Who won the 2016 NFL Draft? Let’s ask Madden NFL 17

Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott in EA SPORTS Madden NFL 17

Dak Prescott (right) hands off to Ezekiel Elliott (left) for the Dallas Cowboys in a screenshot captured from EA SPORTS Madden NFL 17. Screenshot © Depth in Gaming.

The NFL Draft is one of those intensely confusing contradictions. On the one hand, we have college players with 3-4 seasons worth of data points in all the statistical measurables, plus more measurables on top of that once they participate in the Combine, ready to get selected by one of the 32 teams hoping to find–if not their star of the future–at least somebody who can fill in at a position of need. Yet, in spite of those data points, these players are human beings; entirely unpredictable.

How else do you explain 21 of the 32 first-round picks from the 2012 Draft not being on active rosters? That’s over 65% of the top round of picks completely out of the NFL in under 5 years!

That said, if we make it incredibly simple, we can just use the (not at all debated or controversial) player ratings from Madden NFL 17 to evaluate which teams had the best experience with last year’s draft and which ones will be hoping this year goes better. And so begins the first of a series of articles breaking down what those ratings have to say about the 2016 NFL Draft!

Admittedly, we’re not talking about the most fool-proof methodology to put into practice here; I’ve literally just reviewed all 253 draft picks from the 2016 NFL Draft and used the Madden Player Ratings Database to record the launch OVR rating and end of season OVR rating for every pick. Just like with real-life, there’s no specific accounting for intangibles or “fit” within a team’s system.

Let’s get the big question out of the way first:

Who won the 2016 NFL Draft?

The answer depends on when you mean; if you want to know who won the 2016 NFL Draft at first blush when the game launched, the top 10 looks like this based on average OVR rating of drafted players:

Look at the average OVR rating of drafted players actually on a team’s roster at the end of the season, however, and the top 10 changes to:


The Cowboys moved 8 spots to the top of the pile, thanks largely to the two draft picks in the image at the top of this article: HB Ezekiel Elliott (the top player in the draft) and QB Dak Prescott, the 4th round pick who ended up 8 points OVR clear of the next-best rookie (#2 overall pick Carson Wentz of the Eagles).

The Panthers also surprised, moving up 15 spots in the ranking for the draft class from launch to the end of the season; better still, the Chiefs moved up 18 spots to #12. On the other side of the equation, the Buccaneers draft class fell 23 ranking spots from a top 5 place to 28, while both the Seahawks and Dolphins fell 11 ranking spots into the bottom half of the league.

One surprising point to make is how few teams ended up regressing in their OVR average over the course of the season; since NFL rookies seem to come into the league a bit underrated (since they haven’t proven themselves at the professional level yet), it’s surprising that players on five teams fell off enough to go down in ranking. Tampa Bay’s 2nd round pick of K Roberto Aguayo did them no favors as he lost 6 points OVR in a tumultuous rookie campaign.

When we look at the top two teams in the end of season draft class rankings, however, it’s clear to see that a strong draft can have almost no correlation to actual success. It worked out for Dallas, but Carolina suffered a hard fall from Super Bowl runner-up. And even though the Saints and Falcons drafted well, Atlanta ended up agonizingly close to a first Super Bowl triumph while New Orleans didn’t even earn a playoff invitation.

So, let’s take a closer look at whether there’s anything to be said about the quality of the draft class and the win-loss record:


And this is why–no matter how many data points we have to work from–there isn’t always a perfect relationship between what’s expected and the outcome.

The Patriots had a sub-par draft, coming in just under the middle of the league average. But they had a strong team without counting the 2016 draft class, allowing them to end the season with the best record in the league on their way to a Super Bowl LI victory.

Their AFC East rivals in Miami ended the season with one of the worst draft classes by OVR but managed to fight their way into the last playoff spot in the conference, “outperforming” their draft rank by 17 spots.

But then we have the aforementioned Saints and Panthers, owners of top draft classes that went a combined 13-19 outside of the playoff hunt. Neither compares to Chicago in terms of sheer drop-off, however, with the Bears owning a top 5 draft class and a 3-13 record for a differential of 24 spots. Even a top 10 draft class in Jacksonville couldn’t overcome a history of rough seasons and placement for the 3rd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

This is why the NFL Draft needs to be a perfect storm for a team to find success. It requires the perfect player for the perfect position at the perfect time during the seven rounds of the process. One pick can change an entire franchise’s fortunes–see Tom Brady of the Patriots–or can have no impact and disappear from the league within the average career length of 3-4 seasons.

But this is just the first of many articles about the 2016 NFL Draft; come back to Video Game Numbers soon as we look into more depth of the actual players taken last year and how they fared over a season in Madden NFL 17!


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