Evaluating the Roster – My Process and Its Implications

A simple hierarchy of needs is the most rudimentary and commonly used basis for predicting the offseason actions of sports franchises.  Though convenient, such simplistic analysis is inherently incomplete and therefore most often leads to inaccurate projections.  It is simply not enough to list an arbitrary amount of perceived team needs – even if in order – because such an exercise does not take into account the nature of those needs.  Though I have developed my own personal rubric for such evaluations, making the resulting opinions uniquely mine, I thought it might be helpful if I shared them here and now.  Due to the considerable length of a draft attempting to do all of that in a single post, I have decided to instead break it up into two parts; this first piece will focus on my general process and its implications, while the second will elaborate on its application to the Denver Broncos.  I look forward to your constructive criticism of both and sincerely hope that you find them useful as we continue to prepare for the busier days to come in this offseason.

The teacher in me likes the familiarity and inherent benefits of the typical letter grading system for the task at hand.  I have found that it can effectively describe my opinions on these matters without being too rigid.  The specific definitions of the grades for this assignment are as follows:

 

A = All set

B = Depth wanted

C = Depth needed

D = Considerable need for a potential starter

F = Desperate need for an immediate starter

+/- = A potential future shift into the adjacent letter grade

 

As you may have already imagined, this sort of system should yield a normal distribution (i.e. would be graphed as a standard "bell" curve) if applied to the entire league, roughly centered on an average franchise receiving an overall grade in the ‘C’ range.  That statement should make intuitive sense when you consider the prevailing sense of parity, as well as the effects of a salary cap, the limited supply of successful NFL-caliber players and the relatively short span of said players’ prime seasons.  An important implication of that normal distribution is that: due to the fact that extreme grades are therefore relatively rare, most roster moves are made with the twin goals of short-term depth and long-term stability in mind.  In other words, the proportions of players drafted, signed and traded for with the intention of starting them, as well as the number of positions entirely overlooked in those processes, are relatively small.

 

That phenomenon also helps to explain why the most consistently successful franchises in the league follow roster philosophies that emphasize value over need in the draft and focus on addressing any glaring holes via the trade market and in free agency.  The former takes into account the nearly compulsory nature of incorporating draftees and the perpetual need to refresh the ranks with cost-contained youth, while the latter reflects the fact that those markets provide known commodities better suited to start immediately.  Those teams also tend to limit the number of obvious personnel risks, create a measure of redundancy at their position(s), employ them only in non-essential roles or avoid such volatility altogether, but I think that’s a discussion for another day.

 

I’d like for you all to take a moment to consider how those inferences about team building inform our understanding of the more controversial actions of the new administration in Dove Valley.  I, for one, can certainly see how they apply and will definitely keep them in mind as the leadership continues to rebuild our franchise this offseason.  I truly believe that they are guiding us in the right direction and trust that it is the path towards sustainable Super Bowl contention. 

 

It is important to remember that there is almost always a method to the madness that fosters the environment of controlled frenzy which governs offseason roster moves, a fact that should helps us in organizing that chaos.  Understanding this process as best as we can is an integral part of managing expectations for the offseason.  We will probably emerge from free agency with a significantly altered outlook for the draft and neither – and perhaps not even both – will likely be enough to turn our Broncos into the juggernaut we're all hoping they will become.  Please join me tomorrow for the conclusion of this brief two-part series, when I will evaluate the current state of our roster in some detail and discuss my findings therein.  Cheers and go Broncos!

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