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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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.
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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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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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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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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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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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.
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.
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:
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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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
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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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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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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