Projecting NFL Potential from College Career Performance Curve

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Brian Lehman, Co-Founder & VP Visionist, Inc.


Everyone attempts to determine which college football players will succeed at the next level. This paper takes a novel approach to projecting true NFL potential. Our unique foundation comes from an adaptation of the proven Elo rating system. We create player ratings that evaluate game performance while also accounting for strength of opponent. Over the last ten draft years, our college level player Elo ratings alone identified players whose performance value in the NFL was roughly equivalent to those drafted. We use our player performance curves as the basis for projecting NFL potential.

Nowhere is a draft pick more salient than when looking for a franchise player. A great franchise quarterback is indispensable. Conversely, a poor first round choice can be catastrophic to an organization. Early picks are costly. Even with the high stakes and considerable resources invested in getting it right, the NFL draft is still a gamble. Skill levels vary widely across college football and the sample size to evaluate talent is small. This makes predicting NFL future performance difficult.

This paper introduces a player rating system that helps level the skill-diverse college football landscape. Our normalized player performance metrics enable quantitative player comparisons previously unavailable. Our approach generates player performance curves from these game-by-game metrics, providing a visual representation of a player’s career progression. We identify players with a similar development experience and use them as a model to project future performance.