|If the NFL had an NBA-style draft lottery, Andrew Luck might've been holding up a different jersey in April.|
The future of 14 NBA franchises rode on the random bounces of ping-pong balls Wednesday night in the league's annual draft lottery. The New Orleans Hornets' lucky numbers came up, so they now possess the first overall pick in the NBA draft on June 28 and will likely use it to secure the services of Kentucky's shot-blocking National Player of the Year, Anthony Davis.
In fact, the top three selections in each year's draft are determined by the lottery, which unveils the picks in reverse order to increase suspense. The 14 teams that miss the playoffs each year hope to not hear their names called until their original spot is passed -- which indicates they've drawn a spot in the top three.
Now, imagine for a moment that the National Football League had used a similar lottery system to set its draft order in April -- and that the results of the lottery mirrored those that unfolded in the NBA on Wednesday night.
The Cleveland Browns were assigned the fourth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft based on their 4-12 record and a weaker strength of schedule than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who posted the same record. If they had the same "Luck" as the Hornets -- who had the fourth-best odds in Wednesday's lottery -- Stanford's highly rated quarterback would likely be suiting up for the Browns.
With the second pick, the Indianapolis Colts would have probably selected Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III as the quarterback to replace Peyton Manning. The St. Louis Rams would have, therefore, lost out on the three premium picks (2012 second-rounder, 2013 and 2014 first-rounders) received from the Redskins in the huge pre-draft trade that eventually brought RG3 to Washington.
Using the results of past NBA draft lotteries to project the effects on NFL drafts in the same year shows us more examples of how quickly the league's landscape would have changed under that system.
Despite having only the eighth-worst record in the league, the Los Angeles Clippers won last year's NBA draft lottery (though they had traded the pick to Cleveland earlier as a way of dumping the salary of guard Baron Davis). The Tennessee Titans were in the eighth position of the 2011 NFL Draft, and would have had an interesting choice of whether to take quarterback Jake Locker, whom they ended up picking at eight, or Heisman winner Cam Newton, who was often compared with the disappointing Vince Young -- the Titans' last early first-round pick at the position.
San Diego originally had the third overall pick in the 1998 draft before trading into the No. 2 spot to select one of the class' elite quarterback prospects. If they had won the lottery like the Clippers did that spring -- despite having the league's third-worst record -- and decided to pick future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning over the troubled Ryan Leaf, the futures of the Chargers and Colts would have started down completely different roads.
In just two of many more potential game-changers if the NFL and NBA lotteries had parallel results, Green Bay could've locked up star pass rusher Mario Williams in the 2006 draft after one of its two poor seasons over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, the Redskins could have picked receiver Calvin Johnson in 2007 to help their first-round pick from two years earlier, Jason Campbell -- who might still be the quarterback in Washington with "Megatron" on his side.
These examples make it clear an NFL draft lottery would have long-ranging effects on the makeup of individual teams, but would there be any league-wide benefits?
It would certainly add interest to the draft, which is already the top offseason event in American sports. An NFL Draft Lottery Special would be a highly rated prime-time event the league could televise after the Super Bowl and before the NFL Scouting Combine.
Some argue a lottery would prevent teams from tanking late-season games, or from failing to improve their team down the stretch, in order to get one of the draft's top selections. The "Suck for Luck" meme that spawned last fall raised the possibility of some teams potentially not doing their best so they could be in the hunt for a quarterback whom some considered the best overall college prospect at the position since John Elway or Manning.
The work ethic, pride and talent of NFL teams make it quite unlikely that they would choose to lose to secure the services of an unproven rookie -- even one as talented as Luck. And regardless, the existence of a lottery would not eliminate the potential for a team to "let up" late in the year, either, as losing would still improve any team's chances at getting a top pick.
Slight changes could be made to the NBA's system so that pro football's worst teams are less likely to be "cheated" by the cold hand of fate. The Charlotte Bobcats, a historically bad team winning just seven of 66 games this season, had only a 25 percent chance of getting the top pick. Assigning this relatively low number of chances in the lottery pool to the team with the worst record has prevented their receiving the No. 1 pick in all but two of the past 21 drafts (Cleveland's selection of LeBron James in 2003, Orlando's pick of Dwight Howard in 2004). An increase in the worst team's probability of winning to 40 or 50 percent would change that trend (while admittedly reducing the excitement of the event).
There's also no denying that chance already plays a big part in the draft, as the history of top picks in either sport shows. For every LeBron James and Derrick Rose, Manning and Troy Aikman, there is a Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown, a Leaf and JaMarcus Russell. Winning the lottery is only Step 1 -- you also have to make the right pick. For example, the Portland Trail Blazers moved from sixth to first in the 2007 NBA draft lottery, but picked injury-cursed center Greg Oden over superstar Kevin Durant.
Even if a lottery adds interest and prevents the unlikely event that a team would throw games, the potential for the NFL's rich to get richer might outweigh any benefits.
In the 2011 draft, the consistent Super Bowl-contending New England Patriots picked 17th in the first round because they had acquired the Oakland Raiders' selection in a trade for defensive lineman Richard Seymour. If all of the non-playoff teams would have had a chance at the No. 1 pick, Bill Belichick and his perennially successful squad could have nabbed pass rusher Von Miller, defensive lineman Marcell Dareus or talented receiver A.J. Green.
You might say that sort of occurrence is a long shot, but four teams with less than a five percent chance of winning the NBA lottery have beaten the odds over the past 20 years. In 1993, Orlando won the lottery despite having only a one-in-66 chance at landing top pick Chris Webber (a selection the Magic traded to Golden State). Long shots happen.
Another, more likely scenario is a very talented team having a below-average season due to injuries/suspensions to key personnel. The 2012 Saints might be a perfect example if unable to overcome their Bountygate suspensions. Their ability to grab an impact player high in the draft because their numbers came up in a random drawing would not help achieve the league's goal of competitive balance -- one of the main reasons for its wild popularity in recent years.
An NFL draft lottery would also open up the league to the same claims that the event's results are "fixed" which have hounded the NBA since the New York Knicks won the chance to take center Patrick Ewing in 1985, the first year of the lottery system.
The fact the Hornets won the No. 1 pick this year will do nothing to quiet those critics; the league has been running that team for more than a year due to its financial troubles, and will almost certainly be accused by some of hooking up soon-to-be owner Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL's Saints. Of course, that argument is ridiculous, but no matter how transparent the NFL would be about the process, there would always be questions about its integrity. Trading the silly "Suck for Luck" debate for a league-wide conspiracy theory would not be a win.
So, despite the short-term interest an NFL Draft Lottery Show would certainly bring -- as evidenced by the publicity the NBA received during its event last night -- there is not a lot of upside to changing an already-successful formula that helps aspiring teams gain talent and gives their fans an immediate injection of hope after a dismal season.
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter