Posts by Tony Villiotti

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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Offense or Defense: What Do You 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

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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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.

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NFL Draft Probabilities by playing position

In our last article we presented the probabilities of achieving certain milestones for each player selected in a Draft Range. This article examines the differences in the probabilities among playing positions. The study covers drafts from 1995 through 2014

There are a couple of issues in such an analysis, though, that stand in the

In our last article we presented the probabilities of achieving certain milestones for each player selected in a Draft Range. This article examines the differences in the probabilities among playing positions. The study covers drafts from 1995 through 2014

There are a couple of issues in such an analysis, though, that stand in the way of reaching definitive conclusions. First, the number of data points is limited given the number of playing position/Draft Range/Milestone combinations. The 5000 data points are divided into about 1000 combinations (eight Draft Ranges, nine milestones and 15 or so playing positions). This is further limited by the fact that the measurement period for some of the milestones (e.g., five-year starters) is less than 20 years (e.g., a 14-year period is used to measure the probability of measuring whether a player is a five-year starter).

Second, associating a player with a single playing position is not as easy as you might think. A number of players float back and forth among center, guard and tackle on the offensive line. Others may move from corner to safety or vice versa. This article places a player at the position at which he is drafted and leaves him there for analytical purposes.

At the end of this article there will be a separate table for each of the nine milestones, showing information by playing position and Draft Range. Before getting into the more detailed table, the following summary table shows the rank of each playing position within each milestone and across all Draft Ranges. A “1” indicates the highest ranking and “13” the worst. The ranking is based on the percentage of players who achieve the relevant milestone.

The table provides an overview of each playing position and each milestone. The following conclusions can be drawn from the table:

  • Offensive linemen, including tight ends, are probably the least risky positions to draft
  • Wide receivers and running backs are the riskiest offensive position
  • Quarterback is also pretty risky and those draftees are least likely to make an NFL roster
  • Defensive ends take the longest to crack the starting lineup but otherwise the draftees are pretty successful
  • Defensive tackles are the most risky defensive position
  • Linebackers are fairly comparable to defensive ends except they tend to start earlier
  • Corners tend to have lengthy careers but are about average when it comes to becoming starters
  • Safeties are somewhat less risky than corners but are fairly comparable.

There are at least a few oddities in these numbers. The most glaring is the low ranking for quarterbacks in the All Pro milestones. This is solely due to Peyton Manning “hogging” the All Pro selections, leaving no room for anyone else to be selected.

Nine tables follow with information for each milestone, playing position, and Draft Range. The order of milestones in any kind of order of significance is a matter of opinion and that was not the purpose of this article. The term “NA” in the tables indicates that no players from that playing position were selected in the Draft Range. Kickers and other special teams players were excluded from the analysis.

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Probabilities of the NFL Draft

In the recent article “Breaking Down the NFL Draft” various metrics were used to separate draft selections into “Draft Ranges”. Each of these Draft Ranges contained selections that had similar results from the draft (e.g., selections five through 14 had similar career outcomes, etc.). This article takes that analysis a step further and discusses

In the recent article “Breaking Down the NFL Draft” various metrics were used to separate draft selections into “Draft Ranges”. Each of these Draft Ranges contained selections that had similar results from the draft (e.g., selections five through 14 had similar career outcomes, etc.). This article takes that analysis a step further and discusses what history says about the probability of a player achieving specified milestones. Future articles will compare the data from this article to data by playing position and other perspectives.

The major difference between the two articles is that “Breaking Down the NFL Draft” is based on drafts for the most recent 20 years (1995-2014). This is useful for the purpose it served, but does measure probabilities very well. A player selected in the 2014 draft, for example, is not going to be a five-year starter after his first season. The same can be said for players selected in the 2010-2013 drafts.

In this article, the same starting point (1995) is used to measure an achievement but the ending point is tailored to that milestone. In order to tailor the measurement period to the time a player has been in the league, the measurement period used is the minimum time required for a player to achieve a milestone plus one season (thereby providing a cushion). This results, for example, in the 1995-2009 drafts being used to determine whether a player achieved the five-year starter metric. The only exceptions to this are milestones that are achievable in a player’s rookie season. The milestone “Rookie Starter” is the most obvious example of such an exception.

As a reminder, the following definitions are used in all of my articles:

  • A starting season is defined as one when a player starts at least eight games. This definition is used for the starter metrics.
  • A player receives credit for a Pro Bowl selection only when they are an original selection, whether they played in the game or not. Alternates do not receive credit for a Pro Bowl selection.
  • A player receives credit for an All-Pro selection if he is selected All-Pro by either the Associated Press or the Pro Football Writers of America.

The following table shows the probability of a player in each Data Range achieving the nine designated milestones. Where the “<” sign is used, it means that a player did not quite achieve the percentage shown. For example, <100% indicates that a player has more than a 99% probability of achieving a milestone but less than 100% (e.g., 99.5%). The “Last Year” column is the ending draft year included in the analysis (with 1995 always being the first year). All other columns are self-explanatory.

There are a number of observations that can be made from the above table:

  • Virtually every player drafted will play at least one year in the NFL
    • Even the latest draft choices have a 75% probability of making a roster
    • This may not be for the team that drafted them or in the year they were drafted
  • There is practically no difference among first round selections in a player lasting five years in the league
    • The probability declines rapidly beginning late in the third round
  • The principal difference between the first and second Draft Ranges is the probability of drafting a Pro Bowl or All Pro player
  • The chances of drafting a five-year starter decline rapidly after the first 24 selections
    • Chances are better than 50-50 in the first 24 picks
  • The chances of drafting a player who wins post-season honors is remote after the first 73 selections
    • The drop-off is even more drastic when it comes to multiple All-Pro selections

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Breaking down the NFL Draft

Draft Choice Trade Value Charts would have you believe that the NFL draft is an orderly process where a drafted player has less chance of succeeding than the player drafted right before him. That may be the only logical assumption that can be made for purposes of the Charts. In truth, though, the draft is

Draft Choice Trade Value Charts would have you believe that the NFL draft is an orderly process where a drafted player has less chance of succeeding than the player drafted right before him. That may be the only logical assumption that can be made for purposes of the Charts. In truth, though, the draft is a disorderly process where an undrafted player can succeed and a first round draft selection can fail.

While not perfect, a better way to view the draft is as a series of draft selections that can be divided into groups (called Draft Ranges in this article). Each of the selections in a group is about equal in value (e.g., produces similar results). While this is useful information there can be no dispute that there are plenty of “blips” within the draft. The 44th draft slot, for example, has produced more players (nine) that were Pro Bowl selections than the 10th draft slot selection (four).

This article proposes Draft Ranges based on historical data. These historical Draft Ranges can then be applied to the 2015 draft. In future articles, success probabilities for various metrics will be discussed for each Draft Range based on historical data.

The information in this article sets the stage for pretty much all of the later draft articles. The Draft Ranges were determined by reviewing the outcome of draft selections over the past 20 years (1995-2014). For each individual draft slot the following data was accumulated and evaluated:

  • Average career length in years
  • Average number of starter years
    • A starter year is any season where a player started at least eight games
  • Average percentage of rookie starters
  • Average number of games started during a player’s career
  • The percentage of players earning post-season honors
    • Percentage of players selected to the Pro Bowl at least once and at least three times
    • Percentage of players named All Pro at least once and at least three times

It should be noted that a player receives credit for a Pro Bowl appearance only if he was the original selection, regardless of whether he played in the game or bowed out due to “injury” or his team being in the Super Bowl. Alternates and other substitutes do not receive credit for a Pro Bowl appearance.

While the analysis is based on hard data there is definitely an element of subjectivity at play. This surfaces in determining the weighting of various factors. Should more importance be placed on players earning post-season awards or on the number of games started in a player’s career? The approach taken in this article is to make it less a calculation and more a balanced assessment of the individual factors.

As a result of this process and analysis, there turned out to be eight Draft Ranges defined as follows:

The following table summarizes the data used in setting the Draft Ranges:

For those of you who have read some of my past work, it should be pointed out that this is a pretty significant difference from prior writings. Last year, for example, the first Draft Range included selections one through 13. This year, after much thought, more emphasis was placed on the percentage of players who earned post-season honors and two smaller Draft Ranges evolved.

Future articles will further analyze the draft and use the Draft Ranges established in this article while using appropriate time periods for evaluation.

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The NFL Combine All-Stars

Data from the recently completed NFL Combine is still being gathered. Based on the data that is already available, though, it is possible to take a quick crack at identifying those players who performed well and who belong on our annual Combine all-star team. Inclusion on the all-star team is based strictly on the measurable

Data from the recently completed NFL Combine is still being gathered. Based on the data that is already available, though, it is possible to take a quick crack at identifying those players who performed well and who belong on our annual Combine all-star team. Inclusion on the all-star team is based strictly on the measurable Combine drills and nothing else.

Data used in the analysis comes from NFL.com and from information accumulated by Mike Loyko.

The evaluation included only a player’s performance in the three most important drills for each playing position (as presented in the recent “Which Combine Drills Are Most Important” article). In some cases, data for a drill (e.g., the 20 yard segment of the 40 yard run) is not available. In such cases, the drills evaluated included the data from the top three drills for which data is available (e.g., for a playing position with no data for a “top three drill” immediately available, the fourth most important drill would be included instead).

The additional qualification is that a player must have participated in at least two of the three drills. Hence the exclusion of CB Byron Jones who did not do any of the running drills but blew the roof off the drills in which he did participate.

The All-Star team follows below. Whether performance in Indianapolis translates to performance on Sundays remains to be answered.

Center
Andrew Gallik – Boston College

Guards
Mark Glowinski – West Virginia
Laken Tomlinson, Duke

Tackles
Jake Fisher, Oregon
Ali Marpet, Hobart

Wide Receivers
Chris Conley, Georgia
Kenny Bell, Nebraska
Sammie Coates, Auburn

Tight End
Mycole Pruitt, Southern Illinois

Quarterback
Nick Marshall, Auburn

Small RB (<215 lbs)
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

Large RB
David Johnson, Northern Iowa

Small DE (<270 lbs)
Vic Beasley, Clemson

Large DE
Mario Edwards, Florida State

Defensive Tackle
David Parry, Stanford

Inside Linebackers
Eric Kendricks, UCLA
Stephone Anthony, Clemson

Outside Linebackers
Bud Dupree, Kentucky
Edmond Robinson, Newberry

Cornerbacks
Ronald Darby, Florida State
Jalen Collins, Louisiana State

Safeties
Justin Cox, Mississippi State
Damarious Randall, Arizona State

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Quarterback trends

It is an inarguable fact that quarterback is the most important playing position on the field.  This year’s playoff participants reinforce that notion.  With the exception of the Cardinals, who were missing Carson Palmer due to injury, each of the 12 playoff teams had a quarterback that is solidly entrenched as a starter.

This article

It is an inarguable fact that quarterback is the most important playing position on the field.  This year’s playoff participants reinforce that notion.  With the exception of the Cardinals, who were missing Carson Palmer due to injury, each of the 12 playoff teams had a quarterback that is solidly entrenched as a starter.

This article reviews current starting quarterbacks and determines where they came from, how soon they came starters and other relevant characteristics. The article also discusses trends that may affect a team trying to fill a need at the position.

As a first step, teams were grouped into categories based on my humble opinion of the ability of their starting quarterback. The following table reflects that categorization.

 

This table indicates that there are eight teams with quarterback issues. This includes the Bears (and Jay Cutler), a designation with which some might not agree. A more detailed summary of each team’s situation is on the final page of this article.

History tells us that the draft is the principal avenue for acquiring a quarterback. The current situation is no different with 22 of the 32 starters coming to their teams via the draft. If the draft day trade between the Chargers and the Giants is re-characterized as Manning and Rivers coming through the draft to their respective teams, which is in essence what happened, that number grows to 24 starters. Excluding that trade the remaining eight starters came to their current team as follows:

  • Three players (Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith) came via trade
    • Cutler was expensive and came to the Bears along with a 5th round choice for two 1st round selections, a 3rd round pick and Kyle Orton
    • Palmer was a bargain and came from the Raiders for a late round pick and an exchange of late round selections
    • Smith went from the 49ers for 2nd and 3rd round selections
  • One player (Tony Romo) was an undrafted free agent
  • Two players (Drew Brees and Peyton Manning) came to their team via the free agent route, being available largely due to injury
  • Two players (Brian Hoyer and Ryan Fitzpatrick) were journeymen free agents

Improving a team’s quarterback situation in 2015 through free agency seems unlikely. Only two current starters (Brian Hoyer and Jake Locker) are eligible for free agency, and neither is an established player. Ryan Mallett, the backup for the Texans, is a free agent and might have some potential but the Patriots traded him for a late round pick, which says something about his potential.

Historically, trades are unlikely. There have been rumors concerning Jay Cutler and Sam Bradford being on the trade market but neither plays for a team that has a viable backup quarterback. Trades usually occur when a team has an excess at the position but that does not look to be case for any team this year.

This leaves the draft as the most likely path to improvement. There are two draft trends that should be noted. The first is that there is an increased prevalence of first round draft choices as starters. In looking at current starters, 19 of the 32 were first round draft choices. This compares to 13 first round selections ten years ago in 2004.  It is only logical then that college players at the top of the draft boards will be in great demand. Are Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston worthy of an early draft shot? Maybe or maybe not, but they will be taken early. Is this good news for Brett Hundley?

Whether this is a trend or a blip is something worth following. The following table shows a breakdown by draft round for the past five years.

Most recent starters come from the first round and all have come from the first three rounds.

The second trend is that quarterbacks are starting earlier in their career. 19 of the current starters were starters as rookies compared to 13 in 2014. Some of the top “older” starters served apprenticeships before taking over but that seems to be a thing of the past. Here are some of those that learned by watching:

  • Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for three seasons
  • Philip Rivers spent two years behind Drew Brees
  • Carson Palmer sat behind Jon Kitna for a year before moving up
  • Tony Romo understudied Drew Bledsoe and Vinny Testaverde
  • Drew Brees waited his turn behind Doug Flutie

The following table shows more details about changes over the past 10 years:

The difference among the age groups is even clearer when 2014 is reviewed by age and number of years it took to gain the starting nod:

Only four of the 14 players that were 30 and over started as rookies. For the under 30 crowd, 15 out of 18 started as rookies. While a bias toward younger players starting as rookies is to be expected, this is a pretty large difference that borders on the astounding.

In addition to the eight teams who were previously identified as having quarterback problems, should any other teams be seeking quarterbacks due to an aging starter?  As can be seen in the preceding table, slightly less than half the starters are 30 years old or older.

The five oldest, with their ages as of September 1 2105 in parentheses, are Peyton Manning (39), Tom Brady (38), Drew Brees (35), Tony Romo (35) and Carson Palmer (35). Do the teams with older quarterbacks have a backup who is the long-term answer? I would categorize the backups as follows:

The potential starters are largely players who have not had the opportunity to show what they can do. So it is more a matter of uncertainty than being a proven starter-in-waiting. These backups are pre-2015 free agency and excludes backups for the Bills and the Bucs as they do not currently have one.

The bad news for teams looking for a quarterback is that there are unlikely to be solutions for all of them. They are left to hope their existing quarterback or a backup shows improvement or that a recycled free agent will do the job.

 

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What to expect in free agency

Free Agency officially begins on March 10 this year. It is impossible to predict what will happen once the gates open but looking at last year will at least provide some hints as to what is likely to occur.

Free agents can be placed in two groups. The first is the largest and consists of

Free Agency officially begins on March 10 this year. It is impossible to predict what will happen once the gates open but looking at last year will at least provide some hints as to what is likely to occur.

Free agents can be placed in two groups. The first is the largest and consists of restricted and unrestricted free agents whose contracts have expired. The second group is players who have been released or otherwise terminated with their prior team having no claim on them. This second group is not part of the “official” free agent process so the March 10 date does not apply. This article does not differentiate between the two groups except where noted.

What can we learn from the 2014 free agent process and the following 2014 season?

 

FREE AGENTS ARE OF MODEST IMPORANTANCE IN BUILDING A TEAM

The combination of both the free agent groups and the handful of trades that take place accounted for about 135,000 plays from scrimmage, or 18% of all 2014 scrimmage plays. (Rookie undrafted free agent signings are not included in this category, but are in the rookie numbers presented below.) Here is how the 2014 free agent signings fit into the big picture, with the players column representing the number of players who played at least one play from scrimmage in 2014.

As always, though, numbers do not tell the whole story. The Broncos added three quality defensive starters through free agency. The Patriots solidified their defensive backfield by adding Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Patrick Chung. The Seahawks, on the other hand, only added Kevin Williams to its defensive line. Williams was significant even though he who played only about half the defensive snaps. More about the Seahawks later.

 

THERE WILL BE PLENTY OF EARLY SIGNINGS

A lot of early signings can be anticipated when the free agency period does begin. In 2014 more than half the players either signed with a new team or resigned with their old team within three weeks. Over one-third of the 139 players who changed teams in the first three weeks did so in the FIRST TWO DAYS of free agency. Also, there is a tendency to focus on the high salary contracts with long duration but those are really not the majority. The 139 early signings can be broken down by contract length as follows:

 

RELATIVELY FEW FREE AGENTS PROVIDE MOST OF THE IMPACT

Focusing on veteran players that changed teams and saw the field, there were a total of 401 players signed in free agency or acquired in trades that participated in at least one play from scrimmage in 2014. The 111 players who participated in 500 or more scrimmage plays accounted for over 65% of all scrimmage plays by free agents. The 98 players who participated in between 200 and 499 scrimmage plays accounted for an additional 24-25% of the scrimmage plays. This means that slightly more than half the 401 players participated in about 90% of the scrimmage plays. This is summarized below:


THERE ARE MANY MORE ONE-YEAR CONTRACTS THAN ANY OTHER CONTRACT LENGTH

The above player groupings can be broken down by contract length. This table shows that 2014 free agents who signed one-year contracts are most prevalent.

 

SOME PLAYING POSITIONS SEEM TO BE MORE HIGHLY VALUE IN FREE AGENCY

Are there differences by playing position? Sure there are. The differences are shown in the following table. Two things jumped out at me. First, is the small number of running backs that are involved in scrimmage plays with a new team. Second, offensive linemen, wide receivers, defensive linemen and defensive backs represented over 80% of the total plays from scrimmage from 2014 free agents.

 

SIGNING FREE AGENTS IS NOT A PANCEA: LOSING FREE AGENTS IS NOT A TRAGEDY

It is difficult to draw any conclusions by team because the situation often changes from one year to the next. Some teams do have a definite strategy regarding retention versus chasing free agents (as discussed in an earlier article), but most use free agency to plug holes. The next two tables show the teams with the fewest and then the most scrimmage plays from 2014 free agents.

The final table summarizes scrimmage plays from (1) 2014 free agents signed, (2) 2014 free agents lost and (3) the net difference for each NFL team. Better teams tend to lose players simply because they have better players or because of a change in the environment (new coach, dissatisfaction with team management, etc.).

The Seahawks are impressive because they lost a number of players who moved on to become starters for others, signed very few free agents and still remained successful. Six Seahawks (Brandon Browner, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Breno Giacomini, Clinton McDonald and Golden Tate) were lost in free agency and went to start for other teams. Plus, Percy Harvin was traded in mid-season and TE Zach Miller and DT Brandon Mebane were lost to injury. Kudos to the Seahawks front office as they managed the loss of these players with virtually no free agent signings and moved on to the Super Bowl.

The Tampa Bay Bucs are at the other end of the spectrum. The Bucs had both the highest number of 2014 scrimmage plays signed and lost. Their off-season activities looked promising as only Darrelle Revis shaped up as a significant loss and Alterraun Verner was signed in free agency to mitigate that loss. The Bucs added Anthony Collins, Evan-Dietrich Smith and Logan Mankins (through trade) to their offensive line while cutting ties with Jeremy Zuttah (trade), Ted Larsen and Donald Penn. Josh McCown was brought into play quarterback after a good 2013 season for the Bears but was just cut by the Bucs after a disappointing season. They also added Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald to bolster their defensive line. The new offensive linemen did not live up to expectations and Michael Johnson bordered on being terrible. The net result was that the Bucs suffered a significant net downgrade through free agency.

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Which combine drills are most important?

No one seriously believes that the NFL Combine allows scouts or their geeky counterparts to sit in an office and evaluate talent based solely on Combine results. Where there is disagreement, though, is in how to interpret those results. Some believe the Combine data is relatively useless and that the true value of the Combine

No one seriously believes that the NFL Combine allows scouts or their geeky counterparts to sit in an office and evaluate talent based solely on Combine results. Where there is disagreement, though, is in how to interpret those results. Some believe the Combine data is relatively useless and that the true value of the Combine lies in its medical exams and interviews. I tend to believe that the data shows that the results of some drills, dependent on the playing position, do seem to be an indicator of success and should be an element in the decision-making process.

This article presents the results of an analysis that seems to support that case. It should be said up-front that no drill that provides an absolute guarantee of success. Rather, it is a matter of improving a team’s probability of success on draft day. Think of it like basic strategy in blackjack.

The analysis was performed using Combine results for the past 10 years (2005-2014) and reviewed each drill by playing position for top Combine performers and all Combine participants.  The metric used in the analysis to measure success is whether a player has started one NFL season, an admittedly low hurdle but one that fits the time frame used in the analysis.  A starting season is defined as any season where a player starts at least eight games. Top Performers are defined as the top five performers (plus ties) at each drill in each year for each playing position.

The analysis was intended to serve three purposes:

  • Identify the playing positions for which the Combine is most important
  • Place the drills in order of importance by playing position
  • Determine the degree of difference among the drills for each playing position
    • This recognizes that simply putting the drills in order of importance does not provide enough information to evaluate importance
    • More about the degree of difference later in the article

Before proceeding, here is a reminder of the six traditional Combine drills (plus the 40-yard splits) with the abbreviations for each as used in this article:

  • 40 yard dash (“40)”
    • Further broken down into the first 10 yards (“10”), the first 20 yards (“20) and the final 20 yards “F20”
    • The final 20 yards are often referred to as the “flying 20” because the player has a running start (the first 20 yards) to begin the timing
  • Bench Press (“BP”)
  • Vertical Jump (“VJ”)
  • Broad Jump (“BJ”)
  • 20 yard shuttle (“20S’)
  • 3-cone drill (“3C”)

 

Importance of the Combine by Playing Position

As a starting point, the analysis identified the playing positions for which Combine drills are most important. This was done by comparing the percentage of one-year starters from the Top Performers to those from all Combine participants. Table 1 reflects the aggregate result of all Combine drills.

Combine positions are used for each player with the only exception being that running backs and defensive ends were divided by size. Running backs were split into those under 215 pounds and those weighing 215 pounds or more. The dividing point for defensive ends was 270 pounds.

A large difference between Top Performers and All Participants indicates the importance of focusing on Top Performers at the Combine. Cornerbacks and defensive ends (both small and large) have the largest difference between Top Performers and All Participants.

 

Centers, Quarterbacks and Large Running Backs have only minor differences, indicating that Combine drills may not be all that important for those positions.

 

Importance of the Drills

The importance of the drills is measured by calculating the percentage of one-year starters for each Combine drill and playing position. The premise is that the higher the percentage, the more important the drill. Table 2 reflects the percentage of Top Performers that started at least one season by Combine drill for each playing position.

The information in Table 2 is then used to place Combine drills for each position in the order of importance. Please note that the Bench Press is not relevant for quarterbacks and wide receivers (very few even do the drill) and are omitted for those positions. There are also a few ties in order of importance that cannot be reflected in this table but will show up in the degree of difference.

The degree of diversity in the top drills for each position is noteworthy. Of the 15 drills ranked first (one for each playing position), six are some variation of the 40-yard dash, three are the 3-Cone drill and there are two each for the Bench Press, Broad Jump and 20-yard shuttle. Only the vertical jump is not represented.

Table 3 shows the ranking of the drills for each playing position:

A kinesiology expert might look at this table and say it does not make sense. But the results speak for themselves. Whether it makes perfect sense or is a statistical oddity, I will leave to others to debate.

 

Degree of Difference

The degree of difference calculation is intended to answer the question of how much more significant one drill is than another. The data from Table 2 was used to develop this index. The index value for the drill having the highest percentage for each playing position was set at 100. The index value for all other drills by playing position was calculated by dividing (1) the percentage of starters from each drill excluding the top-rated drill by (2) the percentage of starters for the top drill. For example, assume that (1) 50% of the top performing offensive tackles in the Bench Press started at least one season and (2) the Combine drill with the best outcome for top performing offensive tackles is the 10-yard split at 67.2%. The index for the 10-yard split would be set at 100.0. The index for the Bench Press would be 74.4, calculated by dividing 50% by 67.4%.

Table 4 presents the index values that were calculated. For centers there is very little difference among all the drills and the least predictive drill has an index value of about 87% of the most predictive drill.  For small running backs, on the other hand, there is a significant difference between the 10-yard split and the flying 20, indicating that the 10-yard split is clearly the most important drill.

Please note that the indices should be used within each playing position. In other words the Center index of 87.1 for the 10-yard split cannot be compared to the Guard index of 74.9 for the same drill.

 

One Last Question

A logical follow-up question is whether the probability of success for a player increases if he ranks as a Top Performer for multiple drills. The short answer is yes. An analysis was performed that identified players who were Top Performers in each of the top three drills for each playing position. Table 5 shows the outcome.

As can be seen in Table 5, those players who rank as a Top Performer in all three of the top drills at each position do outperform all Top Performers. The overall difference, though, is modest. Several positions had relatively few data points, though, and it is difficult to draw any conclusions from those.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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2015 Combine guide

Draft season officially kicks off next week with the NFL Combine. The NFL Network carries most of the on-field activities and is pure gold for hard-core draft followers. In the days leading up to the Combine, there will be the traditional debate about its importance in terms of a player’s draft status. My position has

Draft season officially kicks off next week with the NFL Combine. The NFL Network carries most of the on-field activities and is pure gold for hard-core draft followers. In the days leading up to the Combine, there will be the traditional debate about its importance in terms of a player’s draft status. My position has been that while the Combine does not tell the whole story it does provide a chapter and no information should be ignored in evaluating players.

On-field activities in Indianapolis will take place as follows:

As a reminder, the principal Combine drills are:

• 40 yard dash
– Also timed for the first 10 yard, the first 20 yards and the final 20 yards
– The final 20 yards is often referred to as the “flying 20” because the player has a running start consisting
of the first 20 yards
• Bench Press
• Vertical Jump
• Broad Jump
• 20 yard shuttle

– Players move in one direction, then the other, in order to measure ability to change directions
• 3-Cone
– Three cones are placed five yards from each other with the players running around the cones in a predetermined manner in order to measure agility.

While one can question the value of the Combine, it is inarguably the case that the vast majority of the players who will be drafted show up at the event:

• Over 81% of the players drafted over the past ten years were Combine participants
• Over 69% of the Combine participants were drafted during the past 10 years

– See the following table for the breakdown by playing position
– Fullbacks are excluded due to the small number of invitees

In detail supporting this analysis, each player is listed by his Combine position. The only exceptions are that running backs and defensive ends are split by size. “Small” running backs are defined as weighing less than 215 pounds, with “large” running backs weighing 215 pounds or more. Small defensive ends are defined as weighing less than 270 pounds and large defensive ends weigh 270 pounds or more. There is no science to the splits by weight, but they are largely dependent on the average weight for the two positions.

This is the first of two articles that will precede the 2015 Combine. This article is intended to provide information on historical Combine results and should help put a 2015 Combine participant’s performance into perspective. The second article will focus on the importance of each Combine drill by playing position.

The following table is intended for as a reference tool while watching or reading about the Combine. Three data points (based on the past 10 years) are provided for each drill/playing position combination:

• Average by playing position and drill
• “T10%” indicates the time, distance or number of repetitions necessary to place in the top 10% of historical performances
• “B10%” indicates the time, distance or number of repetitions a player must exceed in order to avoid being in the bottom 10% of historical performances

NR = Not relevant

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Hang on to what you got

Every NFL team espouses the theory that the best way to construct a football roster is be successful in the draft. The common phrase used by NFL executives is that drafted players are acquired at wholesale prices and free agents at retail. But it is more complicated than that. Initial contracts expire and players

Every NFL team espouses the theory that the best way to construct a football roster is be successful in the draft. The common phrase used by NFL executives is that drafted players are acquired at wholesale prices and free agents at retail. But it is more complicated than that. Initial contracts expire and players move from the wholesale bin to retail. Andrew Luck, for example, had a contract hit of about $6 million in 2014. That number is likely to at least triple when he signs his second contract.

This leaves a team in a position of deciding whether to pay up and try to retain its most talented draftees or move on to more economical players. Some teams (as you will see later in this article) have a strong predilection to retaining its draftees and molding them to fit their system. Other teams, though, are content to sign players from the free agent market rather than valuing continuity. This is not always their choice, though, as in some cases, a player just “wants out” for a variety of possible reasons. In this article, various aspects of player retention will be considered.

First, let us set the context. The composition of 2014 scrimmage plays is as follows:

• 53% of plays from scrimmage are from players who remain with the team that drafted them
– 9% were from rookies
– 28% were from players drafted in 2011-2013
– 16% were from players drafted before 2011

• 29% of all scrimmage plays are from drafted players who have moved on to another team
• 18% of all scrimmage plays were from undrafted free agents

This article focuses on players who have remained with the team that drafted them (the 53%). Information for this analysis was accumulated from the weekly NFL Game Books. The last page shows complete information by team

In 2014, the ability to retain players a team drafted led to success. As stated above, 53% of all 2014 scrimmage plays came from players still with the team that drafted them. The highest and lowest five teams by percentage were:

Sixteen teams were above the average of 53% and 16 were below. The top 16 teams registered 144 regular season wins in 2014 (nine wins per team), with both Super Bowl participants in the top half. The bottom 16 teams registered 111 wins, or seven wins per team. The presence of the Colts and the Broncos in the bottom five show, though, that it is also possible for a team to achieve success by bringing in veteran free agents.

The group of players still playing for the team that drafted them can be further split between (1) those that are still in their first contract and (2) those that have “re-upped” and are still playing for the team that drafted them under their second or later contract. In this analysis it is assumed that all players drafted in 2011 or after are in their first contract. This may not be 100% true but it is close enough for the purposes of this analysis.


Several factors influence whether a player signs a second contract with a team:

• Whether a team wants to retain that player
• Whether a player fits under the salary cap
• Whether a player wants to return due to either economic or other reasons.

43% of 2014 scrimmage plays were from players drafted before 2011. This can be divided into two groups of players – – 27% were from players who are no longer with the team that drafted them and 16% were from players who remained with their original team.

For the accountants in the audience, the difference between the 27% cited above and the 29% mentioned earlier in the article represents players who changed team during their initial contract term.

The highest and lowest percentages for scrimmage plays by players retained after the their first contract are as follow:

In this case there are 13 teams above the league average of 16% and 19 teams below the average. These thirteen teams accounted for 125 wins in 2014 or an average of 9.6 wins per team. The bottom 19 notched 130 wins or an average of 6.8 wins per team (despite having the Broncos, Seahawks and Colts among them). The two top teams (Packers and Steelers) have historically been committed to retaining their own players and that is reflected in these numbers.

Is there any difference by playing position? Yes, there is, as indicated in the table below. The same 16% average applies and the higher the percentage, the more likely a player at that position is to stay with the team that drafted him. The following table indicates that defensive backs are least likely to stay with the team that drafted them (whether it be their decision or the team’s) and that tight ends and quarterbacks are most likely stay with their original team. The percentages are relatively close, though, and there is no significant conclusion to be drawn.

The final piece of the analysis was to look at the percentage of scrimmage plays by players in their first contract. On average, 37% of all scrimmage plays come from players in their initial contract. Exactly half the teams are higher than the average and account for 8.5 wins per team while teams in the bottom half average 7.5 wins per game.

The highest and lowest percentages are as follows:

This is the most difficult measure to interpret as it could either mean good drafting (whether quality or quantity) or failure to hang on to players drafted after their first contact. It is clearly the former with the Seahawks as their first contract players include Russell Wilson, Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, Richard Sherman, JR Sweezy and James Carpenter. The Jaguars, on the other hand, had over 20% of their scrimmage plays from 2014 draftees. This could be good news for the future or just mean that there are plenty of openings to be filled due to lack of talent. Time will tell.

So, in summary, how important is it that a team retains its most talented draftees? The data would indicate that it is pretty important. The next table summarizes the results from this analysis and indicates that teams who retain players after their first contract show the best results.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Recent 1st round selections: How are they doing?

This article looks back at first round draft choices from 2012 through 2014 to see how the players have fared so far. As always, the qualitative discussions are left to others and this article focuses on measurables. In this case, the number of starts and plays from scrimmage for each draft choice were measured.

This article looks back at first round draft choices from 2012 through 2014 to see how the players have fared so far. As always, the qualitative discussions are left to others and this article focuses on measurables. In this case, the number of starts and plays from scrimmage for each draft choice were measured. The players are ranked by the number of career scrimmage plays by draft year.

These numbers, of course, do not tell the whole story. Several other factors are relevant and are ignored in this analysis and include:

• The depth chart of the team that selected him
• Injuries and suspensions

David Wilson’s career has been ended already due to injury and others have had injury problems that have delayed their development
• A player’s position
Certain positions, like offensive linemen and quarterbacks, typically play the entire game while running backs and defensive linemen tend to be rotated in and out

Following is information for the first round of the 2012-2014 draft years. Information for this analysis was accumulated from the weekly “Game Books” published by the NFL.

History tells us that some of these draftees, at the end of the day, will end up as flops, whether due to injury, off-field issues or lack of ability. Generally, the players at the bottom of each listing above have the lowest chance of being successful.

David Wilson’s injury already puts him in that category for the 2012 class. AJ Jenkins is on the brink of joining him as, despite getting a second life with the Chiefs, he has registered only 17 catches in three seasons. Justin Blackmon has to eliminate his off-the-field issues (he entered a 90-day treatment program in October) if he is to avoid the flop label. Trent Richardson’s career is on a downward arc as he rushed for almost 1000 yards as a rookie but he has gained progressively fewer yards in each successive season.

Jonathan Cooper is the leading candidate to flop out of the 2013 class. He missed the entire 2013 season with an injury and started only two games in 2014. Dion Jordan has also failed to impress so far, while missing games due to suspension. Datone Jones is a third candidate for disappointmen. A handful of other players have missed time due to injury and the jury is still out on their performance.

It is hard to make any definitive predictions about flops from the 2014 season. Troy Polamalu and a host of others spent their rookie seasons on the bench and then became excellent players. Several players, though, have contributed less than others. Marcus Smith barely saw the field as a rookie. Dee Ford and Darqueze Dennard were behind veteran players and faced unfavorable depth charts. Presumably. Others like Jadveon Clowney missed time with injury. And what can be said about Johnny Football? Your guess is as good as mine.

To put the number of scrimmage plays in perspective, the next table shows the top ten players (excluding first round selections) in terms of the number of scrimmage plays from each draft class. Not surprisingly, offensive linemen dominate the list, accounting for half the players on the list.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Underclassmen and the Draft

The NFL has released the official list of underclassmen that have declared their eligibility for the 2015 NFL draft. We will get into the numbers later in this article, but first the subject of the decision to leave or stay in school will be discussed.

The Decision

A player’s economic situation and

The NFL has released the official list of underclassmen that have declared their eligibility for the 2015 NFL draft. We will get into the numbers later in this article, but first the subject of the decision to leave or stay in school will be discussed.

The Decision

A player’s economic situation and self-interest should lead a player to the decision that is right for him. The traditional approach would be to fire up your spreadsheet and compare the present values of the expected compensation from being drafted in 2015 versus 2016 and go from there. The problem, though, is that there are too many variables for a meaningful analysis.

The NFL Combine is still a month away and a player must make a decision without knowing where he will be drafted in the current draft (four months away) or the next draft (sixteen months away). There are other variables (such as the change in the salary cap, etc.) but draft position is the main one.

This situation is a little like the one faced by an old-timer like me when it comes to deciding when to begin taking Social Security payments. If you knew when you were going to die, the decision would be easy. Similarly, if a player knew his draft position in both years his decision would be much easier.

This puts a premium on gathering as much information as possible. The NFL tries to help the players make realistic decisions through the use of its NFL Draft Advisory Board. The Board consists of a variety of general managers, personnel directors and representatives of the scouting combines. Upon request, the Board will tell a player if he should expect to be selected in the first two rounds. A player’s agent also is presumably helpful in this regard. But even under the best of circumstances a player is going to be making a decision based on incomplete information.

A player can somewhat mitigate the risk of returning to school by using insurance to protect against injury. Two types of insurance are employed. The first is disability insurance that protects against injuries that end a player’s career. The second is loss of value insurance that protects against injuries that do not end a player’s career but drops them down in the draft. Southern Cal players Marqise Lee and Morgan Breslin both purchased loss of value insurance. To the best of my knowledge the claims by these players are still in progress, but such a loss is much more subjective than a loss from complete disability (e.g., no more football). Lee for example, was drafted in the second round but many had projected him as a first rounder. Was this drop due to injury or was he overrated prior to the draft? Situations like this make loss of value claims difficult to prove and, unless Lee or Breslin have done so and it has not been reported in the media, no player has yet collected on this insurance.

The decision of whether to enter the draft is pretty consequential for a player. While some talk, and rightly so, about a player’s second contract and the value of getting to it a year earlier there are large dollars at play even in the initial contract. Based on last year’s first round contracts (and using a 5% discount rate, which is the rate typically used by the NFL in deferred payment arrangements) the net present value for the #1 choice is about $20 million compared to about $6 million for the #32 pick.

So what is a player to do? For some players, family situations, academics and the like make the decision to leave school an easy one. At the other end of the spectrum, some players cannot be dissuaded from returning to school. A common thread I see in looking at statements made by such players is that there is “unfinished business” at the college level. Presumably, this refers to trying to lead their team to a national championship. Is this a case of misplaced loyalty? It depends on the player and the value he places on that championship. In any event, at both end of the spectrum there is no need for a precise economic analysis.

It is just one man’s unsupported opinion, but my view is that if a player is reasonably certain of being selected in the first round they should make the jump. Too many things can happen that result in a player dropping in the draft. Matt Leinart is the classic case where he could have presumably been the first selection in 2005 but returned to school and dropped to #10 in the 2006 draft, costing him millions of dollars. I am sure there are plenty of cases where delaying entry has worked to a player’s benefit but it is difficult to identify those because there is always the unknown of where he would have been drafted if he had declared early.

The Numbers

Please note the numbers used in this section are only for player’s requesting special eligibility (i.e., they have not graduated). This excludes players like Marcus Mariota from the analysis. There are a few constants regarding underclassmen and the draft and there is no reason to expect that 2015 will be any different. First, there are certain to be a lot of disappointed players. In 2014, 37 of the 98 players who declared did not get drafted. Another constant is that a high percentage of the players that do get drafted are selected early. Almost one-third of the players who declare are drafted in the first three rounds. This indicates that most of the players at the top of the class are getting pretty good advice.

It is interesting to look at the early declarers by playing position. Here is a summary for the past three years:

What jumps off the page for me is the low percentage of offensive linemen and linebackers that declare early. Offensive linemen are somewhat understandable because they are big guys who take longer to physically mature. But why line backers? There is no readily apparent explanation for that one.

More detailed data for 2013 and 2014 is as follows:

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Reviewing 2014: Scrimmage participation by playing position

This is another in a short series of article in which player participation data from the 2014 season is reviewed from various aspects. This article reviews information regarding 2014 scrimmage play participation by (1) draft round and (2) career longevity, and also comments on any significant trends over the past few years. Trends are

This is another in a short series of article in which player participation data from the 2014 season is reviewed from various aspects. This article reviews information regarding 2014 scrimmage play participation by (1) draft round and (2) career longevity, and also comments on any significant trends over the past few years. Trends are reviewed back only to the 2012 season as that is the starting point for the collection of scrimmage play information. The source of information for this analysis is the weekly “Game Book” published by the NFL.

Scrimmage Participation Data by Draft Round

The purpose of this analysis is to determine whether certain positions are more reliant on earlier round picks. This could occur because certain positions (e.g., Quarterback) are more valuable than others or because certain positions are more difficult to evaluate than others.

To put this review into the proper context here is the percentage of scrimmage plays by draft round for the past three seasons:

As can be seen the change from year to year has been relatively minor. Probably the only trend worthy of comment is the increase in scrimmage play participation by undrafted free agents. This has been largely offset by a decrease in participation by first round choices. There is no apparent reason for this shift and it looks like more of a blip than a major trend.

This information was then reviewed to determine where the most significant differences by playing position occurred. As you can see, there was little overall change from 2013 to 2014. Following is a discussion by playing position.

Quarterbacks

  • The highest percentage of scrimmage plays from first round draft choices is at quarterback, with the percentage more than double the average (52.1% in 2014 and 53.8% in 2013).
  • Quarterbacks also have a much higher percentage than the average and compared to other positions for the first three rounds
    • 79% of scrimmage plays are by players taken in the first three rounds (81% in 2013)
    • Next highest is wide receivers at 59%
    • Average of all positions is 54% (55% in 2013)
  • Quarterbacks had the lowest percentage of scrimmage plays by undrafted free agents
    • 9% of scrimmage plays are by undrafted free agents (10% in 2013)
    • Defensive linemen are next lowest at 14%
    • Average of all positions is 18%

Running Backs

  • The percentage of scrimmage plays from first round choices is higher only than tight ends
    • Slightly more than 14% were from first round running backs (21% in 2013)
    • Average for all position is over 24%
    • A decline in the drafting of first round running backs is the probable culprit here
  • There were a higher percentage of scrimmage plays by undrafted free agents for all positions except fullback (which are excluded from this article due to the limited activity by fullbacks)
    • Over 23% of scrimmage plays were from running backs (20.5% in 2013)
    • 18% was the average for all positions
  • There was a higher percentage of scrimmage plays by 2nd round running backs than any other position
    • Almost 20% by running backs (21% in 2013) versus 16.5% for all positions

Wide Receivers

  • The percentage of scrimmage plays by 1st round selections is about average
    • 2013 was significantly below average with 19% for wide receivers versus 25% average for all positions)
    • Influx of high quality first round receivers in 2014 caused the increase
  • The percentage of scrimmage plays by 2nd round selections were above average and lower only than running backs
    • 18.7% for WRs, 19.6% for RBs and 16.5% overall (17% in 2013)
  • Excluding QBs, WRs taken in the first three rounds have the highest percentage of plays from scrimmage at 59.4% (versus average for all positions of 53.9%), an increase from 55% in 2013
  • Excluding QBs, WRs taken in round four and five had the lowest percentage of plays from scrimmage
    • 11.8% for WRs, 3.7% for QBs, 17.3% for all positions (15% in 2013)

Tight Ends

  • TEs has the lowest percentage of scrimmage plays by first round selections at 13.5% (18% in 2013)
    • Average was 24.4%
    • Largely due to limited number of TEs drafted in the first round
  • TEs had the highest percentage of scrimmage plays from round four through six selections
    • 32.5% versus average of 22.9% for all positions (31% in 2013)
  • Participation by UDFA TEs is slightly higher than the average

Offensive Line

  • Offensive linemen were pretty close to the average in all rounds
  • The percentage of scrimmage plays from undrafted free agents are a little lower than average for all positions
    • 17.0% for offensive linemen and 17.9% for all positions
    • Probably due to more lineman being drafted

Defensive Line

  • Defensive linemen trail only QBs in the percentage of scrimmage plays from 1st round selections
    • 27.8% for defensive lineman versus 24.4% for all positions
  • Defensive linemen are ahead of only QBs in the percentage of scrimmage plays from undrafted free agents
    • 14.0% for defensive linemen versus 17.9 average for all positions

Linebackers

    The percentage of scrimmage plays from linebackers drafted in the first round are lower than the average of all positions

    • 22.2% versus 24.4% (20.9% in 2013)
  • The percentage of scrimmage plays from linebackers is pretty consistent with the average for all positions in rounds 2 through 7
  • The percentage of scrimmage plays from undrafted free agents is lower only than fullbacks and running backs
    • 21.7% versus 17.9% for all positions (23.5% in 2013)

Cornerbacks

  • The percentage of scrimmage plays from corners drafted in rounds two through four are considerably below the average
    • 31.4% for corners versus 40.1% for all positions (36.6% in 2013)
  • The percentage of scrimmage plays from corners drafted in rounds five through seven are better than average
    • 27.5% for corners versus 17.7% for all positions (23.5% in 2013)
  • The percentage of scrimmage plays from undrafted free agents is somewhat lower than the average for all positions
    • 16.9% vs. 17.9% for all positions (14.0% in 2013)

Safeties

  • The percentage of scrimmage plays from 1st round safeties is a little lower than the average
    • 22.7% for safeties versus 24.4% for all positions (21.3% in 2013)
    • Probably due to fewer safeties drafted in the first round
  • The percentage of scrimmage plays from undrafted free agents is lower only than linebackers, running backs and fullbacks
    • 19.9% for safeties versus 17.9% for all positions (21.4% in 2013)

Send a request by email (to draftmetrics@gmail.com) if you would like full information by playing position.

Scrimmage Participation Data by Career Longevity

This data measures scrimmage participation by the number of years a player has been in the league. The principal focus is on which positions contribute early in a player’s career and which positions “burn out” the quickest.

Here are the overall percentages of scrimmage participation by years in the NFL:

Highlights regarding player career longevity follow:

Highest Percentage of Scrimmage Plays from Rookies

  • Running Backs 16.5%
  • Wide Receivers 15.0%
  • Offensive Linemen 14.9%

Lowest Percentage of Scrimmage Plays from Rookies

  • Defensive Linemen 6.5%
  • Safeties 6.8%
  • Tight Ends 10.1%

Highest Percentage of Scrimmage Plays from Players in First Two Seasons

  • Running Backs 34.2%
  • Tight Ends 29.6%
  • Linebackers 28.1%

Lowest Percentage of Scrimmage Plays from Players in First Two Seasons

  • Quarterbacks 16.0%
  • Defensive Linemen 17.4%
  • Safeties 23.7%

Highest Percentage of Scrimmage Plays from Players in Seasons Seven and After

  • Quarterbacks 43.7%
  • Defensive Lineman 23.9%
  • Safeties 23.4%

Lowest Percentage of Scrimmage Plays from Players in Seasons Seven and After

  • Running Backs 12.7%
  • Corner Backs 17.5%
  • Linebacker 18.4%

There are no real surprises here and the following conclusions can be reached:

  • Inexperienced running backs tend to start early and they are useful for a relatively short time
  • Defensive linemen tend not to start as rookies
  • Quarterbacks take longer to start but, for successful players, they tend to last longer
  • Safeties have lengthier careers than most positions, possibly indicating that the mental aspects of the position may be relatively more important than the physical aspects
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Which college produced the most NFL talent in 2014?

As we head toward the national championship showdown between Ohio State and Oregon, it seems a good time to review the colleges that provide the most talent to the National Football League.

The measurement criteria used for purposes of this analysis is the number of 2014 scrimmage plays. The top 25 colleges as

As we head toward the national championship showdown between Ohio State and Oregon, it seems a good time to review the colleges that provide the most talent to the National Football League.

The measurement criteria used for purposes of this analysis is the number of 2014 scrimmage plays. The top 25 colleges as ranked by this criterion accounted for 44% of all 2014 scrimmage play participation. It is interesting to note, though, that only 11 of the top 2 in the final BCS poll are included in the top 25 NFL talent producers.

The following table lists the 25 colleges (the “Top 25”) in order of the number of 2014 scrimmage plays (e.g., Miami is the leader). The table summarizes the number of scrimmage plays by the year players entered the league. For example, the number of scrimmage plays by a 2014 rookie is shown under the 2014 column; a second year player in the 2012-2013 column, etc. The final two columns break the players further down by those that are drafted versus undrafted free agents.

The source of the scrimmage play data is the NFL’s weekly Game Book.

A number of observations can be made based on the analysis:

• Four of the top six colleges are from the SEC
– A total of nine colleges of the 25 are from the SEC
• All but Notre Dame are from the Power 5 conferences
– Big Ten had five schools included
– Pac 12 and ACC are next with four each
– Big 12 trails with two colleges
• Players from the Top 25 are less likely to be overlooked in the draft
– 89% of the Top 25 player participation is from draftees
– 77% of all other colleges’ participation is from draftees
• Ohio State was the leader in participation by 2014 rookies
• Miami has historically been the leader but their lead has begun to dissipate as the dominance of the program has declined

– LSU and Alabama are creeping up in the rankings and are likely to pass Miami next season
• Georgia has historically been a strong producer of talent but not one Georgia rookie participated in a 2014 scrimmage play
• Oregon has been dominant in terms of college on the field performance but ranks only #33 in providing talent to the NFL

• A higher percentage of rookies play from the Top 25 as compared to all other colleges
– 13.3% versus 10.6%
– Trend is relatively minor but it is reasonable to expect even more players to come from fewer colleges

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Reviewing 2014: Experience, continuity, and luck

This is the first in a series of articles that look back at the 2014 season with a focus on trends in team building and roster construction. These articles will not include any analysis of individual player performance. That will be left to such entities as Pro Football Focus, and they do a fine

This is the first in a series of articles that look back at the 2014 season with a focus on trends in team building and roster construction. These articles will not include any analysis of individual player performance. That will be left to such entities as Pro Football Focus, and they do a fine job of it.

In this article, team roster construction will be reviewed for each team to see if there are any significant trends in roster construction that impact 2014 team performance. As always, the analyses are undertaken with the premise that there is no magic formula for building a successful team.

Both the number of games started and the number of plays from scrimmage, depending on which best fits the subject matter, will be used in this analysis. The source of both measures is the Weekly Game Book published by NFL.

For purposes of this article, players are placed in one of three categories:
• Players returning to the same team they played for in 2013 (referred to as Holdovers)
• Imports, representing players who changed teams after the 2013 season due to either a free agent signing, waiver pick up, trade, etc.
• Rookies, including both draftees and undrafted free agents

Immediately after the 2013 season ended the roster re-shuffling began. The biggest sources of off-season player movement are players whose contracts are expiring and players who are cut in order to stay under a team’s salary cap. Additional sources are player retirements, players cut due to lack of performance and trades. This process leaves holes to be filled through free agency or the draft. This does not happen evenly across the league.

Initially, these player movements will be viewed in the context of games started. While this is less than ideal, every team has the number of starts (352, which is 22 playing positions times 16 games) and this facilitates comparisons.

The 2014 opening day rosters provide a good look at offseason player movement.. The opening day rosters show that the average NFL team had players who started 300 games in 2013, 245 of which were for that team. Intuitively, more players with starting experience are better than fewer players with starting experience. The analysis that follows provides an interesting result though. Teams that were ranked highest in starts from Holdovers experienced much better results (measured as number of wins) than teams ranked highest in Holdovers plus Imports. The following chart demonstrates this point:

The top five teams in terms of number of Imports on the opening day roster were the Raiders, the Bucs, the Dolphins, the Bears and the Browns with only the Dolphins reaching a .500 record. The Broncos were the exception to this rule as they ranked seventh in starts from Imports, adding Emmanuel Sanders, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Will Montgomery to their roster and all contributed to Denver’s successful season.

The Bengals, the Cowboys and the Seahawks were the three teams that brought in the fewest Imports and all made the playoffs. The Chiefs, Chargers and Bills made up the remainder of the bottom six and all won nine games, but missed out on the playoffs.

Roster construction ends up very dynamic as the season progresses, primarily due to injuries, suspensions and below-expected performance. Number of plays from scrimmage during the 2014 season was used on analyses from this point forward.

One interesting note from comparing 2013 and 2014 plays from scrimmage is that the percentage of plays from scrimmage for each of the three categories is virtually unchanged from 2013 to 2014. The percentage of plays by Holdovers was exactly 71.0% for each year. The percentage for Imports changed only slightly from 18.1% in 2013 to 17.8% in 2014 and Rookies moved from 10.9% to 11.2%.

The following table shows the breakdown by category:

This table shows that teams with the highest level of plays from scrimmage by Holdovers are the highest achievers. As was mentioned earlier, 71% of the average NFL teams plays from scrimmage are from Holdovers. The percentages by team range from the Raiders (48.7%) to the Saints (87.0%). Imports average 17.8% but range from the Bucs (39.0%) to the Bengals (4.0%). Rookies average 11.2% but range from the Jaguars (25.55) to the Steelers (4.7%). Complete rankings by category by team are attached to this article. There are always exceptions to the general conclusions. The Saints were, of course, were one of the league’s major disappointments while relying more heavily on Holdovers than any other team. The Ravens, on the other hand, had a low level (ranked 25th in the league) of plays from Holdovers but found their way into the playoffs. The same could be said for the Cardinals.

Most of the teams that had a high level of scrimmage plays by rookies had rough seasons. The Packers were one of the few that rated highly in plays by rookies (ranked 7th) and had a successful season.

The conclusion here is that, while there are exceptions throughout, maximizing the number of Holdovers is good and a large number of Rookies is bad.

I also reviewed the number of players for each team that participated in players either from scrimmage or special teams. The average for the NFL was 64 players with the range from the Steelers (54) to the Giants and Bears (71 each). This is where the luck element comes in. While some players seem to be injury-prone, injuries are largely a matter of luck. The injury factor combined with being good assessors of personnel would manifest itself in a fewer or greater number of players being used.

This table shows the number of wins by teams that used more players versus those that used less. This shows that teams that used the greatest number of players won far fewer games than the other 22 teams.

Injuries were also the primary reason for the disappointing season by several teams. The Bears, for example, ranked 13th in starts by Holdovers on the opening day roster but only 26th on the season in scrimmage plays from Holdovers. For all the talk of the Giants’ hard luck and the large number of players on Injured Reserve their starts from Holdovers were going to be low even before the injury bug struck. So maybe they weren’t as disappointing as the consensus would suggest.

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2014 Draft odds and ends

Before putting the 2014 draft into the history books, there a few observations and highlights I wanted to share with you. These observations and highlights can be divided into four groups:

• Breakdown by Position
• Split by College Categories
• Team Rankings
• How the Combine All-Stars fared

Before putting the 2014 draft into the history books, there a few observations and highlights I wanted to share with you. These observations and highlights can be divided into four groups:

• Breakdown by Position
• Split by College Categories
• Team Rankings
• How the Combine All-Stars fared

Each is discussed below.

Breakdown by Position

2014 was a somewhat unusual year when the draft is viewed by playing position. Typically, slightly more defensive players than offensive players are taken in the first three rounds. Rounds four through seven tend to be about an even split, with defense receiving slightly more attention overall.

That was not the case in 2014. The following table compares historical averages with the number of selections by playing position in 2014. (Fullback and special team players are excluded.) The percentages represent the percentage of all players taken for each position. For example in the first three rounds, 5.6% of the players drafted have historically been quarterbacks. In 2014, 5.0% of the players drafted were quarterbacks.

The big difference in comparing the first three rounds of 2014 to historical averages is that in 2014 (1) a higher percentage of offensive linemen were selected, (2) a lower percentage of linebackers were selected and (3) a lower percentage of corners were selected. The corners were interesting as five were selected in the first round, but only four in rounds two and three.

For the entire draft, with only a few exceptions, 2014 was pretty close to historical averages. There were a significantly higher percentage of corners taken than normal, though, with an offsetting decrease at safety.

Most teams’ draft classes had a relatively even split among offense and defense. There were a few exceptions:

• All six of the Bucs’ selections were offensive players
• The Cowboys and Falcons each selected seven defensive players with their nine selections
• The Vikings used seven of their ten selections on the defensive side of the ball
• Both the Patriots and Jaguars emphasized offense, with each taking six offensive players with their nine picks

There were also a few noteworthy items when looking at individual playing positions:

• The Cardinals and Eagles were the only two teams not to select an offensive lineman
• The Bucs, Cardinals, Colts, Ravens, Seahawks and Titans were the only teams not to select a corner
• No team selected more than one running back (fullbacks not counted as running backs)
• The Falcons had the most players selected at any single position, taking four linebackers

Split by College Categories

In earlier articles, I divided colleges into three categories:

• The 37 colleges with players who started at least 100 games during the 2014 season
– These colleges are referred to as the Major Powers
• The 32 colleges in the Automatic BCS Qualifying Conferences who were not included in those 37 schools and
• All other colleges.

The so-called Major Powers accounted for 54% of all draftees in the first three rounds, versus the historical average of 65%. Several of the Major Powers had no players drafted in the first three rounds including Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma. It remains to see if this is a trend or a short-term aberration. The following table shows the breakdown by category.

Team Rankings

There is no shortage of draft analysts who are poised to publish draft grades for each NFL team as soon as the draft ends. Grading individual selections is not something I feel qualified to do. I do not study game films and have never been a scout, so why second-guess the professionals?

What I choose to do, though, is to use historical averages to determine what each team should expect from the draft depending on:

• The number of selections a team has
• Where those selections occur (e.g., what selection numbers does a team have)
• The playing position drafted
As pointed out in an earlier article, some positions are more risky to draft than others

This table ranks the teams by number of expected five-year starters yielded by the draft and includes the number of players a team drafted, the expected number of players who play at least five years and the expected number of players who start at least five years.

The Rams are clearly the leader in expectations from the draft with a group of team led by the Colts having the lowest expectation. In a lot of cases, the differences among teams is very slim and of no consequence. The Jaguars, for example, expect 1.92 five-year starters while the Vikings and Packers select 1.90 five-year starters. The difference between the Rams and the Falcons, though, is significant and worth noting.

Combine All-Stars

I wrote an article a few weeks ago where I identified the 44 players who had done best at the Combine in the drills that mattered most at their position. Some of the players carried consensus first-round grades while others fell into the “who is he” category.

36 players on my Combine All-Star team were drafted. Seven of the remaining eight signed as undrafted free agents. The only unattached player at this point is Colt Lyerla whose off-field issues seem to have chased everyone away.

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Landing spots

With the draft concluded, the next step in the player acquisition cycle is the signing of Undrafted Free Agents (“UDFA”). The subject of UDFAs was addressed in the recently published article entitled “Seahawks Wanted”. In that article, I discussed the brochure sent out by the Seahawks to agents representing UDFAs. The brochure was

With the draft concluded, the next step in the player acquisition cycle is the signing of Undrafted Free Agents (“UDFA”). The subject of UDFAs was addressed in the recently published article entitled “Seahawks Wanted”. In that article, I discussed the brochure sent out by the Seahawks to agents representing UDFAs. The brochure was intended to make the case that Seattle was a good place for UDFAs to sign.

The Seahawks’ document also includes plenty of information about all NFL teams that provide insights regarding the comparative success with UDFAs of all teams. I relied completely on the Seahawks information for those insights, though, as I have not accumulated comparable, independent data. I am willing to accept the accuracy of the information as, by distributing it semi-publicly, the Seahawks would hurt their credibility if the report contained inaccuracies.

Looking at it from outside the industry, it seems to me that there are two major factors an Undrafted Free Agent should consider when considering where to sign. The first is whether they will have a real opportunity to make the roster of a team. The second is whether they will receive a chance to be seen and evaluated by multiple NFL teams.

While there are relevant factors that are not easily measured (e.g., depth at a player’s position), in this article I will focus on three metrics for the last four seasons (2010-2013):

• The percentage of UDFAs playing time during the preseason
• The percentage of UDFAs who make the 53-man roster of the team that initially signs them
• The percentage of UDFAs that make the 53-man roster of any team

The percentage of UDFAs playing time during the preseason

A team that provides a lot of playing time for UDFAs during the preseason allows those UDFA to put their performance “on tape” so it can be seen and evaluated by any team. This improves the player’s chances of landing on a 53-man roster. The level of playing time can be affected, of course, by injury, age of roster, etc.

The following shows the top 10, middle 11 and bottom 11 teams in terms of percentage of preseason playing time by UDFAs for the four-year study period.

Top 10
Packers, Cowboys, Eagles, Bills, Browns, Ravens, Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Jaguars

Middle 11
Seahawks, Rams, Bucs, Lions, 49ers, Saints, Vikings, Bears, Dolphins, Chiefs, Steelers

Bottom 11
Falcons, Bengals, Broncos, Texans, Cardinals, Panthers, Giants, Titans, Raiders, Jets, Redskins

The percentage of UDFAs who make the 53-man roster of the team that initially signs them

A team that has a high number of UDFAs on their final roster is typically a good place to be for UDFAs. This must be taken with the caveat that, as with most of these metrics, injuries and other factors play a role in who makes the roster. The presence of a high number of UDFAs on a roster usually means that UDFAs receive a fair shot of making a team and are not operating at a significant disadvantage when competing with draftees for a job.

The following shows the top 10, middle 12 and bottom 10 teams in terms of the percentage of UDFAs that made the 53-man roster for the four-year study period. It should also be noted that there is a wide range in the sheer number of UDFA signings over the 2010-2013 period, with the Rams leading with 101and the Giants having the fewest with 49.

Top 10
Rams, Patriots, Texans, Packers, Colts, Bears, Jaguars, Seahawks, Cowboys, Cardinals

Middle 12
Saints, Bills, Raiders, Chiefs, Giants, Panthers, Chargers, Jets, Browns, Dolphins, Eagles, 49ers

Bottom 10
Broncos, Bengals, Ravens, Redskins, Falcons, Steelers, Bucs, Lions, Vikings, Titans

The percentage of UDFAs who make the 53-man roster of any team

This metric takes the information from the previous metric and adds to it the number of UDFAs that were released and then made the roster of the team that subsequently signed them. This combination reflects the percentage of a team’s UDFAs that made all NFL rosters during the study period.

This can be an indicator that UDFAs are getting very good visibility. The following table shows the top 10, middle 12 and bottom 10 teams for this metric over the four-year study period.

Top 10
Texans, Jaguars, Bills, Colts, Patriots, Rams, Cowboys, Seahawks, Bears, Packers

Middle 12
49ers, Giants, Saints, Dolphins, Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, Redskins, Chiefs, Cardinals, Eagles, Jets

Bottom 10
Ravens, Panthers, Bucs, Browns, Falcons, Bengals, Vikings, Steelers, Lions, Titans

Summary

There are other metrics that could be considered in this analysis but these three cover most of the important aspects. To top off the analysis, I assigned an equal weighting to each of the metrics, with an overall rating falling out of the weighted performance in each category by all NFL trams.

Interestingly, the Seahawks are not at the top (that honor belonging to the Packers) but they did rank ninth, making them certainly one of the best destinations for UDFAs. Here are the teams ranked in order of being a “best place to live” for UDFAs.

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Second day trades

The following article is based on the classic Jimmy Johnson trade value chart, and Tony's own trade Value Chart desribed in this article.

The second day of the draft featured a busy trade market with (by my count) 12 trades involving 17 different teams. The 49ers (involved in four trades) and

The following article is based on the classic Jimmy Johnson trade value chart, and Tony’s own trade Value Chart desribed in this article.

The second day of the draft featured a busy trade market with (by my count) 12 trades involving 17 different teams. The 49ers (involved in four trades) and the Dolphins (involved in three trades) were the most active traders.

Following is a listing of the 12 trades and additional information about each. All the trades involved an exchange of draft positions with additional consideration paid to the team that moved down. The additional consideration received/paid is shown for each transaction and then compared to both the Jimmy Johnson Trade Value Chart and the so-called Villiotti Trade Value Chart, which is still under development. The comparison with the two Trade Value Charts (“TVC”) is the basis for drawing conclusions regarding each trade.

Cowboys Move from #47 to #34 in trade with Redskins
• Player selected by Cowboys: LB Demarcus Lawrence
• Additional consideration received by Redskins: #78 in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #47 to #34 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #92 pick
• Value of moving from #47 to #34 per Villiotti TVC: pick in the #25-#46 range
• Verdict: 13 spot move-up makes it expensive under the Villiotti TVC
– Bargain price paid by Cowboys but closer to an even deal when compared to more traditional measures

Lions Move from #45 to #40 in trade with Seahawks
• Player selected by Lions: LB Kyle Van Noy
• Additional consideration received by Seahawks: #111 and #227 selections in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #45 to #40 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #122 selection
• Value of moving from #45 to #40 per Villiotti TVC: selection after #187
• Verdict: Lions slightly overpaid so small advantage to the Seahawks

Rams Move from #44 to #41 in trade with Bills
• Player selected by Rams: CB Lamarcus Joyner
• Additional consideration received by Bills: #153 selection in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #44 to #41 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #156 selection
• Value of moving from #44 to #41 per Villiotti TVC: 7th round selection
• Verdict: A reasonable trade for both teams

Eagles Move from #54 to #42 in trade with Titans
• Player selected by Eagles: WR Jordan Matthews
• Additional consideration received by Titans: #122 in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #54 to #42 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #95 selection
• Value of moving from #54 to #42 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #47 and #73
• Verdict: Titans were ripped off


Chargers Move from #57 to #50 in trade with Dolphins
• Player selected by Vikings: OLB Jeremiah Attaochu
• Additional consideration received by Dolphins: #125 in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #57 to #50 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #112 selection
• Value of moving from #57 to #50 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #115 and #187
• Verdict: A relatively fair trade for both teams

Broncos Move from #63 to #56 in trade with 49ers
• Player selected by Broncos: WR Cody Latimer
• Additional consideration received by 49ers: #171 plus 2015 4th round pick
• Additional consideration received by Broncos: 242nd selection in 2014
• Value of moving from #63 to #56 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #115 selection
• Value of moving from #63 to #56 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #115 and #187
• Verdict: Assuming the 2015 pick is at the end of the 4th round (#128 or so), the trade is about even

49ers Move from #63 to #57 in trade with Dolphins
• Player selected by 49ers: RB Carlos Hyde
• Additional consideration received by Dolphins: #171 selection in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #63 to #57 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #120 selection
• Value of moving from #63 to #57 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #115 and #187
• Verdict: 49ers underpaid for the move and had the advantage

Jaguars Move from #70 to #61 in trade with 49ers
• Player selected by Jaguars: WR Allen Robinson
• Additional consideration received by 49ers: #150 selection in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #70 to #61 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #121 selection
• Value of moving from #70 to #61 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #115 and #187
• Verdict: Jaguars may have underpaid by a slight amount; edge to 49ers

Dolphins Move from #81 to #67 in trade with Raiders
• Player selected by Dolphins: OT Billy Turner
• Additional consideration received by Raiders: #116 in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #81 to #67 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #132 selection
• Value of moving from #81 to #67 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #47 and #73
• Verdict: Consideration paid was about right per historical norms but the Raiders were significantly underpaid per Villiotti TVC

Texans Move from #101 to #83 in trade with Eagles
• Player selected by Texans: DT Louis Nix
• Additional consideration received by Eagles: #141 in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #101 to #83 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #111 selection
• Value of moving from #101 to #83 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #74 and #114
• Verdict: Eagles received too little; win for Texans 

Jaguars Move from #105 to #93 in trade with Patriots
• Player selected by Jaguars: G Brandon Linder
• Additional consideration received by Patriots: #179 in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #101 to #83 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #111 selection
• Value of moving from #101 to #83 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #74 and #114
• Verdict: Eagles received too little; win for Texans

Browns Move from #106 to #95 in trade with 49ers
• Player selected by Browns: RB Terrance West
• Additional consideration received by 49ers: #180
• Value of moving from #106 to #95 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #136 selection
• Value of moving from #101 to #83 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #115 and #187
• Verdict: 49ers received too little; minor win for Browns

As previously noted the 49ers were the most active team in Friday’s the trade market. The four transactions all involved the accumulation of draft choices by the 49ers. To what end is the question as the 49ers are dealing from a position of strength. The four transactions yielded three extra picks for the 49ers.

Two of the transactions should really be viewed as one:

• The 49ers moved from #56 back to #63 and received a #171 and a 2015 4th round pick for their trouble
• They then turned around and traded the #63 and their #171 for selection #57
• The net result of these two trades is that the 49ers moved down one spot in exchange for a 2015 fourth round pick
– Hard to criticize that strategy

The other two transactions each provided one extra draft choice and were as follows:

• They surrendered the #61 spot to the Jaguars in exchange for #70 and #150
• They then moved from the 93rd spot in exchange for the #105 and #180 selection
• So with those two picks they ended up with four picks

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Grading the trades

The following article is based on the classic Jimmy Johnson trade value chart, the Kevin Meers trade value chart, Trade Value Chart desribed in this article.

There were five trades affecting the order of the first round on the opening day of the draft. The Browns were the most active

The following article is based on the classic Jimmy Johnson trade value chart, the Kevin Meers trade value chart, Trade Value Chart desribed in this article.

There were five trades affecting the order of the first round on the opening day of the draft. The Browns were the most active trader with involvement in three of the five trades. Movement within the first round was as follows:

• Bills move from #9 to #4
• Browns move from #9 to #8
• Saints move from #27 to #20
• Browns move from #26 to #22
• Vikings move from #40 to #32

Following are more complete description of each trade and my observations on each.

Bills move from #9 to #4 in trade with Browns
• Player selected by Bills: WR Sammy Watkins
• Additional consideration received by Browns: 1st and 4th round picks in 2015 draft
• Value of moving from #9 to #4 per Jimmy Johnson Trade Value Chart (“TVC”): #45 pick
• Value of moving from #9 to #4 per Kevin Meers TVC: #122 pick
• Value of moving from #9 to #4 per Villiotti TVC: pick in the #74-#114 range
• Verdict: By any measure, the Bills overpaid to make this move
-Obviously they really liked Sammy Watkins

Browns move from #9 to #8 in trade with Vikings
• Player selected by Browns: CB Justin Gilbert
• Additional consideration received by Vikings: #145 selection in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #9 to #8 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #122 selection
• Value of moving from #9 to #8 per Kevin Meers TVC: selection after #224
• Value of moving from #9 to #8 per Villiotti TVC: 7th round selection
• After fleecing the Browns in the 2012 trade where the Browns moved from #3 to #2, the Vikings, I am sure, were only too happy to enter into another similar transaction with Cleveland
• Verdict: The Browns did well according to the Johnson TVC but not quite so well by other measures
– My opinion is that this was a minor overpayment by the Browns and a reasonably fair trade

Saints move from #27 to #20 in trade with Cardinals
• Player selected by Saints: WR Brandin Cooks
• Additional consideration received by Cardinals: #91 selection in 2014 draft
• Saints seem to be motivated to move ahead of Eagles to take Cooks
• Value of moving from #27 to #20 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #84
• Value of moving from #27 to #20 per Kevin Meers TVC: selection after #224
• Value of moving from #27 to #20 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #47 and #73
• Verdict: This was a reasonably fair trade for both

Browns move from #26 to #22 in trade with Eagles
• Player selected by Browns: QB Johnny Manziel
• Additional consideration received by Eagles: #83 in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #26 to #22 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #107
• Value of moving from #26 to #22 per Kevin Meers TVC: selection after #224
• Value of moving from #26 to #22 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #47 and #73
Verdict: Although the Johnson TVC gives a different answer, I think the Browns did modestly well in this trade
Slight underpayment received by Eagles, especially true given that a premium position (QB) was involved

Vikings move from #40 to #32 in trade with Seahawks
• Player selected by Vikings: QB Teddy Bridgewater
• Additional consideration received by Seahawks: #108 in 2014 draft
• Value of moving from #40 to #32 per Jimmy Johnson TVC: #102
• Value of moving from #40 to #32 per Kevin Meers TVC: #205
• Value of moving from #40 to #32 per Villiotti TVC: selection between #74 and #114
• Verdict: A fair trade for both
Should there be more of a premium paid for premium positions?

As mentioned, the Browns were the most frequent participant in the trade market. How did their maneuvering work out for them? For now, this can only be answered “on paper” as we will not know for several years how it works out on the football field. The preliminary answer, though, is that it looks like it worked out pretty well.

The Browns started the evening with the #4 and #26 selections in the first round. They turned these picks into three first round picks (two in 2014 and one in 2015), with a fourth round pick received and a fifth round pick surrendered basically washing each other out.

The #4 and #26 draft positions are worth slightly less in the aggregate than the #8 and #22 positions acquired by the Browns, so that is a minor advantage. The size of the advantage grows when the 2015 first round choice is included, but how much it grows won’t be known until the location of that 2015 first round pick is established after the conclusion of the 2014 season.

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Seahawks wanted

The Seahawks created quite a stir yesterday with the football world becoming aware of a document they created as a marketing pitch to agents of Undrafted Free Agents. The document, which is chock full of supporting data for the period from 2010-2013, made the case that Seattle is a great landing spot place for

The Seahawks created quite a stir yesterday with the football world becoming aware of a document they created as a marketing pitch to agents of Undrafted Free Agents. The document, which is chock full of supporting data for the period from 2010-2013, made the case that Seattle is a great landing spot place for Undrafted Free Agent (“UDFAs”).

The depth of the data presented to the agents is particularly interesting to a stats geek like me. Coming from the business world, I have seen an endless number of presentations that show bullet points to sell a product. The Seahawks, though, elected to provide a much more detailed argument that is reasonably objective and does not claim that the Seahawks are tops in everything.

The marketing pitch centers around the fact that UDFAs will receive more of a chance to make an NFL team by signing with Seattle. This is, of course, music to an agent’s ears as that is exactly the opportunity they are seeking.

One potentially interesting by-product of this marketing initiative by the Seahawks is that there will likely be UDFAs standing in line to sign with them. Like everyone else, though, they are bound by the 90-player offseason roster limitation. This could play out as a secondary draft for Seattle where they place even more reliance on scouting reports to decide which of the UDFAs to sign. While I’m sure some variation of this, or similar, data is already in use by most teams, other NFL teams should be worried about the Seahawks taking the offense with player agents.

Following is a summary of the key points in the Seahawks’ document:

• UDFAs have a greater chance of remaining with Seattle for at least one preseason game
– If a UDFA does not play in preseason games they will have a hard time in making an NFL roster, whether it is the team that originally signed them or another team
– The Seahawks had the highest percentage of such players in 2013 but actually were lower than average in 2010, 2011 and 2012
– The Packers were the best over the entire four year period
– The Giants had the lowest percentage in 2012 and were below average in three of the four years

• Seattle has shown that UDFAs can make their roster
– 22% of the 68 UDFAs signed by the Seahawks earned spots on the 53 man roster
– That puts the Seahawks in 8th place
– The Rams are highest with 29%, followed by the Patriots with 28%
-The Titans are lowest with only 7%

• Seattle keeps the best players, no matter how the players were acquired
– The Seahawks are willing to release drafted players in their rookie season and keep UDFAs instead
– Over the past four seasons, the Seahawks have released nine drafted players during their rookie season, tied for second in the NFL
– Washington leads with 10 released draftees
– The Falcons, Ravens and Jaguars each have released only one draftee

• The Seahawks have had more released players claimed by others than any other team
– This recognizes that Seattle has a great reputation around the league for acquiring and developing talent
– This metric is based on players claimed off waivers from each July 1 until the first week of the regular season
– Seattle is tops in the league with 28 claimed players followed by the Patriots with 25
– That is more than double the league average
– Only two players released by the Chiefs have been claimed

• The Seahawks ranked high in UDFAs released ended up playing for other teams
– They are tied for 6th, with six such players over the past four years
– Jaguars are highest with 12 released players seeing action with others
– No players released by the Cardinals played in a regular season game for another team

• The Seahawks are a leading team in using their practice squad to develop players
– The Seahawks had the second highest number of players (behind the Colts) elevated from their practice squad and trailed only the Saints and Giants in games started by those players who were elevated
– Titans had the fewest number of players elevated
– The Packers had the few number of games started by elevated players

There is a lot of data to be digested in the Seahawks’ information and I will continue to work to identify and place in context any conclusions to be drawn.

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The urgency index

Almost all NFL teams head into the draft hoping to fill multiple positional needs. In deciding which need to fill in a particular round, a team will generally have one player at a position of need rated higher than a player at a second position of need. But what should a team do when

Almost all NFL teams head into the draft hoping to fill multiple positional needs. In deciding which need to fill in a particular round, a team will generally have one player at a position of need rated higher than a player at a second position of need. But what should a team do when there is no difference between or among the players being considered?

As a solution to this problem, several years ago I first wrote about a concept called the Urgency Index (the “Index”). The purpose of the Index is to provide guidance in situations when a team has multiple positional needs and is trying to develop a strategy regarding the timing of addressing each need.

The concept embodied by the Index is that, when in doubt, a team should first draft the position for which there is the largest disparity between the chances of success from drafting now versus drafting later. The Index is the mechanism by which the differences are measured.

This year’s Index is based on historical information from the 1994 through 2008 drafts and compares the probability of drafting a five-year starter in a Draft Choice Range with the probability of drafting a five-year starter in all later Draft Choice Ranges. The formula for the Index is as follows:

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

For example, 61.5% of wide receivers drafted in the first 13 selections have gone on to become five-year starters while 13.5% of wide receivers drafted after that have achieved that status. So the Urgency Index for Wide Receivers during the first 13 selections is 457, calculated as 61.5%/13.5%, or 4.57, multiplied by 100.

The following table shows the Index for each playing position in the first six Draft Choice Ranges. There is no Index for the last Draft Choice Range (picks 188 and later) because there are no later draft selections to consider.

A higher Index means that history suggests there is more urgency to draft a player at that playing position in that Draft Choice Range. Players with an index of 100 means that players drafted later have had the exact same level of success as those drafted in the current Draft Choice Range. An index of less than 100 indicates that players drafted later have actually had more success than those in the current Draft Choice Range.

The Index is only used within a Draft Choice Range. That is, it is meaningless to compare the Index for selections 1-13 to the Index for selections 14-24 because the chances of success are not comparable. The sole purpose of the Index is to allow comparisons WITHIN a Draft Choice Range.

As an example of how the Index would be used, consider a team that needs help at both corner and wide receiver and is drafting in the top 13 selections. In this example there are equally rated players available at both positions. With no other considerations in play, the wide receiver would be selected first because wide receiver has an Index of 457 versus 346 for corner. This means there is a greater chance of drafting a five-year start at corner later in the draft than there is for a wide receiver. According, the Index would suggest that a wide receiver should be selected.

The more data points there are, the more meaningful the Index. Quarterback has relatively few data points, so the Index approach may be less meaningful there. Plus, a team should never wait to draft a game changer at quarterback and a team would be unlikely to resort to the Index in that situation anyway.

I recognize that many factors affect the playing position a team drafts and that the Urgency Index is only one of those. A team’s needs and the availability of talent at the position of needs (your basic supply and demand scenario) weigh most heavily in the equation. I believe, though, that there is a role for the Urgency Index in planning a team’s draft strategy, especially as a tie breaker when deciding between equally talented players at different positions.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Draft tendencies

In reviewing data for the past 10 drafts, it is evident that there are differences among the NFL teams when it comes to drafting tendencies. How much of this a matter of circumstance and how much is a matter of strategy is impossible to determine, barring insight from a team’s decision makers.

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In reviewing data for the past 10 drafts, it is evident that there are differences among the NFL teams when it comes to drafting tendencies. How much of this a matter of circumstance and how much is a matter of strategy is impossible to determine, barring insight from a team’s decision makers.

I know some would argue that this analysis is best done at the level of individual General Managers or other appropriate decision maker on draft day. I will get around to doing that one of these days but I’m still sorting through some of the issues in such an article.

In this article, I will identify the teams that diverge from “the norm” along with some related anecdotal information. For purposes of this article I looked at draft rounds 1-3 as one group and then rounds 4-7 as a second group. Initially, I determined those norms for the 10-year study period. The following table presents that information. The first part of the table shows the percentage of draftees by playing position (e.g., 5.55% of all players drafted in the first three rounds were quarterbacks). The second part of the table shows the sources of the players that were drafted, with colleges divided into the same three categories that were used in prior articles.

The remainder of this article is divided into three sections for the purpose of discussion:

• Differences by Offensive/Defensive Splits
• Differences by Playing Position
• Differences by Source of Draftees

Differences by Offensive/Defensive Splits

My analysis shows that, on average, there are slightly more defensive players selected in the first three rounds and then an almost exactly even split in rounds four through seven. While only one team (the Bills) was perfectly balanced (same number of offensive and defensive players drafted), most teams are relatively balanced over the course of the entire draft during the 10-year study period. The 12 teams that are outside the norm and show a moderate preference for offense or defense for the entire draft during the study period are listed below:


• Offensive Preference
– Broncos (+11), Steelers (+9), Chiefs (+8), Ravens (+8)
• Defensive Preference
– Falcons (+13), Jaguars (+11), Titans (+11), Lions (+10), Browns (+8), Patriots (+8), Seahawks (+8)

Some teams show a preference either within the first three or final four rounds, but not when considering the draft as a whole. Four teams showed a net preference of seven draftees in the first three rounds. The 49ers were the only team with a significant offensive preference while the Jets, Patriots and Saints all had a defensive preference.

Eight teams showed a modest preference in rounds 4-7, evenly split between offense and defense. These teams are:

• Offensive Preference
– Jets (+13), Chargers (+11), Bengals (+8), Ravens (+8)
• Defensive Preference
– Browns (+12), Titans (+10), Falcons (+9), Jaguars (+8)

Differences by Playing Position

NFL teams also show differences in drafting players by playing position. These differences are discussed below. Before getting into a discussion of these differences I have to comment on what I consider to be the most surprising draft factoid that I came across in connection with this article. Jimmy Graham is the only tight end the Saints have drafted in the last 10 seasons (I didn’t check to see if it went back further than that). Talk about quitting when you are ahead!

Quarterbacks
• Only four teams (Bears, Cowboys, Saints, Texans) did not draft a QB in the first three rounds during the 10-year study period
• The Broncos drafted three QBs in the first three rounds and seven overall

– Their apparent strategy is to draft a QB in most years
• The Cowboys and Jaguars each drafted only one QB in the last 10 years

Running Backs
• The Broncos and Lions each drafted five RBs in the first three rounds
– Both teams apparently believe if you want a RB grab one early as Lions only drafted two RBs in rounds 4-7 and Broncos took three
• Half the teams drafted two RBs or fewer in the first three rounds of the 10-year study period
• Bears and Saints took the fewest RBs overall, with three each over the 10 years
• Redskins were the only team who didn’t draft a RB in the first three rounds but had only 20 selections

Wide Receivers
• Giants were in the “early or not at all” school of thought regarding WRs
– They drafted seven in the first three rounds and only one thereafter
• The Ravens and Bengals loaded up on receivers with 17 drafted by Ravens and 16 by Bengals
– 23 of the 33 were drafted in the final four rounds
• The Jets drafted only one receiver in first three rounds, lowest of any team
• The Browns, Chargers and Redskins drafted the fewest WRs overall with six each

Tight Ends
• 24 of the 32 teams drafted two TEs or fewer in first three rounds of the study period
• The Chiefs drafted four TEs in the first three rounds, highest of any team
• The Jaguars drafted only two TEs, one in the first three rounds

Offensive Linemen
• The Ravens and Eagles tended to load up on offensive linemen
– Ravens drafted 21 in 10 years, eight in first three rounds
– Eagles drafted 20 in 10 years, but only four in first three rounds
• The Titans opted to go late for offensive linemen as they used only 2 out of their 35 picks on offensive linemen in the first three rounds
• The Raiders only took offensive lineman early, drafting nine in first three rounds and only one afterwards
• The Jaguars drafted the fewest offensive linemen with only eight in 10 years, with five in rounds 1-3
• The Eagles and Packers drafted the most linemen in the last four year with 16 and 14, respectively

Defensive Linemen
• The Giants, Lions, Panthers and Titans all drafted nine defensive linemen in first three rounds
– Titans loaded up in last four rounds as well with 11 selected
• The Raiders and Redskins drafted only one defensive linemen each in first three rounds
– The Redskins also drafted only five in last four rounds, so maybe they do not highly value the position
• The Titans and the Seahawks drafted the most defensive linemen with 20 and 19
– 13 of the Seahawks draftees were in last four years, most of any team
• The Bills and the Jets stayed away from defensive linemen in later rounds with only three each

Linebackers
• The Ravens drafted significantly more linebackers (19) than any other NFL team
– 13 of those were selected in the final four rounds
• The Chargers, Cowboys and Steelers drafted the most linebackers in first three rounds with seven each
– The Bears, Browns, Dolphins and Vikings had the fewest with two each
• The Chiefs and the Jets drafted the fewest LBs overall with six each

Corners
• The Bears were the only team not to draft a corner in the first three rounds
– They selected nine in final four rounds
• The Falcons, Rams and Vikings drafted the most in first three rounds with seven each
• The Titans drafted the most corners overall with 14, but only four were in the first three rounds
• Eight teams (Bengals, Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers, Dolphins, Falcons, Rams and Vikings) all selected more corners in the first three round than in the final four rounds

Safeties
• The Dolphins are the only team not to draft a safety in the first three rounds
• The Patriots and Saints drafted the most safeties in the first three rounds with five
• The Lions did not draft any safeties in the final four rounds
• The Saints drafted only one safety in final four rounds
• The Cardinals drafted only two safeties overall

Differences by Source of Draftees

In any earlier article I reviewed the success rate for major college teams versus all other colleges. In that article I made the case that major college teams were more successful than other teams from automatic qualify BCS conferences, but about equally successful with all other colleges.

In this section I reviewed the sources of draftees for the NFL teams, both for the first three rounds and then for the final four rounds. A high reward/low risk strategy would be to select more players from Major Powers and Others. A lower reward/higher risk strategy would be to take more players from the 32 AQS colleges. The following table shows the teams with the highest and lowest risk strategies for the first three rounds and final four rounds. The percentages shown for the lowest risk strategy is the combined percentage of Major Powers and All Other draftees. The percentages shown for the higher risk strategy is the percentage of draftees from the 32 AQS colleges.

Low risk, of course, does not necessarily equal high rewards as you can see. The Broncos and Patriots, for example, both chose a more risky path in the first three rounds of the draft over the past 10 years and still managed to make it into the 2013 final four playoff teams.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Worth the price?

The so-called Jimmy Johnson Trade Value Chart (the “Johnson Chart”) has been around for a while now and is still considered the standard in determining trade consideration, at least by the media. The chart was even posted on Kevin Colbert’s bulletin board in the movie “Draft Day”! There is a belief (definitely overstated) that

The so-called Jimmy Johnson Trade Value Chart (the “Johnson Chart”) has been around for a while now and is still considered the standard in determining trade consideration, at least by the media. The chart was even posted on Kevin Colbert’s bulletin board in the movie “Draft Day”! There is a belief (definitely overstated) that the Johnson Chart has no objective evidence to support it and is based solely on the experience of Johnson and his associates.

Not everyone regards Johnson Chart as the bible or the most appropriate guide. I read recently that at least some NFL teams, including the 49ers, have developed their own charts to evaluate trades. In addition, there have been any number of attempts by academics and others to produce Trade Value Charts (“Charts”) that are based on sound statistical principles.

Probably the best known of the alternative Charts is the one published by Kevin Meers in the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective (the “Meers Chart”). The Meers Chart relied heavily on the “Career Approximate Value” as published at www.pro-football-reference.com and contains a heavy dose of statistical analysis.

Other than the real or imagined methodologies, the principal difference between the two Charts is that the Meers Chart places a significantly higher value on mid to late round selections in relation to early picks. For example, the 100th pick in the draft is worth about 3% of the 1st pick under the Johnson Chart and about 13% of the 1st pick under the Meers Chart.

Meers view of the Johnson Chart is succinctly stated in that same Harvard article: “The old system massively over value the earliest picks and significantly undervalues mid-to-late round picks.” I tend to agree with Meers on this point but, for reasons that will be discussed below, believe that the difference is somewhat misleading.

In my view, a discussion of the Charts has to recognize that this is no different than any other asset purchase. There are two elements of value in any transaction – – real value and acquisition premium. Acquisition premium is defined as the difference between the actual price paid for something and its real value.

I cannot find anything in published articles that indicates that either the Johnson Chart or the Meer Chart explicitly considers acquisition premium. (I did a google search looking for instances where both acquisition premium and trade value chart were both used in a document and no instances were found.) It is reasonable to assume, though, that the Johnson Chart implicitly (and probably not scientifically) considered acquisition premium. The nature of the Meers calcuations suggests that acquisition premium was not considered, though someone with better analytic abilities than me may be able to find a proxy for acquisition premium in their calculation.

A comparison of the Johnson Chart and the Meers Chart is meaningless if one includes acquisition premium and the other doesn’t.

The last thing the pro football world needs right now is another Chart, but I think my approach is different and transparent enough to be worth presenting. In the remainder of this article I will describe how I would calculate both the real value and the acquisition premium in the context of NFL trades.

Real Value
I calculated real value by considering and weighting five metrics as follows:

• Five-year starter = 40%
• Pro Bowl at least once = 20%
• All Pro at least once = 20%
• Two-year starter = 10%
• Five-year career = 10%

These weightings are, of course, very subjective and strictly a matter of opinion. I developed a point system based on this analysis. Using these weightings resulted in the following real values for each of the Draft Choice Ranges (with a value of 1000 arbitrarily assigned to selections 1-13):

• Selections 1-13 = 1000
• Selections 14-24 = 839
• Selections 25-46 = 651
• Selections 47-73 = 488
• Selections 74-114 = 296
• Selections 115-187 = 187
• Selections 188+ = 112

Acquisition Premium
It only makes sense that someone who agrees to move down in the draft would be compensated for that move even if two things of equal value are being exchanged. Why else would the potential seller agree to sell his asset?

In developing an acquisition premium methodology I reviewed each of the 57 transactions during the past three seasons that included only current year draft choices (e.g., no players or future year draft choices are involved).

It seems logical that the more spots a team moves down in the draft, the greater the acquisition premium should be. To that end, I calculated the acquisition premium per draft slot for each of the 57 transactions. The acquisition premiums paid in those transactions can be summarized as follows:

• Less than 2% = 13
• Between 2% and 6% = 21
• Between 6% and 10% = 15
• Over 10% = 8

Further, the average weighted premium was 3.8% per draft slot. On an unweighted basis the average was 6.1% per draft slot. Based on this analysis, my methodology would be to include a premium of 5% per draft slot.

Applying the Two-Step Approach
While my approach involves two steps rather than a single Chart, I believe it is much simpler and more transparent than the other alternatives. First, consistent with my approach with Draft Choice Ranges, there would be only seven potential real values to consider. Second, the application of the acquisition premium is a simple mathematical exercise.


A few examples illustrate my proposal:

• A team moves from draft selection #8 to draft selection #1
– There is no difference in the real value between the exchanged slots as both are in the first Draft Choice Range and therefore are of equal value
– An acquisition premium of 35% applies because the team moved seven slots

-1350 (1000 plus 1000 x 35%) points would have to be surrendered for a draft choice worth 1000 points
• A team moves from draft selection #14 to draft selection #13
– The difference in real value is 161 points (1000 – 839)
– The acquisition premium is 5% of 1000, or 50 points
– Total consideration of 1050 points would be surrendered for a draft choice worth 1000 points

• A team moves from draft selections 39 to draft selection 22
– The difference in real value is 188 points (839-651)
– The acquisition premium is 85% (17 slots at 5% per slot) of 839 points, or 713 points
– Total consideration of 1552 (651 + 188 + 713) points would be consideration for a selection worth 839 points

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Major college football powers and the NFL draft

In “Which Colleges Produce the Most NFL Talent”, I identified 37 colleges whose players combined to start at least 100 games during the 2013 season, accounting for 57% of all starts. The 37 colleges are Alabama, Auburn, Boston College, California, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana State, Maryland, Miami (FL),

In “Which Colleges Produce the Most NFL Talent”, I identified 37 colleges whose players combined to start at least 100 games during the 2013 season, accounting for 57% of all starts. The 37 colleges are Alabama, Auburn, Boston College, California, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana State, Maryland, Miami (FL), Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, South Carolina, Southern Cal, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA, Utah, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Washington and Wisconsin. The composition may change somewhat from year-to-year but it it is a pretty representative list.

In this article, I will compare data for the major college football powers (“the Major Powers”) to that of other colleges. The other colleges are divided into two groups. The first is the 32 teams from the six BCS Automatic Qualifying Conferences (“the AQS”) that are not included in the Major Powers. The BCS Automatic Qualifying Conferences are the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big East, Big 10, PAC 12 and Southeastern Conferences. The second group includes any colleges not included in the first two groups (“the Others”).

I compared the groups from three perspectives:
-Number of Players Drafted
-Success of Players Drafted
-Comparison by Playing Position

For simplicity’s sake, the only metric used to measure success was the number of five-year starters from players selected in the 1994 through 2008 drafts. The comparisons were made individually for each of the seven Draft Choice Ranges previously established as being most meaningful. To refresh your memory these ranges were selections 1-13, 14-24, 25-46, 47-73, 74-114, 115-187 and 188 and after.

Number of Players Drafted
During the 15-year study period, the Major Powers were the dominant suppliers of players selected early in the draft, with the percentages decreasing as the draft progressed. 78% of the players selected with the first 13 picks in the draft during the 15-year study period were from the Major Powers, with that percentage dropping to 42% for selections after the 187th pick. The AQS selections ran second to the Major Powers for the first 114 picks but then fell behind the Others in the final two Draft Choice Ranges.

Overall, about 53% of draftees are from the Major Powers. The following table shows the percentage of draftees by Draft Choice Range for each of the three groups.

Success of Players Drafted
The success of drafted players was measured by the percentage of players who turned out to be five-year starters. Because of the limited number of early round data points for players from the AQS and the Others, I combined selections 1-46 into one group for the purpose of this analysis. The analysis showed the following:

-The players from the Major Powers have been somewhat more successful than players from the Others and significantly more successful than players from the AQS

-The Major Powers and the Others have about the same yield of five-year starters for the first 46 draft selections
-This is somewhat misleading because of the large disparity in data points, with the Major Powers having 472 data points and the Others having 76 in the 15-year period
-The AQS is about 10% lower than the other two groups

-The Major Powers have a slightly higher success rate thereafter except for the 74-114 range of selections, where the Others have been more successful

-The success rate for the AQS is the lowest in each Draft Choice Range

The following table shows the percentage of draftees that become five-year starters for each group:

Comparison by Playing Position

As was stated above, players from Major Powers account for about 53% of all draftees. This varies to a limited degree by individual playing position. The percentages of players drafted from the Major Powers range from 47% (Quarterbacks) to 57% (Running Backs). Other positions at the low end of the range are Wide Receivers and Corners. Linebackers and Tight Ends join Running Backs at the top end of the range.

The primary focus of this article is whether there is any advantage to selecting a player from a Major Power at any of the playing positions. The analysis is made more difficult, though, by the widely varying number of data points across the three groups.

The highlights for each playing position, and accompanying data, follow below.

Quarterbacks
-5 of 6 QBs drafted from the Others in the first 13 picks became five-year starters, highest of the groups
-QBs from the Major Powers are more successful after the first 13 selections

Running Backs
-Running backs from the Major Powers tend to be more successful in the earlier rounds
-From the 115th pick on, the groups are equally successful (or, more accurately, unsuccessful)

Wide Receivers
-All three groups tend to be about equally successful through the 114th pick
-After that point there has been a much greater chance of drafting five-year starters from Others

-7 out of 97 for Others; 1 out of 98 for Major Powers; 1 out of 62 for AQS

Tight Ends
-65% of the tight ends selected with picks 1-114 were from the Major Powers

-The limited number of data points and the “spikiness” of the results make it difficult to compare the three groups
-Players from the Major Powers and the AQS tend to be more successful in later rounds

Offensive Linemen
-Players from the Major Powers tend to be more successful than those from the other groups
-The only exception to this are offensive linemen from the Others that are selected with selections 115-187
-Relatively few linemen from the Others are selected before that

Defensive Linemen
-While the sample sizes make it somewhat difficult to detect trends, players from the Major Powers are at least as successful as the other groups through the 114th pick
-Defensive linemen from the Others are the most successful with picks 115-187

-Interestingly, there is a very significant dropoff in success after the 187th selection for players from the Others
-Players from the Major Powers are only moderately successful after the 114th pick, placing second in both of the last two Draft Choice Ranges

Linebackers
-In a reversal of form from the other playing positions, linebackers from the Others tend to be more successful with picks 1-114
-Linebackers from the Major Powers are the most successful after the 114th selection

-Linebackers from the AQS, while comparable to the other groups in the early rounds, had a poor success rate after the 114th pick

Corners
-Corners from the Others had a much higher success rate than those from the Major Powers after the 73rd selection of the draft
-There were five-year starters out of 115 Major Power draftees versus eight five-year starters out of 77 draftees from the Others
-Corners from the Major Powers are the most successful group through the 73rd selection then drop off drastically thereafter

Safeties
-Safeties from the Major Powers are no more successful than the other groups
-Draftees from the Major Powers are the least successful group with selections after the 187th

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Combine all-stars

The NFL Combine seems like a vague memory, as we are now two months removed from the event. With more running split information available to me now than was available immediately after the Combine and with the draft almost upon us, I thought it might be interesting to take a final look at the

The NFL Combine seems like a vague memory, as we are now two months removed from the event. With more running split information available to me now than was available immediately after the Combine and with the draft almost upon us, I thought it might be interesting to take a final look at the players who did best at the Combine.

My definition of “who did best” is based strictly on how a player performed in those drills that were the best indicators of success for his playing position. The relevant drills for each playing position were presented in the article titled “2014 Combine Viewing Guide.” I do not hold the view that success in the Combine foretells success on the football field. Still, though, it only makes sense to me that doing well at the Combine is better than doing lousy.

I thought the best way to present the top Combine performers was to present an All-Star team (first and second teams) with inclusion earned strictly from Combine performance (e.g., on the field performance is ignored). This parameter would give Usain Bolt a position on the team but there would be no room for Anquan Boldin.

The All-Star teams are presented below:

It is interesting, but not really surprising, that there appears to be only limited correlation between the All-Stars and those players ranked at the top of their position (at least in mock drafts). For example, NFL.com’s Billy Brooks has ranked the top five players at each playing position. Only 13 of the 44 players on my Combine All-Stars appeared on Brooks’ list.

So what to make of the players on the Combine All-Stars who are not considered top draft choices? Are they sleeper candidates or they just very good athletes whose skills do not translate to the football field? Unfortunately, the answer to that question for the 2014 group is several years away.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Starting velocity

There has been plenty of discussion in my recent articles regarding the probability of drafting an NFL starter. What has not yet been addressed, though, is the time element. That is, how long does it take a player to achieve starter status? (As a reminder, my definition of starter status is that a player

There has been plenty of discussion in my recent articles regarding the probability of drafting an NFL starter. What has not yet been addressed, though, is the time element. That is, how long does it take a player to achieve starter status? (As a reminder, my definition of starter status is that a player must start at least eight games in an NFL season to earn a “starter year”.)

This article addresses “Starting Velocity”, which is my term for how long it takes a player to achieve the relevant starter metric. Starting Velocity is expressed in terms of years. For example, if the time required for a player to start his first season is the relevant metric, a player who starts as a rookie has a Starting Velocity of 1.0, a player who reaches starter status in his second season has a Starting Velocity of 2.0 and so forth. I do not attempt to pin it down to the exact game the status is achieved, so no fractional numbers are used, except in the calculation of averages. Averages exclude players who never achieve starter status.

Only the time required to reach the first starter year is discussed in the article.

My analysis shows the following:
-Players who go onto to become five-year starters tend to start sooner than those that do not
-The Starting Velocity is 1.84 for future five-year starters only and 2.57 for other starters
-Players selected earlier in the draft tend to start sooner than those selected later
-There are minor differences in Starting Velocity by playing position
-There are only minor differences in Starting Velocity in players from major college football programs as compared to other college football programs

Each of these highlights are discussed in more detail below.

Five-Year Starters versus Other Starters

While the magnitude of the difference varies by round, future five-year starters earn their first starting year, on average, about one-half a year faster than players who never become five-year starters (average of 2.57 years versus an average of 1.84 years). The distribution by group is as follows and shows that the biggest difference is in rookie starters:

Future five-year starters

Start as rookie = 49.6%
Start in 2nd year = 29.8%
Start in 3rd year = 11.3%
Start after 3rd year = 9.3%

Other starters

Start as rookie = 30.3%
Start in 2nd year = 29.2%
Start in 3rd year = 17.2%
Start after 3rd year = 23.3%

Differences by Draft Round

From this point forward the discussion focuses only on players who became five-year starters. The study shows that first round selections tend to start, on average, between their first and second year (1.41 years). The time taken to start grows by round with seventh round draftees having a Starting Velocity of 2.70 years. A first round pick, then, tends to start about twice as fast as a late round pick..

Distribution and Starting Velocity by round are shown in the following table.

Differences by Playing Position

Then differences in Starting Velocity by playing position were pretty minor. The two extremes were at quarterback (with an average Starting Velocity of 2.31 versus the overall average of 1.84) and Offensive Tackle with a Starting Velocity of 1.56. This means, of course, that Quarterbacks take the longest time to find their way into the starting lineup and Offensive Tackles the shortest time. Both of these are within one-half year of the average, though.

The experience by position is summarized as follows:
-Average is 1.84 seasons
-Starting Velocity >1.95

-QB (2.31), C (2.07), DE (2.06), DT (1.97)
-Starting Velocity 1.75 to 1.95
-TE (1.94), CB (1.93), S (1.85), WR (1.80). RB (1.78), OLB (1.75)
-Starting Velocity
-ILB (1.68), G (1.63), OT, (1.56)

Comparing Major College Football Powers to Other Colleges

The proxy used for Major College Football Powers are the 37 college teams identified in my previously published article titled “Which Colleges Produce the Most NFL Talent?”. Those 37 teams accounted for about 57% of 2013 NFL starts.

While the Major Powers have an advantage over the other colleges, the difference is not that great (1.78 for Major Powers and 1.93 for the Other College).

There are six playing positions where there is more than a one-quarter season difference between in the two groups of colleges. The biggest difference is at Defensive Tackle with the Major Power draftees tending to start about three-quarters of a year sooner. The Major Colleges also have an advantage with Running Backs, Offensive Tackles., Tight Ends and Wide Receiver. Cornerback is the only position where the draftees from Other Colleges have an advantage over the Major Powers.

If time permits I am hoping to publish an article comparing major colleges with other colleges before the draft, so I will defer further discussion on these differences until then.

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Ranking first round draft classes

A few articles ago, I wrote about variability among draft classes in an article entitled “How Deep is a Draft”. A reader asked whether I had ever been looked at variability for first round selections only. I had not previously done that, so it sounded like a good idea for an article. I

A few articles ago, I wrote about variability among draft classes in an article entitled “How Deep is a Draft”. A reader asked whether I had ever been looked at variability for first round selections only. I had not previously done that, so it sounded like a good idea for an article. I reviewed first round selections from two perspectives. First, the classes were reviewed for variability, as suggested by the reader. Second, I thought it would be fun to also rank the draft classes from best to worst.

But why the 1999 through 2008 draft classes? My thought was that I wanted to include the number of five-year starters because I think it is one of the most important metrics in evaluating draft success. In order to include five-year starters, and consistent with past articles, it made sense to end the study with the 2008 draft class. This allows a player six years to achieve five-year starter status. So, if I wanted to use a 10-year study period, 1999 to 2008 was it.

Six metrics were considered both in the review of the variability and the ranking of the draft classes. A table at the end of this articles shows the metrics for each draft class.The metrics used were:

-The number of draftees that played five or more years
-The number of draftees that started for three or more years
-This means a player started at eight games in each of at least three seasons
-The number of draftees that started for five or more years
-The number of games started by the draft class, as adjusted for two circumstances
-One adjustment was for the number of selections in the round (some years only had 31)
-The second, and more significant, adjustment was for differences in the number of years since the draft class was selected

-For example, history tells us that about 72% of the starts in a draft class occur by the end of the seventh season, so the actual number of starts by the 2007 class had to be divided by .72 to calculate the number of adjusted starts.
-The number of draftees selected for at least one Pro Bowl
-The number of draftees selected as an All Pro at least once

My conclusion regarding variability among the first-round classes is that, while there are year-to-year fluctuations, the overall degree of variability is pretty modest. As would be expected, there is more variation for the metrics that are most difficult to attain (e.g., All Pro selection), with some that difference due to “outliers”. Comments on each metric are as follows:

Play five or more years
-High was 32 (2006 draft class) and low was 26 (1999 and 2000, years with 31 selections)
-Six of the 10 classes had either 26 or 27 players with careers of five years or more

Start three years or more
-High was 27 (2004) and low was 21 (2008)
-Six of the 10 classes had 23-25 players start three or more years

Start five years or more
-High was 23 (2006) and low was 14 (2008)
-It is highly likely that the 2008 class will add one or more five-year starters as careers progress
-If 2007 and 2008 are excluded the range is 18-23
-Five of the 10 classes had 20-22 five-year starters

Adjusted starts
-High was 3416 (2001) and low was 2643 (1999)
-There are significant projections used in the later draft classes to arrive at the adjusted starts, so that is something that must be considered
-Seven of the 10 classes were within 10% of the average number of adjusted starts

Pro Bowl Selections
-High was 15 (2001) and low was 9 (2008)
-It is possible that the more recent draft classes will add to their totals
-Six of the ten draft classes had 10-12 Pro Bowl selections and eight had at least 10 players selected to a Pro Bowl

All Pro Selections

-High was 8 (1999, 2003 and 2007) and low was 3 (2004)
-Eight of the 10 classes had 6-8 All Pro Selections

The relatively low level of variability for the draft classes makes it difficult to rank them. Even under the best of circumstances, a ranking is difficult because it depends on whether the person doing the ranking places a higher value on post-season honors, the number of five-year starters or the depth of the class. The table at the end of this article shows the metrics plus my judgment regarding the best and worst selection in each draft class.

I considered all of the metrics and ranked the classes in the following order: 2001, 2006, 2005, 2007, 2004, 2002, 2003, 2008, 1999, 2000. How much do your rankings vary from mine?

My rationale for the top three selections is as follows:

-The 2001 draft class has (1) the highest number of starts (nearly all of which were “real” and not projected), (2) the most players selected to a Pro Bowl and (3) 29 of the 31 draftees played five years or more
-The downside of this class is that it did not rank at the top in starters

-The 2006 draft class had all of its 32 members play at least five years, had the most five-year starters, produced the second highest number of projected starts and had the second highest number of All Pro selections

-The 2005 draft class ranked high in pretty much all of the metrics except for number of adjusted starts.

(1) New England forfeited a first round selection in the Spygate fiasco

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Recipe for success?

The success of a team is almost always a function of player talent and performance (especially quarterback), injuries, turnover ratios, coaching and the like. In this article, I will explore whether there are also any “hidden” advantages resulting from the way a team builds its roster.

Teams included in the analysis for this

The success of a team is almost always a function of player talent and performance (especially quarterback), injuries, turnover ratios, coaching and the like. In this article, I will explore whether there are also any “hidden” advantages resulting from the way a team builds its roster.

Teams included in the analysis for this article were the final four 2013 playoff teams (Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, Patriots) and the two teams (Texans and Redskins) with the worst 2013 records. Various metrics related to a team’s roster were reviewed, and the full results are shown at the end of this article. Except where noted, all comparisons and percentages are based on 2013 scrimmage plays.

Metrics Used in the Analysis

Several metrics were analyzed used for the purpose of assessing whether there were quantifiable differences between playoff teams and losing teams. These metrics are described as follows:

· Continuity
-This metric is the percentage of scrimmage plays from holdovers (players who were on the team in 2012), drafted and undrafted rookies and veteran free agents.
-This measures the turnover in personnel from 2012 to 2013 and the source of roster additions.

· Experience
-This metric is the percentage of scrimmage plays from players grouped by the year of entry into the league.
-This measures the level of a team’s experience.

· Pedigree
-This metric is the percentage of scrimmage plays from players grouped by the round in which they are drafted (undrafted free agents are also included).
-This measures a team’s reliance on, and accumulation of, high draft choices.

· Retention
-This metric is the percentage of scrimmage plays from players who are still playing for the team that originally drafted them.
-This measures a combination of the team’s experience and the ability to retain players after their initial contract expires.

· In-Season Stability
-This group of metrics is less about building a roster than it is about the demands that injuries place on a roster.
-Four individual metrics are used in this area, with the singular purpose of measuring the stability of the starting lineup in the 2013 season.
   -The first metric reports the number of players who started 15 games or more
   -The second metric reports the number of players who participated in at least 500 scrimmage plays
   -The third metric reports the number of players who participated in at least 800 scrimmage plays
   -The final metric reports the total number of 2013 games started by players who started the first game of the 2013 season, split by offense and defense

Conclusions

Here are conclusions, and relevant background information, regarding the metrics used in the analysis:

· Continuity
-The Redskins had the highest percentage (90.6%) of scrimmage plays by holdovers with the Broncos being the lowest (77.2%)
-The Patriots have the highest percentage of scrimmage plays from rookies (13.9%) and the Broncos had the lowest (4.3%)
-The four playoff finalists all had a higher percentage of scrimmage plays from veteran free agent signings than the losing teams
-The implications of the above are that:
   -A moderate level of turnover is best, and probably a necessity due to free agency
   -Do not rely on rookies
   -The signing of veteran free agents to fill holes is essential

· Experience
-The Seahawks had only 9% of its scrimmage plays from players who entered the league in 2006 or earlier, one-half the next closest team (the Broncos)
-65% of the Seahawk’s scrimmage plays were from players who entered the league in 2010 or later, with the next highest being the Texans (58.4%)
-The 49ers and Redskins were the most experienced teams with each having about 40% of their scrimmage players from players entering the league in 2010 or later
-Other than the Seahawks’ youth, there was no other noteworthy differences between winners and losers
· Pedigree
-The 49ers had players with the highest pedigrees, with 42% of their scrimmage plays coming from first round players followed by the Texans with 30%
   -67% of 49ers scrimmage plays were from players taken in first three rounds
-The Seahawks had the lowest percentage of scrimmage plays by first round players at just over 15%, but had the highest percentage among both second round and third round players
-The most significant difference between the playoff teams and the losing teams is that the playoff teams all had a higher percentage of undrafted free agents on their roster, with the Patriots highest at 31% and Texans lowest at 6.5%
   -Is this because the winning teams (1) do a better job of scouting and signing undrafted free agents, (2) give them more an opportunity to play or (3) are just plain luckier?
· Retention
-The Texans had the highest retention rate with 66%, followed by the Seahawks at 60%
-The Redskins had the lowest retention rate at 43%
-The retention rate is affected by both the quantity and quality of a team’s draft selections
-There was nothing here to suggest that this is a significant success factor
· In-Season Stability
-The 49ers probably had the greatest level of in-season stability with the highest number of players who started 15 or more games and highest number of starts by game one starters
-The Seahawks had only six players participate in 800 or more scrimmage plays, next lowest were Broncos and Texans, with 11 each
   -This could be due to substitution patterns (e.g., rotating front 3 or 4) as well injury
-Largely due to their injury situation, the Patriots had the lowest level of stability (only eight players starter 15 games or more), with the Seahawks not much ahead of them
-As shown by the Redskins, a high-level of stability is no guarantee of success
   -The key appears to be able to have sufficient depth to overcome those injuries that detract from stability
· Overall
-It does require any analysis to know that QB play is a key determinant of success, but this analysis was focused on more subtle advantages
-Probably the biggest difference between playoff teams and losing teams is the diversity of resources used to build their rosters
   -Playoff teams were more apt to fill holes with veteran free agents
   -Playoff teams were more likely to utilize undrafted free agents
   -This diversity enables playoff teams to overcome injury issues as both the Patriots and Seahawks had serious injury issues in 2013

(1) The difference for the Patriots between rookies and 2013 entrants was the signing of DL Chris Jones, who was not counted as a veteran free agent signing rather than a rookie since he played for another NFL team before coming to the Patriots.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Draft probabilities by position

In an earlier article the probability of achieving certain milestones by draft choice range was reviewed. To refresh your memory, the seven draft choice ranges are (1) the first 13 draft selections, (2) draft selections 14-24, (3) draft selections 25-46, (4) draft selections 47-73, (5) draft selections 74-114, (6) draft selections 115-187

In an earlier article the probability of achieving certain milestones by draft choice range was reviewed. To refresh your memory, the seven draft choice ranges are (1) the first 13 draft selections, (2) draft selections 14-24, (3) draft selections 25-46, (4) draft selections 47-73, (5) draft selections 74-114, (6) draft selections 115-187 and (7) draft selections 188 and higher.

It only makes sense, though, that the probabilities are different depending on playing position. These differences can be caused by some combination of a varying level of injury or scouting risk and the number of available positions for drafted players. For example, there is only one starting quarterback but five starting offensive linemen. It makes sense, then, that offensive linemen have a higher success rate than quarterbacks, especially given that a disproportionate number of quarterbacks are drafted.

In this article I will review the probabilities by playing position. For purposes of this article, in certain cases, playing positions were combined and others were split into two. The position groupings are:

• Quarterbacks
• Smaller Running Backs (210 pound or less)
• Larger Running Backs (over 210 pounds)
• Wide Receivers
• Tight Ends
• Offensive Linemen

   -I do have individual data for centers, guards and tackles but the degree of position switching along the line makes it, in my opinion, more meaningful to report the information for the combined positions
• Small defensive ends and outside linebackers
   -Small defensive ends were defined as less than 265 pounds
   -This grouping acknowledges that defensive ends and outside linebackers are to some degree interchangeable, with a player’s professional position dependent on the type of defense his pro team plays

• Large defensive ends and defensive tackles
   -Large defensive ends are defined as weighing 265 pounds or more
   -This grouping acknowledges that 3-4 defensive ends are more like defensive tackles

• Inside linebackers
• Cornerbacks
• Safeties

Fullbacks and special teams players were excluded from the analysis due to the low number of draftees.

This article will address the playing position probabilities from two angles. First, I will address differences within the draft choice ranges for each of the first four ranges. This will take us into the beginning of the third round. Then, I will discuss observations by playing position. There may be some overlap between the two angles, but after much thinking about the subject I think it is the best way to proceed. The principle metric used in this review is the percentage of five-year starters, with the 1994 through 2008 draft classes used as the study period.

Selections 1-13
• Average % of five-year starters: 71.3%
• Among playing positions with at least 10 players drafted with these selections during the study period, the probability of drafting a five-year starter ranged from 60% to 95%
• Least risky: Offensive linemen (95%, or 20 of the 21 offensive linemen selected from 1994 through 2008 became five-year starters)
• Most risky: Large running backs (60.0% five-year starters), but quarterbacks (64.0%) and wide receivers (61.5%) were close
• Other observations:

   -Over 51% of drafted offensive linemen made the Pro Bowl at least once compared to the 43.5% overall average
   -80% of offensive linemen started as rookies compared to the average of 70%
   -178 of 195 drafted players had careers of five years or more

Selections 14-24
• Average % of five-year starters: 63%
• Among playing positions with at least 10 players drafted with these selections during the study period, the probability of drafting a five-year starter ranged from 36% to 71%
• Quarterbacks, small running backs, tight ends, safeties and inside linebackers had too few selections to consider as part of the discussion
• Least risky: Offensive lineman with 71% of draftees becoming five-year starters
• Most risky: Large running backs with 36% of draftees becoming five-year starters
• Other observations:

   -Biggest difference between 1-13 and 14-24 draft ranges is that 1-13 produces about 1.6 times as many Pro Bowl players
   -Despite their overall higher risk profile, 32% of wide receivers drafted in this range were selected to the Pro Bowl at least once (versus 27% average)
   -The outside linebacker/small defensive end group had only 16% of draftees selected to at least one Pro Bowl
   -30% of drafted offensive linemen were selected to at least one Pro Bowl

Selections 25-46
• Average % of five-year starters: 48%
• Among playing positions with at least 10 players drafted with these selections during the study period, the probability of drafting a five-year starter ranged from 17% to 77%
• Least risky: Inside linebackers (76.5%), outside linebackers/defensive ends (64%), offensive lineman (61%)
• Most risky: Small running backs (16.7%), large running backs (23.5%) and defensive tackles/large defensive ends (35%)
• Other observations:

   -Offensive linemen and inside linebackers were most likely to start as rookies
   -Running backs and defensive tackles/large defensive end were least likely to start as rookies
   -Only 58% of small running backs lasted five years in the versus the average of 73%
   -Inside linebackers, safeties and tight ends were the most likely to play five years or more

Selections 47-73
• Average % of five-year starters: 34%
• Among playing positions with at least 10 players drafted with these selections during the study period, the probability of drafting a five-year starter ranged from 8% to 49%
• Least risky: Offensive linemen (49%) and safeties (46%)
• Most risky: Quarterbacks (8%), small and large running backs (combined percentage of 11%) and wide receivers (25%) 
• Other observations:

   -Offensive linemen were most likely to have five-year or longer careers
   -Large running backs were least likely to last five years
   -Offensive linemen and inside linebackers were most likely to start as rookies

The rest of the article discusses individual playing positions. The tables in each section include information about the probability of (1) a player having a five-year or longer career and (2) a player starting for at least five years. The table shows the average across all positions, the number of players drafted at that position from 1994 through 2008 (which is the same for both five-year careers and five-year starters) and the probability for that draft choice range.

Observations:
• 13% of players drafted with selections 1-13 were QBs with almost as many QBs taken with those selections as with selections 14-73
   -If a team wants a top rated QB it better take him early
• The small number of data points makes it difficult to draw many additional conclusions
• The number of All Pro QBs is very low because Peyton Manning “hogged” most of those honors, holding down the total number of QBs to earn All Pro honors

Observations:

• Not many small running backs are taken with early selections
• There is a low likelihood of grabbing a starter at any point in the draft but players in this group often return kicks
• The probability of drafting a five-year starter is lower than the average for each draft choice range

Observations:
• Drafting running backs is a risky propositions and the percentage of five-year starters is below the average in every data choice range
• Only two of the 92 large running backs selected after the 114th pick ended up as a five-year starter
• The probability of having a five-year career is considerably lower for large running backs than the average of all positions

Observations:
• There is virtually no difference in the results of drafting wide receivers between draft selection ranges 1-13 and 14-24
• Despite having one of the lowest percentages of five-year starters with selections 1-13, wide receivers have the third highest number of rookie starters
• There is a large drop-off in the percentage of five-year starters after selection #24 but wide receivers taken with draft selection ranges 25-46 and 47-73 are about the same
• Selections between 115 and 187 have probably the lowest probability of success across the board


Observations:
• Only 10 tight ends were selected in the first 24 picks over the 15-year study period
• Out of those 10, nine became five-year starters
• There is a higher percentage of drafting five-years starters at tight end than the average of all positions through the 114th selection

Observations:
• The % of offensive linemen who end up as five-year starters exceeds the average in all seven of the draft choice ranges
• The probability of an offensive lineman earning Pro Bowl honors at least once is significantly higher than the average through selections 46, but then drops below the average
• Offensive linemen, when all performance measures are considered, are probably the list risky position to draft regardless of draft position
• One-third of all five-years starters from picks 188 and higher are offensive linemen

Observations:
• The probability of drafting a five-year starter is pretty much the same through the first 46 selections of the draft
o The chances of drafting a rookie starters are about the same as well
• The probability of drafting a Pro Bowl player does drop off considerably after the first 13 selections
o The probability for selections 14-46 is below the average of all positions
• Outside Linebackers/Small Defensive Ends have the highest percentage of five-year careers with selections 115-187

Observations:
• 40 of 54 draftees with selections 1-13 were rookie starters, the most at any position
o This is based on a 1994-2013 study period
• There is a big drop-off in the probability of drafting five-year starters from choices 14-24 to 25-46
o 14-24 was exactly at average while 25-46 was considerably below average
o Defensive tackles/large defensive ends had the lowest percentage of five-year careers from selections 14-24
• There is another drop-off from 47-73 to 74-114, with 74-114 being considerably below average
• There is a better than average chance of drafting a five-year starter late in the draft (after selection 114)

Observations:
• Drafting inside linebackers has been a very safe selection pretty much anywhere in the draft
• All 10 selections in the first 24 picks became five-year starters and practically all have earned Pro Bowl honors
• None of the 32 inside linebackers selected after the 187th pick have become five-year starters

Observations:
• There has been very little difference between cornerbacks selected 1-13 and 14-24
o 14-24 has a higher % of five-year starters while 1-13 has a higher % of Pro Bowl selections
• Cornerback selections after the 73rd pick have not done well
• As a general rule, take cornerbacks earlier rather than later

Observations:
• Teams tend to stay away from safeties early (although that has been changing in recent years)
• Safeties have been a low-risk pick
• The probability of drafting a five-year starter has been higher than the average of all draft choice ranges in all groups except the 74-114 draft selections
• Safeties have the highest percentage of players with five-year careers from selections 188 and higher

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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