March 12, 2015 - Tony Villiotti
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 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. Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics