What Does it Take to Get the #1 Pick?

Reader Eliah McCalla chips in this effort today

It’s a depressing a time for Colts fans, but with all the focus on the first pick of the draft, I thought I’d look at what it means to be one of the worst teams in the league.

I considered the seasons since the Colts last owned the first pick, 1997-2010, looking at teams with 5 or fewer wins, 103 teams total. I assumed that teams would be awarded picks in order by record, meaning I ignored the expansion Browns following the 1998 season.

There are a couple of ways to look at the issue:

What is the likely number of wins for a team with a given pick? 

What is the likely pick for a team with a given number of wins?

I’ve done both. I also examined how likely a team is to win a number of games in the first place. In the last 14 seasons, the average year has one team with 2 or fewer wins, one 3 win team, and between four and six 4 and 5 win teams combined. In other words, even really bad teams are likely to win at least 4 games.

Below are the results in terms of wins:

Teams with 0 or 1 win are almost guaranteed the first pick. Teams with 2 wins get the first pick 60% of the time. Their average draft pick is 1.5. 3 wins are worth the second pick about half the time (54%) and the second or the third pick 85% of the time. On average, their pick is 2.2. 4 wins: 12 teams have gotten as high as the first pick and as low as the seventh, but usually land between third and fifth (74%). They average pick 3.9.  Teams with 5 wins receive between pick five and eight 84% of the time. Their average pick is 6.6.

Now relative to the pick:

Teams with 2 or fewer wins receive the first pick 79% of the time. The first drafting team averages 1.9 wins. The second pick goes to a 3 win team half the time and a 2 or 4 win team the rest. Teams with this pick average 3.1 wins. The third pick belongs to a 4 win team nearly two-thirds of the time (64%). The average number of wins related to pick three is 3.6.  Pick four typically goes to a 4 win team (86%). This is reflected in an average 4.1 wins for teams holding this pick.The fifth selection is evenly split between 4 and 5 win teams, 50-50. The average number of wins for this pick, therefore, is 4.5.71% of sixth picks go to 5 win teams; the rest go to 4 win teams. Teams with this pick average 4.7 wins. 50% of seventh picks are awarded to 5 win teams, while most of the rest (43%) go to teams with more wins. 50% of eighth picks go to 5 win teams.  14% of both ninth and tenth picks go to 5 win teams.

So what does all this mean to the Colts? The #1 draft pick is a possible, but unlikely, outcome of this season. Considering the subpar teams left on the schedule, the potential for injuries on teams we have yet to play, the possibility of a Manning comeback, in-game luck, and the very small number of wins required to fall out of first pick contention, the top of the draft is probably a tall order. What’s more, high picks don’t always yield successful players. The top four picks since 1997 have produced some great players, but also the likes of JaMarcus Russell, Charles Rogers, Joey Harrington, Mike Williams, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, and Andre Wadsworth. While it is clear the Colts are hurtling toward a high draft choice, fans shouldn’t swoon too strongly over the prospect that Andrew Luck is around the corner or that another early pick would mean a Super Bowl.

Interesting side note: While many fans may remember the 3-13 1997 season that netted Peyton Manning, that was the last year a 3-13 team actually drafted first. The 1998 expansion Browns took the top pick from a 3 win team, while 4 wins got the first pick in 2003.