The Biggest Over and Under Achievers in the NFL

by Kevin Meers

The lists below are based on my previous analysis on the NFL draft using the Career Approximate Value from

The Overachievers

Tom Brady

* Denotes an active player

Of course Tom Brady has been the highest performing pick in history. I think it’s crazy that Green Bay and Denver make up 7 of the best 10 draft picks ever. Looking through draft data by team will show whether or not those picks indicate a superior front office or just luck. It’s also interesting that no player selected before the 150th overall pick is here, but that should be expected given that projections for late round picks are so much lower than the expected value of higher round picks.

The Worst Underachievers

To be clear, these data mean that Akili Smith provided 1.6% of the expected value of a 3rd overall pick. That’s just horrendously terrible. He was almost twice as bad as Ryan Leaf. No other player in history has performed below 2% of his expected value. A singular talent, that Akili Smith. The 1997-9 drafts should not be proud to represent over half of the worst picks in NFL history.

The Most Overachieving Top 10 Picks

* Denotes active player

Perhaps worthy of an honorable mention is Peyton Manning who was a number one pick

Rob Woodson

and has a CAV/Expected CAV of 2.1

I think it’s amazing that there are three active players in the top 11 here. No surprise that Peyton Manning is the only first overall pick close to the top 10. The relatively low CAV/Expected CAV really demonstrates the different expectations of a top 10 pick from the rest of the draft, especially compared to the biggest overachievers in history.

The Most Underachieving Top 10 Picks

Honoree Mention in 14th place is JaMarcus Russel who was the first overall pick and has a CAV/Expected CAV of .094.

Hard to believe JaMarcus comes in at #14… or that he was almost six times better than Akili Smith. The fact that Mike Junkin and Kelly Stouffer were back-to-back historically awful picks is endlessly entertaining. I wonder if there has ever been a worse series of picks in any professional draft. (Edit: As commenters have pointed out, Reggie Rogers was picked directly after Junkin and Stouffer. This makes the series even more remarkable.)

JaMarcus Russell

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  • Do you happen to have the information for total surplus value (or “negative surplus” value) as opposed to just ratios. For instance, by how many “CAV points” has manning overachieved? I might argue that the difference just as important as the ratio in determining busts and breakouts.

    Thanks again for your fantastic work!

    • Interesting point – here you go:

      Overachievers: Underachievers:
      1) Brett Favre (Pick 33) +125.3 CAV 1) JaMarcus Russell (Pick 1) -69.3 CAV
      2) *Ray Lewis (Pick 26) +122.2 CAV 2) Ryan Leaf (Pick 2) -63.5 CAV
      3) Jerry Rice (Pick 16) +121.0 CAV 3) Ki-Jana Carter (Pick 1) -62.3 CAV
      4) Dan Marino (Pick 27) +112.7 CAV 4) Charles Rogers (Pick 2) -61.5 CAV
      5) Derrick Brooks (Pick 28) +109.2 CAV 5) Steve Emtman (Pick 1) -61.3 CAV
      6) *Tom Brady (Pick 199) +108.2 CAV 6) Akili Smith (Pick 3) -59.31 CAV

      The bust list is very similar – the overachiever list has many more first round picks. They don’t show up using the ratio because the expectations for first round picks are so much higher than for later round picks.

  • To be fair to Gabe Rivera, he was paralyzed in an automobile accident midway through his second season. That doesn’t change his value according to the charts, but it does put his talent more in perspective. Senor Sack was going to be pretty good.

  • regarding the Junkin/Stouffer note at the end — unless I’m misreading the chart, Reggie Rogers was picked directly after them as well. So that’s three of the top ten worst picks in a row!

  • In the first list of career overachievers, all of the Denver Broncos were from the superbowl winning teams. I would be interested to see the value of a undrafted player (ie Rod Smith) and how he would impact this list.

  • Have you examined the stats by position?
    I have often contended (without statistical backup) that the NFL is particularly bad at selecting quarterbacks. Anecdotally, I can point to excellent quarterbacks who were lucky to get a real shot (Flutie, Warner, Brady) and terrible quarterbacks who were drafted very high (Russell, Smith, Leaf). It would be interesting to see if QB (or any other position) has a particularly low correlation between draft position and performance.

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