I'm not a great draft guru or anything like that, but I do try to apply logic to most facets of my life, the draft included. Now having said that I've been hearing so much from the media and around the web about the draft and player development that I finally got fed up with some misinformation or mistakes that I felt that I should try and clear up a few things, as well as give a few of my own thoughts overall, both about the Broncos and the draft in general.
Now bear with me, this really isn't my style.
The Importance of Each Draft Class
We too often put too much value on purely when a player was drafted without any sense of the position the player plays or in relation to drafts around them. Let's take the example of the oft-maligned Blaine Gabbert. In a survey sent to all 32 NFL teams scouting offices, I asked them to rank players in a blind study based on film and metrics and then also asked them to project players who came out early. Had Gabbert stayed in school for his final season he'd have been the 3rd QB selected in last years draft behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffen, he'd also have been the first quarterback selected in this years draft. Now part of that is project the development he'd have done in college which was a bit harsh in the NFL.
This applies in other cases as well. Geno Smith in this years draft would not have gone in the 1st round in any draft since the 2010 draft, and even then only a handful of teams would have taken him there. So teams need to keep in mind, why pay a 1st round pick for a player when a similar or better player will likely be there next year? It should be noted that this largely applies to QB's since very few other positions are overdrafted, outside of RB's and WR's, but that's a whole other issue and not a matter of the draft class they are in.
Along those lines it's so often we hear that this is a quarterback driven league (which it is) and teams need a great quarterback to succeed (partially true) but too often teams, fans and the media hold onto this mentality too strong. A key example of this might be the Cleveland Browns this off-season. In last years draft the Browns reached and took a player most viewed as a 2nd or 3rd round quarterback in Brandon Weeden in the 1st round. After he struggled to even provide an upgrade (or some would actually say a downgrade) over previous starter Colt McCoy, the Browns are now rumored to possibly draft quarterback Geno Smith in the 1st round. If your mentality is to constantly search for that next great QB, that makes sense, but teams rarely consider the cost and talent lost by over drafting any position, but especially quarterback.
Let me say first off one year is FAR too short to judge any player and giving up on Brandon Weeden is premature, even if many, myself included, feel he was over drafted. But let's take a look at the talent impact of the Browns drafting Geno Smith with the 6th overall pick. If they do this that will likely mean the end of the Weeden period in Cleveland, making that pick a waste. When you look at that pick you realize the talent they passed on:
- Dont'a Hightower, LB
- Doug Martin, RB (Who actually played better than #3 overall pick Trent Richardson)
- Derek Wolfe, DL
- Janoris Jenkins, CB
- Bobby Wagner, LB
That's just a few names missed out on because of the (real or imagined) need to draft a QB. Because of that wasted pick the Browns are a worse team. Which affects future quarterbacks. So when teams give up on 1st round players specifically they are wasting a massive investment, not so much in money but in talent, that they could have picked. Teams need to think long term here, overdraft a QB now and lower the team's talent level long term or draft the QB where they belong and use the higher picks to add talent.
This could be an issue for the Redskins if Robert Griffin can't stay healthy because of the extremely high cost they paid to move up. If Griffin can't stay healthy the talent lost is incredible and crippling to a team, and to Shanny himself.
While this doesn't apply to the Broncos directly, I wanted to try and expand people's understanding of the cost of moving on from a player too early that your committed a large amount of resources too. It's better to stick with what you have and add talent that risk it all. Because I'm sure if you asked any Cleveland fan, they would likely have been as good, or better, with Colt McCoy at QB and some offensive or defensive weapon picked with the Weeden pick than with drafting and starting Weeden.
Often times I've heard "_____ position takes a while to develop" or "They could be an instant starter" so I have been working on the average developmental rates for each position but when I started noticed that people were saying Hillman should be given time to develop because he's young and a rookie, I rushed ahead with the running back numbers.
Now my methodology relied on Approximate Value (AV) metric which was created by Chase Stuart and the staff at Pro-Football-Reference. I won't get into the way it works on a mathematical level, it's very complex, but here are the links to it if you want to delve into yourself.
The nature of this metric allows us to compare the value and impact of a player across positions. This allows us to compare a safety to a running back. While it's not perfect, it is incredible robust, but it's most glaring weakness is in the nature of the metric. If we give Player A an AV of 4 and Player B an AV of 5, it's hard to separate the two since the metric is very weak when comparing small sized groups. But if we are looking at a group of 100 or more players, it becomes massively more precise. So in this study we are breaking it down by age and by years in the league. So in my study, which included over 150 players, here's an example:
- 22 year old running back average AV: 4.1
- 23 year old running back average AV: 5.1
While for just one player this would be a meaningless comparison, for such a large sized group, the difference is important and vital. 5.1 is a fairly good difference from 4.1 in a big group. Let's start breaking this down.
*It should be noted that there is no minimum or maximum AV, if you only fumble the ball you can get a negative score, though it it VERY hard.*
AV By Years In The League:
AV By Age:
So after getting these results I talked to a few college and NFL scouts and they said they think most good to great backs actually hit their peaks around ages 20-22, and that does include a few backs reaching that peak in college. I will say I was a bit shocked by this but the most I studied it the more sense it made. While some abilities take a while to develop, notably pass blocking, their ability to run and pass catch are defined very early in college actually. Very, very few backs hit their stride after age 22. Now remember this is when they hit their peak, or best performance era. This isn't to say they have their best years at that age, rather it's to say they hit that high plateau at these ages.
Another thing to factor is that there are a few exceptions, the biggest is great backs tend to be able to run longer and so a few later years may have some spikes but because of the large population size, it doesn't have a big impact. That is why ages 27 and 28 and years 9 and 10 are a bit higher because by then the bad backs have been weeded out and only good backs remain.
I'll continue to publish this series with quarterbacks next.
Changing Draft Pick Value
Since the changes to the rookie wage scale a lot has been impacted by the overall shifts in the draft value chart created by Jimmy Johnson some time ago. Now when it comes to draft value I'm no expert but I do know how to do math and Chase Stuart, along with Football Outsiders have come up with two new tools to more accurately judge what a draft pick is worth based on actual past performance, which is what matters.
- Draft Value Chart: Right or Wrong?
- Creating a NFL Draft Value Chart, Part 1
- Creating a NFL Draft Value Chart, Part 2
- Creating a NFL Draft Value Chart, Part 3
- NFL Draft Pick Value Calculator
- Thoughts on Future Discount Rates for NFL Draft Pick Trades
Overall they note that we tend to over value late 1st rounders and early 2nd rounders and undervalue 3rd, 4th and 5th round players. A great read and the calculator may be fun to use as the draft day trade happen.
Need Your Help
I am doing a long term project studying a variety of pundits and media personalities about their big boards and mock drafts to see who is the most accurate in terms of the mocks and who projects talent the best, so far I've collected over 50 different people but I would love to get any mocks or big boards from around the web that you may know that I can add to my study. So either post them in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, thanks!