When a draft pick busts spectacularly, like Jamarcus Russell, Troy Williamson, or Courtney Brown, it makes headlines and that player’s name is immortalized in excrement for that team’s fan base. But when an entire draft class evaporates into valuelessness, it can set back a team for years.
The 2001 Rams draft disaster -- spending four picks in the top 44, including three first-rounders, and not getting a single franchise player -- was a dynasty-killing blunder. The 2006 and 2007 draft classes that should have jump-started the recovery instead produced names infamous among Rams fans -- Tye Hill, Claude Wroten, Joe Klopfenstein, and Adam Carriker -- and brought to a merciful end the destructive Jay Zygmunt era.
Putting those drafts in perspective, though, I found that neither ranks among the top ten worst drafts of the last fifteen years.
Who says? A new value metric created by Pro-Football-Reference.com. Their “Career Approximate Value (CarAV)” statistic seeks to provide a rough numerical summary of a player’s positive contribution to their team, regardless of position.
For example, here’s how they rate the infamous 2001 Rams draft class:
|1.12||DT Damione Lewis||32|
|1.20||S Adam Archuleta||31|
|1.29||DT Ryan Pickett||48|
|2.42||LB Tommy Polley||29|
(Bold indicates the player is still active, still adding to his CarAV score.)
Now, this wasn’t a good draft. But here’s a scary thought: the Rams’ total approximate value from the 2001 draft was actually one of the highest of the entire Zygmunt era.
These guys were given roster spots and ample time to play, and they were average. Not great, not bombs, just average. Average play over an extended period of time accumulates CarAV points. For example, Damione Lewis never became a force, but he did tally ten sacks for the Rams while doing dirty work on the line, and continues to be a reliable plug in Carolina’s well-regarded defensive line. And his production from the same position was a small notch better than Cliff Ryan’s, who we generally regard as a halfway decent player.
Now compare these scores to the top of the Rams' 2006 draft:
|1.15||CB Tye Hill||10|
|2.46||TE Joe Klopfenstein||9|
|3.68||DT Claude Wroten||2|
|3.77||LB Jon Alston||5|
|3.96||TE Dominique Byrd||2|
Those five players combined haven’t had the impact on the league that Tommy Polley had. Now that’s truly frightening. But after the break, we play Vincent Price and take a look at a few drafts that were even scarier:
1998: San Diego Chargers
The most infamous draft pick of all time, Ryan Leaf taken one pick behind #1 overall Peyton Manning when both were seen as equal “can’t-miss” talents, headlined one of the very worst draft classes of all time. This wasn’t a story of just one bone-headed pick, this was a story of a franchise-gutting draft in San Diego.
The Colts, Cardinals and Chargers were in the dregs of the league that year, and with these two players headlining the draft class, the Chargers (holding pick #3) were desperate not to get left out. They traded away a stunning bounty to do so: their first and second-round pick in the following year’s draft, as well as players Eric Metcalf and Patrick Sapp. To move up one spot. To draft Ryan Leaf.
|1.2||QB Ryan Leaf||3|
|2.59||TE Mikhael Ricks||19|
|5.126||DE Cedric Harden||0|
|6.155||DB Clifford Ivory||0|
|7.194||LB Jon Haskins||0|
Two successive drafts ruined in one stroke. This should have been a career-killing move for the men in the Chargers’ war room, but one of those men’s names is Billy Devaney, who learned some very valuable lessons that year.
2008: Jacksonville Jaguars
Like the San Diego draft of a decade previous, this awesomely bad draft featured a “perfect storm of hubris, overreaching, and other factors.” The Jaguars were coming off an 11-5 season and a thrilling postseason ride that saw them tantalizingly close to overcoming the Patriots for entry into the AFC Championship game. Reportedly, the Jags GM was so sanguine about his own roster that he felt that “even a third round pick would have a hard time making this team.”
So James “Shack” Harris traded away a combined seven picks to draft two defensive ends, both of whom flopped spectacularly. Here’s the draft board aftermath:
|1.8||DE Derrick Harvey||14|
|2.52||DE Quentin Groves||11|
|5.155||LB Thomas Williams||0|
|5.159||DB Trae Williams||0|
|7.213||RB Chauncey Washington||0|
While Harvey and Groves are still active, Groves has been traded away and Harvey -- the only of these players still in Jacksonville -- is a long-term bench rider. The GM was fired, the team fell to 5-11 and with attendance in the toilet, is very likely to be the next team to leave its stadium and fan base behind.
2005: Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings
It’s rare to see three brutally bad draft classes in the same year, and even more to see each of them felled by the same bad decision, but these three teams completed the trifecta. This was the year that Troy Williamson (Vikings), Mike Williams (Lions) and Roscoe Parrish (Bills) turned the phrase “first round receiver bust” into a mantra among draftniks.
The meme had been gaining currency over the years thanks to Lions GM Matt Millen and his unshakable habit of overspending on wideouts who flamed out, but these two players took busting to a whole different level. What’s frightening, though, is that both players were the best each team could produce in an entire seven-round draft.
The Vikings collected DE Erasmus James and four more players who bombed out of the league before the ink on their rookie contracts was dry. The only player still active from this draft is 6th round DT CJ Mosely, who is playing for his fourth team in five years.
The Lions made one good move in drafting DT Shaun Cody, but happily gave him away to the Texans, where he has become their version of Ryan Pickett. The rest of their draft class is headlined by clipboard-toting QB Dan Orlovsky.
The Bills still have Parrish around, simply because they haven’t had much better on the roster. But his career high 35 catches in a season aren’t doing much to redeem his name, or this Bills draft. The rest of their draft was so unremarkable as to be nearly anonymous, a Phantom Zone of suckitude.
I'm not trying to belittle the anger and bitterness that we Rams fans feel toward our own draft failures. They were some awful years. But it's worth knowing that we weren't alone, and it's even better to know that we now have a war room that is capable of avoiding these mistakes of hubris, overreaching, and dysfunction.