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Snap judgement: How Elway got players 2012-2015

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The general consensus among the MHR community is that the front office is doing a great job. The two main tasks of the front office are drafting players (picking UDCFAs) and signing free agents. NFL fans, in general, give more credit for team success with "home-grown" players than with free agents. Has the recent Bronco's success been the result of "home-grown" players? We turn to snap counts to seek answers.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Good NFL franchises draft well and develop their drafted talent. That's a fairly simple hypothesis, but is that how the Broncos have done it?

There are easy examples that can be brought up to support this hypothesis, but there are also some examples that can be tossed in to weaken it. The opposite is also fairly easy to prove (Bad NFL franchises don't draft well and don't develop their talent - e.g. Cleveland and Tampa Bay). How do we go about using numbers to test this hypothesis? We could look at where teams get their starters, but the whole concept of who is a starter and who is not leads to more questions than answers. I prefer to use snaps. Snaps give us keen insight into how often a player was used. Matt Paradis took every single offensive snap for the Broncos last season. Setting aside qualitative judgement, that is impressive. The following analysis will not involve any qualitative measures (what these players did with their offensive or defensive snaps) and it will only look at offensive and defensive snaps (no special teams snaps), but it will give us a historical idea. All data is sourced from www.footballoutsiders.com

Method

I'm only going to "credit" the Broncos for draft picks and UDCFAs that they signed. For example, while Chris Clark was an undrafted player out of college, the Broncos did not sign him after the draft. The Buccaneers did so he is not counted in the UDCFA snaps or snap%.

Snap% = total number of snaps by player type/11/total offensive or defensive snaps for DEN in said year

Snap % by DEN UDCFAs on offense and defense 2012-2015

Year % Off. Snaps by DEN UDCFAs % Def. Snaps by DEN UDCFAs
2012 1.7% 15.2%
2013 0.2% 25.6%
2014 6.0% 12.2%
2015 6.8% 14.0%

You'll note that we relied heavily on guys we signed as UDCFAs during this time on defense. In 2013 we had Wesley Woodyard, Chris Harris, Tony Carter, Duke Ihenacho and Mitch Unrein all contributing to that large percentage of defensive snaps by DEN UDCFAs. Think about that. In 2013 we had three guys on the field for every defensive snap. Those three guys were all overlooked by 31 franchises during the draft, but found by the Broncos and developed by the Broncos.  Oddly enough, on the offensive side of the ball we almost had no contribution from DEN UDCFAs that season with a grand total of 21 snaps being contributed that year by CJ Anderson. There were other offensive players who took offensive snaps for the Broncos that season that were not drafted, but we did not sign either of them as undrafted free agents (Clark and Wes Welker). {I'm more than happy to discuss in the comments why I'm not credited the Broncos with Chris Clark or Brandon Marshall.}

Snap % by DEN Draft picks on offense and defense 2012-2015

It does not matter if they were drafted during this time-frame (e.g. Ryan Harris), if DEN drafted them I am still counting them.

Year % Off. Snaps by DEN Draft Picks % Def. Snaps by DEN Draft Picks
2012 54% 40%
2013 51% 42%
2014 39% 51%
2015 53% 44%

On offense and defense we were oddly consistent in the percentage of offensive snaps from our drafted players with the only strange year being 2014.

Year % Off. Snaps by OTHER % Def. Snaps by OTHER
2012 44.5% 44.4%
2013 48.4% 32.6%
2014 55.2% 36.6%
2015 40.5% 41.9%

2014 was the only year in the last four where more than half of our offensive snaps were taken by players originally signed by other teams. That dropped dramatically in 2015. It's also interesting to note how few of our 2013 defensive snaps came from players signed and/or developed by other teams.

If I were retired, I'd take the time to do this analysis for the 31 other NFL teams.