Offense or Defense: What Do You Draft?

NFL draft

Quarterbacks always have the inside track when it comes to being selected at the top of the draft board. But that aside, do NFL teams favor one side of the ball or the other when drafting? Do teams prefer to load up at a position early in the draft and then ignore that position later in the draft, or vice versa? This article addresses those issues through the examination of the 2005 through 2014 drafts.

Offense vs. Defense

While there might be short-term fluctuations due to supply or demand at a position, over time it is reasonable to expect that number of offense players and defensive players drafted should be about even. When looking at the 2005-2014 drafts that does turn out to be the case. Of the 2501 non-kickers drafted, our count is that 1245 were offensive players and 1256 were defensive players. That’s about as even as you can get.

There are more significant variances on a team-by-team basis. Certain teams, even over a 10-year period, do show at least some indication of bias on one side of the ball or the other. A short-term bias is certainly understandable as a team looks to plug holes wherever they exist. Over a 10-year period, though, all that should even out and it may come to a team’s drafting strategy or pure chance.

The following table shows the percentage of offensive draftees for each NFL team for 2005-2014.

The ends of the spectrum are the Jets taking offensive players with 58% of its selections and, on the other end, the Falcons taking defensive players with 60% of its choices. Is the variance from the average a matter of a team’s strategy or is it just random based on a team’s draft board and the players available? It is impossible to say without being in the draft room or being part of a team’s management.

The first three rounds of the draft produce most of the starters in a draft class. Over those three rounds, the numbers historically lean slightly toward defense, but it is still a relatively even split with about 49% of the draftees being offensive players versus 51% on defense. The team distribution changes, though, indicating that some teams favor one side of the ball in the first three rounds and then the other side in the final four rounds. Here is the chart as previously shown, but for the first three rounds only and with the scale slightly changed to accommodate the 49%/51% split.

The extremes for the first three rounds are the 49ers with 59% of its selections from the offensive side and the Saints with defensive players making up 62% of its selections. The same question as above is still applicable regarding whether this is a planned strategy or just a matter of chance.

The differences by team can be seen more clearly in the next table. This table shows the percentage of offensive draftees by playing position and team for round 1-3, rounds 4-7 and overall. Defensive draftees are, of course, 100% minus the percentage of offensive draftees.

Bias by Playing Position

 Within the offensive and defensive splits presented above, there are also biases by playing position. Before looking at the information by team here is a breakdown by playing position for the first three rounds, the last four rounds and all rounds. The percentages represent the portion of all drafted players in each grouping from 2005-2014.

This table shows that quarterbacks, wide receivers, defensive linemen and corners account for 50% of draftees in the first three rounds but only 44% of players drafted in rounds 4-7. This indicates a bias towards drafting those positions in the top three rounds.

To get a better feel for the teams that are most and least likely to draft players at those four positions, the following tables show the distribution of players drafted by playing position and NFL team.

The first table shows the quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds. The Browns, still searching for a quarterback, had the most with five. Six teams did not draft a quarterback in the first three rounds. The Texans are one of those six, though they are not settled at the position.

The next table shows the distribution by team for wide receivers drafted in the first three rounds. The Giants and Titans are the leaders with eight and seven, respectively. The Titans are far from settled at the position. Five teams drafted two or fewer receivers in the first three rounds. With the exception of the Cowboys, none of the teams are well set at the position.

The next table shows the distribution for defensive linemen. The Eagles had the most with 10 and the Redskins the least with one.

And finally, the distribution for corner backs is shown in the next table. The Rams led with eight corners drafted in the first three rounds while the Eagles had only one.

This addressed only one aspect of the positional bias issue. A “shortcut” way of looking at the possible existence of a bias is to find situations where the number of players drafted at a position is somewhat greater (or less) than 1.5 times the number of draftees for the first three rounds. The 1.5 factor is based on averages by position as discovered in this study.

 

The logic would be applied as follows:

  • The 49ers selected eight offensive linemen in the first three rounds and six offensive linemen in rounds 4-7.
  • This indicates a bias for selecting offensive linemen earlier rather than later as using the 1.5 factor they would be expected to have drafted 12 lineman in rounds 4-7, or double the number drafted.
  • On the other hand they selected two corners in rounds 1-3 and nine corners in rounds 4-7.
  • This would indicate that they believe they can find corners later in the draft and do not need to draft them early.
  • The expectation would be that three corners would have been selected in the later rounds, and not the nine actually selected.

The following table shows selected instances of positional biases for each NFL team and the number of players drafted in rounds 1-3 and then in round 4-7.. The number of instances was capped at three. The column labeled “bias” indicates whether the bias was in favor of drafting a position early (like the 49ers offensive linemen) or in favor of drafting a position later. 1-3 indicates that the bias is toward drafting early. 4-7 means that the bias is toward drafting later.

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Wrapping Up the 2015 Draft

The 2015 draft is now behind us and the 2016 mock drafts have already begun to trickle out. Before we begin hibernatation until the football season starts, let’s take a final look at the draft from a few different perspectives.

Who Won the Draft?

We stay away from handing out draft grades because it is

The 2015 draft is now behind us and the 2016 mock drafts have already begun to trickle out. Before we begin hibernatation until the football season starts, let’s take a final look at the draft from a few different perspectives.

Who Won the Draft?

We stay away from handing out draft grades because it is at least a couple of years too soon to do so. That doesn’t mean I do not read those articles, though, because I am always interested to learn what others have to say and it is interesting reading.

I have stayed away from doing a mock draft myself because I simply do not watch anywhere near enough video on the players, especially in comparison to many in the field.

What we do instead is to put together data regarding which teams should be helped most from the draft. This considered the draft position of each team and the playing positions they drafted. The following table ranks the NFL teams by the number of five-year starters that history says should come from their draft crop.

This table also shows other relevant measures such as number of two-year starters, etc. All numbers indicate the number of players that should achieve the relevant milestone. In all cases, the measures represent historical averages. The Saints, for example, should receive 2.86 starters from this draft class.

The three most relevant factors in the calculation used to construct the table are 1) number of draft choices, 2) location of draft choices and 3) the playing position selected. The playing position selected matters because some positions are more risky to draft than others. This was discussed in an earlier article entitled “Draft Probabilities by Playing Position”. What is not considered in this table is the depth of the team doing the drafting. This is somewhat offset because all expectations are for a player’s entire playing career, which includes both the team that drafted them and any subsequent team. The theory is that eventually a player drafted by a deep team should get an opportunity with somebody.

Balance or Load Up?

Most NFL teams split their selections in the first three rounds between offense and defense. Nine teams, though, went all in on one side of the ball or the other.

Teams opting to go for offense were the Bears, Bengals, Bucs, Rams, Ravens and Titans. Meanwhile, the 49ers, Eagles and Patriots went for defense.

Data by Conference

The 2015 draft had a higher percentage of players drafted by the Power 5 conferences than has been the norm. Almost 80% of draftees were from the five conferences compared to about 70% in the four preceding years. There is no apparent reason for this increase. The following table shows data by conference for the past five years.

The Pac 12 got off to a great start in this year’s draft with 25 selections in the first three rounds to lead all conferences. They trailed off on day three of the draft, though, and finished third overall among the Power 5 conferences. They added only 14 selections in the final four rounds, last among the five power conferences.

Data By Playing Position

As usual, the distribution between offense and defense was pretty equal in the draft. This was the first draft, though, in the last five where more offensive players were selected. The following shows the distribution by playing positions over the past five years.

While this was generally considered to be a down year for quarter backs I do not think anyone predicted that only seven would be taken in the draft. Many in the media are saying that is is the fewest drafted since 1955 but there have been several years with seven draftees, with the most recent being 1998.

While most positions were in the range of normalcy, a few positions were outside of normal bounds:

  • 18 was the fewest number of running backs drafted in the past five years
  • More tight ends (20) were drafted than any time in the past five years
  • Fewer defensive backs (total of 46 corners and safeties) were drafted than any other time in the last five years
  • A couple more offensive linemen were taken than normal

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2015 NFL Draft: Expectations vs. Reality

As was said in our “Let the Draft Holidays Begin” articles, about 75% of five-year starters and 80% of rookie starters, future Pro Bowl selections and All Pro selections come from the first three rounds of the draft so that is where our attention should be focused. We will summarize the complete draft next

As was said in our “Let the Draft Holidays Begin” articles, about 75% of five-year starters and 80% of rookie starters, future Pro Bowl selections and All Pro selections come from the first three rounds of the draft so that is where our attention should be focused. We will summarize the complete draft next week, but for right now we will take a quick look at the first three rounds.

Draftees by Playing Position

First, how do the positions drafted in the first three rounds this year compare to history? The 2015 draft is pretty consistent with what would have been projected based on the 2005-2014 drafts. Here is how the numbers stack up.

The largest variance is in the offensive line where three more players were drafted than would have been expected. Offsetting this variance, fewer quarterbacks and safeties were selected than would have been projected based on history.

Draftees by Conference

Next we looked at the number of draftees by conference. Again, the 10-year historical average was compared to the 2015 Draft. The PAC 12 led the power conferences in the number of draftees over the first three rounds and had a significantly higher number of draftees than in the recent past. Conversely, other conferences (MAC, MWC, etc.) had about half the number of selections than in past years. Information by conference is as follows:

Draftees by NFL Team

A combination of trades and compensatory picks resulted in five teams having more than three selections in the first three rounds. The Browns and Saints each had five selections with the Chiefs, Raiders and Rams having four selections.

Trades resulted in four teams having two selections in the first three rounds. These teams were the Bills, Dolphins, Panthers and Seahawks.

Trades

By our count there were 13 trades during the first two days of the draft, with only two of those involving first round selections. The trades are listed below. We have also included the most recent comparable trade to help assess the reasonableness of the cost to move up in the 2015 trades. There are no perfect matches but it does provide a “ball park” look. The year in parentheses under Comparable Trades indicates the year of that trade. A number in parentheses indicates that the team trading up also received a draft selection back to “balance” the trade.

The Lions trade is somewhat difficult to compare with past trades because a serviceable player (Ramirez) was included as part of the consideration. The trades generally are consistent with their comparable trades. It does appear, though, that the Panthers and Seahawks may have paid a somewhat stiff price compared to similar trades. All in all, though, nothing jumps out as unfair compensation.

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Let the Draft Holidays Begin

The NFL offseason reaches its peak beginning on Thursday with the start of the three-day NFL draft. A couple of us old-timers were reminiscing earlier this week about the days when the draft was a midweek, two-day event with 17 rounds. There was no wall-to-wall television coverage. As a Pittsburgh native, I got my Steelers

The NFL offseason reaches its peak beginning on Thursday with the start of the three-day NFL draft. A couple of us old-timers were reminiscing earlier this week about the days when the draft was a midweek, two-day event with 17 rounds. There was no wall-to-wall television coverage. As a Pittsburgh native, I got my Steelers draft information by arming my mother with a list of likely draft selections and and deputizing her to listen to periodic radio updates all day.

I am not exactly breaking any new ground by telling you how much things have changed since then. ESPN and the NFL Network provide full “gavel to gavel” coverage of the draft. A cottage industry has sprung up around the NFL draft with amateur and former professional players and scouts providing real-time opinions as events transpire.

The schedule for this year’s draft event is as follows:

  • Round one will take place on Thursday, beginning at 8 pm ET
    • Each team is allotted 10 minutes to make their selection.
  • Rounds two and three will take place on Friday beginning at 7 pm ET
    • Seven minutes are allowed for a second round selection
    • Five minutes are allotted for a third round selection
    • Four minutes are allowed for compensatory selections
  • The draft wraps up on Saturday beginning at noon with rounds four through seven
    • Five minutes are allowed for a pick in rounds four through six
    • Four minutes are allotted for selections in round seven
    • Four minutes are allowed for compensatory selections, regardless of round

This article is intended to provide the draft follower with a handy guide that reminds him or her of relevant historical information and provides a better perspective from which to interpret what is going on during the draft.

We avoid providing information for potential draftees or projected selections by team. There are ever growing numbers of sources that provide mock drafts and other prospect information. I am sure that if you are really into the draft you already have at least one of those sources in your possession or on your computer.

Number of Picks

The number of picks for each team will change during the course of the draft but following are two tables that reflect the number of picks by team as it stands how. The first table is for the entire draft and the second is for the first three rounds, when most starters are drafted. Both tables include:

  • The basic number of selections for each team
    • One per round for each team, or seven for the full draft and three for the first three rounds
  • The number of compensatory selections (32 in total and three for the first three rounds}
  • The net number of selections traded or received in trades (which by definition net to zero in total for all teams)
  • The total picks per team.

First, is the table for the full draft, reflecting that the Seahawks have the most picks of any team:

The next table shows the same information for only the first three rounds (99 selections). There were only three compensatory selections awarded in the first three rounds and only three trades involving the first three rounds. The Browns received a first round selection in the Sammy Watkins trade and the Saints received a first round pick in the Jimmy Graham trade plus a third round selection for Kenny Stills. The Bills, Dolphins and Seahawks each surrendered a selection in the first three round and have the fewest selections.

What are Realistic Expectations for the 2015 Draft

The three-day draft event is a time of great hope, kind of like when you bring home what you are sure is a winning lottery ticket. Come Saturday, a seventh-round pick is a sure starter and is fifty-fifty on making All Pro. Then comes training camp and it becomes obvious that this sure starter is not going to even make the team.

The following table shows what history tells us what can actually be expected by draft round. All numbers represent the number of players.

The table reinforces the fact that the first three rounds produce the most players. About three-quarters of five-year starters come from the first three rounds with 80% of rookie starters and almost 80% of Pro Bowl and All Pro players also coming from the early rounds of the draft.

Probability of Drafting a Five-Year Starter

 While there are several metrics that could be used to measure success, we have traditionally focused on a player achieving five-year starter status as being the principal success metric. This means that a player started at least eight games in each of at least five seasons.

In earlier articles, we have analyzed the probability of becoming a five-year starter by Draft Range. The Draft Ranges represent ranges of draft choices where the historical success rates are similar. The Draft Ranges used for 2015 are as follows:

The probability of success varies for each playing positions within each Draft Range. In addition, a Draft Range can extend over two or more draft rounds. There is a significant difference in probability for a player drafted at the end of a round compared to the beginning of a round. A quarterback, for example, is twice as likely to become a five-year starter if he is drafted early in the first round as compared to one drafted at the end of the first round.

 

The following table shows the probability of becoming a five-year starter for each playing position in each round. The round is then further broken down by Draft Range, recognizing that Draft Ranges overlap draft rounds. For example, picks at the end of the first round have the same probability of success as selections through the middle of the second round. This table is for the first three rounds of the draft. The next table shows the same information but for rounds four through seven.

Trades

 When the inevitable draft day trades occur, there will discussion about who got the best of the trade and how it compares to the so-called Trade Value Chart and any of the other iterations of comparative worth of draft selections.

The one thing that is not arbitrary, though, is the actual consideration in past trades. Here is a summary of each 2014 draft day trade. This table shows the teams involved, the movement in the draft (i.e., from and to), the number of draft slots moved for the primary picks, the playing position of the player ultimately selected with the trade up selection and the consideration involved.

For example, the Lions received the #40 pick from the Seahawks in exchange for its #45, #111 and #227 picks. The Lions also received pick #146 in the trade. The Lions used selection #40 to take Kyle Van Noy, a linebacker.

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Recent Draft Trends

With the NFL draft commencing on April 30, looked at recent draft trends. Several different aspects of the draft were examined ranging from the number of players drafted by playing position to reviewing players drafted by state.

By Playing Position

 If you are a close follower of the draft, you will be sitting down in

With the NFL draft commencing on April 30, looked at recent draft trends. Several different aspects of the draft were examined ranging from the number of players drafted by playing position to reviewing players drafted by state.

By Playing Position

 If you are a close follower of the draft, you will be sitting down in front of your television set with at least one draft guide in front of you to facilitate an instant evaluation of your favorite team’s selections. How far down the listings by position do you have to go before you reach players that are unlikely to be drafted? The following lists the number of players drafted by position in the past five drafts along with the average and range.

The most noteworthy takeaway from this table is that some positions have relatively tight ranges (indicating not much variance by year) and others do not. The positions with the tightest ranges are wide receivers, offensive line, defensive tackles and corners.

First Round

Following the overall look at the draft, we did the same analysis for the first round only. Here are the results.

It is no surprise that offensive linemen are the most frequently drafted position in the first round. Running backs have been shut out in the first round in 2013 and 2014. If you believe the experts, though, that is likely to end in 2015.

By Conference

The one constant in an analysis by conference is that the Southeastern Conference is the leader in four of the five years. This is certainly not a surprise. It is also noteworthy that the Power Five conferences account for about 71% of all draft selections.

The Big 12 and Big 10 have both shown declines in players selected from 2010 to 2014. The Mountain West Conference along with minor conferences and colleges picked up most of those declines.

By Home State

 Players enter the NFL from all over the country. In this section we considered the home state of the player, not where they played college football. The constant in this analysis is that three states (Florida, California and Texas) are the principal producers, though the order may vary by year. The states listed in the following table account for about 60% of all players drafted, with the remainder coming from the remaining 41 states, Canada and other countries.Rookie Starters

 There has not been a discernible increase in the number of rookies who achieve starter status (i.e., start eight or more games). In 2005, 47 rookies achieved that status. The number of over the past five years is higher but there is not a continuing trend upwards. In fact, there was a 10% drop in 2014 over 2013. Here are the number of rookie starters in each of the past five draft classes.

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Rankings of NFL Teams by Draft Class

For all the talk about the draft and teams that do well, there is one point that must be stressed. No team does well in the draft every year. Taking that statement to the next logical step, a team does not have to do well in the draft every year to be successful.

To study

For all the talk about the draft and teams that do well, there is one point that must be stressed. No team does well in the draft every year. Taking that statement to the next logical step, a team does not have to do well in the draft every year to be successful.

To study this premise and associated issues, we reviewed drafts from 2005 through 2012. The drafts from 2013 and 2014 were omitted because it is too soon to make even a preliminary judgment on those. Before discussing the results we should discuss the key elements of the study.

First, contrary to most of the other studies we have done, only a player’s career with the team that drafted him is considered. For example, the Jets do not receive credit for the years Darrelle Revis spent with the Bucs and the Patriots.

Second, despite considerable thought on the matter, we could not come up with a formula or measure that would yield a meaningful comparative rating for the teams, so the ratings are subjective based on several factors. These factors include:

  • The number of two-year starters in a draft class
    • The cut-off of two years was used so that we could include as many current drafts as possible
  • The number of games started by a player over the course of their career with the team that drafted him
  • The number of Pro Bowl selections
  • The number of All Pro selections

It is acknowledged that there is an inherent advantage in being drafted by a “bad” team as the path to a starting job is likely to be an easier one, but this was not considered in the rankings. Draft position and number of choices were also not considered, so the result is an absolute and not relative grade.

Based on these factors the drafts of each team for each draft class were analyzed with the teams ranked one through 32. The full rankings are shown at the end of this article. It is recognized that the rankings for at least some of the years might change over time as careers ebb and flow. One would expect, for example, that more post-season honors are likely to be won in the future by some of the more recent draftees.

Perhaps the most striking results from the study is that no team was ranked #1 more than once. Similarly, no team was ranked last more than once either. While other factors may be at play, this supports the variability of draft results and the presence of the “luck factor” in the draft process. The same management team following the same process can garner different results in different years.

Seven teams were ranked in the top 10 in at least half of the eight drafts. Those teams, with its ranking based on its won-lost record for 2005-2014 in parentheses, are:

Several things stand out in the analysis:

  • The Packers were actually ranked in the top 10 in five of the first six years of the study before earning lower rankings in 2011 and 2012
    • The Packers have been in either the top or bottom 10 in each of the eight drafts
  • The Seahawks have finished in the top three in the 2010-2012 drafts
    • They are the only team with three top three grades
  • The 49ers were ranked in the top 10 in each draft from 2005-2007 but only once since then
  • Neither the Chargers nor the Raiders had even one top 10 grade
    • The Raiders had only one bottom ten grade as well
  • The Patriots, with the top won-lost record for 2005-2014 by a comfortable margin, were in the middle of the pack as far as draft grades with three top 10 rankings and three rankings in the bottom 10

Seven teams finished in the bottom ten at least half the time. These teams were:

A few notes about the teams finishing at or near the bottom:

  • The Saints have finished in the bottom 10 for each of the last four drafts
  • The Jaguars and Giants have finished in the bottom 10 for each of the last three drafts
  • In addition to its four bottom 10 grades, the Bears have ranked 11th from the bottom on two other occasions
  • Every team but the Titans have finished in the bottom ten at least once

Here are the complete annual rankings for the 2005-2012 drafts:

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The Comprehensive Guide to 10 years of first round trades

As the draft draws closer, the anticipation level for draft day trades begins to rise. These trades help make the draft event the most important occasion of the NFL offseason. To help get ready for this aspect of the draft event we reviewed all trades involving first round choices 2005 through draft day 2014 to

As the draft draws closer, the anticipation level for draft day trades begins to rise. These trades help make the draft event the most important occasion of the NFL offseason. To help get ready for this aspect of the draft event we reviewed all trades involving first round choices 2005 through draft day 2014 to see what could be learned.

Except in extreme cases there will be no commentary on the winners and losers of the trades. Judging a trade involves consideration of two elements. The first is to determine whether a team receives at least fair value in the exchange. Second, a team has to make a wise decision among the available alternatives. A team may make a great trade to get the first pick of the draft but if the player flops all is for naught. Luck overhangs the second element of the process. There is no question that there is luck involved, whether it be the avoidance of injury and off-field issues when drafting a player or good fortune in deciding among the multiple prospects available to a team.

Rather than focusing on either element or the luck aspect, the purpose of this article is to review recent draft history, identify any trends and summarize the outcome of each trade. By my count there were 73 trades involving 123 first round selections during the 10-year study period. This counts some choices twice, such as when a team trades for a selection and then trades it away.

Let us start with some of the demographic information. What playing positions are the most frequent motivators for a trade? For each of the 73 trades, the transaction was reviewed to determine the playing position selected with the highest acquired first round choice, which indicates the purpose of the trade. For example, the offensive line would receive credit if a team trades from #15 to #10 and selects an offensive lineman with the #10 choice. There were two instances in the 10 years where a team acquired the highest draft choice in a trade and then traded it away. In that case, no playing position is designated as the motivator. The percentages by playing position for the other 71 trades are as follows:

I am a little surprised that wide receivers are ranked ahead of offensive linemen, but otherwise it is pretty much what would be expected.

The next thing we looked at is the location of the draft choices. That is, is the 15th pick traded more often than the 25th or vice versa? We considered all 123 selections for this analysis and broke the first round into groups of five selections. Here is what was found for the 10-year study period:

This table shows that later first round selections are traded much more often than earlier first round selections. This is apparently due to teams being more prone to hanging onto their early selections, which certainly seems logical.

Finally, are any teams more likely or more willing than others to be involved in a deal? Here is a summary of the number of trades by team with 147 as the total (72 trades at two teams per trade and one trade involving three teams.) This is different than the previously cited total of 123 trades affecting first round choices because it also includes the side of a trade that may not include a first round choice. For example, a team may trade its first round choice for a second round and a fourth round pick.

Three teams participated in over 25% of the first round trades with the Broncos leading the way. The Titans were the only team not to participate in any first round trades.

The individual trades are listed and described in the remainder of this article. For ease of reading, the trades have been grouped into several categories including:

  • Players Traded for First Round Choices
  • Trades involving Future Year First Round Selections
  • Trades involving the Cleveland Browns
  • Finding Flacco
  • The Road to Dez Bryant
  • Trade Up and Let Down
  • Too Soon to Tell
  • Three-Way Trades
  • Other Trades

Players Traded for First Round Choices

There were 10 occasions where players were exchanged straight up for first round choices. These are:

Trades Involving Future Year First Round Selections

 It is sometimes easier for a management team to surrender a pick next year than it is to deal away a pick that affects the current team. This may be due to selfish reasons (will I even have this job next year?) or the perception that next year’s pick is less valuable than this year’s. This is a gamble on both sides of the transaction as a trade is made with a rather significant unknown included. It is one thing to have a future draft choice be a “kicker” in the trade, but quite another having it as a major part of the transaction.

Still, teams are willing to make such a trade and take a gamble on their trading partner’s next season. Here are the trades made during the study period.

The Browns

 For whatever reason, the Browns seem to be in the middle of every controversial first round trade, whether on the positive side or the negative side. They are behind only the Broncos in first round trades, with 12. Here are the trades.

Finding Flacco

 Not to be Captain Obvious, but Joe Flacco has been a key element in the Ravens’ success since they drafted him. These two transactions demonstrate how they maneuvered their #8 pick into taking Flacco and having picks left over.

So, the Ravens ended up with Joe Flacco, Tavares Gooden and Fabian Washington for their #8 pick.

The Road to Dez Bryant

 The selection used to take Dez Bryant passed through the hands of a number of teams before it ended with the Cowboys. Here is the trail of relevant draft transactions.

Trade Up and Let Down

 There are a handful of trades that just worked out horribly for the team that traded up. Here are the three that jump out.Too Soon To Tell

 There are a few trades that do not fit into any category as they are relatively recent. Here they are:

Three-Way Trade

 There was one three-way trade involving first round choices during the study period.

The Rest of the Trades

 Here are the rest of the trades involving first round picks that were made during the study period.

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The Urgency Index

We have entered the time of year when the term “best player available” dominates any draft conversations with NFL general managers. I personally find the BPA to be somewhat of a mythical and fuzzy character that is often more of a computer creation than an actual football player, kind of like building a player in

We have entered the time of year when the term “best player available” dominates any draft conversations with NFL general managers. I personally find the BPA to be somewhat of a mythical and fuzzy character that is often more of a computer creation than an actual football player, kind of like building a player in Madden.

There is not necessarily agreement across the league regarding the BPA. This makes it difficult to say with any certainty whether teams are sticking to the BPA strategy or drafting according to need. When a team drafts a so-called BPA, it is often the case that the player is really someone who is graded significantly different by one team than the consensus. For example, team A may have a player carrying a second round grade but he is still available in the fifth round. Team A may take him under the guise of a BPA but he is really just a player they value differently than the rest of the league.

Despite what they may say, it seems to me that teams typically draft for need, and I think that is a good thing. Is Jameis Winston the BPA or the best prospect at a high value position that is a need for the team in line to draft him? The combination of need and position value likely moves Winston to the front of the line on draft day.

Consistent with the concept of drafting for need, several years ago I began writing about something I dubbed the Urgency Index. This article updates that discussion. The concept embodied by the Index is that, when in doubt, a team should draft a player at a position of need for which there is the biggest disparity in results between a player drafted earlier and a player drafted later. The Index is the mechanism by which the differences are measured.

I certainly agree with those who believe a team’s scouting department should be relied upon for their opinions. I also believe, though, that the Index has a place as a “tiebreaker” in the draft room when the decision makers are undecided between drafting a player at one playing position versus another.

The current Index is based on historical information from the 1995 through 2009 drafts and compares the probability of drafting a five-year starter in a Draft Range with the probability of drafting a five-year starter in all later Draft Ranges.

Draft Ranges are explained in the article “Breaking Down the NFL Draft” and are as follows:

An Index value would be calculated only for the first seven Draft Ranges because there are no drafting alternatives for Draft Range 8. The Index would be calculated as follows:

  • The historical probability of drafting a five-year starter at a playing position in a Draft Range, divided by
  • The historical probability of drafting a five-year starter at that same playing position in all later Draft Ranges, times
  • 100

Fox example, 68.4% of cornerbacks drafted in Draft Range 2 became five-year starters, while 19.0% of cornerbacks drafted in Draft Ranges 3 through 8 achieved that milestone. The first step of the calculation is 68.4% divided by 19.0%, yielding a product of 3.6. The second step of the calculation is to multiply the 3.6 by 100 to arrive at an Urgency Index of 360.

The following table sorts the indices by playing position within each Draft Range.

A few notes should be made regarding the table:

  • NA denotes that no player at that position was selected in that Draft Range, making a calculation impossible
  • A higher Index means that history suggests there is more urgency to draft a player at that playing position in that Draft Range.
  • An Index of 100 means that players drafted later have the exact same level of success as those drafted in the current Draft Range.
  • An Index of less than 100 indicates that players drafted later have actually had more success than those in the current Draft Range.
    • The only position where the Index is lower than 100 is wide receiver in Draft Range 7, indicating that Draft Range 8 wide receivers have actually done better than Draft Range 7 wide receivers.
  • The sole purpose of the Index is to allow comparisons within a Draft Range
    • Any comparisons between or among Draft Ranges are useless
  • An Index is more meaningful with more data points
    • Quarterbacks have fewer data points than the other positions included in the Index
    • Draft Range has only 60 data points in total, so the Index is less helpful for the earl picks

So how is the table used? Let’s say that a team has needs at both wide receiver and corners and is considering equally rated players in Draft Range 2. The Index would say to select a wide receiver, (with an Urgency Index of 525), because it is more likely to land a corner, (with an Urgency Index of 360) later in the draft.

There are situations where the Urgency Index preserves the tie. For example, in Draft Range 2, both defensive tackles and safeties have an Urgency Index of 383. In that case the Index tells us nothing and it is time to bring out the coin.

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Which NFL Teams Draft the Best?

Evaluating the draft performance of an NFL team is difficult at best. The ultimate test of a team occurs on the field, of course, and is a mixture of many elements, with draft performance being just one. There are a number of issues when trying to isolate draft performance. Teams do not have the same

Evaluating the draft performance of an NFL team is difficult at best. The ultimate test of a team occurs on the field, of course, and is a mixture of many elements, with draft performance being just one. There are a number of issues when trying to isolate draft performance. Teams do not have the same number of selections, drafted players are moving into different playing situations, and so forth.

In this article, the number of starts from 2005 through 2014 was used as the most reasonable metric for measuring draft performance. This is not perfect but allows a window into draft performance. Starts for a player are credited to the team that drafted him and includes games started for either the drafting team or a subsequent team. Drafts for the past ten years (2005-2014) were studied to see what conclusions could be drawn.

Each NFL team starts with 70 selections for the 10-year period (10 years and one selection by round). Adjustments are then made for selections lost due to penalty or used in the supplemental draft, compensatory selections awarded and the net number of choices gained or lost through trades (mostly trade-up or trade-down transactions). Here is a summary by team, sorted by total number of selections between 2005 and 2014:

There is quite a range in the number of selections with the Saints having the fewest with 60 and the Packers the most with 96. All draft selections are not created equal, however, as a first round choice is worth considerably more than a seventh round selection. It is fair to say, in my opinion, that no one views the absolute number of starts as being fully indicative of a team’s expectations.

A measure that does a better job of weighting the draft choices is the number of starts a team could historically expect, given their number of selections and the location of their selections. This sets the expectation but does not provide any information about actual results. The following ranks the NFL teams by the number of expected starts for players drafted from 2005 through 2014.

The revised rankings push the Rams into the position of being the team that should have expected the most help from the draft over the past 10 years, with the Packers dropping from first to second. There is little change at both the top and the bottom of the expectations between the first and second tables.

We next ranked the teams by the actual number of starts by players drafted by each team in the 10-year study period. This gives great weight to the total number of selections by a team, particularly early round selections. The following table shows those rankings:

As can be seen from reviewing the previous two tables, the difference between actual and expected performance can be rather significant. The Ravens, for example, are ranked fifth in actual starts compared to 18th in expected starts by players selected in the study period.

The above table still places, in my opinion, too much weight on the actual number of draft choices. What I believe to be preferable is to rank the teams by number of actual starts as a percentage of expected starts. The following table shows the percentage by which a team’s actual performance exceeds or lags expected performance. Players drafted by the Seahawks, for example, had almost 19% more games started (1785 divided by 1505) than a historical analysis would suggest. A number in parentheses indicates that a team did not achieve expectations.

It is interesting that this year’s Super Bowl participants (Seahawks and Patriots) are at the opposite end of the ratings. This reinforces the notion that there is more than one way to achieve NFL success.

The Seahawks achieved most of its success in rounds two through four, while being close to average in other rounds. The Patriots did better than expected in round one but were ahead of only the Lions in second round performance. The first round is the only round where the Patriots exceeded expectations by more than a nominal amount. While the Patriots did draft some very fine players in round two (like Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer and Jamie Collins), they also had their share of flops and players approaching flop status in Ras-I Dowling, Darius Butler, Terrence Wheatley, Ron Brace, Tavon Wilson and Chad Jackson.

The best and worst performances by draft round are shown in the following table. All situations where actual was better or worse than expected by at least 100 starts are included. The table indicates that the Colts’ sixth-round selections, in the aggregate for the ten-year study period, exceeded expectations by 264 starts.

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Draft Expectations by NFL Team

Every NFL team, and its fans, begins draft day with high hopes. The reality is, though, that a team will be very fortunate to ultimately end up with two or three five-year starters out of a draft class.

 This year should be no different. Based on history, the 2015 draft class will yield about 54

Every NFL team, and its fans, begins draft day with high hopes. The reality is, though, that a team will be very fortunate to ultimately end up with two or three five-year starters out of a draft class.

 This year should be no different. Based on history, the 2015 draft class will yield about 54 five-year starters and only four players who will be selected as an All Pro three times or more. Out of those 54 starters, 20 will come from the 32 players selected in the first round with 12 more from the second round. This means that half of the 64 players selected in rounds one and two will be five-year starters. Only about one in ten of the remaining players drafted will go on to achieve five-year starter status.

Several factors contribute to a team’s realistic expectations:

  • The number of selections
  • The location of those selections
  • Historical averages

There is a premium on having extra picks in the first two rounds. Both the Browns (trade-down with Bills so Buffalo could take Sammy Watkins) and Saints (Jimmy Graham trade) have extra first round picks. No team has an extra second round selection.

Conversely, the Seahawks and the Bills rank near the bottom in terms of expectations, largely due to having no first round picks. The Bills have only six picks, losing two in the trade-up to take Sammy Watkins and adding one 4th round pick by trading Stevie Johnson to the 49ers.

Teams can be grouped as follows based on the number of five-year starters they can expect to land.

This is highly likely to change on draft day, and maybe before, as teams jockey for position to select a “must have” player, but here is the current summarization.

The Seahawks have the most selections in the draft with 11. However, they are minus a first round choice and do not have a selection until the 63rd pick. They added a fourth round selection in the Graham trade and were awarded four compensatory selections (4th and 3 6ths) in addition to their normal complement of seven choices.

The Browns have 10 selections with a the aforementioned 1st plus a 4th coming in the Sammy Watkins trade-down plus a 6th round pick in a trade where they surrendered a 2014 7th round choice.

The Seahawks have the most selections with 11, but reinforcing the importance of first round choices, rank near the bottom of draft expectations due to their trade for Jimmy Graham.

The following table shows NFL teams in order of expected five-year starters. The expectations are rarely expressed as a round number due to the use of averages (kind of like the census average of 2.58 people per household).

The abbreviations used in the table are:

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Comparing Draft Years

Every year experts offer up their opinions on the upcoming draft, both on the overall depth of the class and the quality and depth by playing position. In this article we will explore how real these differences are and the degree of difference among draft years.

Year-to-Year Comparison

What is the best way to measure

Every year experts offer up their opinions on the upcoming draft, both on the overall depth of the class and the quality and depth by playing position. In this article we will explore how real these differences are and the degree of difference among draft years.

Year-to-Year Comparison

What is the best way to measure the differences? There is no perfect metric, but the most practical performance metric is the number of games started. Number of starts has the principal advantage of letting us use recent years in the analysis whereas other measures (such as number of five-year starters) required us to cut off the analysis well before the most recent drafts.

There is an inherent conflict between using current information versus complete information. It takes 15 years or so to “complete the book” on a draft class. This would mean that the most recent year that could be used in this analysis is 1999. That serves as a sound basis for the analysis but many readers would regard the information as stale and, therefore, not relevant.

It was decided to compare draft classes after their first, third, fifth and seventh years. The draft years used were the most recent 10 drafts for which the number of starts data was available as follows:

The following table summarizes the data by draft class for each of the four time periods. The “ratio” row represents the ratio of the number of starts for best draft compared to the worst draft. A high number shows a lot of variation and a low number shows little variability.

This table shows that the degree of difference, as expressed by the ratio, is greatest for the first year and levels off after that. The 2006 draft year has held up best over time. The draft class in each of the last four years has exceeded the number of first-year starts from 2006 but both 2011 and 2012 have fallen behind 2006 by the end of the third year and it is too soon to tell for 2013 and 2014. It remains to be seen if the advantage of the 2006 draft class will hold up.

The 2008 draft class is also an interesting case. That class is ranked last in first year starts but moves up to the middle of the pack for the subsequent measurement periods. This reinforces the notion that the first year does not tell anywhere near the whole story when it comes to evaluating draft classes.

This analysis shows that there is a reasonably large difference among draft years. This makes characterizing draft classes as good and bad a logical exercise.

As an aside, data from the draft classes that are virtually complete as far as number of starters (1995-1999) is instructive regarding the evolution of the impact of a draft class. The cumulative average percentage of total starts by year for the five draft classes is shown in the following table. The table tells us that 91% of the starts from a draft class occur in the first 10 years.Playing Position Comparison

It should be no surprise that the level of variability increases by playing position. There are fewer data points and this leads to greater variances in results. The analysis by playing position was confined to the most recent ten draft classes and excluded fullbacks and special teams players. Again, the number of starts was used as the performance metric.

The following table shows the best and worst classes for each playing position after one season by draft class.

This table shows that there significant differences among playing positions with the offensive line and defensive backs showing the smallest, though still significant, differences.

The next table shows the same information after three years for each playing position by draft class (which excludes the 2013 and 2014 draft classes).

This table shows that the ratios have tightened significantly by the third year but that they still exist. Offensive linemen show the smallest difference between the best and worst year with running backs having the largest difference.

It is interesting to note that while 2006 is a highly rated draft class, it does not appear as the best year for any playing position.

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The Rest of the Equation

The article “Draft Probabilities by Playing Position” laid out the probabilities of achieving various milestones for players selected in the NFL draft. What was missing from that discussion, though, is the time element. That is, how long does it take a drafted player to become a starter or achieve another relevant milestone?

When a

The article “Draft Probabilities by Playing Position” laid out the probabilities of achieving various milestones for players selected in the NFL draft. What was missing from that discussion, though, is the time element. That is, how long does it take a drafted player to become a starter or achieve another relevant milestone?

When a team signs a free agent there is a general expectation, unless a special team player is signed, that he will move right in and be helpful. For drafted players the expectations are generally lower in terms of providing immediate help. But what exactly should those expectations be?

Three milestones were used to measure the time element for the purposes of this article. The milestones were the length of time used to become a one-year, three-year and five-year starter. Our definition of a starter is a player who starts at least eight games in a season. The averages include only the players who achieved those milestones. For example, take the case of a player who started for four years. He would be included in the one-year and three-year calculations but would be excluded from the five-year calculation.

The best “score” a player can earn is 1.0, indicating that he became a starter in his rookie season. He would receive a 2.0 if the becomes a starter in his second season. There are no partial seasons awarded, but the averages do show partial seasons (kind of like the Census Bureau saying there are 2.58 people per household).

The logical expectation is that players drafted earlier will start faster (and more often as indicted in the “Draft Probabilities by Playing Position” article). Whether this is because the players are better or because they get more chances due to being highly paid is a matter of debate. The truth is probably that it is a combination of the two.

The following table shows averages by playing position and Draft Range for the one-year milestone and indicates that about 42 players per season start as rookies. It is probably not surprising that running backs take the longest to start for any playing position among early round draftees. For the group a whole (as indicated by the “All” column), though, it is defensive linemen that take the longest to start their first season. The average for the rest of the positions are pretty close.

The table also confirms that the earlier a player is drafted, the sooner he will start. Players selected with the first four picks start much sooner than a player taken later in the draft.

The next table shows the averages for achieving the three-year milestone. Running backs again take the longest to start among the early round selections. This holds true through the 4th Draft Range (which is through the 46th pick). Overall, defensive linemen tend to take longer than average to achieve the three-year milestone. Offensive tackles and linebackers are at the other end of the spectrum and reach the milestone sooner than average. The amount of time to start for a third season ranges from 4.0 to 4.8 seasons.

The final milestone reviewed was the amount of time it takes a player to become a five-year starter. It is interesting that the range tends to narrow at this point because only the better players are likely to achieve this milestone and be included in the calculation of the average. The range is from 6.0-6.7 seasons, slightly narrower than the range by position for achieving the three-year milestone. Among the earliest draft selections (first 14 picks) Running Backs and Quarterbacks tend to take the longest to reach the milestone. Offensive Tackles drafted in that same range are the fastest to reach the five-year milestone. Overall, Guards and Offensive Tackles are the fastest to reach the milestone, while Defensive Ends and Quarterbacks are the slowest.

Click here for the complete breakdown of “Draft Ranges”

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Time to Get Rid of NFL Compensatory Selections

Accompanied by the customary media hype, the NFL recently announced the awarding of 32 compensatory draft selections. The determination of the selections to be awarded has evolved into a science. A handful of website and bloggers have “cracked the code” and do an excellent good job of

Accompanied by the customary media hype, the NFL recently announced the awarding of 32 compensatory draft selections. The determination of the selections to be awarded has evolved into a science. A handful of website and bloggers have “cracked the code” and do an excellent good job of projecting the compensatory selections.

I am not a fan of the current compensatory selection process. It is my view the selections provide minimal recompense for the losses a team suffers during free agency. Either there should be no compensation at all or the compensation should be fair. Instead, the NFL has taken a “something is better than nothing” approach.

Supporters of the current system can cite a list of compensatory selections that have gone on to be successful. In my opinion, this is strictly anecdotal information and there is no reason a compensatory pick should be more or less successful than the rest of the selections that surround them. As will be supported later in article by hard data there is no reason to expect that the compensatory selections will yield more than two or three starters each year.

Is there a better way to do it? I think that maybe there is. This article is intended to encourage discussion of the process without regard to the feasibility of actually pushing through a change. I acknowledge that the NFL and NFLPA have negotiated the matter of compensatory selections so it would not be easy to change. Feasibility will be discussed in the course of the article.

Before getting into that, let us review the process in more detail so that the proposed change is considered in the appropriate context. Compliments of the NFL, here are the players lost and signed by the 14 NFL teams that have been awarded compensatory picks.

The rules governing compensatory picks are impossible to find in writing but the aforementioned cap “scientists” have discerned the most important elements based on historical NFL awards. We do know that the number of picks is limited to 32, with no more than four awarded to any single team. What are the 32 compensatory selections likely to yield? Based on 20 years of history and considering their location in the draft, this year’s compensatory selections can be expected to yield the following:

  • 26 players who will play in the NFL for at least one season
  • 11 players who will last at least five seasons in the NFL
  • Six players who will start for at least two NFL seasons
  • Between two and three players who will start for at least five NFL seasons
  • One player who will be selected to at least one Pro Bowl

The value of these selections is further diminished by the fact that the compensatory selections cannot be traded. This means they cannot be used as a throw-in that might facilitate a trade. I am not sure what the trade prohibition is intended to accomplish.

The Chiefs, with four selections between rounds three and six, received the most value in 2015 of any of the NFL teams. History tells us there is less than a 50% chance that the Chiefs’ compensatory picks will yield even one five-year starter. So there should be no illusions that the teams are receiving even moderate value in exchange for their free agent losses.

I would argue that a superior option, and one that does a better job of contributing to league parity, is to adjust a team’s cap through a “luxury tax” based on free agent signings. Let us look at the Chiefs to see how it would work. Here is a summary of free agents lost and signed by the Chiefs, with dollar values representing the 2014 cap for each player as published by overthecap.com.

For each player signed or lost, the contract amount would be multiplied by a percentage (say 17.5%, which is the Major League Baseball luxury tax rate) and the resulting product would be transferred from one team’s next annual cap number to another team. The Chiefs would receive a annual net cap increase of almost $2.4 million. The tax rate could be higher or lower depending on how much parity the league wants to encourage and based on negotiations.

I think there are several reasons why my proposal is better than the current system:

  • Perhaps most importantly, the proposed process provides greater flexibility in that the additional cap space could be used to either sign one or more free agents that could provide immediate help or allow a team to retain a free agent it may otherwise lose
  • The proposed process established a direct relationship between the value of a lost player and the compensation received
  • All teams affected by free agent gains or losses would be included
    • This is not true of the current system where the 32-choice limit leaves some teams with a net loss of free agents and no compensation

How would the owners, the union (“NFLPA”) and Roger Goodell react to such a proposed change? It is only fair to speculate that, unless it is a sold as “its good for the game” by Czar Roger, both the owners and the NFLPA are likely to be resistant to making a change. I have heard no displeasure voiced against the present system and without a “champion” any change is unlikely.

While there should be no change in overall spending (it is just a matter of the cap dollars changing pockets), the NFLPA may see it as having the potential to restrict player movement due to the luxury tax component. Just by the nature of the bargaining process, the NFLPA would want something in return for making even a neutral change.

It takes the vote of 24 owners to change an NFL rule. Whether that level of commitment is obtainable depends on the balance between teams that are buyers or sellers of free agents. The sellers would not like this change. The current system allows them to pursue free agents without having to surrender anything other than the compensation paid to the player they signed. The proposed process introduces an additional cost of signing free agents. For a team that essentially sits out free agency, I would think they would support this change as it provides value that could be greater and maybe more fair than the current system when free agents are lost. It is hard for me to imagine that 24 positive votes could be garnered.

The bottom line is that, my protestations to the contrary, we are stuck with the present system. There is certainly no discussion I have seen that indicates otherwise.

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NFL Draft: Is it really that simple?

In its recent Analytics Issue, ESPN The Magazine had the following to say about the NFL Draft:

“NFL Draft math is simple: Stockpile picks for more shots at a jackpot.”

But is the strategy really that simple? Of course a team would like to turn

In its recent Analytics Issue, ESPN The Magazine had the following to say about the NFL Draft:

“NFL Draft math is simple: Stockpile picks for more shots at a jackpot.”

But is the strategy really that simple? Of course a team would like to turn unwanted or unneeded players into draft choices and a team with a surplus of selections would like to turn them into earlier and more selections. But beyond such cases there is considerable debate, both about the strategy and ESPN’s meaning. For example, did they really mean to say stockpile high draft choices or all draft picks?

In short, I do not agree that formulating the right draft approach is all that simple. The key is to be opportunistic and to always make the higher value decision. Also, the probabilities play such a large role that it is also difficult to ignore the “luck factor” in a team’s success. Even give the luck issue, though, it is the ability to evaluate talent that is the differentiator among teams.

This article will explore various aspects of draft strategy. We will keep it simple and do the analysis by draft round rather than the Draft Ranges we prefer. Since it is also highly likely that the answers will differ depending on the metrics used, we will provide multiple answers as appropriate.

Kickers are excluded from the analysis for comparability reasons. The analysis was conducted for a 10-year period and includes players drafted from 2005 through 2014.

What Is a First Round Pick Really Worth?

First, let us take ESPN’s statement to the extreme. What if you had a first round selection and wanted to get the maximum possible number of picks in exchange. How many later picks could you possibly acquire? This article considers only historical trade information and individual trades that are straightforward (e.g., no trades where a first plus another pick is traded cases when a player is involved and trades involving selections for the subsequent year, etc.).

Here is what you might acquire in our theoretical exercise:

So a first round selection can, in theory, be turned into ten late round picks. (We are not commenting on the feasibility of actually being able to execute the required trades.). Now let us compare the value of a first round selection with the ten late round picks using various metrics. The next table shows the number of players that should achieve each metric. The analysis shows, for example, that there is an 87% chance that a first round draft choice will have a five-year or longer career, so a single first- round choice will yield 0.87 players who play five years or more.

This shows that the multiple selections yield more players who may contribute on a limited basis but less in terms of players who should make an impact (defined as a five-year starter or a player who earns post-season honors at least once). Our definition of Pro Bowl selection is stricter than most, and is limited to players who are original selections, not alternates or injury replacements.

We next looked to determine whether there is a “sweet spot” along the way to acquiring the maximum of selections that would yield the best result. The following table shows the comparative metrics after each of the theoretical exchanges.

This shows that there is little difference when comparing each step along the way to the ten selections and, therefore, there is no sweet spot.

Accumulate Early Picks vs. All Picks

We next looked at the crux of the ESPN statement – – more choices lead to more success. The first table shows the number of total selections by team and the aggregate number of wins by each quartile.

The first table shows the number of selections for all rounds by team:

The win totals and a review of the table show that there is no apparent correlation between the number of overall selections and on-field success.

The next table shows the number of selections for the first three rounds by team:

This table does show somewhat of a correlation between the number of selections and the number of wins. This supports our theory that loading up on early selections may be the best strategy.

The first three rounds of the draft provide most of the NFL talent:

  • 80% of All Pro and Pro Bowl selections are from the first three rounds
  • 50% of All Pro and Pro Bowl selections come from the first round
  • Setting the bar lower, nearly 70% of games started come from players drafted in the first three rounds

Despite the apparent correlation there are winners and losers at both end of the draft selections spectrum. A few highlights are as follows:

  • 31 extra third-round selections were handed out as compensatory picks
    • Four picks were lost by penalty (Broncos, Patriots, Saints (2) )
    • Four selections (Redskins picking Jeremy Jarmon, Browns selecting Josh Gordon, 49ers picking Ahmad Brooks and Raiders taking Terrelle Pryor) were used in the supplemental draft
  • Despite losing a 1st round pick as a penalty for Spygate, the Patriots are tied with the Rams as having the most selections
  • Three of the Rams extra selections come from the RG3 trade
  • The Patriots extra selections came from trading players for selections (Deion Branch, Mike Vrabel, Matt Cassel) and trading down and accumulating extra picks
  • The Patriots record is not spotless, though
    • They traded up to take WR Chad Jackson while Greg Jennings was selected at the position they traded out of
    • Other players like Carl Nicks, Joe Staley, Clay Matthews and Darryl Washington slipped through their hands in trade-down transactions
  • The Seahawks lost six draft choices in the first three rounds through the acquisition of Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, John Carlson, Percy Harvin and Charlie Whitehurst
  • The Saints lost two second-round selections through Bountygate and did not receive any compensatory picks
    • They used high selections to move up and take Jamaal Brown and Jahri Evans
    • The Saints ranked last in number of picks in rounds 4 through 7
  • Besides the RG3 trade (which may or may not work out), the Redskins wasted high picks on Jason Taylor (waived after one season) and T J Duckett (38 carries for the Redskins)

Should Team Focus on Acquiring Fewer but Higher Draft Choice?

 Another strategy worth considering is trading late round picks to have fewer but earlier selections. The Ricky Williams trade in 1999 epitomizes this strategy as the Saints traded their 1999 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th round picks and their 1st and 3rd round picks in 2000 to move up seven spots and take Williams in a trade with the Redskins

How did that work out? Williams lasted three seasons with the Saints and rushed for over 3000 yards and went on to play 12 seasons in his NFL career and rush for 10,000 yards. He was certainly a legitimately good NFL running back. The Redskins, though, landed Lavar Arrington and used a number of the draft selections acquired to facilitate trades for Champ Bailey and Jon Jansen.

Two tables have been compiled to show the minimum cost of moving up to the preceding round. This was done for both five-year starters and players earning at least one All Pro selection. The cost of moving into the first round using post-season honors is prohibitive but it is included anyway.

The following table shows the minimum cost to move up a round while using five-year starters as the metric. The rows in the table show the round a team is moving to. The columns show the picks that must be relinquished by round. An “X” indicates that a pick in that round is not being traded. The number in the column shows the number of selections surrendered in that round. For example, the table indicates that it would take a 2nd, 4th and 7th pick to move from the 2nd round to the 1st round.

The next table shows the cost of moving up a round based on achieving the metric of earning Pro Bowl honors at least once.

The one oddity in the above table is that it costs more to move from the 4th round to the 3rd round than it does to move from the 3rd round to the 2nd round. This is due to the 4th round having a higher percentage of one-time Pro Bowl players than the 3rd round. This is the only round where this occurs. It is hard to say that this is a better approach than adding draft choices. It all comes down to what the market will pay and correctly analyzing the respective opportunities.

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NFL Draft: Best and worst of the last decade

Typically, a draft review is set in the context of a comparison of years or by round. In this analysis we will take a slightly different approach and compare how players and teams fared within the Draft Ranges described in “Breaking Down the NFL Draft”.

In

Typically, a draft review is set in the context of a comparison of years or by round. In this analysis we will take a slightly different approach and compare how players and teams fared within the Draft Ranges described in “Breaking Down the NFL Draft”.

In this article, the Draft Ranges for the 2005 through 2014 drafts were reviewed for the purpose of identifying the best and worst selections both for individual players and for teams. Bear in mind that our selections of the teams related to the players selected by the team and do not consider whether the player was subsequently retained or not. Also, kickers and other special teams players were excluded from the analysis.

We will first present our opinions in summary form and then briefly discuss each decision. First, this table summarizes our selections for each Draft Range.

The rest of the article discusses these selections.

 Draft Range 1 (1-4)

 The first Draft Range contains a limited number of data points with only 40 players selected over the 10-year study period. Eight teams (Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys, Giants, Packers, Patriots, Ravens and Steelers) did not have a selection in this Draft Range.

Joe Thomas (Browns) was a relatively easy decision as the best individual selection of the 40 players drafted. Thomas has started every game in his eight years in the league and has earned seven Pro Bowl and five All Pro selections.

The only challenge to Jamarcus Russell (Raiders) for the worst selection was fellow quarterback Vince Young. Russell started 25 games in his career.

All three of the Lions’ selections (Johnson, Stafford and Suh) worked out well and they were the clear leader as the team who did best in the first Draft Range.

The Raiders are ranked worst on the strength of their Russell pick plus a wishy washy career, at least so far, from Darren McFadden.

Draft Range 2 (5-14)

 There are significantly more data points in this Draft Range with 100 selections. Only the Colts and Steelers did not have a selection in this Draft Range. The Bills and Cardinals had six selections each to lead all teams.

Patrick Willis (49ers) was judged the best selection as he logged five All Pro selections in his eight seasons. This was a close call as there were a number of additional contenders for best pick including Darrelle Revis (Jets) and Demarcus Ware (Cowboys), each of whom have had four All Pro selections.

The worst selection was another quarterback in Matt Leinart, a selection by the Arizona Cardinals. Leinart started even fewer games than Jamarcus Russell. Also considered were Aaron Maybin (Bills), Mike Williams (Lions) and Troy Williamson (Vikings).

The 49ers scored well in this portion of the draft with their five selections (including Michael Crabtree, Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis) and were the leader.

The Lions did poorly with their five selections and did not take advantage of the opportunities in this Draft Range. Mike Williams was an all-time bust and their other four selections have been minimally successful so far.

 Draft Range 3 (15-24)

 There were also 100 data points in this Draft Range and all teams had at least one selection. The Bengals had the most selections with seven.

Aaron Rodgers (Packers) does not have as many starts as others in this group but has been selected to the Pro Bowl four times in his seven years as a starter along with two All Pro selections. Rodgers did not start until his fourth season as he patiently waited his turn behind Bret Favre. Still, we thought he belonged at the top of the list. Tamba Hali of the Chiefs also received consideration as he has started every game of his nine-year career and was selected to four Pro Bowls.

On the down side, Jarvis Moss (Broncos) started only two games in his NFL career and was considered the worst choice. It was a close decision, though, among Moss, Bobby Carpenter (Cowboys), Matt Jones (Jaguars) and Justin Harrell (Packers).

The Chiefs had good success in this Draft Range with four of their picks and were rated as the top team. Their selections included Hali, Derrick Johnson, Brandon Albert and Dwayne Bowe. A fifth selection was Dee Ford who was drafted in 2014 and may ultimately prove successful. Albert and Bowe have moved on in free agency.

While the Broncos and Cowboys were also considered, the worst draft in this Draft Range was the Rams. Neither of their two selections (Tye Hill and Alex Barron) met expectations. Barron had injury issues but Hill was just a flat out flop.

Draft Range 4 (25-46)

 The number of data points start to mushroom once this Draft Range is reached. There were a total of 220 data points (22 draft slots times 10 years). The Bills had the most selections in this Draft Range with 11 while the Chiefs and Redskins had only four.

The only negative for Rob Gronkowski (Patriots) has been the injuries he has suffered. Otherwise, he has set the standard for the position with three Pro Bowl and three All Pro selections and is the best selection in this Draft Range. The principal challengers for the top spot were Nick Mangold (Jets) and Logan Mankins (Patriots).

John McCargo of the Bills was the worst selection in this Draft Range and started only one NFL game in his career.. McCargo had plenty of competition as Jonathan Baldwin (Chiefs), Chad Jackson (Patriots), AJ Jenkins (49ers), Phillip Merling (Dolphins), Sinorice Moss (Giants), Derek Sherrod (Packers) and Pat White (Dolphins) were also considered.

The Texans were judged to have done best in this Draft Range but had problems hanging onto their players. Draftees included Connor Barwin, Duane Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Brooks Reed and Demeco Ryans. Ryans was traded to the Eagles and Barwin and Reed were both lost in free agency. The Falcons challenged the Texans with a list of draftees that included Justin Blalock, Curtis Lofton and Roddy White. Lofton left the Falcons after his first contract to move on to the Saints.

The Lions again checked in with the worst performance in a Draft Range. Of their nine selections only Louis Delmas exceeded expectations. Injuries shortened the careers of two draftees (Daniel Bullock and Jordan Dizon) and the group generally did not live up to expectations.

Draft Range 5 (47-73)

 There were a total of 268 players selected (excluding kickers) in this Draft Range. The Packers led with 15 selections and the Saints had the least at four.

Jamaal Charles (Chiefs) was selected as the winner in a tight race. Charles has been selected to four Pro Bowls and earned two All Pro selections in a career that has been hampered by injury. LeSean McCoy (Eagles) is probably the top competitor for Charles and has been selected to three Pro Bowls and earned two All Pro selections.

James Marten (Cowboys) emerged from a crowded field of disappointments to be declared the worst selection. Marten was active for only a handful of games in a single season. Others considered were Jarron Gilbert (Bears), LaMichael James (49ers), and Myron Lewis (Bucs).

The Jaguars were judged the leader in this Draft Range. The players selected include Khalif Barnes, Derek Cox, Justin Durant, Terrance Knighton and Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew played eight seasons for the Jaguars before moving on in free agency. The remainder of the draftees left after their first contract. The Dolphins were a close contender in this Draft Range but none of the players are still with the Dolphins. The draftees included John Jerry, Kendall Langford, Samson Satele and Sean Smith. Satele was traded and went on to continue as a starter with the Raiders, Colts and then back to the Dolphins. The other three were lost in free agency.

The Broncos had the least contribution from this Draft Range. Of the Broncos eleven draftees, only one (OT Ryan Harris) achieved the expected number of NFL starts, and barely so. Harris has bounced among several teams, including two stints with the Broncos. This earns Denver the bottom spot. The Lions are close to the bottom again as they have experienced virtually no success in the Draft Range.

Draft Range 6 (74-114)

 There were 407 players selected in this Draft Range. The Titans had the most selections with 18 and the Vikings had the fewest with seven.

Two guards are the leaders in this Draft Range. Jahri Evans (Saints) has earned six Pro Bowl and four All Pro selections, while starting 142 of 144 games in his nine-year career. Marshall Yanda from the Ravens trails slightly with four Pro Bowl and two All Pro selections.

Maurice Clarett is the worst selection as he went downhill from his college days to the pros and never made an NFL roster after being selected with the 101st selection. Clearly the Broncos rolled the dice with Clarett and it came up snake eyes.

The Bucs have had the most overall success in this Draft Range with Jeremy Zuttah, Roy Miller, Tanard Jackson, Mason Foster and Mike Williams. Zuttah and Williams were both traded and Roy Miller was lost in free agency. Tanard Jackson has had a troubled, though somewhat successful, NFL career and was cut by the Bucs after failing a physical. He was signed by the Redskins in free agency and was shortly thereafter suspended by the NFL for substance abuse. Foster remains, at least so far, with the Bucs.

The Chiefs had the least success in this Data Range. Nine of their 13 selections failed to live up to expectations and only Tony Moeaki was anywhere near successful. He has suffered from injury problems and saw action with the Seahawks last year and was signed by the Falcons this year.

Draft Range 7 (115-187)

 There were 712 players selected in this Draft Range. The Packers led with 34 selections and the Patriots trailed with 15.

The top player has to be Richard Sherman (Seahawks), just ask him. Sherman has logged three All Pro selections in his four years in the league. Other contenders were Brandon Marshall (Broncos) and Elvis Sumervil (Broncos).

No “worst selections” were identified because at this stage of the draft the expectations are low and a player who does not make an NFL roster cannot be called a disappointment.

Selecting the team with the best results in this Draft Range was difficult but we went with the Eagles. The Eagles selected Todd Herremans, Trent Cole and Brent Celek among their selections. All three stayed with the Eagles through the 2014 season, though Herremans and Cole were both cap casualties this offseason. The Seahawks also received consideration with their selections of Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Red Bryant and Rob Sims. Sims left in free agency and Bryant was cut and signed with the Jaguars last year. While the four selections were modestly impressive there also a number of draft failures that dragged down their overall rating.

The Rams were judged to have the worst draft as only three of their 16 picks met or exceeded expectations, and none by a large margin. Their top selection was Michael Hoomanawanui who moved onto the Patriots in free agency.

Draft Range 8 (188+)

 There were a total of 653 players selected in this Data Range. The Patriots had the most with 30 and the Saints had the fewest with 11.

Antonio Brown (Steelers) came out of the sixth round to earn three Pro Bowl and one All Pro selection in his first five years in the NFL. His principal challenger was Jay Ratliff from the Cowboys.

As in the previous Draft Range, no “worst selection” was determined.

The Colts had the best drafts, snagging Charlie Johnson, Antoine Bethea and Kavell Connor late in the draft. None of the three remain with the Colts as all moved on in free agency. Bethea played eight seasons for the Colts before signing with the 49ers and Connor started in three of this four seasons with them.

Twenty-three of the Bengals 26 selections performed at or below expectations and they were at the bottom. The Bucs also received some consideration as well as they received no net benefit from this Draft Range.

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One week later: NFL Free Agency

The article “What Can You Expect from Free Agency” discussed, among other things, early free agent signings and how there would be plenty of them once 2015 free agency started. Well, the first week is now behind us and there was indeed plenty of activity. This

The article “What Can You Expect from Free Agency” discussed, among other things, early free agent signings and how there would be plenty of them once 2015 free agency started. Well, the first week is now behind us and there was indeed plenty of activity. This article reviews the first week of free agency and focuses on the activity that took place through March 16.

By our count, 119 free agent signings took place as of the end of the day on March 16. This includes signing both free agents whose contracts have expired and players who have been cut for salary or performance reasons. Traded players and players claimed via waiver were not included. Resigning a team’s own players is also excluded for the purposes of this analysis. While this is important it strays from the purpose of the article.

Contract Length

This is just the beginning of free agency, of course, but the early trend seems to be that fewer one- year contracts are being signed. Some of the one-year deals are for players returning from injury (e.g., Adrian Clayborn, Henry Melton, Sean Weatherspoon, Tyvon Branch, etc.,).

The following table compares the 119 signings so far in 2015 with the 139 contracts signed during the first three weeks of the 2014 free agency process.

With possible exception of the Scott Chandler signing by the Patriots, it is our guess that all the contracts of unknown length are one-year contract. This would mean that so far in 2015 free agency slightly less than 25% of all signings were for one year versus 36% in 2014. As free agency progresses we are likely to see more veteran-minimum, one-year contracts so this gap should be closed somewhat.

The Largest Contracts

The Jaguars have been the preeminent team in signing 2015 free agents to longer contracts. They have signed seven players so far with four those receiving contracts of five years. This represents 25% of all free agents who have signed contracts of five years or longer. A fifth player was signed by Jacksonville to a four-year contract. Beside the Jaguars, only the Eagles have signed more than one player to a contract in excess of four years, and they signed two.

If all five contracts are combined, the Jaguars committed to contracts having a Guaranteed Value of $77 million. Only the Jets exceed that investment with the contracts of Darrelle Revis, James Carpenter, Marcus Gilchrist, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine having a Guaranteed Value of nearly $90 million.

Most would agree that, with the ability of NFL teams to release players and void contracts, a contract’s Guaranteed Value is its most important element. Here are the eleven free agent signings with a Guaranteed Value of at least $15 million. Information is from a variety of published sources.

The Suh contract pretty much drawfs the other contracts signed and makes him the highest paid non- quarterback in the league. By way comparison, JJ Watt signed a six-year contract extension last fall and received a Guaranteed Value of $21 million (total contract of about $100 milllion), only one-third of Suh’s guarantee. Seven of the eleven contracts are for defensive players. It is a matter of conjecture whether this is a matter of chance or a commentary on the importance of defense.

Future Free Agent Signings

More players will be added to the free agent pool as the year progresses and teams make further cuts, most of which will be salary cap related. A remaining key date for free agency is June 1. Many teams have an incentive to make cuts after June 1, as that will permit them to spread a terminated player’s salary cap impact over 2015 and 2016. Otherwise the entire amount of a player’s “dead money” goes against a team’s 2015 salary cap, something most teams would like to avoid.

In addition, while many of the big-name players are already signed, there are still a lot of talented free agents available. By our count, over 250 free agents remain unsigned. Some will retire and others will attract no interest, but most will end up in someone’s training camp.

How Are Teams Doing So Far?

The emphasis should be on “so far” as there is a still a long way to go in the free agency process. In assessing a team’s performance it was decided to focus on participation losses. If player A is lost in free agency and had participated in 1000 plays from scrimmage in 2014, his team must find a replacement to play those 1000 snaps.

That replacement can come from the prior year’s roster, the draft or a free agent. In this analysis only free agency is considered so, if a player or players are signed in free agency to replace Player A, his team has suffered no quantitative loss in free agency.

A team that brings in more experience than they lost has a net gain through free agency. The following table summarizes the net gain or loss through free agency for each team. A number in parentheses represents a net loss. The “Added” column represents the number of 2014 scrimmage plays for signed free agents. The “Lost” column represents the number of 2014 scrimmage plays for players lost in free agency.

The Jets and Raiders have added the most while the Eagles and Packers have lost the most. The Packers do not typically chase free agents and others, like the Steelers, tend to sit out free agency until the prices come down.

As a matter of perspective, the Eagles lost the most 2014 scrimmage plays (4637), but those plays represented less than 20% of their total scrimmage plays. So the impact of free agency is relatively modest.

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2015 NFL trades: Business as usual?

The NFL is no stranger to big trades. Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember the 1959 trade that sent Ollie Matson from the Rams in exchange for seven players and two draft choices. I also clearly remember the 1989 trade where Herschel Walker went from the

The NFL is no stranger to big trades. Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember the 1959 trade that sent Ollie Matson from the Rams in exchange for seven players and two draft choices. I also clearly remember the 1989 trade where Herschel Walker went from the Cowboys to the Vikings in a trade that involved 18 players and draft choices. Even far more modest trades, though, have been the exception rather than the rule in the NFL.

Because of this, the NFL trades made so far in 2015 have been the source of much discussion. Have there been an unusually high number of trades this offseason? Or is it just a matter of more visible players being traded? This article is intended to put the 2015 trades into a proper context and at least partially answer those questions. Before starting, the point should also be made that this is very early in the trade season and it is likely that more 2015 trades are yet to come.

First, let us address the context. NFL trades can be categorized as being one of five types:

  • Off-season trades that occur before the draft
  • Draft day(s) trades where a team moves up in the draft order
  • Post-draft, pre-training camp trades where a team tries to fill a need it has not met through the draft or free agency
  • Training camp trades where a team may trade a surplus player
  • In-season trades that are few in number and are often necessitated by injuryThis article will focus on the pre-draft trades since that is where we are in 2015 process.During the period from 1995 through 2014 the number of pre-draft trades has ranged, by our count, from zero in 2011 to 20 in 2010. The average has been about 10 such trades per year. The following table shows the distribution of the annual number of trades over the study period:

The number of trades in each of the four years preceding 2015 have been relatively few in number compared to the norm with zero in 2011, eight in 2012, ten in 2013 and seven in 2014.

Individual trades over the past five years are listed in the following tables. The expected impact of each trade at the time of the trade is presented in the tables. A “10” in the trade impact column indicates a very impactful trade. A “0” indicates a trade with no impact. If there is no year in parentheses after the draft choice, it means that the choices involved were in the same year as the trade (e.g., a 2012 draft choice was received for a 2012 trade).

2011 Trades

By our count there were no (as in zero) offseason trades

2012 Trades

The trade-up to draft RG3 occurred in 2012 and was the most impactful trade of the offseason. It was really a trade-up of draft choices but is included in the trade list because of its timing.

The trades are:

2013 Trades

There were several relatively significant trades preceding the 2013 draft. Alex Smith went from the 49ers to the Chiefs; the Jets traded Darrelle Revis to the Bucs and the Vikings traded Percy Harvin to the Seahawks. A fourth trade (Carson Palmer) did not seem significant at the time but was big for the Cardinals. A complete list follows:

2014 Trades

Not much of significance happened during the 2014 preseason. Jeremy Zuttah was a starter for the Ravens and Darren Sproles was a situational player for the Eagles. Not much happened with the rest of the trades and they were relatively minor, both in terms of number and impact. A complete list of trades follows:

2015 Trades

While it is unlikely that 2015 will go down as one of the years with highest number of trades, the ones that did occur have been high impact. The Graham trade may be the most impactful of the group, as it provides a missing piece to a Super Bowl contender.

The McCoy for Alonso trade is very interesting because there have been historically few recent cases where top-level players are exchanged one for one. Most one for one deals involve role players or are “change of scenery” trades (e.g., Jeff Baldwin for A.J. Jenkins, Jason Smith for Wayne Hunter, etc.) The last trades having anywhere near the import of the McCoy/Alonso deal was the Joey Galloway (from Cowboys to Bucs) for Keyshawn Johnson trade in 2004. Clinton Portis was sent by the Bronocs for Champ Bailey deal in the same year but the trade also included a 2nd round pick.

It is also interesting that the Saints participated as sellers in three of the nine trades. Are there more Saints trades to come?

A list of trades made through March 15 is as follows:

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Ranking the Draft Performance of Colleges

In the recent article “The Power Five Conferences and the NFL Draft” we promised to provide information, at a later date, for individual colleges. This article follows up on that promise and evaluates the draft performance of colleges for players selected between 2005 and 2014.

The methodology used to rank the colleges is the

In the recent article “The Power Five Conferences and the NFL Draft” we promised to provide information, at a later date, for individual colleges. This article follows up on that promise and evaluates the draft performance of colleges for players selected between 2005 and 2014.

The methodology used to rank the colleges is the same as that used in “Rating General Managers in the NFL Draft”. This methodology compares actual results, expressed as the number of games started, with expected results based on historical outcomes.

As always, we must acknowledge that this is just one way (out of many) of viewing a college’s draft performance. We continue to search for the “perfect” methodology but suspect that it does not exist.

Repeating the example used in “Rating General Managers in the NFL Draft”, Frank Gore illustrates the concept. Gore was drafted by San Francisco as the #65 selection in the 2005 draft. This means that he could have started a maximum of 160 (10 years times 16 games/year) games. Historically, players drafted at that point of the draft started about 36% of the maximum or about 58 games for a player drafted in 2005. The actual number of games started by Gore is 134, so he exceeded expectations by 76 games. This is referred to in this article as his surplus. If a player has fewer games started than expected it is referred to as a deficit.

A college’s surplus or deficit is then determined by summarizing each player’s results. The number of draft selections for each college is also counted. The surplus or deficit is divided by the number of draft selections for each college to arrive at its surplus or deficit per draft selection.

As compared with the analysis for General Managers, the data points for each college are widely dispersed. General Managers generally have a full set of draft selections, or close to it, for each year they are employed. This does happen for many of the colleges. Thus the necessity to convert all data to a per draft choice basis as this facilitates analysis and provides comparability.

The results or our analysis are quite different than they would be if only the absolute number of draft choices and number of career starts are considered. Southern Cal, for example, would be the leader with 67 players drafted and 1994 games started by those draftees. Instead, our analysis is more of a judgment on the efficiency of each college.  A college that produces all seventh round choices could rank higher than a team with more or higher selections depending on the degree by which performance was better or worse than expected.

Only colleges with at least 10 players drafted in the study period were included in the analysis. There are 76 colleges that meet the criteria and they are listed in the following table.

The table includes the following information for each college:

  • The number of players drafted in the 10-year period
  • The actual number of starts made by those players
  • The surplus or deficit per player
    • A number in parentheses indicates a deficit

A zero value indicates performance is exactly average.  A surplus means that performance is above average, the higher the better. A deficit represents below average performance.

chart

Some of the highlights associated with this list are as follows:

  • Central Florida, Purdue and Mississippi were the only three colleges with an average surplus per play of ten games or more
    • The combined draft selections of the three teams combined (51) was less than six colleges
  • Brandon Marshall and Josh Sitton, both fourth round selections, account for a significant portion of Central Florida’s positive rating
    • Bruce Miller, a 7th round selection, is also a major contributor
  • Purdue’s positive results were largely driven by Ryan Kerrigan (1st round pick), Bernard Pollard *2nd round pick) and Cliff Avril (3rd round pick)
  • Mississippi was led by 1st round picks Patrick Willis and Michael Oher and 3rd round pick Mike Wallace
  • Four colleges that had among the highest number of draftees (Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Southern Cal) were ranked in the bottom 20 of this table
    • Could player’s from the “big schools” be overvalued and possibly overdrafted?
  • Florida State’s position is largely due to the underperformance of its draftees in the second through fourth rounds
    • Chief underperformers included Everette Brown, Lorenzo Booker, Buster Davis, Willie Reed and Craphonso Thorpe
  • Ohio State had some underperformers in the first round (Bobby Carpenter and Vernon Gholston) and every one of their six third-round choices underperformed
    • The six third-round picks combined for a grand total of 19 NFL starts
  • Oklahoma had marginal success in the first two rounds but draftees in the remaining five rounds underperformed
    • Only four players of their 31 selections after round three had a surplus
  • While there are plenty of success stories, Southern Cal draftees as a group pretty much underperformed throughout the draft
    • Biggest deficits were from Matt Leinert (1st round), Dwayne Jarrett (2nd round) and LenDale White (3rd round)
  • While Rodger Saffold was a net positive performer, three wide receivers (James Hardy in round 2, Courtney Roby in round 3 and Isaac Sowell in round four) dragged Indiana into the basement

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Rating General Managers in the NFL Draft

An NFL General Manager has a full plate of responsibilities ranging from signing or retaining free agents to overseeing the draft process. All these duties must be carried out in the context of the Salary Cap, adding another layer of complexity. The ultimate judgment regarding how well

An NFL General Manager has a full plate of responsibilities ranging from signing or retaining free agents to overseeing the draft process. All these duties must be carried out in the context of the Salary Cap, adding another layer of complexity. The ultimate judgment regarding how well a General Manager does his job is, of course, his team’s won-lost record.

It should be noted that not everyone in our analysis carries the General Manager title. Nick Caserio of the Patriots, for example, is the Director of Player Personnel but is the closest person to a General Manager in their front office.

This article focuses on only one aspect of the job – – managing the draft process. We have typically used some measure of being a five-year starter in evaluating performance. That would not be useful in this analysis, though, because it effectively excludes the last six years in a 10-year analysis.

In order to facilitate a more current look at results, our rating were based on a comparison of actual starts and projected starts for all players drafted between 2005 and 2014. Let us take Frank Gore to illustrate the concept. Gore was drafted by San Francisco as the #65 selection in the 2005 draft. This means that he could have started a maximum of 160 (10 years times 16 games/year) games. Historically, players drafted at that point of the draft started about 36% of the maximum or about 58 games for a player drafted in 2005. The actual number of games started by Gore is 134, so he exceeded expectations by 76 games. This 76 game “surplus” is credited to Scot McCloughan, the General Manager at the time, because he was good enough or lucky enough to select Gore.

The percentage used is calculated for each of the Draft Ranges, as defined in earlier articles. This means there is no inherent advantage in our analysis from having an early first round choice (i.e., the top pick in the draft) compared to a later choice (e.g., pick #32). That is taken into consideration in calculating the expected number of starts.

This calculation is repeated for each player drafted between 2005 and 2014. A summation of the relevant individual scores is then made for each General Manager. The resulting total surplus or deficit for each General Manager is divided by the number of years in his tenure between 2005 and 2014, resulting in an average annual rate. McCloughan was, for example, employed as a General Manager for five years and ended up with a total surplus of 295 games, resulting in an average annual surplus of 59. The conversion to an annual rate is done to provide comparability among General Managers with different employment tenures.

An average annual surplus of zero indicates a General Manager that performs at exactly the league average. A high surplus is good. A deficit is bad.

The table that follows ranks all current General Managers by their average annual surplus or deficit, with the largest surplus indicating that the General Manager was the most effective at his job on draft day. Please note that the drafting General Manager receives credit for a player regardless of whether the player remains with the team. If Gore had left the 49ers after three seasons and played for the Chargers, for example, McCloughan would still receive credit for all of Gore’s starts.

The table requires some explanation:

  • The first two columns are self-explanatory.
  • The third column cannot be greater than 10 (representing the 10 years studied) and represents the total number of seasons spent as a General Manager from 2005 through 2014.
  • The next column cannot be greater than the preceding one and represents the number of years spent as General Manager of the current team during the 10-year time period.
  • The “Average Annual Surplus (Deficit)” column was calculated as explained above and the table is sorted by those values
  • The final column represents the other teams for which the person served as General Manager during the 10-year period.

 

There is no perfect way to statistically analyze a General Manager’s draft performance. What is presented here is one way of doing it. A surplus can result from drafting more NFL starters, players with longer careers than typical or some combination of the two.

A few highlights from the above:

  • Six teams have had the same General Manager for at least the past 10 seasons
  • Almost half the teams (14) are within 10 games per season of the average
  • Scot McCloughan left the 49ers for “mutual reasons” and went on to serve as an advisor to John Schneider, the #2 rated General Manager, for four drafts
  • Mike Maccagnan, the Jets’ new General Manager, came from the Houston Texans where he was Director of College Scouting

It is also interesting to look at people who served as General Managers for at least three seasons over the past 10 years and who are no longer employed as a General Manager. It is no surprise to Lions fans that Matt Millen is at the bottom of the rankings but some of the names at the top might be surprising.

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The NFL’S 1%

The Occupy Wall Street and related movements used the slogan “We Are the 99%”. The corollary to that slogan is that the members of the top 1% are the privileged few and enjoy the benefits of wealth distribution inequality. (For the record, that is NOT a view that I share and I am far from

The Occupy Wall Street and related movements used the slogan “We Are the 99%”. The corollary to that slogan is that the members of the top 1% are the privileged few and enjoy the benefits of wealth distribution inequality. (For the record, that is NOT a view that I share and I am far from being part of the 1%).

What does that have to do with the NFL? Well, it turns out that the NFL has its own top 1% when it comes to player performance. Our research indicates that 53 of the 5060 players drafted (or about 1%) from 1995 through 2014 have gone on to become three-time All Pro selections.

In our analyses, we have consistently used the milestone of earning three All Pro selections as the proxy for the top category of player performance. While the outcome of voting for post-season honors is not a perfect indication of on-field success, it does provide the advantage of being at least a somewhat objective and a completely verifiable source of information.

The purpose of this article is to explore whether there are any common denominators among the 53 three-time All Pros (hereinafter referred to as the “Top Performers”) and to provide additional relevant background information. The analysis for this article was for the period from 1995 through 2014.

Who Drafts Them?

This is somewhat of a chicken or the egg situation. Do All Pros make a team successful or do successful teams tend to generate more All Pros because of the team’s success? There is no way of answering this question. What we do know, though, is that 27 of the 32 NFL teams drafted at least one Top Performer. The Bills, Cardinals, Falcons, Giants and Titans drafted no Top Performers during the study period. The following table shows the NFL teams that did draft Top Performers and the number selected by each.

Where in the Draft Were They Selected?

The Top Performers tend to be selected early in the draft. All rounds are represented, though, except for the 7th. The first round produced 35 of the 53 players, with 27 (or almost exactly half of all Top Performers) selected in the first 14 picks. The distribution by round is as follows:

How Many Are Selected Annually?

 Typically two to four Top Performers are selected in each draft. The highest number selected in the past 20 years is eight in 1996. The number will increase for some of the years as time goes on and the more recent years (2012-2014 in this case) are highly likely to ultimately generate at least a few Top Performers. The number of Top Performers drafted by year for the past 20 years is as follows:

Which Playing Positions are the Most Prevalent Top Performers?

Top Performers are produced at almost every playing position. Some of the position classifications can be debated (i.e., whether a player was a defensive end or an outside linebacker) but here is the breakdown by position as well as the players who make up the group of 53.

The most surprising item in the table is that only one quarterback (Peyton Manning) was a Top Performer. Manning was selected as an All Pro seven times and, given that only one All Pro quarterback per year is selected, his multiple selections effectively blocked such players as Tom Brady from being in the Top Performer group. The remaining 13 All Pro quarterbacks for the 1995-2014 period, with the number of years in parentheses, were Bret Favre (3), Tom Brady (2), Aaron Rodgers (2), Rich Gannon (2), Kurt Warner (2), Drew Brees (1) and Randall Cunningham (1). Favre was drafted in 1991 so he did not fall into the analysis period and is not counted as one of the 53.

What Colleges Produced the Most Top Performers?

About 85% (45 in total) of the Top Performers came from the Power Five Conferences. Nine colleges in that group produced more than one Top Performer. Miami is the leader with four followed by Georgia with three. Seven colleges (Florida State, Michigan, Pitt, Syracuse, Southern Cal, UCLA and Wisconsin) checked in with two each.

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The Power Five Conferences and the NFL Draft

2014 was a significant year in college football. The BCS was dissolved and the College Football Playoff instituted in its place. The NCAA also granted increased autonomy to the football powers represented by the five major conferences plus Notre Dame. These conferences are known as the Power Five Conferences and include the Atlantic Coast, Big

2014 was a significant year in college football. The BCS was dissolved and the College Football Playoff instituted in its place. The NCAA also granted increased autonomy to the football powers represented by the five major conferences plus Notre Dame. These conferences are known as the Power Five Conferences and include the Atlantic Coast, Big 10, Big 12, PAC 12 and Southeastern conferences.

The increased autonomy has very little to do with on-field activities. While each of the conferences has a weak sister or two, the 65 colleges included in the Power Five were the principal powers in college football before 2014 and are likely to continue to be so in future years.

This article will examine the degree of the impact the Power Five colleges have on the NFL draft. This will include both a comparison of the Power Five with the rest of college football and then a comparison of the conferences within the Power Five.

Power Five vs. the Rest of College Football

The level of dominance by the Power Five can best be illustrated by comparing both the number of draft choices and the success of those selections. As a starting point in this analysis, all colleges were divided into one of three groups:

  • The Power Five
  • The five other conferences that used to be designated as BCS colleges
    • This includes the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Sunbelt Conference
  • All other schools

The conference affiliations that existed in 2014 were used for the entire 20-year period (1995-2014 drafts) of the analysis. Selections for each category were compiled by Draft Range (as defined in past articles). As a reminder, the eight Draft Ranges are 1-4, 5-14, 14-24, 25-46, 47-73, 74-114, 115-187 and 188 and later.

The following table shows the percentage of selections for each Draft Range and college category:

The table indicates that over 73% of all draft selections are from the Power Five, with that percentage starting in the 90-95% range and decreasing to 65% by the end of the draft. Clearly, the Power Five dominates the draft.

There are no significant differences in the success rates for any of the nine milestones identified in earlier articles. As an example, the following table compares the actual number of five-year starters and the projected number based on the article “Draft Probabilities” and leads to a conclusion that there is no drafting bias in favor of Power Five colleges.

Difference of (3) due to roundings

 

There are some real differences, though, in the mix of playing positions drafted. Some of the differences noted are as follows:

  • Proportionately more wide receivers and corners are selected from colleges other than the Power Five
  • Proportionately more linebackers are drafted by the Power Five
  • Proportionately fewer QBs are drafted by the Power Five but they are drafted higher
    • 31 QBs were drafted in the top 14 selections over the 20 years with 24 being from Power 5 colleges

Comparing the Power Five Conferences

Although the Southeastern Conference has a clear lead over the others, the conferences, with the exception of the Big 12, are relatively close in the number of draft selections. The percentage of the whole for each is as follows:

  • Southeastern                 24.7%
  • Big Ten                           22.3%
  • Atlantic Coast               22.0%
  • PAC 12                            19.5%
  • Big 12                              11.5%

Notre Dame is excluded from this analysis due to a lack of comparability (e.g., the experience of a single school does not compare to a conference).

The number of selections by Draft Range during the study period is as follows:

It should be noted that both the SEC and ACC are more prominent earlier in the draft than in the full draft. The two conferences combine for 54% of selections (29% for the SEC and 25% for the ACC) in the first three Draft Ranges versus about 47% for the full draft. The Big 10 and PAC 12 are less prominent in those ranges, accounting for 34% of draftees in the first three Draft Ranges versus almost 42% for the entire draft.

The distribution of draft selections, both in total and by individual Draft Range, makes it quite feasible to compare the subsequent performance of the draft selections by conference. It would be rather confusing from a presentation standpoint, though, if all nine milestones were used in reporting the results of the analysis. Instead, this article focused on only three of the milestones. These are five-years starters, three-time Pro Bowl selections and selection as an All Pro at least once.

The following table compares the actual achievement by conference to the projected achievement based on the probabilities established in the article “Draft Probabilities”. A number in parentheses indicates a deficit in performance, meaning that the number of players achieving the milestone is less than projected.

As can be seen the Atlantic Coast Conference has the most impressive results when taken in totality. The Southeastern Conference performs well in the context of five-year starters but not so much with players earning post-season honors. The SEC produced the greatest number of five-year starters but trailed the ACC in both the Pro Bowl and All Pro categories.

Finally, the conferences were reviewed to see if there were any significant differences by playing position. The following table shows the number of five-year starters by position.

Not surprisingly, the Big 10 produced the most five-year starters among offensive linemen but it was unexpected that they also led in wide receivers and linebackers. The ACC led only at running back but ranked fairly high at all positions. The SEC led in defensive linemen and corners. The PAC 12 had the most quarterbacks and safeties.

The next logical step is to perform a similar analysis at the individual college level. That will be a topic for a future article.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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