The NFL Draft ended nearly a month ago, and, as per tradition, we are all still desperately trying to make sense of it. We frantically seek immediate validation from draft “experts,” hoping that the Detroit Lions come out atop the endless stream of report cards, or land on our favorite analyst’s “winners” list.
Despite our impatience, the true measure of the 2017 draft class won’t be conclusive for several years, and that’s why around this time you’ll see re-grades of drafts from years past.
But that’s not the only way to evaluate past draft selections. Another way is to look simply at which teams have retained their drafted players. That’s exactly what Jeff Hunter of Buffalo Rumblings did for the past six drafts:
Draft pick retention by NFL teams, 2011-16 pic.twitter.com/HeO5ueAFPB— Jeff Hunter (@MrJeffHunter) May 24, 2017
Looking at totals from 2011 to 2016, the Lions level of drafted player retention is the second-highest percentage over that span. In fact, the Lions are just one of five teams to have retained at least half of their draft picks since 2011.
It’s also important to note that player retention isn’t necessarily a sign of good drafting. A desperately thin team may hold onto mediocre talent longer simply because the cupboard was, and still is, so completely bare.
One clearer way to look at this chart is to focus on the 2011 and 2012 draft classes. This is a better sign of drafting talent, because if those players are still on their original team, it means they have earned a second contract. Unfortunately for Detroit, those two drafts represent some of their worst in recent history. The 2011 draft class that featured Nick Fairley, Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure is completely gone, while only the Lions’ fifth-round pick, Tahir Whitehead, remains from 2012.
That being said, Detroit’s 2013 draft makes up for it entirely. What will likely go down as one of the best drafts in team history—especially when put into context how horrible the entire draft class was—features key contributors from their first selection (Ezekiel Ansah) to their sixth-round choice of Theo Riddick. Their current 44.4 percent retention rate ranks second only to the Atlanta Falcons.
Since then, the Lions have done pretty well for themselves. From 2014 to present day, the Lions have retained 80 percent of their draft picks, good for ninth in the NFL.
However, that could all change very, very quickly. Just look at Detroit’s 2015 draft class:
- Laken Tomlinson
- Ameer Abdullah
- Alex Carter
- Gabe Wright
- Michael Burton
- Quandre Diggs
- Corey Robinson
Every single one of these players has something to prove in 2017, and several are already expected to be among the Lions cuts in September. Gabe Wright is already gone, while everyone but Ameer Abdullah is not expected to be a starter in 2017.
All that being said, Detroit’s past performance in the draft will have little to do with their future. Bob Quinn is now captaining the draft ship and the jury is still out on his performance even though early returns have been promising.