Criminal Records and the NFL Draft: Who is the Best Pick?

Hamilton College Professor and Student Analyze NFL Draft Strategies

Released: 6-May-2014 3:15 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Hamilton College
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Citations Journal of Sports Economics

Newswise — Clinton, N.Y. - Hamilton College Professor of Economics Steve Wu and 2012 grad Kendall Weir analyzed five years of NFL draft data and discovered that the performance of NFL players who had an arrest record but no charges was better than those without an arrest and those arrested and charged performed as well as those with clean records - but they cost less. The study, Criminal Records and The Labor Market for Professional Athletes: The Case of the National Football League, is forthcoming in the Journal of Sports Economics.

The pair’s research finds that players with criminal records are being downgraded too much in the draft, and end up being a good value for the team because they outperform expectations. Weir and Wu collected data on more than 1,200 players and tracked their performance through the 2011-12 season. The results showed that players with “character concerns” were picked significantly later in the draft than otherwise similar players with no history of suspensions or run-ins with the law. In particular, players charged with a crime are picked about 15 spots (nearly half a round) later than similarly qualified players (measured by college career statistics and NFL combine results) who have no history of suspensions or legal problems. Players who were suspended for at least one game during their college career for violations of team or university rules are drafted roughly 25 spots later than otherwise similar players with clean histories.

Weir and Wu studied three categories of “character/behavior” issues:

1. Players who were arrested but not charged.
2. Players who were arrested and charged.
3. Players who were suspended for another reason (but not arrested – these are primarily due to violation of team rules, conflicts with coaches, etc.)

These were all measured against players with a “clean” record – i.e., no arrests, charges or suspensions.

“From the years we studied, the effect of categories 2 and 3 is that they are strongly downgraded in the draft, while those in category 1 are not significantly downgraded,” says Wu. “The primary measure of ‘performance’ is average games started, and using this measure, those who have been arrested but not charged perform better than those with no arrests, charges or suspensions. Players who were arrested and charged perform no better or worse than ‘clean’ players. And those who have been suspended for another reason perform significantly worse than the ‘clean’ group.”

Wu says the bottom line is that if a GM is on the fence about drafting a player who has been in trouble with the law, it’s worth taking a chance on him because the statistics show he’s likely to outperform players with no prior problems. The study is in press at the Journal of Sports Economics.


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