2011 NFL Draft: Getting a Hall of Fame Player is Highly Unlikely

So you think that your team is going to come away with two or three future superstars from the 2011 National Football League draft? You think that the next John Elway, Walter Payton, Lawrence Taylor or Ronnie Lott is just waiting to be found? Well you’d better think again. If past history shows us anything, the chances of your team getting a future hall of fame player are very, very slim.

Because of the hype that the NFL draft creates every year, I decided to do a little research and see how many hall of fame players have been drafted since 1960. I used that year as a starting point, because it is when the American Football League was born and gives us a fifty year period to work with. The last year that a hall of fame player was drafted was 1994 so this is where the totals come from. I am not going to include players who may be future hall of famers such as Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis and Tom Brady, but will use them later to add more perspective to what I have written. Here is what I uncovered.

Since 1960 there have been thousands of players drafted by American and National League football teams. Of these only 114 have been inducted into the pro football hall of fame in Canton, Ohio. One-hundred ten of them signed with the teams that drafted them and were on their roster for at least one season. That means a little more than two players per draft have gone on to become hall of famers.

Four future hall of famers were traded before they ever played a down for the team which drafted them. They are guard Ron Mix who was drafted by the Boston Patriots in 1960 and traded to the then Los Angeles Chargers, wide receiver Lance Alworth who was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1962 and traded to the San Diego Chargers, wide receiver Steve Largent who was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1976 and traded to the expansion Seattle Seahawks and quarterback John Elway who was drafted number one overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1983 but held out until they traded him to the Denver Broncos.

Of the 114 players drafted since 1960 who are in the hall of fame, 60 (more than half) were first round picks. Not surprising, because that’s where the best players are usually drafted. However, of those 60 only nine were the first overall pick in the draft. Nine in 51 years. Less than 20 percent in both cases. The names who make up that less than 20 percent are:

Dallas Texan/Kansas City Chief defensive tackle Buck Buchanan (1962 AFL)
Minnesota Viking offensive tackle Ron Yary (1968)
Buffalo Bill running back O.J. Simpson (1969)
Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw (1970)
Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive lineman Leroy Selmon (1976)
Houston Oiler running back Earl Campbell (1978)
John Elway (1983)
Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith (1985)
Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman (1988)

In 1984, the NFL held a supplemental draft after the regular one in April where teams were allowed to draft players from the United States Footbll League which would disband the following spring. Three hall of famers came out of this group. Defensive lineman Reggie White was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, quarterback Steve Young by the Tampa Bay Bucs and offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman by the Minnesota Vikings. All were first round picks.

What about the quarterback position which is so heavily scrutinized every year?

Well only 11 quarterbacks drafted since 1960 are in the pro football hall of fame. That averages out to one every five years. They are Fran Tarkenton, Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Fouts, Joe Montana, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Troy Aikman. Of these 11, seven were first round picks and three were number one overall choices (Bradshaw, Elway and Aikman) All of them except Fouts took their teams to the Super Bowl and Namath, Staubach, Griese, Bradshaw, Montana, Elway and Aikman won it. That’s seven in 51 years. Of course, these seven account for 18 championships between them. Even with the addition of shoe in hall of famers Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre (drafted by Atlanta but traded to Green Bay) the number of quarterbacks only rises to 14. Something to think about when we call the next Joey Harrington, Jemarcus Russell or Heath Shuler a bust.

How about Heisman Trophy winnrers drafted since 1960?

Only six of them have made it to the hall. Staubach, Simpson, Campbell, Dallas Cowboy running back Tony Dorsett, Los Angeles Raider running back Marcus Allen and Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders. That’s it. Out of 50 Heisman Trophy winners (Archie Griffin won it twice) that ‘s it.

Simpson and Campbell are the only players to pull off the trifecta of Heisman Trophy winner, number one overall pick and hall of fame induction. The Cowboys are the only team to pull off the draft trifecta of selecting hall of fame players who won the Heisman (Staubach and Dorsett), were first overall picks (Aikman) and won Super Bowls (all of their HOF draft picks).

So one could make a case that 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, a quarterback out of Auburn, has a major uphill climb to the hall of fame.

What correlation does drafting hall of famers have to winning championships? Well that’ hard to say.

Every team that played professional football in the 1960’s whether they began in the AFL or NFL has drafted at least one hall of fame player. The Tampa Bay Bucs born in 1976 has as well. Only the expansion teams of the 1970’s (Seattle Seahawks), 90’s (Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars) and 2000’s (Houston Texans and new Cleveland Browns) have not. Forty-eighty of these players helped the team which drafted them to a Super Bowl title. One (John Elway) helped the team that he was traded to. Ron Mix and Lance Alworth did the same as they helped lead the Chargers to an AFL title before the Super Bowl in1963. Buffalo guard Billy Shaw helped the Bills to two AFL championships in 1964 and ’65. Chicago’s Mike Ditka played on the Bears 1963 NFL championship team. And Cleveland’s Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield played on the Browns NFL championship team of 1964.

That would make a total of 55 hall of fame draftees who helped the original teams that they signed with win a championship since 1960. That number is less than the total of first round draft picks that are in the hall of fame.

The two teams who have drafted the most hall of famers since 1960 are the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys with ten each. They are also the teams who have been to and won the most Super Bowls since the championship game began in 1966-67. The Steelers and Cowboys have played in eight Super Bowls apiece with Pittsburgh winning six and Dallas five. Needless to say, almost every hall of famer who was drafted by these teams helped them to win a championship. The only one who did not was Pittsburgh defensive back Rod Woodson though he played in Super Bowl XXX for the Steelers. Woodson did come away with a Super Bowl ring before he retired as a member of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

The team with the most championships since 1960 is the Green Bay Packers who have won seven. Most of them came in the 1960’s with players whom they had drafted in the 1950’s. The only exception being defensive back Herb Adderley who was drafted in 1961.

Meanwhile, the team that has the same number of championships as the Cowboys and one less than the Steelers, the San Francisco 49’ers, boast only five players drafted who are hall of famers since 1960. And only three of them helped them to win the Super Bowl. Quarterback Joe Montana, defensive back Ronnie Lott and wide reciever Jerry Rice.

The Miami Dolphins of 1971 to 1973 made three consecutive Super Bowl appearances, won back to back titles and finished undefeated in 1972. The only hall of fame players on those teams that were drafted by Miami are quarterback Bob Griese and running back Larry Csonka.

So one could make a case that it helps to have hall of famers for long term success, but it’s not totally necessary as the Dolphins, 49’ers and New England Patriots of the last decade have proven.

So what do we make of this?

Even with the current players who may be shoe ins for the hall like Manning, Brady, Favre and Ray Lewis and players who are currently eligible such as Cris Carter, Willie Roaf and Larry Allen the number of players drafted in the last 50 years that will make it to the hall of fame will still be around 150. That’s an average of three hall of fame players per draft since 1960. THREE! With 32 teams and seven rounds in today’s draft that’s three out of 224. That is .01 percent. That number gets smaller if you go back to the years when there were double digit rounds in the draft.

The point is that we get too hyped about the NFL draft. We look for our team to draft the next great player even though history shows that it is highly unlikely. And even if they do, there is no guarantee that great player will lead our team to a championship.

This is the mistake that scouts make also. The teams that have little draft success look for one or two great players instead of four or five very good players who can help them win. The lessons that they should take from teams like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Philadelphia and New England is that it is better to draft four or five very good players in hopes of finding a great one than to draft one or two players whom you think will be great.

And the lesson that we as fans should take away from this is it is highly unlikely that the guy who walked across the stage in New York Thursday night and held up our teams jersey will fulfill our dreams of becoming a great NFL player. So we’d better hope that our team drafts a bunch of very good ones.