Gary Doran

40 Years of ASU at the NFL Draft

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Arizona State has now taken part of 40 seasons as a member of the Pac-10/Pac-12 Conference. As part of those 40 seasons, there have been a total of 145 players selected by an teams through the NFL Draft each spring. Here is a breakdown of the teams that have drafted ASU players:

The Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers have drafted the most ASU players.  The Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the then Houston Oilers have drafted only one ASU player during this time.  The Tennessee Titans have yet to draft an ASU player even though they have been in existence since 1997

Ten franchises, have not drafted an ASU player in the past 20 years.  The Dallas Cowboys had taken eight ASU players up through the 1996 draft, but none since then.  While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected a couple of Devils in the early days of the Pac-10, they  have not drafted an ASU player in over 30 years.

ASU has averaged just over three-and-a-half players per year being drafted since joining the PAC-10/12 Conference.  One-third of the ASU players drafted have been either offensive or defensive lineman.  In the last 20 years, ASU has had only two quarterbacks drafted; Andrew Walter and Brock Osweiler.

In the first 20 years, ASU had 28 offensive skilled position players drafted, in the last 20 years, the number dropped to 17.  In the first 20 years, ASU had 39 defensive position players drafted, in the last 20 years, the number dropped to 21.

DIVING INTO THE NUMBERS

Since the earlier NFL drafts comprised of more than seven rounds, the tables below have eliminated any ASU draftee that was drafted beyond the 250th player taken to keep the comparisons fair. That eliminated 15 players, bringing the total down to 130 players drafted by the NFL. Also in comparing conference records, the conference games against Utah and Colorado from 2011-2017 were excluded. That’s a total of 14 games, (11 wins and 3 losses). ASU played those two schools eight times between 1978 and 2011, winning all eight games, however, none of them were considered in the tables since they were non-conference games during that time. Eliminating the current Colorado and Utah conference games makes the 40-year comparison more compatible.

Each ten-year period listed above saw a decline of the number of players being drafted, and also the conference winning percentage.  In the first 20 years, ASU won 56.3-percent of its conference games, in the last 20 years, the percentage dropped to 46.8-percent.

This past ten-year period saw less than half the number of ASU players drafted compared to the first ten-year period.  Overall, ASU players drafted in the first three rounds has declined to just a third of what it was in the first ten year period.

Over the last 15 years, ASU has had only one first round draft pick; Damarious Randall picked by Green Bay in 2015.  In forty years, ASU has had only four players taken within the first ten picks, as a point of reference, UofA has had three, USC 25.  From the first ten-year period to the last ten-year period, ASU increased average points scored by 19-percent, however, the points allowed increase 68-percent.

The first five ASU coaches had 89 players drafted over 23 years, while the last three coaches have had only 41 players drafted in 17 years.  The first five ASU coaches had 12 players drafted in the first round over 23 years, while the last three coaches have had only three players taken in the first round in 17 years.  The five coaches from Kush through Snyder averaged 1.96 offensive and 1.85 defensive players per year being drafted. Over the last three coaches, the average dropped to 1.35 offensive and 1 defensive player.

Of the eight ASU coaches during this period of play in the Conference of Champions, Todd Graham had the fewest players drafted per year, and the fewest players drafted within the first three rounds per year.

In the first 20 years, ASU and Arizona had similar conference winning percentages of about 56-percent, however ASU had 77 players drafted within the top 250 picks, while Arizona only had 54.  In the last 20 years, ASU’s winning percentage dropped to roughly 47-percent, while Arizona’s dropped to 39-percent, with ASU having 53 players taken as a top 250 pick and Arizona only had 38

In the past 20 years, ASU had a winning percentage against the Pac-10 opponents, other than Arizona, of 45-percent, yet won – 60-percent of the rivalry games against the Wildcats.  Arizona had a winning percentage against other Pac-10 opponents,  other than ASU, of 38-percent, and won 40-percent of the rivalry games.

In six NFL drafts, no player from a Rich Rodriguez-coached team was taken within the first three rounds. Todd Graham had three.  The real difference in players being drafted between ASU and Arizona is on offense, where ASU holds an almost 2-1 advantage

FINAL THOUGHTS

Since entering the Pac-10 Conference, ASU has been producing fewer NFL-caliber players. Additionally, since roughly the first time ASU played in the Rose Bowl, the program has seen an overall downward trend in its winning percentage against its original Pac-10 opponents. Of course there was a magical season mixed in here and there since then, but overall, the trend has been downward.  From the data alone, it’s hard to tell if these issues are a recruiting-related problem, a lack of player development, or both.

The University of Arizona also saw a dip in its winning percentage against original Pac-10 opponents, yet much more dramatic than ASU over the last 20 years. Even though both ASU and Arizona experienced a 30-percent decline in the number of players being drafted by NFL teams between the two twenty-year periods, ASU winning percentage dropped roughly ten-percent, while Arizona’s dropped about 20-percent.

Even though the trend is down, an area where ASU has seen a significant drop in players being drafted is in the skilled positions, where there has been a 40-percent decrease over the past 20 years compared to the first 20 years. Again, is this a recruiting issue, a player development issue or both.  Why are so few skilled ASU players being drafted lately compared to previous ASU teams.

Even though Sun Devil fans would love to win every rivalry game against Arizona, over the past twenty years, ASU has out-performed itself against the Wildcats when compared to how it did against other Pac-10 Conference opponents in that time. That’s hard to remember this in the heat of viewing the games on a year-to-year basis.

Although a football team is comprised of more than just the players drafted into the NFL, if seen solely through the lens of winning percentage vs players drafted, of the last three coaches, it appears that Todd Graham got more out his teams while Dirk Koetter got the least.

Not only did the last three coaching staffs see a decline in the number of players being drafted into the NFL, the mix between offensive players and defensive players changed with a greater percentage of offensive players going. Did the change in the drafting mix also play a factor in the decline in winning percentage? Also, what part did the change from skilled players on offense being drafted to more offensive lineman play?

Over 40-percent of the NFC teams in the NFL have not drafted an ASU player over the last 20 years, while that figure is less than 20-percent of the AFC teams. In that time, roughly 5,000 players have been drafted. Wonder why almost half the NFC teams have not seen fit to pick an ASU player in all those choices.  Is there a difference in the NFC vs. AFC in terms of talent evaluation when it comes to ASU players?  Is the brand of football played in the NFC less conducive to an ASU-developed player as compared to the AFC?

The long-term trajectory of ASU’s winning percentage within the conference and the number of NFL-caliber players being developed were two big reasons stated why Todd Graham was fired after last season.  The numbers in the data above supports that stance.  The only real question is if the new model now in place will reverse the trend.  Only time will tell.

Sources: en.wikipedia.org and www.sports-reference.com

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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