Looking at the NFL Draft history by the numbers
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Want to know the biggest flops in past drafts? Which NFL teams are most efficient drafting? The best and worst draft classes? The danger of selecting quarterbacks in the second round?
Tony Villiotti is your man. As Mel Kiper is to the evaluation of draft choices, Villiotti is to the history of the draft.
Villiotti, 64, lives in Scott, is a graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School and has had a fascination with the NFL draft since the day the Steelers hired Chuck Noll to coach them in 1969. He has written books and has a website, draftmetrics.com, that breaks down certain historical aspects of the draft.
A retired chief financial officer for a Duquesne Light subsidiary, Villiotti knows numbers.
"I'm useless around the house," Villiotti said. "Put me down with a bunch of information with a computer, I'm a happy guy. We've been Steelers fans a long time and have had season tickets since Three Rivers opened."
Villiotti is a rare bird in a business where everyone has an opinion about prospects and devise multiple mock drafts. He looks at the draft statistically.
For example, in determining a team's draft efficiency, he considered the number of players who became five-year starters, those who made the Pro Bowl at least once (he must be an original selection and not make it through another's injury) and the number of draftees who were All-Pros at least once. He included the drafts from 1991 through 2004.
You'll never guess which team came out on top. The Steelers earned a 17.6 rating in that system as the NFL's most efficient organization at drafting. They left second-place Green Bay far behind at 11.3. Other top teams were New England at 7.7, Indianapolis at 6.4 and Seattle at 5.8. All have been to one or more Super Bowls over the past 10 years. Bringing up the rear were San Diego at minus-9.5 and Detroit at minus-9.1.
His analysis has determined that a player's draft position can often determine how successful he will be in the NFL -- there's a dropoff after the first 13 picks, then another drop after the 28th.
"The other thing I found interesting is looking at it by position. The skill positions seem to be the riskiest positions to take in the draft -- quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs kind of have the least chance of going on to become five-year starters. How much of that is injury or whatever, it's tough to get handle on it."
Busts -- or what Villiotti calls flops-- are another thing. Everyone is familiar with their team's flops. Steelers fans can rattle them off in their nightmares, from Bob Ferguson to Darryl Sims to Aaron Jones and Huey Richardson and Jamain Stephens, to name just a handful.
"There is nothing worse than having your favorite team's first-round draft choice turn out to be a flop," Villiotti writes in a chapter on draftmetrics.com titled simply, "First Round Flops."
He weighs some reasons for flopping, considering injuries, off-field issues, attitude or "plain misevaluation of talent."
He lists the top flops at each spot they were taken in the draft since 1991. Richardson, for example, was termed the floppiest pick taken the past 20 years at No. 15 in the first round. The biggest flop taken at No. 1 overall was Penn State running back Kijana Carter, the top choice in 1995 by Cincinnati.
As he noted, Leon Bender died before he could report to his first training camp with the Oakland Raiders in 1998, so, out of respect, he does not list him as the worst flop at No. 31.
He also analyzed the 111 trades made to move up in the first round of the past 20 drafts. Of those, teams moved up to take 26 defensive linemen, nosing out offensive linemen at 24 as the most sought-after players in those trades. The least were linebackers, at four.
This has become strictly a hobby for Villiotti, who makes no money and actually has expenses. He tried to turn his research into a book 20 years ago and said he sold it to half the NFL teams. Children and his career sidetracked him from pursuing it further and it lay dormant for two decades. He tried it again last year and sold 20-25 books to NFL teams.
This year, he just put it on the Web.
"I decided to put it out there for free and see where it takes me. If there's a way to make money, I certainly wouldn't turn it down, but I'm just happy to have the information out there and for people to take a look at it."
Plenty have. Fan blogs have picked up on it, and he has been featured on at least one official team website, that of the Green Bay Packers.
He has plans to expand his research and to look into individual players more deeply. He has 20 years to make up for lost time.
"This summer, I'm going to expand my data, break down the offensive line between centers, guards and tackles and see if I can gain any insight.
"I never lost interest in the draft, it just fell by the wayside. Once I got back into it, I was more interested than ever."
First Published April 23, 2011 12:00 am