections no longer in the NFL. Much like the soon-to-be-defunct PAC 12, the NFL careers of former Bruins seem to go down the drain rather quickly. 

For some organizations, drafting the best of the best is second nature, while other teams draft as poorly as their performance on the field.

As plenty of college stars dream of hearing their name called by NFL Commissioner Roger, the team that drafts them may turn it into a nightmare. If your team tends to strike out on their draft picks, there is still hope for the future. Five NFL teams relieved their GM of their duties this off-season, while eight head coaches were hired during this cycle.

The draft presents a unique opportunity: even the Carolina Panthers, who don’t possess a first-round pick, or the Chicago Bears now, who have a league-low four selections, retain the possibility of finding tomorrow’s NFL superstar, or the next hidden gem of the draft.


We analyzed data from Pro Football Reference and Spotrac to evaluate the impact of the NFL Draft on player careers, team drafting efficacy, and the contribution of college football programs to the league over the past 10 years.

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