Imports and exports

How often do players stay with the team that drafted them? Tony Villiotti

Print This March 14, 2014, 12:05 PM EST

With free agency underway, it is difficult to keep track of all the player movement that is taking place. Long gone are the days when you could buy your favorite players jersey, secure in the knowledge that he would likely play his entire career in your city.

One aspect of player movement that has intrigued me since the early days of free agency is whether certain teams serve as suppliers of talent for the rest of league, either because they draft better and have surplus talent or because, for whatever reason, they lose players in free agency. This article will address this issue using the 2013 season as the “laboratory”. Before jumping to the answer, the issue must be placed in its proper perspective.

Games started will be used as the chief metric in this article. For the 2013 season, there were a total of 11,264 games started (32 teams times 16 games times 22 starting positions). Here is a summary of those starts:

This article will focus only on drafted players. It is simply too difficult to track the movements of undrafted players. Many try out for several teams before “making it” in the NFL, so which team would qualify as their original team (and can I identify that team with the information available to me)? Rather than cloud the analysis, I will stick just with drafted players. It is worth noting, though, that theRaiders (127), Patriots (107), and Packers (100) accounted for about 18% of all 2013 starts by undrafted players. The average per team is 59 starts so these teams are about double the average.

As a first order of business, I reviewed 2013 season data to determine (1) where drafted players came from as measured in number of starts and (2) how many of those starts were made for the team that originally drafted a player. The following table shows that information for each NFL team. The columns labeled “Tot” shows the number of games started by draftees of each team. As you can see the columns add to 9390 and equals the subtotal from the above table. The columns labeled “Own” represent the number of 2013 games started by players for teams that drafted them. The columns add to 6389 and equal the number of games reported in the preceding table.

The above table shows that the Steelers are well ahead of the rest of the league in both categories. As a long-time (40+ years) Steelers season ticket holder, I am rather surprised to see the Steelers position. While they still carry the reputation as a good drafting team, recent Steelers drafts have been mediocre at best. There are no surprises at the very bottom of the standings, as both the Raiders and Redskins would have been logical guesses. I was somewhat surprised, though, to see the Bears and Giants so close to the bottom.

With the context established, I next turned my attention to the supplier question raised earlier in the article. The first part of the question was really answered in the first table in this article. That table shows that 3001 games were started by players for teams other than the one that drafted them, showing that there are indeed suppliers and purchasers in the league.

The final table below provides the missing piece of the puzzle as it identifies the teams that were net importers or exporters of talent.

The net exporter and exporter designations are described below:

• Net Exporter
  -Game started for others by players they drafted > games started for them by players drafted by others
• Net Importer
  -Games started for them by players drafted by others > games started for others by players they drafted

The following table shows the number of starts “exported” versus the number of starts “imported” with teams sorted by the net of the two numbers. A positive number in the net column indicates that a team is a net exporter and a number in parentheses indicates a team is a net importer.

This information shows that the Steelers were the league’s top net exporter in 2013, followed by the Panthers, Dolphins, Cowboys and Packers. The biggest importers of talent from other teams for 2013 were the Bears, Redskins, Vikings, Giants and Colts.

The Steelers top ranking is primarily a function of their league-low number of “imports” as they rank only fifth in the number of starts exported, behind the Panthers, the Dolphins, the Cowboys and the Jaguars.

The Bears rank as the leading net importer while ranking second (behind the Colts) in total number of starts imported. The Redskins trail the Bears as a net importer and rank fourth (behind the Colts, Bears and Cardinals) in total number of starts imported.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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