With any first round pick expectations are high. Fans expect a star from their team’s top pick. Is this fair, though? What should Jets fans actually expect from defensive end Will McDonald? What is his threshold for success?
Let’s explore this.
The first round of the NFL Draft is the best chance teams have to add star talent at discount prices. Player salaries are artificially cheap the first four years of their careers.
Over the Cap keeps data on player salaries. They estimate that McDonald’s rookie contract will cost the Jets an average of $4 million per year. That ranks only 49th highest among edge rushers in the league.
It is probably too simplistic to judge edge rusher performance purely by sacks. Hitting the quarterback and generating pressure are valuable skills not to mention playing the run. Sacks are, however, what generate most of the focus. Defensive ends and rush linebackers tend to get paid based on them.
Last year among edge rushers, the players ranked 49th in sacks had 6. (There was a tie in this group among multiple players.)
We all dream of a double digit sack artist, but this information would suggest that if McDonald became a consistent 7 sack rusher that he’d be providing the Jets with surplus value.
Is that the type of production worthy of a 15th overall pick, however?
Using the Stathead database, I decided to examine the numbers of defensive ends and rush linebackers selected between 12th and 18th (+ and - three picks on each side) in the NFL Draft since the year 2000.
The median player appeared in 119 career games and started 98. Since the 17 game season has only been in place for two years, almost all of this took place in a 16 game season. That means the average pick played for around 7.5 years and started 6 of them.
The median sack total was 41. That gives us about 5.5 sacks per year. Of course we can presume those 1.5 seasons where the median player didn’t start produced a lower sack total. Let’s say you produce twice as many sacks when you start as when you come off the bench. That gives us roughly 6 per year in the 6 starting seasons and 3 per year in the 1.5 bench seasons. So under this logic, once a player develops into a starter once again we are looking for more than 6 sacks each season to beat the spread.
This is solid but unspectacular production. Is it really worthy of the 15th overall pick?
Well if we just look at 15th overall picks since 2000 regardless of position, the median player starts for around 5 seasons.
47 percent of 15th overall picks in that span have made at least one Pro Bowl. 34 percent have made at least two. Only 13 percent have made at least three.
So a 15th overall pick who is above average will be a Pro Bowler in a career year. The top one-third will be a Pro Bowler in his two best seasons, while more than that makes the pick an outlier.
These are all very rough estimates. It is difficult to compare different players across eras and positions, but I think a clear picture has emerged.
We can estimate that a quality 15th pick will be a good starter for a number of years and briefly play at a star level at his peak.
We would gladly take more, but if the Jets get an average of 7 sacks or so from McDonald, he earns a second contract, and he makes the Pro Bowl in his best season this pick should probably be viewed as a success.