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10 May 2016

What Does the NFL Draft Really Produce? (Part II)

by Scott Kacsmar

In Part I of our study on the 1994-1999 NFL drafts, it was important for every player to be retired so that we had complete career data to analyze. But those results were largely determined by the types of careers those players went on to have, wherever they played. As far as their value to the team that actually drafted them, we have to focus on the years spent with that team.

There are many interesting players who switched teams before accumulating most of their value. La'Roi Glover was one of the best draft steals from this era, but does anyone even remember him as a fifth-round pick of the Raiders in 1996? He played in just two games for Oakland before helping the Barcelona Dragons win the World Bowl in 1997 in the World League of American Football. A day after Oakland waived him, he found a new home with New Orleans and soon made six consecutive Pro Bowls. Former Saints president/general manager Bill Kuharich said Glover "turned out to be the greatest waiver claim in the history of the Saints." With so many of these steals, the drafting team never really knew what it had in the player it selected.

Does a team or general manager still deserve credit for drafting a player that only pans out with another team? Discussion of this on Twitter was mixed last week. For starters, it is difficult to know exactly who to judge on these draft decisions. The GM could have properly identified a talent capable of playing in this league, but his coaching staff may have botched the development process with that player. Sometimes, the owner goes over everyone's head to ensure he gets the player he wants. Other times, the player does not work out since the players ahead of him are too good, such as Mike Vrabel's time in Pittsburgh before he became a starting linebacker with New England. But in the case of Glover, it would seem like a big stretch to credit the Raiders with that find.

Fortunately, we do have the data that separates a player's contributions to his drafted team from the rest of his career.

Drafted Team Value vs. Career Value

We are again using Pro-Football-Reference's weighted career Approximate Value (AV) metric, which conveniently is broken down into a "DrAV" column that shows just the AV the player accumulated for his drafted team. I also broke down each player's career by how many seasons, games played, and games started he accumulated with his drafted team (DfTm). This includes second stints when the player found himself back where it all started. For players drafted by the 1994-95 Browns, time spent with the Ravens was included since the Browns became the Ravens in 1996.

NFL Draft: Career vs. Draft Team Splits
Draft CarAV DrAV Pct. Career XP DfTm XP Games Starts DfTm Games DfTm Starts
1994 4098 2631 64.2% 5.8 3.4 68.1 37.6 41.5 24.0
1995 4143 2780 67.1% 5.4 3.3 60.8 35.0 37.6 22.3
1996 4893 3230 66.0% 5.6 3.4 66.6 40.1 42.0 25.1
1997 4343 2889 66.5% 5.6 3.4 65.7 37.0 40.9 23.5
1998 4579 2937 64.1% 5.7 3.4 64.6 39.8 40.4 25.0
1999 4252 2739 64.4% 5.7 3.3 63.8 35.1 38.8 21.7
TOT 26308 17206 65.4% 5.6 3.4 64.9 37.4 40.2 23.6

Consistently, we find just over 65 percent of a player's career value will be realized by his drafted team, which lasts an average of just 3.4 seasons. The average career is just under six seasons, so we looked at how many players lasted six-plus seasons with their drafted team, as well as those who lasted a decade and also fewer than four seasons.

NFL Draft: Years of Drafted Team Experience by Draft
Draft Players 6+ DfTm XP Pct. 10+ DfTm XP Pct. <4 DfTm XP Pct.
1994 222 41 18.5% 10 4.5% 118 53.2%
1995 249 45 18.1% 7 2.8% 139 55.8%
1996 254 47 18.5% 15 5.9% 142 55.9%
1997 240 40 16.7% 12 5.0% 133 55.4%
1998 241 41 17.0% 16 6.6% 136 56.4%
1999 253 40 15.8% 11 4.3% 145 57.3%
TOT 1459 254 17.4% 71 4.9% 813 55.7%

To last six years or longer, you are looking at a second contract with your drafted team. Not many players ever get that far, with fewer than 19 percent in each draft doing so. The "decade-long franchise player" is really just a 1-in-20 pipe dream. More than half of the players fail to make it to a fourth season with their drafted team, but let's look at this by round.

NFL Draft: Career vs. Draft Team Splits by Round
Round CarAV DrAV Pct. Career XP DfTm XP Games Starts DfTm Games DfTm Starts
1 8894 6381 71.7% 9.2 6.0 120.9 100.8 80.8 69.0
2 5354 3712 69.3% 7.7 4.8 96.8 62.8 63.3 41.5
3 3948 2713 68.7% 6.3 4.0 73.1 38.2 48.7 25.7
4 2768 1528 55.2% 5.5 3.0 61.1 27.6 33.6 14.8
5 2094 1150 54.9% 4.5 2.6 47.9 20.5 27.7 10.9
6 1626 863 53.1% 3.8 2.1 39.7 15.3 22.0 8.1
7 1624 859 52.9% 3.4 1.8 32.5 12.9 17.6 6.5

Again, the first three rounds make up roughly the top 100 picks, and that is where most of the value comes from in a draft. The first three rounds collect more than two-thirds of their value from the drafted team, while there is a clear drop in the final four rounds.

NFL Draft: By Round Splits
Round Players 6+ DfTm XP Pct. 10+ DfTm XP Pct. <4 DfTm XP Pct.
1 182 78 42.9% 26 14.3% 34 18.7%
2 190 51 26.8% 16 8.4% 51 26.8%
3 207 48 23.2% 13 6.3% 103 49.8%
4 204 21 10.3% 2 1.0% 118 57.8%
5 201 22 10.9% 2 1.0% 142 70.6%
6 223 20 9.0% 5 2.2% 164 73.5%
7 252 14 5.6% 7 2.8% 201 79.8%

Third-round picks have nearly double the departure rate before a fourth season than that of second-round picks, which was a little surprising. Only a fifth of seventh-round picks made it four seasons with their drafted team, though we did see 12 players drafted in Rounds 6 or 7 last a decade, compared to four from Rounds 4 or 5. If a team hits on a player that late, he is usually going to stick around for a long time. Think of Tom Brady and Antonio Brown as current examples. They are the best at their position from the later rounds in drafts this century. Speaking of positions, here is the next table.

NFL Draft: Career vs. Draft Team Splits by Position
Position CarAV DrAV Pct. Career XP DfTm XP Games Starts DfTm Games DfTm Starts
WR 3031 2145 70.8% 5.0 3.1 57.8 31.8 36.9 21.7
OL 5705 3897 68.3% 6.2 3.8 68.4 50.5 44.2 33.2
RB 2490 1688 67.8% 5.1 3.2 58.5 26.7 38.7 17.8
LB 4028 2711 67.3% 5.5 3.4 67.7 37.3 42.7 23.9
TE 678 456 67.3% 6.1 3.7 74.1 38.3 46.3 24.1
QB 1251 807 64.5% 6.1 3.3 43.7 33.6 26.3 20.4
DB 4451 2856 64.2% 5.6 3.4 68.7 37.3 42.1 23.2
DL 4482 2585 57.7% 5.5 3.2 64.4 38.6 37.0 21.4
P 110 38 34.5% 7.2 2.8 98.2 0.0 38.5 0.0
K 82 23 28.0% 6.6 1.9 77.4 0.0 23.9 0.0

From Part I, wide receivers looked like the riskiest position in which to invest, but they distribute their value to their drafted team the best with each draft producing at least 63.6 percent DrAV. This might support the idea that a lot of a wide receiver's success is quarterback dependent, so when the player leaves for a different situation, he has a hard time continuing his production unless he is an all-time great in the Terrell Owens mold. The defensive line is a much different story, with 63.2 percent DrAV being their high mark in the six drafts. The 1996 draft saw just 49 percent of the defensive line's career AV go to its drafted team, which of course includes the La'Roi Glover example from earlier. Then again, the legendary Reggie White was the first premiere free agent in 1993, and it is a position known for monster paydays in March, as we have seen this year with Malik Jackson and the Jaguars, and Olivier Vernon and the Giants.

The following chart shows the DrAV percentage by round and position, ranging from highest (dark green) to lowest (dark red). Again, fifth-round quarterbacks produced no AV because only two players qualified. We tossed the 17 kickers/punters from the data.

Quarterbacks and linemen are among the highest-paid positions, so it is not surprising to see them peak in Round 1. Everything from this era is above 60 percent in the first three rounds except for second-round linebackers and third-round running backs. You can see how defensive line really separates itself from the pack, with each of the last three rounds under 40 percent. Quarterback is the only other position with more than one round under 40 percent. Among the six entries above 80 percent, wide receivers have three of them. The peak in Round 7 is essentially all due to Donald Driver's 14-year career with Green Bay. None of the other 28 seventh-round wide receivers caught 75 passes in their career.

Draft Results: By Draft Class

Our next section is probably the one some have been waiting for the most. Which teams owned the draft in 1994-1999? Who blew it? I will start by saying we are not trying to do a true draft grade here, because that would have to include information such as trades and team need at the time. You cannot hammer the Colts for passing on Curtis Martin in 1995 when they picked Marshall Faulk in 1994. You might be able to hammer the Bengals for using the first pick on Ki-Jana Carter and missing on Martin in the third to draft Melvin Tuten, but this is not the "what if?" piece.

There were 179 team-draft classes in 1994-1999, and we will take a few different looks at the most and least productive. One big idea that was ultimately discarded was using an expected AV metric to quantify each pick, but the available research was not compatible with what we had collected in this post-draft, pre-FOA time crunch. Chase Stuart's AV-adjusted draft value chart only covers a player's first five seasons, while this 2011 piece from the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective was based on data from 1980-2005. Finally, Pro-Football-Reference itself has an average AV for each draft position, but that is based on data through 2008, so it obviously is subject to change. It is also not normalized, so you end up with the 199th pick averaging 12 AV thanks to Tom Brady, but the 198th pick is only 6 AV. We should never punish a team for not finding a Brady-level player at 199, so that is ultimately why I decided to scrap any expected AV measurement for now.

For reference, in this time Denver had the lowest average pick at 139, while the Rams were the highest at 110. The correlation between pick number and career AV was minus-0.48, which looks like such a typical draft result. Of course draft position matters, but it is not everything.

Most Games Played and Started

First, we will look at the draft classes based on full career totals rather than the specific draft team figures from above. The next table looks at the most years of experience, as well as the most games played and started. For this time period, we will just refer to the Rams as "STL" and Raiders as "OAK" since those teams left Los Angeles in 1995. The Houston Oilers will also just be listed as "TEN" to group together with Tennessee.

Most Years of Experience Most Games Played Most Games Started
Rk Team Draft Career XP Rk Team Draft Games Rk Team Draft Starts
1 CHI 1999 84 1 TB 1997 1175 1 TB 1997 772
2 TB 1997 82 2 DEN 1999 957 2 CIN 1998 677
3 DEN 1999 80 3 CHI 1999 924 3 NE 1995 650
3 BUF 1995 80 4 SF 1994 922 3 KC 1996 650
5 MIA 1997 77 5 KC 1996 906 5 DAL 1998 589
6 NE 1996 75 6 NE 1996 903 6 CAR 1995 581
7 KC 1996 73 7 PIT 1999 881 7 NE 1996 576
7 GB 1999 73 8 MIA 1997 878 8 STL 1994 568
9 PIT 1999 72 9 CIN 1998 866 9 STL 1996 549
10 PIT 1995 70 10 GB 1995 861 10 MIA 1997 537
11 GB 1995 69 11 PIT 1998 860 11 CHI 1999 532
11 STL 1996 69 12 PIT 1995 858 12 GB 1995 524
11 STL 1994 69 13 GB 1999 854 13 SEA 1994 510
Most Years of Experience Most Games Played Most Games Started
Rk Team Draft Career XP Rk Team Draft Games Rk Team Draft Starts
11 PHI 1997 69 14 BUF 1996 837 14 BUF 1999 507
15 SF 1994 67 15 MIN 1994 833 15 ATL 1999 499
15 PIT 1998 67 16 CHI 1998 806 16 PIT 1998 496
15 PIT 1994 67 16 MIA 1996 806 17 BAL 1996 492
18 CHI 1998 66 18 STL 1996 791 18 MIN 1994 490
18 MIA 1996 66 18 NYG 1997 791 19 MIN 1998 488
20 BUF 1996 65 20 STL 1994 784 20 MIA 1996 483
20 CAR 1995 65 20 CAR 1995 784 21 CIN 1994 480
22 MIN 1994 64 22 PHI 1997 781 22 MIN 1995 479
22 CIN 1998 64 23 DAL 1998 779 23 BAL 1997 476
24 DAL 1998 63 24 BUF 1995 777 24 TB 1995 472
24 JAC 1995 63 25 SEA 1994 776 25 PIT 1995 469

There were 179 choices for which draft class would produce the most years of NFL experience, but we probably could have easily gone through 120 guesses before anyone came up with the 1999 Bears. It is pretty amazing to be on top when Cade McNown was your first pick and no one accumulated 50 career AV, but this just shows that service is not a great indicator of quality.

The team that really did an amazing job here was Tampa Bay in 1997, finding players that played in 1,175 NFL games, or 218 more than the runner-up. Stars of that group include first-rounder Warrick Dunn and third-round steal Ronde Barber. The difference between the Buccaneers and second-place Denver is larger than the difference between Denver and 30th-ranked Philadelphia (746 games from its 1998 draft). Each of the first eight players drafted by Tampa Bay played in at least 73 games, and seven of them played at least 109 games. Rich McKay was general manager at the time, and starting with the great 1995 draft that produced two Hall of Famers (Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks), he really helped turn the Buccaneers into a contender and eventual Super Bowl champion in 2002. McKay is also credited with hiring Tony Dungy in 1996 to get this talent producing on the field.

There were 23 draft classes that produced fewer than 300 games played. Let's turn our attention to the least-productive classes.

Fewest Years of Experience Fewest Games Played Fewest Games Started
Rk Team Draft Career XP Rk Team Draft Games Rk Team Draft Starts
157 ATL 1996 29 157 NYJ 1994 298 157 WAS 1996 143
157 DEN 1995 29 158 DEN 1997 296 158 NYG 1998 131
159 OAK 1995 28 159 DAL 1995 283 159 NE 1997 126
159 SD 1997 28 159 DET 1996 283 160 SD 1999 123
159 NO 1995 28 161 SEA 1999 282 161 SF 1997 122
159 NYG 1998 28 162 SD 1999 278 162 BUF 1998 114
159 DET 1997 28 163 CLE 1994 277 163 CIN 1995 113
159 KC 1995 28 164 NYG 1998 271 164 DEN 1995 111
165 DAL 1995 27 165 CAR 1998 268 165 BAL 1998 110
166 SF 1996 26 166 SD 1996 253 166 MIA 1999 100
166 SD 1999 26 167 BAL 1998 252 167 SEA 1999 99
168 BUF 1998 25 167 CHI 1997 252 168 DET 1997 86
169 DEN 1997 24 169 DEN 1995 250 169 CAR 1998 85
Fewest Years of Experience Fewest Games Played Fewest Games Started
Rk Team Draft Career XP Rk Team Draft Games Rk Team Draft Starts
169 SD 1996 24 170 DET 1997 237 170 NO 1999 83
169 ATL 1994 24 171 WAS 1996 223 171 ATL 1996 78
172 DET 1996 23 172 ATL 1994 213 172 CHI 1995 76
173 CLE 1994 22 173 KAN 1995 204 172 SD 1996 76
173 WAS 1996 22 174 BUF 1998 202 174 CHI 1997 75
175 SF 1997 17 175 SF 1997 193 175 SF 1995 72
176 SD 1998 16 176 SF 1995 152 176 SD 1998 64
177 CLE 1995 15 177 NO 1999 147 177 DAL 1995 57
178 SF 1995 14 178 SD 1998 114 178 KC 1995 53
179 NO 1999 13 179 CLE 1995 113 179 CLE 1995 24

Yes, Mike Ditka and the Saints went crazy by trading their entire draft to the Redskins in 1999 to draft Ricky Williams with the No. 5 pick. Every other draft took at least three players. While Williams had a prolific career, he spent just 38 games with the Saints before getting traded to Miami in 2002. Coincidentally enough, the Dolphins had the largest draft class in this period with 14 players chosen in 1997. Yatil Green was an often-injured, first-round bust, but Sam Madison, Jason Taylor and Derrick Rodgers were very good picks for the defense.

Perhaps the ultimate stinker class may be what the Browns did in 1995 fresh off a playoff win. The shock of moving the team to Baltimore the following year did not come until during the season, but in the draft, Bill Belichick and company came up empty with six players that produced just 113 games and 24 starts in their NFL careers. Craig Powell was a first-round linebacker out of Ohio State, but he never cracked a starting lineup and appeared in just 14 games. Eric Zeier was a forgettable backup quarterback, Mike Frederick was mostly a reserve defensive lineman, and the last three picks failed to play a game in the NFL. Belichick and Michael Lombardi moved on in 1996, but the new Ravens did retain Ozzie Newsome, Phil Savage, and Scott Pioli in the front office. That group collaborated to draft Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis in the first round of Baltimore's first draft, starting things off in Maryland with two Hall of Famers. To think that was on the heels of such an embarrassing draft just goes to show how little anyone truly knows about how this thing works.

The number of picks used in a draft can obviously have a big impact on these totals, so here is a quick look at the teams with the highest and lowest averages of games played or started.

Highest Average Games Played Highest Average Games Started
Rk Team Draft Picks Games AVG Rk Team Draft Picks Starts AVG
1 SEA 1994 5 776 155.2 1 SEA 1994 5 510 102.0
2 NO 1999 1 147 147.0 2 NE 1995 7 650 92.9
3 DEN 1994 5 599 119.8 3 DEN 1997 3 259 86.3
4 TB 1997 10 1175 117.5 4 NO 1999 1 83 83.0
5 SF 1994 8 922 115.3 5 TB 1997 10 772 77.2
6 BAL 1999 4 431 107.8 6 SEA 1997 5 377 75.4
7 NE 1995 7 752 107.4 7 CIN 1998 9 677 75.2
8 MIN 1994 8 833 104.1 8 BAL 1999 4 299 74.8
9 CHI 1998 8 806 100.8 9 KC 1996 9 650 72.2
10 KC 1996 9 906 100.7 10 BAL 1996 7 492 70.3
Lowest Average Games Played Lowest Average Games Started
Rk Team Draft Picks Games AVG Rk Team Draft Picks Starts AVG
170 CAR 1998 8 268 33.5 170 NYJ 1998 12 148 12.3
171 SD 1995 13 424 32.6 171 SD 1998 6 64 10.7
172 SD 1996 8 253 31.6 172 CAR 1998 8 85 10.6
173 ATL 1994 7 213 30.4 173 SD 1996 8 76 9.5
174 DAL 1995 10 283 28.3 174 DET 1997 10 86 8.6
175 KC 1995 8 204 25.5 175 CHI 1995 9 76 8.4
176 CHI 1997 10 252 25.2 176 CHI 1997 10 75 7.5
177 DET 1997 10 237 23.7 177 KC 1995 8 53 6.6
178 SD 1998 6 114 19.0 178 DAL 1995 10 57 5.7
179 CLE 1995 6 113 18.8 179 CLE 1995 6 24 4.0

The 1994 Seahawks went for quality over quantity, picking up two standouts in Sam Adams and Kevin Mawae, though both may be known better for their work elsewhere. The 1997 Buccaneers were the only team to use double-digit picks and still maintain an average of over 100 games played as well as 70 starts.

San Diego looks pretty bad here with three of the bottom nine draft classes, showing they made more screw-ups than just Ryan Leaf in 1998, but we'll have more on the Chargers in Part III.

All-Pros and Pro Bowls

I did not keep track of whether or not the player made a first-team All-Pro or Pro Bowl with his drafted team or if it was later in his career. With that said, the 1996 Ravens lead all classes with 12 All-Pro seasons and three All-Pro players. You know about Lewis and Ogden, but fifth-round pick Jermaine Lewis was a standout punt returner in 1998. The next closest team was those 1995 Buccaneers, with their duo of Sapp and Brooks combining for nine All-Pros. The only other drafts to produce multiple All-Pro players were the 1995 Patriots (Curtis Martin and Ty Law), 1995 Packers (Antonio Freeman and William Henderson) and 1997 Dolphins (Sam Madison and Jason Taylor). A total of 66 draft classes (36.9 percent) produced at least one All-Pro season.

A total of 117 draft classes (65.4 percent) produced at least one Pro Bowler. The 1996 Ravens (26) and 1995 Buccaneers (18) also lead the way in career Pro Bowl appearances. The 1998 Colts finished tied for third at 14 thanks solely to drafting Peyton Manning first overall. Two teams were able to draft four Pro Bowl players. In addition to Henderson and Freeman, the 1995 Packers selected Travis Jervey and Adam Timmerman. All four players made one Pro Bowl in their careers, and Timmerman made his with the Rams. The 1998 Eagles ended up with a haul of Tra Thomas, Jeremiah Trotter, Allen Rossum and Ike Reese. Rossum made his Pro Bowl on special teams with Atlanta in 2004.

Approximate Value

The average draft class produced 147 career AV. A total of 15 draft classes produced at least 250 AV, while 15 draft classes failed to crack 60 AV. Here are those top and bottom teams.

Most Career AV Lowest Career AV
Rk Team Draft CarAV Rk Team Draft CarAV
1 TB 1997 374 165 SD 1997 59
2 NE 1995 314 166 SEA 1999 55
3 KC 1996 302 167 CHI 1997 47
4 BAL 1996 297 168 ATL 1996 46
5 TB 1995 295 169 CAR 1998 46
6 MIA 1997 291 170 MIA 1999 45
7 NE 1996 274 171 SF 1995 44
8 IND 1998 270 172 SD 1996 44
9 CIN 1998 266 173 DET 1997 43
10 MIA 1996 264 174 KC 1995 42
11 PIT 1998 260 175 SD 1999 34
12 GB 1999 257 176 DAL 1995 33
13 MIN 1998 255 177 SF 1997 24
14 CAR 1995 254 178 SD 1998 15
15 DAL 1998 251 179 CLE 1995 15

Tampa Bay looks pretty good with two top-five classes, but what about the production for the Buccaneers? A player like Warrick Dunn did some of his best work for Atlanta, after all. That is where DrAV comes in, only looking at the AV for the player's drafted team. The average draft class produced 96.1 DrAV.

Most Draft AV Lowest Draft AV
Rk Team Draft DrAV Rk Team Draft DrAV
1 BAL 1996 291 165 BAL 1998 37
2 TB 1995 264 166 OAK 1994 33
3 TB 1997 239 167 KC 1995 32
4 MIA 1997 238 168 DAL 1995 31
5 PIT 1998 237 169 SD 1996 29
6 MIA 1996 222 170 NO 1999 26
7 IND 1998 201 171 MIA 1999 26
8 NE 1996 187 172 CIN 1999 25
9 NYG 1997 185 173 CHI 1997 23
10 TEN 1995 182 174 SD 1999 23
11 PIT 1999 181 175 CLE 1995 15
12 PHI 1998 179 176 ATL 1996 13
13 DAL 1998 175 177 SF 1997 13
14 PHI 1999 175 178 MIA 1995 9
15 NE 1995 172 179 SD 1998 5

It is tough to argue with any draft class that gives you two Hall of Famers, which is what pushed the 1996 Ravens and 1995 Buccaneers ahead of the 1997 Buccaneers. Only one other team ever drafted more Hall of Famers in one year: the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers, who had four. Also impressive are the back-to-back drafts from the Patriots (1995-96), Dolphins (1996-97), Steelers (1998-99), and Eagles (1998-99). That type of repeated success is hard to pull off, as were the back-to-back bottom-six failures for San Diego (1998-99).

In Part III of this series, we will conclude with a look at the cumulative team results for the 1994-1999 drafts, including the one team that had less than 50 percent DrAV. Any guesses? We will also offer a downloadable spreadsheet of this data. It is a lot to present here with 179 classes and 1,459 players.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 10 May 2016

4 comments, Last at 11 May 2016, 4:01pm by duh

Comments

1
by lightsout85 :: Tue, 05/10/2016 - 8:13pm

God, those 90s Chargers were a barren decade.

2
by GwillyGecko :: Wed, 05/11/2016 - 9:08am

My guess for the one with more than 50% AV away from the team is the 1995 Jets draft. Kyle Brady left after 4 years and had a long career in Jacksonville and Hugh Douglas was traded after 3 years.

3
by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 05/11/2016 - 12:28pm

Actually, I meant one team over the whole 6-year period had under 50% AV from their draft picks. It was a mediocre team in this time.

4
by duh :: Wed, 05/11/2016 - 4:01pm

I'd guess the Patriots as Law, Milloy, Martin and Woody off the top of my head all had many productive (in some cases VERY productive) years after leaving the team.