The salary cap has made it virtually impossible to build a perennial winner without succeeding in the draft. But after the first round, a rookie's contract length is only for four years. That makes selecting players in rounds four through seven paramount to success.
Good teams select well in the first three rounds. Great teams select well in the last four rounds.
How have the Broncos done in the late rounds in the last four seasons? How does this compare to the rest of the league? How do you measure the value of a draft pick?
I chose to use AV (approximate value) which assigns a value to every player on every team every year based upon what they contributed to the team that year. Offensive lineman can have big values (Ryan Clady led the Broncos one year). This method was developed by a couple of guys at pro-football-reference back in 2008 and it is the only player value system that allows you to compare players at dramatically different positions (did our punter contribute more to the team than our starting RT?). So I looked at the total combined AV for the players that every team in the league has drafted in the 4th-7th rounds in the past 4 years. Below is the tabulated results (including the biggest "success" for each team)
|TEAM||# of picks||SUM||AVERAGE||MAX||"Best" Player|
You can see that the team which has found the most value in the latter part of the draft over the past 4 drafts is the Seahawks. This is due in large part to drafting Richard Sherman in the 4th round. Sherman has AV values of 5, 18, 19 and 16 in his first 4 years. This is where AV starts to lose focus as a cumulative metric. Sherman has a cumulative AV of 58 over his first 4 NFL seasons. By that logic he has more "value" to the Seahawks than 19 teams got from ALL of their latter round picks. That's silly, but I haven't found a better way to compare values of players across positions particularly with players who don't generate stats.
Aside from Sherman, the Seahawks have also found a ton of valuable players in the latter rounds. I count 5 other starters that they have found in these rounds over the past 4 drafts (K.J. Wright, Byron Maxwell, Malcol Smith. Luke Wilson and J.R. Sweezy). Remove Sherman's value and Seattle still would have more value from their latter round picks than any other team in the league over the past 4 years. Washington has the second most cumulative value. It is also interesting to note that Seattle also has the greatest number of late round picks over the last 4 drafts. Compare Seattle's 30 picks to New Orleans' 12. One contributing factor to the Seahawk's recent success on the field is that they have been "winning" the draft.
Other teams who have "won" the latter rounds of the draft recently have not won many games - CLE, JAX, WAS, TEN - have all done better in the draft (in these rounds) than the Broncos but they have not won many games. Converserely, BAL, SF and NWE have "failed" in the later rounds and still been very good over the past 4 seasons. The Broncos have not had many picks the in the 4th-7th rounds recently (that will change this year and the next year with all of the compensatory picks) - 16 total picks, but was have found some very good players with these picks from 2011 and 2012:
The latter round guys from 2013 and 2014 have not developed yet into contributors, but that doesn't mean that they won't:
The Broncos would be what I would term "winners" in that we have found quite a few gems in the latter rounds, but based on the AV alone we are only a little above average. We have picked 4 guys in the past 4 years who have gone on to be regular starters at this point in their careers (Green, J. Thomas, Trevathan and Jackson). The average cumulative AV for all 4th-7th round picks over the past 4 seasons is 2.8. The Broncos latter picks have contributed an average 2.9 AV to the team over their careers so far. Julius Thomas' 13 (0, 0, 8 and 5) is the best of our latter picks. Danny T is a close second with an cumulative AV of 12 (2, 9 and 1). Barrow, Paradis and Nelson could all still develop into starters, but I would not bet on it since the odds of becoming a starter in the NFL as a 5th round pick or later are quite low and the odds of all three becoming starters is even lower.
The team who have been the biggest "losers" in their latter round picks is the Chiefs. Their picks have almost been comically futile over the last 4 drafts with Fulton being the only guy who has been a starter. DeAthony Thomas could still turn into a valuable player for them, but one starter out of 19 picks is a horrible success rate.
Assuming that we don't trade any of them away, we potentially have 7 picks in the 4th-7th rounds this year. That's a lot of chances to "win" in the lottery that is the latter rounds of the draft. Should we actually keep all 7 of those picks, it will be very interesting to see how many of them actually make the roster or even the practice squad this year.