The thought struck me last week when baseball was holding its annual June Draft: of the four major sports, which one does the best job of drafting players?
In many ways it’s comparing apples to oranges – they are both fruit, but they look and taste very different. The National Hockey League’s selection meeting is very international in scope. The National Basketball Association has become the same way. The NHL and Major League Baseball are sometimes selecting 17 or 18-year olds who are fresh out of high school, and generally the draft choices go right to minor league action, while in the National Football league they are immediately part of the game at the highest level.
The one thing the four different sports leagues hold in common is the value of their drafts. Look at the best players in football, baseball, basketball and hockey and they were all draft choices. Hockey’s Sidney Crosby, baseball’s Albert Pujols and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the NBA were all drafted as teenagers. In the NFL Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Charles Woodson – all were draft choices.
So for the sake of a summertime discussion, we did some research. We went five years back to the drafts of 2005 and looked at the top 10 players selected in the four drafts. Those are 40 names who in the half-decade since being drafted are established all over the sporting road. One is his sport’s superstar. Another died two years ago in a motorcycle crash. Some have had careers derailed by injuries, others by off-field problems. Some are still moving forward in their careers, others are headed in the other direction.
Here’s a look at the top 10 selections in the 2005 MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL drafts, with some conclusions afterwards:
MLB-ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS/JUSTIN UPTON (right)
He was 17 years old when he was drafted out of a Virginia high school. Labeled a SS in that draft, he was moved to the OF. Signed in January 2006 to a contract with a $6.1 million signing bonus, he spent a year in Class A ball. In ‘07 he was a Class A and AA before he was promoted to majors. Since then, he’s played in 345 games, batting .267 with 52 HRs and 168 RBIs. He was named to the ‘09 National League All-Star team. Early this year, he signed a 6-year, $51.25 million contract. He’s considered one of the best young players in the game.
NBA-MILWAUKEE BUCKS/ANDREW BOGUT
The Australian was 21 years old when drafted out of the University of Utah, where he played two seasons of college ball. Bogut was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie team in 2006. In five seasons with Milwaukee, Bogut has played in 331 games and has averaged 12.7 points per game with 9 rebounds per game. His best season was the most recent one, where he averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 points per game and was named third team All-NBA. Bogut signed a five-year, $60 million extension in ‘08. He’s considered one of the league’s better young big men.
NFL-SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS/ALEX SMITH
Not yet 21 years old when he was drafted out of the University of Utah. Smith played three seasons for the Utes and coach Urban Meyer, going 21-1 in his starting assignments and finishing with 47 TD passes against just eight interceptions. As the draft’s No. 1 selection he signed a 6-year, $49.5 million contract with $24 million in guaranteed dollars. After that, everything was a struggle for Smith. He dealt with injuries, including a shoulder problem that ended his ‘08 season before the first game. Plus, in his first five seasons, he had five different offensive coordinators. Only when Jimmy Raye came back for the 2010 season was there any offensive carryover for Smith. To stay with the Niners, Smith had to restructure his contract, taking less money in base salary for the ‘09 and ‘10 seasons. By the end of last season, he was again S.F.’s starting quarterback. In 43 NFL games, he has 37 TD passes to 43 INTs, while completing 56.1 percent of his passes. So far Smith has been a major disappointment for the Niners and given ‘10 is the last season of his current deal he’s got one more chance to establish himself.
NHL-PITTSBURGH PENQUINS/SIDNEY CROSBY
Even non-hockey fans have heard of Sid the Kid, one of the two or three best players in the game. Crosby came out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and immediately went to the Penguins, making his NHL debut in Oct. ‘05 at the age of 18. In five seasons, he’s played in 370 regular season games with 183 goals, 323 assists. He’s also been on the ice for 62 games in the playoffs with 30 goals, 52 assists. Crosby led the Penguins to the ‘09 Stanley Cup championship and he scored the winning goal for Canada in the gold medal hockey game against the U.S. earlier this year in the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. In July ‘07, he signed a 5-year, $43.5 million contract extension. He’s the best player in the sport.
MLB-KANSAS CITY ROYALS/ALEX GORDON (left)
Gordon played three seasons at the University of Nebraska and was considered the nation’s best collegiate talent in 2005. He signed in September ‘05, receiving a $4 million signing bonus. Gordon began his career the next year at AA Wichita and by ‘07 he was in the major leagues. But since then he’s gone up and down between the Royals and AAA-Omaha, as he’s struggled with his bat. In 346 games, he carries a .249 batting average with 38 home runs and 142 RBIs. A major disappointment so far for a franchise that needed him to perform, a position change may help Gordon. He’s earned $2,393,000 in the majors, plus the signing bonus.
NBA-ATLANTA HAWKS/MARVIN WILLIAMS
He was just 19 years old and had only one season of college ball at the University of North Carolina before entering the NBA Draft. In his rookie season, he averaged 8.5 points per game. After five seasons, Williams has a career scoring average of 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. In ‘09, he signed a 5-year, $40 million contract. He’s considered an average player.
NFL-MIAMI DOLPHINS/RONNIE BROWN
The Georgia native spent five years at Auburn, where Brown shared the workload in the backfield with Cadillac Williams. He went before Williams in the ‘05 NFL Draft. He missed the first three weeks of training camp in contract negotiations, before agreeing to a 5-year, $35 million deal with $20 million in guaranteed dollars. In five seasons, Brown has played in 60 games and missed 20 games because of injuries. He’s run for 4,081 yards, a 4.4-yard per carry average and 31 TDs. He’s also caught 151 passes for 1,249 yards and 2 TDs. Brown was named to the 2009 Pro Bowl. He has yet to sign a tender offer as a restricted free agent for ‘10. The Dolphins offer was $3,970,000. Brown is considered a good, not great running back at this point of his career.
NHL-ANAHEIM DUCKS/BOBBY RYAN
Born in New Jersey, Ryan played his junior hockey in the OHL and after he was drafted by the Ducks, they sent him to their AHL affiliate in Portland. He bounced back and forth a few times but settled in Anaheim in ‘09 and has been there since. Ryan has played 168 games, with 71 goals, 60 assists. He was a member of the silver medal winning U.S. Olympic hockey team in Vancouver earlier this year. Ryan is currently a restricted free agent and he’s drawn a lot of interest around the league. He’s just 23 years old and the cusp of becoming one of the NHL’s real stars.
MLB-SEATLE MARINERS/JEFF CLEMENT
Out of Marshalltown, Iowa and the University of Southern Cal, Clement made a quick climb from Rookie League to Class AA to AAA in ‘06. He got a $3.4 million signing bonus and spent two years bumping back and forth between Seattle and Tacoma, battling a couple of knee injuries along the way. He was traded in ‘09 to the Pirates and he’s bounced back and forth between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. He’s at AAA right now. In the majors, Clement has played 120 games with a .220 batting average with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs. So far, he’s been a flop as the third player selected.
NBA-UTAH JAZZ/DERON WILLIAMS (right)
After three seasons at the University of Illinois, Williams walked away from his last year of college eligibility and that proved to be a very good decision. He was named first-team All-NBA rookie team and over five seasons, he’s played in 386 games, averaging 16.2 points per game and 9 assists per game. He improves to 21 points per game in the playoffs. Williams was an NBA All-Star in 2010 and won a gold medal with Team USA at the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. In ‘08, he agreed to a four-year, $70 million contract extension. One of the best players in the NBA.
NFL-CLEVELAND BROWNS/BRAYLON EDWARDS
A native of Michigan, he played all four years with the Wolverines and then moved one state over to the Browns. He missed the first 17 days of his rookie training camp in contract negotiations before agreeing on a 5-year, $40 million deal with $20 million guaranteed dollars. By the ‘06 season he was in the starting lineup and then had the best season of his career in ‘07 with 1,289 receiving yards and a spot in the Pro Bowl. The next season, he led the NFL in dropped passes and bad attitude. Off-field problems developed as well, including a fight with a member of LeBron James’ posse. In October ‘09 he was traded to the New York Jets. He recently signed a one-year $6.1 million tender offer as a restricted free agent. In the NFL he’s played 74 games, with 273 catches for 4,238 yards and 32 TD catches. Edwards was a disappointment in Cleveland with his inconsistent play and personality. He can salvage his career, but he needs a strong ‘10 season.
NHL-CAROLINA HURRICANES/JACK JOHNSON
A native of Indianapolis, Johnson spent his high school days in Minnesota playing hockey and went on to play for the University of Michigan. Because of his collegiate commitment, the Hurricanes traded his rights in Sept. ‘06 to the Los Angeles Kings. He signed in Mar. ‘07 with the Kings and played his first NHL game later that month. The defender has played 200 NHL games, with 17 goals, 41 assists. He was also part of the U.S. Olympic Hockey team that took the silver medal in Vancouver earlier this year. Last summer he signed a 2-year, $2,850,000 contract. So far he’s been an average performer, but Johnson has a lot of his career ahead of him.
MLB-WASHINGTON NATIONALS/RYAN ZIMMERMAN
Drafted after a three years as the starting shortstop at the University of Virginia, he signed the day he was drafted and went to Class A, then Class AA before joining the Nationals in September. Zimmerman opened the ‘06 season in the big leagues and has been there ever since. He signed a five-year, $45 million contract in April 2009. In 661 games, he has a .285 batting average with 104 home runs and 400 RBIs. Zimmerman is one of the reasons the Nationals are excited about the future.
NBA-NEW ORLEANS HORNETS/CHRIS PAUL
A North Carolina native, Paul spent two years playing at Wake Forest before he entered the NBA Draft as a 20-year old. He was an immediate hit, named the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2006 and he’s followed that up as a three-time NBA All-Star over the past three seasons. Paul has played and started in 345 games, averaging 19.3 points and 10 assists per game. Two years ago, he signed a four-year, $68 million contract extension. He’s one of the handful of best players in the NBA.
NFL-CHICAGO BEARS/CEDRIC BENSON (left)
He had a big high school career in Midland, Texas, followed by four productive years at the University of Texas. But Benson’s pro career was sidetracked immediately when he missed all of the ‘05 training camp while contract negotiations went on. After 36 days, he signed a 5-year, $35 million deal, but in three seasons in Chicago he didn’t have a combined 1,600 yards. After his second alcohol related arrest the Bears released him in June ‘08. He signed in Sept. ‘08 with Cincinnati and last year signed a 2-year, $7 million contract. In the ‘09 season, Benson had 1,251 yards on 301 carries and 6 TD runs. Over his career now, he’s run for 3,591 yards on 935 carries with 18 TD runs. A bust for the Bears, Benson’s work in Cincinnati has elevated him out of the first-round disaster dumpster.
NHL-MINNESOTA WILD/BENOIT POULIOT
The left winger grew up in Ontario and played junior hockey there. He eventually reached the NHL with the Wild in Nov. ‘06. He made some trips back and forth between the Wild and their top minor league affiliate. He was traded in Nov. ‘08 to the Canadians. Overall in 104 games with Minnesota and Montreal, he’s scored 24 goals and 18 assists. Pouliot played for $803,000 last year and is currently a restricted free agent. He has been a disappointment in his career so far, but he has time to change that profile.
MLB-MILWAUKEE BREWERS/RYAN BRAUN
After three strong seasons at the University of Miami, Braun entered the draft and ended up getting a $2.45 million signing bonus. He spent time in the Rookie Leagues, Class A, AA and AAA, reaching the Brewers in ‘07 and staying in the major leagues. He was the National League Rookie of the Year, and the next year was on the N.L. All-Star team. In ‘08, he signed an eight-year, $51 million contract extension and was named to the ‘09 N.L. All-Star team. Going into the weekend, Braun had played in 486 games, with a .307 batting average, 113 home runs and 362 RBIs. He’s one of the best younger players in the game.
NBA-CHARLOTTE BOBCATS/RAYMOND FELTON
After three seasons at the University of North Carolina, Felton celebrated a Tar Heels championship by entering the NBA Draft. As a rookie, he averaged 11.9 points per game with 5.6 assists. Over his career, the 6-1 guard has played in 399 games, with averages of 13.3 points and 6.4 assists per game. He played the past season on a one-year, $5.5 million contract and next month he will become an unrestricted free agent. He’s considered an average NBA point guard.
NFL-TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS/CADILLAC WILLIAMS
After 42 highly productive games at Auburn University, where he left his name in the school’s record book, he moved on to the Bucs, signing a 5-year, $31 million contract without a training camp holdout. That allowed Williams to get a quick start and he ended up the ‘05 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. But the next three seasons were dominated by knee injuries, including torn patellar tendons in both knees. It wasn’t until ‘09 that he again played a full season. In 54 games (he missed 26 games to injury), Williams ran 843 times for 3,240 yards and 18 TDs. As a restricted free agent he signed a 1-year, $2,303,000 tender offer in May. His inability to stay healthy has made for a disappointing career so far.
NHL-MONTREAL CANADIANS/CAREY PRICE (right)
Out of British Columbia, he had a terrific junior career in the WHL, before moving on to the AHL and finally in ‘07, getting his first taste of the NHL with the Canadians. He’s stayed there since, appearing in 93 games over the last three seasons, with a 42-28-13 record between the pipes and giving up an average of 2.71 goals per game. He was named to the NHL All-Rookie team in ‘08 and the NHL All-Star Game in ‘09. Price is currently a restricted free agent. When on his game, he’s one of the best goalies in the league, but he’s too inconsistent between the pipes.
MLB-TORONTO BLUE JAYS/RICKY ROMERO
The LA native helped Cal-Fullerton win the ‘04 College World Series. Drafted the next year, he signed for $2.1 million. Romero made the big leagues in the spring of ‘09 and has been in the Jays rotation since. The left-hander is 19-12 with a 3.87 ERA, 237 strikeouts. He’s pitching for $408,300 this season.
NBA-PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS/MARTELL WEBSTER
Drafted out of Seattle Prep High School, Webster spent part of his rookie season in the NBA Development League. In five seasons and 301 games, he’s averaged 8.5 points per game. He signed a four-year contract extension in ‘08 worth $20 million.
NFL-TENNESSEE TITANS/ADAM “PACMAN” JONES
Everyone who follows the NFL knows Pacman’s story. He missed most of his rookie training camp because of contract negotiations, eventually signing a 5-year deal that guaranteed him $13.5 million. Then came suspensions, arrests, incidents, a trade to Dallas, more arrests and incidents. He signed a 2-year deal with Cincinnati in May ‘10. In the last three seasons, Jones has played nine games.
NHL-COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS/GILBERT BRULE
He grew up in Vancouver and banged around junior hockey and the WHL before he was drafted. Brule opened he ‘05-’06 NHL season with Columbus but injuries sidelined him. He spent most of the next two seasons with the Blue Jackets before he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. NHL totals are 222 games, 31 goals, 41 assists for the center. He’s a restricted free agent after making $800,000 in ‘09-’10.
MLB – COLORADO ROCKIES/TROY TULOWITZKI (left)
Coming out of Long Beach State, he signed for $2.3 million and within a year was in the big leagues. He quickly became one of the best fielding shortstops in the majors. In January ‘08, he signed a 6-year, $31 million contract extension. Through this week, he’d played in 494 games with a .286 batting average, 74 HRs, 277 RBIs.
NBA-TORONTO RAPTORS/CHARLIE VILLANUEVA
After two years at UConn, he entered the NBA Draft and was named to the All-Rookie team. He was traded to Milwaukee the next year and after three seasons there, signed last year with Detroit for a five-year deal worth $35 million. Over his career he’s averaged 13.1 points and 6 rebounds per game.
NFL-MINNESOTA VIKINGS/TROY WILLIAMSON
One of the decades biggest first-round draft busts, Williamson struggled in three seasons with the Vikings. He was traded in ‘08 to the Jaguars and in two seasons he played in 10 games with eight catches. His career numbers: 87 catches for 1,131 yards and 4 TDs.
NHL-CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS/JACK SKILLE
After he was drafted, Skille spent two years playing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He signed in ‘07 with the Blackhawks AHL affiliate. His first NHL taste came in Dec. ‘07 and he’s bounced back and forth between the Hawks and the AHL. In 30 games, he has five goals and three assists on the right wing. He’s now a restricted free agent.
MLB-TAMPA BAY RAYS/WADE TOWNSEND
After four seasons at Rice University, he signed with the Rays for $1.5 million. That fall he had Tommy John surgery on his elbow. In ‘09 he had surgery to repair his shoulder. The Rays released him last summer and the Jays signed him but he’s not yet gotten on the mound in their system.
NBA-NEW YORK KNICKS/CHANNING FRYE
He played four years at the University of Arizona before the NBA. In that first year, he was named to the NBA All-Rookie team. Frye spent two seasons with the Knicks, then two with Portland and in ‘09 signed with Phoenix, a two-year, $3.8 million deal. Over his career Frye has averaged 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds.
NFL-ARIZONA CARDINALS/ANTREL ROLLE
A knee injury cost him most of his rookie season in ‘05 and he didn’t establish himself until ‘06. Before the ‘08 season, Rolle was moved from cornerback to safety. That’s where he played for two seasons. Due a roster bonus, in March ‘10 he was released. He signed a 5-year, $37 million deal with the Giants
NHL-SAN JOSE SHARKS/DEVIN SETOGUCHI
Drafted out of Alberta junior hockey and the Western Hockey League, he bounced back and forth between San Jose and the Sharks AHL team in Worcester, MA. In the last two seasons, he’s played 151 games for San Jose. His career numbers are 195 games, 62 goals, 56 assists playing on the right wing. In the last two seasons he’s be paid $2,465,000 but he’s now a free agency.
MLB-NEW YORK METS/MICHAEL PELFREY
Wichita State had Pelfrey for three seasons before he was drafted; he signed with the Mets with a $3.5 million signing bonus and $5.3 million in guaranteed money. He spent ‘06-07 bouncing between NY and AAA. In ‘08 he stayed with the big club. At the end of the week he was 37-33 with a 4.25 ERA and 334 strikeouts.
NBA-GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS/IKE DIOGU
Born in Buffalo and raised in Texas, Diogu’s parents came to the U.S. from Nigeria. After three years at Arizona State, he was drafted by the Warriors, traded two years later to Indiana, traded a year later to Portland and then dealt in ‘09 to Sacramento. He signed with New Orleans for the ‘09-10 season.
NFL-WASHINGTON REDSKINS/CARLOS ROGERS
He missed only a few days of his rookie training camp after signing a 5-year, $17.45 million contract. Rogers became a starter in ‘07 and has remained there. He has played in 66 games, with 345 total tackles and six INTs, one returned for a TD. He’s a restricted free agent in ‘10 but has not signed his tender over from the Redskins.
NHL-OTTAWA SENATORS/BRIAN LEE
Out of Moorhead, Minnesota, he spent two years at the University of North Dakota before hitting pro hockey in 2007-08 in the AHL. His first taste of the NHL came in March ‘08. In 82 games with Ottawa over three seasons, the defenseman has four goals and 13 assists. He signed a 2-year deal for $1.75 million. He’s just 23 years old.
MLB-DEROIT TIGERS/CAMERON MAYBIN
Drafted out of a North Carolina high school, he signed with the Tigers for a $2.65 million bonus. Maybin spent ‘06 in the minors and reached the majors in ‘07. He was traded to the Florida Marlins in Dec. ‘07 and has been up and down since. In 137 games he’s hitting .246, with 10 HRs and 36 RBIs.
NBA-LOS ANGELES LAKERS/ANDREW BYNUM
Selected straight out of St. Joseph High School in New Jersey, Bynum was 17 years old and became the youngest person to play in an NBA game later that ‘05 season. He’s averaged 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game over his career. Two years ago, he signed a 4-year extension for $57.4 million.
NFL-DETROIT LIONS/MIKE WILLIAMS
Quite possibly the decade’s biggest draft blunder, Williams played 4 seasons, 30 games and caught a total of 44 passes for 539 yards and 2 TDs. He’s not played in the last two seasons, but signed in April with the Seahawks and former college coach Pete Carroll.
NHL-VANCOUVER CANUCKS/LUC BOURDON
An offensive-minded defenseman out New Brunswick, he was 18 years old when selected by the Canucks. He spent that first year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Played in his first NHL game in Oct. ‘06 and bounced up and down to farm teams. Bourdon was killed instantly in a motorcycle crash in May ‘08.
Among the four leagues, none have figured out the process well enough to guard against busts, as every sport had them at the top of the first round. But the league with the most was the NFL. Whether that’s due to the fact the football players participate immediately on the pro level, six of the top 10 choices in the ‘05 NFL Draft have been disappointing or outright busts: Smith, Edwards, Benson, Jones, Williamson and Williams.
Among the 40 players selected only 23 are still with the organization that selected them. The NHL in Crosby and the NBA in Paul drafted superstars among their 10 selections. Eight of the 40 have been selected for the All-Star Game in their sports.
NFL and NHL picks are still in position to make something of their careers if they’ve struggled so far. The hockey players are generally a good five years younger than the football players, who are heading into what would be considered the last parts of their careers.
Only two of the 40 have lifted the championship trophy of their league: Crosby and the Penguins with the Stanley Cup in ‘09 and Bynum and the Lakers with the NBA title in ‘09 and ‘10.
The money for early draft choices in the NFL is remarkable. The second contracts in the NBA are out of this world. Baseball with arbitration and hockey’s tight salary cap and low revenues keep down the early money to draft choices.