Broncoman's post about the Broncos and their drafts under Mike Shanahan really got me thinking - I certainly appreciate his analysis, but I think judging draft success by Pro Bowls is a bit too narrow. I think the real way to find the effectiveness is through games played. However, that in itself will be very difficult to manage - where is the cutoff for a good player or one who matters? Does a player need to be a starter? Does he need to play in 10 games a year to count? I'm not really sure what the answers are to those questions...so I came up with something else after looking at pro-football-reference.com
pro-football-reference.com shows what players actually had statistics for what years. This is not 100% accurate, as some players like (some) offensive linemen can play an entire season without generating a single statistic, such as a fumble recovery. (Players in bold type had statistics in 2008. Someone like Jordan Gross, for example, did not have any statistics in 2008 despite starting in 16 games for the Panthers, so he does not count. Obviously, this is a problem but I think I can make an overall point despite this.)
However, that seems to me the only problem with these numbers. Other than those offensive linemen, I think this will show a player's significance. I believe it's fair to say that a player has no impact if he generates no statistics (tackles, catches, carries, yards, sacks, etc.) I also think this is fair because a player drafted in the 7th round but does not start, yet adds depth, is a good draft choice. Therefore, I think a player who is still in the league five or six years after being drafted and still contributing on some level is a good draft choice. Again, it's not scientific or perfect, but I think it does show a lot...
In response to Broncoman's fascinating post, a few of our friends have pointed out the 2003 and 2004 Drafts, and the Broncos' poor returns from them. So the next logical question is, were these bad drafts for everyone, or just for us? Well, I think another fair (and deeper) way of measuring that is how many players are still in the NFL and contributing.
From the 2003 Draft, 107 of the 262 players chosen had statistics in 2008. Again, this does not include a few OL who did not generate a statistic. However, using that 107/262 number gives the 2003 Draft an overall percentage of 40.8% still in the league and contributing in some manner. I will not attempt to speculate as to how much the OL without stats make that number rise.
The Broncos in 2003 drafted 10 players, and only George Foster (who played in 4 games but did not dress the last 10 games, and did not generate a statistic) and Nick Eason remain. So while Foster didn't really generate a statistic, I'll be generous and give Denver a "hit" with him, giving them 2 current NFL players out of their 10 2003 draft choices. That is a generous 20% success rate, compared with the 40.8% league-wide. That is pitiful.
Let's look at 2004 now. 255 players were chosen that year, and of those 124 players generated statistics in 2008. 124/255 is a success rate of 48.6% - this is a logically higher number than 2003's 40.8% thanks to age, retirement and injuries. As you look at more recent years, I'm sure the number will go higher. Perhaps that will be my next post?
Well, in 2004 the Broncos also drafted 10 players, and the only ones still in the league are DJ Williams and Tatum Bell, and as we know Tatum was selling mobile phones at the Aurora Mall a few months ago. So again, there is a bit of fortune on Denver's side to get that number up to 2 successes. Once again, Denver had a 20% success rate compared to the league-wide 48.6%
So, between 2003 and 2004 there were 517 players drafted into the NFL. Of those, 231 generated statistics in 2008, which translates to an inexact 44.7% - and the Broncos (I think generously) had a success rate of 20%, with just 4 of their 20 draft choices still contributing in the NFL.
I believe this tells a lot of the story behind Denver's current situation. Although Broncoman proved that the Broncos have drafted as many or more Pro Bowlers as the rest of the league, I would have to say that the Broncos lacked any sort of depth in their drafting. Perhaps it's best to look at these two studies in tandem and say that while Shanahan was successful in finding top-end talent at a higher clip than the rest of the league, his failure in middle rounds left the Broncos to find depth through free agency. Obviously, the 2006 and 2008 drafts should go a long way towards reversing that trend, but those 2003 and 2004 results show me a whole lot of what we really need to know.
I know Ted alluded to an overemphasis on drafting players in the MSM yesterday, but I think his solution for the 2009 defense is a bit too far on the other end of the gamut. Do you need to fill the entire roster through the draft? Of course not. However, you do not create a roster through free agency. You build your core and your depth through the draft, and free agency fills in the holes. Obviously, there are some examples of successful teams built through free agency, like the Dolphins defense that Ted alluded to. However, I seriously doubt you can find sustained success in that manner. Ted also mentioned the Patriots, and yes they have used free agency quite wisely. However, it has been to spackle a hole here, patch something up there. Their starting defense is almost entirely made up of Patriots draft choices...Wilfork, Seymour, Warren, Hobbs, Mayo, Bruschi, J. Sanders and Merriweather were all home-grown.
I am not about to say Mike Shanahan was a terrible drafter. He wasn't, and he also made up for some deficiencies by signing a lot of undrafted players and turning them into stars. But the record speaks for itself - the Broncos have nothing to show for the 2003 and 2004 drafts, and those are the 5-6 year veterans who should be leading this team here and now.
PS. I hope this is not seen in any way as ripping Ted's or Broncoman's work - those are some typically well-written and thought-provoking pieces. I just hope this can add to the conversation and put a few numbers behind some of the sentiments I'm seeing in the comments. Ted and Broncoman, thanks for the great posts and for piquing my curiosity in a big way.
PPS. Adding this in...the 2002 Draft was better for Denver, as 102 of the 261 draftees made statistical contributions in 2008, or 39.1% - for the Broncos, they hit on 3 out of 8, or 37.5%. However, only Putzier remains and I think that could earn an asterisk...so of Denver's 28 draft choices from 2002 to 2004, only 7 remain in the league, while only Putzier, DJ and Tatum are Broncos.