Today’s NFL fan is flooded with mock drafts, big board lists and plenty of speculation in the weeks leading up to each year’s draft, but rarely does anyone go back and check out how the experts performed in the art of predicting draft picks. There’s not a lot of use in that unless you want to point fingers, but something that is useful is checking on what actually happened in the past at a specific pick.
The Falcons, one win from the Super Bowl, select about as late as possible in the first round this year. Their pick at No. 30 is the lowest they’ve had in a while, but using data gleaned from the draft analytics website Draft Metrics we can spot some of the trends in the last 20 years at that draft position.
For historical context, it’s important to point out that until 1995 the No. 30 pick in the draft was a second-round pick. From ’95-’98, the 30th selection was home to the Super Bowl champ. The 1995 draft featured more picks because the expansion Panthers and Jaguars were added and each team received two first-round picks. In 1999 the Browns returned to the league and in 2002 the Texans were added, bringing the first round total to 32.
Atlanta last selected at No. 30 in 1999, when they selected defensive end Patrick Kerney, who spent eight seasons with the Falcons and was an All Pro in 2004. Kerney is one of four players to be selected at No. 30 from 1992 to 2011 that earned All Pro honors at least once. Reggie Wayne, drafted by Indianapolis in 2001 and Keith Bulluck, drafted by the Titans in 2000, are the other two players to receive such honors. Wayne and Bulluck were named All-Pros three times in their career.
Players drafted at No. 30 overall since ’92 went on to start 1,177 career games and that draft position has featured nine rookie starts. Of the 20 players selected, seven started for five years or more. More than half, 12 to be exact, had careers that lasted five years or longer, although the average of players with five-plus-year-long careers from the other 31 first-round draft positions is 13.3 players, so No. 30 is “below average” in that respect.
The wide receiver position turned in the most drafted players with five and running back was second with three players selected. Cornerback, linebacker, offensive tackle, defensive end and tight end each contributed two players and there was one offensive guard, Kendall Simmons from Pittsburgh, who played eight seasons and started 83 of 84 possible games.
In addition to Wayne, Kerney, Bulluck and Simmons, other notable draft picks at No. 30 include Steelers tight end Heath Miller, a solid player who has earned two Pro Bowl bids in his own right and who is entering his ninth season.
Players at No. 30 delivered a mixed bag of results. Of the players during the ’92-11 time frame, 10 started in at least half of their team’s games during their rookie season, a number that does not include Wayne or Bulluck.
The 1994 drafting of Darnay Scott by the Bengals gave Cincinnati immediate return. The WR started 14 games with 866 yards and five touchdowns. Green Bay’s offensive tackle Ross Verba from the ’97 draft averaged 12 starts per season over his first three years and the only guard at No. 30 over that time span, Simmons, was a full-time starter as a rookie.
The 2011 30th selection, Muhammad Wilkerson of the Jets, started 16 games as a rookie and has started 31 during his first two seasons.
Miller started 47 of his first 48 games and contributed six touchdowns as a rookie. Kevin Jones of the Lions from the ’04 drafted was similarly impactful, starting 14 games and rushing for 1,133 yards and five touchdowns.
It took a while for Wayne and Bulluck to get going. They were part-time players to begin their careers, but both were full-time starters by their third seasons. Kerney followed a similar success time line, but was a more frequent starter early on. He started 34 of the first 48 games of his career and had 12 sacks in his third season.
Only three players failed to start at least one game for their team during their first three seasons after being drafted No. 30.
The 30th selection in the first round is a prime spot for trades, which teams jockeying for position to jump back into the first round to grab a player that has fallen into that range for whatever reason. Traditionally the teams picking at this point in the draft are those that had good seasons the year before and are better able to move out of the first round. There have been seven trades in and out of the No. 30 pick since 1992.
In four of the seven trades out of the No. 30 pick, teams were moving back into the first round and the average jump was five spots. Two teams jumped from No. 36 to No. 30, one from No. 34 and one from No. 37. In two of the trade situations, the team trading out of the No. 30 pick was the clear winner of the deal.
In each trade scenario that saw a team move back into the first round, the trading partner at No. 30 received a second-round pick. In two of the trades, the team moving down received three total picks and in two others they received two picks. A fourth-round pick was the next-best compensation for every trade except in 1996 when the Cowboys received a second- and a third-round pick.
The 1996 trade that allowed the Redskins to jump from No. 37 to No. 30 allowed them to draft offensive lineman Andre Johnson. Johnson only spent one season with Washington and never played a game. Dallas in turn picked up two players that served for a combined seven seasons.
The 2010 draft day deal between the Lions, trading from No. 34 to No. 30, and Vikings. Minnesota used two of their three picks to select two current contributors, including Everson Griffen, who had eight sacks in 2012. The player Detroit drafted, Jason Fox, has never started a game and appeared in only five.
In three of the seven trades, teams moved up from No. 30 to higher points in the draft, but it never amounted to a big win for the franchise doing the jumping. Trading up into the draft often required use of the second-round pick or a third, depending on how the jump was. In one instance, 1995, a jump of 20 spots required the use of a first-round pick in the following year’s draft.
The 1995 trade saw the Super Bowl champs, the San Francisco 49ers, move up to No. 10 in the draft to grab receiver J.J. Stokes, swapping picks with the Cleveland Browns. Stokes played eight seasons for the 49ers, but the Browns, who would become the Ravens, used the 1996 first-round pick to draft future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.
In 2003 the Eagles jumped from 30 to 15 to draft Jerome McDougle, who spent five seasons with the franchise, but never started a game. The Chargers didn’t use their incoming picks to select impact players, but drafted a two players that started for them for at least two seasons.
In 2001, the Giants traded up from No. 30 to 22 to select defensive back Will Allen, a player that spent five seasons as a starter, but the Colts used the 30th pick to select Wayne.
The trades in 2008 and ’04 didn’t amount to a decided advantage for either team trading. The Jets moved up five spots to select tight end Dustin Keller and the Packers drafted wide receiver Jordy Nelson at No. 36. The '04 deal landed Detroit running back Kevin Jones, a solid player for four seasons, but frequently injured. Kansas City, who moved out of the 30th slot, received three players in return who didn't have lengthy careers.