Here is your link to the data: http://pfref.com/tiny/hvlng

In this study I take yet another look at the draft data to be mined at pfref.com.  This time, rather than looking at where in the draft players were taken, I wanted to compare which teams took those players.  I looked at *all* the players drafted (regular draft and supplemental draft) between 2006 and 2016, which I make to be 2,799 players in total. Why between 2006 and 2016?  Because, being a Saints fan, I wanted to focus on the years since Sean Payton came in and took over the draft room.  This is a very long post, but I think it’s worth your time in reading it and pondering the numbers.  I give you my take on it, but the numbers are there for anyone to analyze.

The data was sorted by Career AV, which I’ve covered in previous draft-related blog posts in recent days, so go read those if you’re not familiar with it.  Basically, it’s a statistical single number that is assigned to each player, regardless of position, the higher the better.  The longer the player has been in the league the higher that number will generally be, but it’s a weighted value, meaning the focus is more on the peak years, so a player who had more years won’t have as much an advantage as the player with fewer total years, but better peak years.

The top 5 players in this dataset were Matt Ryan (111), Jahri Evans (108), Haloti Ngata (100), Patrick Willis (92), and Darrelle Revis (89), with Adrian Peterson (88) barely not making the top 5 by just 1 Career AV point.  Arian Foster (57) was *not* included in this data because, why?, he wasn’t drafted.  He was a UDFA, so Houston doesn’t get any credit for that wonderful find.  Drew Brees is not included in this data because, why?, he wasn’t drafted within this time frame.  (Brees was drafted in 2001, and his career AV number is 153.)  If Brees were in this data, the credit for that high career AV would go to San Diego, not the Saints, even though he earned most of that as a Saint.  Reason for this is because San Diego drafted him, not New Orleans.  This is about talent evaluation for the draft, not talent evaluation after the draft.  See also Rob Ninkovich (52), whose best years were with New England, but since the Saints drafted him they get the credit in this study.

Let’s go ahead now and dive into the numbers.  The team with the most players drafted in this time frame was New England, with 102 players selected.  Green Bay (100) and SF (100) were not far behind.  The team with the *least* number of drafted players should not surprise any of you reading this blog, it is the New Orleans Football Saints with a meager 67 picks.  Saints are the only team with fewer than 73 picks.  The average team had 87.47 selections, putting the Saints at 20 fewer draft picks in those 11 drafts than the average team had.  That’s roughly a clip of 2 fewer draft picks than the average *per* draft.

Why did the Saints have so few picks as compared to the rest of the league?  There are a couple reasons for it.  #1, the Saints love to trade up, which always means giving up more picks to make the trade.  #2, the Saints *never* get compensatory draft picks because they are always so active in free agency, both in signing new players and in re-signing their own players.  There was also Bounty Gate, but that only amounted to 2 draft picks (big ones, though, since they were both 2nd round picks).  New England has also felt the wrath of the Ginger Hammer on a number of occasions, and yet they are the atop the heap when it comes to total players selected in the draft.  (I expect Cleveland to catch them soon though.)

Here’s the complete list of teams and draft picks used for each from 2006-2016.

Team number of players drafted
NE 102
GNB 100
SF 100
CIN 97
PHI 96
TEN 96
BAL 95
RAM 95
SEA 94
CLE 94
PIT 92
KC 90
MIN 89
MIA 89
BUF 89
DAL 88
OAK 88
DET 87
HOU 86
WAS 86
DEN 85
ATL 84
IND 84
TB 83
CHI 82
JAX 80
NYG 79
CAR 78
ARI 78
NYJ 73
SD 73
NOR 67

But total draft picks used is not the be-all end-all of this story. It’s *what* you do *with* those picks that matters most, after all.

First off, let’s look at the averages with these career AV numbers.  The average draft pick’s career AV number was about 11.73.  A lot of these players (625 of them) had 0 for their career AV because they never saw the field.  (Note: in some cases these could be younger players who are still going to turn into great picks, and some might have spent their first year on IR.) 1,872 of the 2,799 players (66.88%) have career AV numbers of less than the average (11 or less).  Conversely, only 3 players had AV’s above 100, and only 4 players above 90. Only 32 players had AV numbers of 70+ in this group.  When looking at these numbers, I think the top values are solid whereas the bottom numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt since many of these will be younger players who have yet to make their mark.

Any team with a higher average draft pick AV of more than 11.73 has done a better than average job of evaluating draft talent (with some caveats to be discussed below).

Which team had the highest average career AV for its drafted players in this time frame? (drum roll, please) Answer: The New Orleans Football Saints!  Yay!  Yay?  Yeah, Saints fans should be yaying about it, but don’t get too carried away just yet.  Read on, Constant Reader.  (Shout out to Stephen King.)  The Saints had a whopping 16.03 average with this stat.  Nobody else broke 15.  2nd place was Denver at 14.48, followed by Carolina at 14.21 and Green Bay at 14.17.  Houston is a tiny bit of a surprise maybe at 5th best, but Seattle at #6 is not a surprise.

The team with the lowest average AV? Surprisingly, it’s the Rams. Okay, maybe not so surprising.  Washington at #2 isn’t a surprise, either, and neither is the Factory of Sadness at #4.  But it is a surprise to see the Giants at #3 and even more surprising to see the Patriots at #5.

Here is the complete list:

Team AVG AV
NOR 16.03
DEN 14.48
CAR 14.21
GNB 14.17
HOU 13.6
SEA 12.74
ATL 12.6
NYJ 12.59
CIN 12.38
BAL 12.18
BUF 11.99
ARI 11.91
MIA 11.9
IND 11.89
SD 11.89
KC 11.88
MIN 11.81
PIT 11.61
JAX 11.6
PHI 11.59
SF 11.2
DET 11.2
TB 11.05
TEN 11.03
DAL 10.59
OAK 10.31
CHI 10.3
NE 10.04
CLE 9.82
NYG 9.81
WAS 9.23
RAM 9.11

If you compare the two lists I’ve given you so far you might notice the Saints (with the least total number of picks) is tops in AV average whereas the team with the highest number of picks (Patriots) is among the bottom dwellers in AV average.  Coincidence?  Not entirely.  The Pats have had so many picks because (in part) they’ve been willing to trade down whereas the Saints never trade down — they’re always trading up.  Well, when you trade down you’re getting more picks, but these are lower percentage picks.  When you trade up you are losing overall picks, but you’re gaining premium picks in the exchange.  It doesn’t mean the Patriots are inept at evaluating talent or that the Saints are geniuses at it, it’s just a lot easier to hit on a first round pick than it is on a 3rd round pick, etc.  Think of it this way, a team could improve this average AV number by simply discarding all of their draft picks in rounds 5, 6, and 7, but that clearly wouldn’t make that team a better team.

So then, which strategy is better, in general?  Trading up or trading down?  Are you better off taking as many shots at it as you can and hoping to get some late round gems (like Tom Brady, for example) or are you better off taking fewer shots, but using those shots in the premium rounds?  Well, let’s look at the total number of good players acquired and see where that takes us. If we think of players with career AV numbers of 20 or more as good picks in the draft, and then sort the teams by the number of 20+ AV players they’ve drafted we get this list:

Team Players with AV = 20 or higher
GNB 25
CIN 24
DEN 23
PHI 23
ATL 22
MIN 22
TEN 22
HOU 21
MIA 21
NE 21
CAR 20
SEA 20
KC 20
NOR 19
BAL 19
BUF 19
ARI 19
PIT 19
IND 18
SF 18
DAL 18
OAK 18
DET 17
TB 17
JAX 16
RAM 16
NYJ 15
CHI 15
NYG 15
SD 14
CLE 13
WAS 13

The average team drafted 18.8 such players in the period in question (2006-2016).  At 19, the Saints were just very slightly above average in acquiring these “good” players.  Here are a few examples of some of the better known players in that 20-29 AV range:  Devonta Freeman, Derek Carr, Josh Norman, Patrick Chung, Robert Meachem.  (Carr’s numbers will be much higher than in the 20’s by the time he is through playing, which is what I mean by taking some of these lower numbers with a grain of salt.)

I also broke these down in terms of numbers of players selected with career AV numbers in the 30+ range, 40+ range, 50+ range, 60+ range, and 70+ range.  The above list includes players in the 70+ range, too, since it is a list of 20+ range players.  Here is a table of all of these ranges, sorted by the 30+ range column, then secondarily sorted by the 40+ column, and then secondarily sorted by the 40+ range column:

Team 20 or more 30 or more 40 or more 50 or more 60 or more 70 or more
SEA 20 16 11 6 4 2
GNB 25 15 11 7 4 2
DEN 23 15 9 6 5 3
MIA 21 15 7 2 0 0
NOR 19 13 11 8 3 2
CIN 24 13 10 7 4 1
PIT 19 13 10 5 2 0
HOU 21 13 9 6 3 2
SF 18 13 9 4 3 1
BAL 19 13 8 6 4 3
KC 20 13 8 2 2 1
CAR 20 13 7 5 4 1
TEN 22 13 5 3 1 1
BUF 19 12 8 5 2 0
NE 21 12 6 3 0 0
CLE 13 11 6 4 2 1
MIN 22 11 6 2 2 1
DAL 18 11 5 3 1 0
TB 17 11 5 2 0 0
DET 17 10 6 5 3 3
NYJ 15 10 5 5 4 2
PHI 23 10 5 2 2 1
IND 18 9 8 5 0 0
ATL 22 9 4 4 2 1
WAS 13 9 3 1 0 0
JAX 16 9 2 2 2 1
RAM 16 8 5 1 0 0
NYG 15 8 5 0 0 0
ARI 19 8 4 3 2 2
OAK 18 8 1 0 0 0
SD 14 7 6 3 2 0
CHI 15 7 3 2 1 1

The average team drafted 11.18 players with career AV’s in the 30 (or higher) range.  At 13 such players, the Saints are markedly better than average.  Saints are tied for 5th at 13, but they get sorted higher in the list because they have the most 40 or higher players (11) among the teams with 13 of the 20+ range players.  In fact, if we sort by the 40+ range column the Saints are tops in the league with 11 such players, along with Green Bay and Seattle also each with 11.   Sorting by 50+ AV, the Saints are tops with 8, followed by Green Bay and Cincinnati with 7 each.  Saints are also ranked very respectably in 60+ and 70+ columns, though no longer at the top.

You might be asking yourself why the Saints would be ranked so highly in these draft numbers when they’ve been quite frankly stinking it up in the draft lately.  I have an answer to that question: the 2006 draft.  The Saints knocked it out of the park in that draft.  Look at this haul:

Jahri Evans 108
Marques Colston 72
Reggie Bush 61
Rob Ninkovich 52
Zach Strief 52
Roman Harper 48

These 6 players average 65.5 for their career AV’s, and some of them are still playing and have a chance to better those numbers.  (There were 2 players in that draft that didn’t pan out, too.)

If you take the 2006 draft out of the equation, the Saints’ AV average falls from 16.03  to 11.54, which would put them at a spot in that list that would be just a little bit below average.  So, even without the 2006 draft, the Saints have still been fairly respectable in hitting on the players that they drafted.  Is it fair to the Saints to take their best draft class out of the rankings?  I would say no.  Go in and take every team’s top draft class out of the equation and all of their averages would suffer to one degree or another.  Consider also the negative impact (on these stats) having a great draft class will have.  For example, any guard the Saints drafted while Jahri Evans was on the team was going to be competing for the left guard spot or for a backup role (or maybe try to transition from guard to center).  Ditto for Marques Colston.  As long as he was in his prime he was always going to be Drew Brees’ favorite target.  The point I’m making here is these good players lock up their positions.  As long as Roman Harper was doing his thing it didn’t make a lot of sense for the Saints to draft the best strong safety in any of those drafts even if he was available and even if they *knew* they were passing on the best strong safety in the draft because it simply made more sense to draft a player at a position of need, even if that meant “reaching” in order to do so.

I also looked at the misses in the drafts, those players that have career AV numbers of 0, and also those in the range of 1 to 9.  As I mentioned above, but it bears repeating, we have to take these numbers with a little bit more of a grain of salt, if you will, than when looking at the big numbers.  Players with big numbers played a lot of years and earned those numbers, so they’re very reliable indicators of a team’s ability to hit the home runs in the draft.  But players with smaller AV numbers aren’t necessarily bad picks.  In many cases these are just young guys who haven’t *yet* made their marks.  For example, Michael Thomas’ career AV is 10.  That would almost qualify as a “bust” in the current criteria, but this guy is clearly anything but a bust.  This was a home run pick for the Saints in the 2nd round.  His AV number is low simply because he hasn’t had the time to rack up the career numbers yet, but he (barring injury) certainly will end his career with some really high AV number, probably in the 60’s or even higher.  Maybe I should have not used the 2016 draft because of this reason, but it’s the same handicap for the all the teams since they’ll all have younger players in similar situations, and since this is about comparing the teams I figured the more data we had the better we’d be.

With the above caveats, here are the “misses” listed:

Team 0’s 1 to 9
CIN 29 35
WAS 26 32
DAL 26 30
MIN 26 27
NE 25 47
SEA 24 38
PIT 24 36
SF 23 48
RAM 23 39
CLE 23 38
CHI 23 30
MIA 22 33
TEN 21 43
PHI 20 37
KC 20 37
TB 20 30
BAL 19 43
DET 19 37
ATL 18 30
GNB 17 43
OAK 17 36
NYJ 17 28
HOU 16 37
NYG 16 36
DEN 16 35
ARI 16 31
SD 16 29
NOR 16 21
BUF 14 42
IND 13 38
JAX 13 33
CAR 10 34

So, these are the teams with the most “misses” in the draft, sorted by 0’s primarily, and then secondarily sorted by the 1-9 AV ranges.  The place you want to be is at the bottom of this list.  Notice our beloved Saints have had fewer misses (16) than most teams.  The average number of 0 AV players for each team was 19.63, so at 16 the Saints are well below that.  There were a number of teams tied with 16, but they all had more “near misses”, those 1-9 AV players, than did the Saints.  Teams with the most misses: Cincinnati, Washington, Dallas, Minnesota, and New England.

But since, as we’ve already discussed, the Saints and the Patriots have opposite spectrum strategies when it comes to their approach to the draft.  New England is naturally going to have more misses than the Saints simply by virtue of having more picks to begin with.  So, maybe a percentage is the better way to look at this.  What percentage of their picks have been busts as compared to the Saints?  That’s the subject of the next list:

Team 0s% 0 to 9% 10 to 19% 20 or more% 30 or more% 40 or more% 50 or more%
WAS 30.23 67.44 17.44 15.12 10.47 3.49 1.16
CIN 29.90 65.98 9.28 24.74 13.40 10.31 7.22
DAL 29.55 63.64 15.91 20.45 12.50 5.68 3.41
MIN 29.21 59.55 15.73 24.72 12.36 6.74 2.25
CHI 28.05 64.63 17.07 18.29 8.54 3.66 2.44
PIT 26.09 65.22 14.13 20.65 14.13 10.87 5.43
SEA 25.53 65.96 12.77 21.28 17.02 11.70 6.38
MIA 24.72 61.80 14.61 23.60 16.85 7.87 2.25
NE 24.51 70.59 8.82 20.59 11.76 5.88 2.94
CLE 24.47 64.89 21.28 13.83 11.70 6.38 4.26
RAM 24.21 65.26 17.89 16.84 8.42 5.26 1.05
TB 24.10 60.24 19.28 20.48 13.25 6.02 2.41
NOR 23.88 55.22 16.42 28.36 19.40 16.42 11.94
NYJ 23.29 61.64 17.81 20.55 13.70 6.85 6.85
SF 23.00 71.00 11.00 18.00 13.00 9.00 4.00
KC 22.22 63.33 14.44 22.22 14.44 8.89 2.22
SD 21.92 61.64 19.18 19.18 9.59 8.22 4.11
TEN 21.88 66.67 10.42 22.92 13.54 5.21 3.13
DET 21.84 64.37 16.09 19.54 11.49 6.90 5.75
ATL 21.43 57.14 16.67 26.19 10.71 4.76 4.76
PHI 20.83 59.38 16.67 23.96 10.42 5.21 2.08
ARI 20.51 60.26 15.38 24.36 10.26 5.13 3.85
NYG 20.25 65.82 15.19 18.99 10.13 6.33 0.00
BAL 20.00 65.26 14.74 20.00 13.68 8.42 6.32
OAK 19.32 60.23 19.32 20.45 9.09 1.14 0.00
DEN 18.82 60.00 12.94 27.06 17.65 10.59 7.06
HOU 18.60 61.63 13.95 24.42 15.12 10.47 6.98
GNB 17.00 60.00 15.00 25.00 15.00 11.00 7.00
JAX 16.25 57.50 22.50 20.00 11.25 2.50 2.50
BUF 15.73 62.92 15.73 21.35 13.48 8.99 5.62
IND 15.48 60.71 17.86 21.43 10.71 9.52 5.95
CAR 12.82 56.41 17.95 25.64 16.67 8.97 6.41

There’s a lot to digest here, so I’ll go into it a bit.  The above list is sorted by the 0’s% column, which is the percentage of players with career AV numbers of 0 that each team drafted between 2006-2016, expressed as a percentage of their total number of overall picks.  (You want to be at the bottom of this list.)

Carolina had far and away the lowest strike out rate at just 12.82%, followed by Indy, Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Green Bay.  The Packers have been a really stellar drafting team, all things considered.  The average miss rate for the league is 22.36%, so you can figure roughly between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 players drafted will have 0 career AV’s.  But with the Panthers it’s only about 1 in 8.  With Washington, Dallas, Minnesota, and Cincinnati, we’re looking at closer to 1 in 3.  At 23.88% the Saints are very average in their miss percentage.  Surprised by that?  You should be.  I know I was.

If we think of the above list as a strike out rate we can carry the baseball analogy a bit further and also look at it as a slugging percentage of sorts.  When it comes to the 20+, 30+, 40+, and 50+ percentages (chances of getting these top players per draft pick) the Saints have really been knocking them out of the park.  If you sort by 20+, the Saints are #1.  If you sort by 30+, the Saints are #1.  If you sort by 40+, the Saints are #1.  If you sort by 50+, the Saints are #1.  The Saints have been killing it, and it’s not even close.

At this point you’re probably saying to yourself, okay, this is all well and good, but the Saints have been 7-9 each of the last 3 years, and for 4 of the last 5 years.  They haven’t been making the playoffs and the natives are getting restless.  If they’re so great at the draft, then why is it they haven’t been winning more games?  We keep going back to that 2006 draft.  Those players (along with some really good non-drafted acquisitions, like Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, Jon Vilma, Scott Fujita, Jabari Greer, and Scott Shanle, just to name a few) formed the core of a team that was arguably the most dominant franchise in the league from 2009-2013.  Those players have mostly moved on now.  Only Brees and Strief remain, and Strief faces stiff competition from Ryan Ramczyk this season, and Brees is in the last year of his contract, and probably (mostly due to salary cap concerns) is in the last year of his career as a Saint.

When you have a great roster (which the Saints had for much of this period) it makes it really difficult to have good drafts.  It might seem like the current roster being really good would not impact the quality of a draft, but it really does because it limits the positions teams can go after.  If you have holes everywhere on your team you have the freedom to go with the best available player almost regardless of position, but when you have solid starters at these positions you have to try to pinpoint your selections and draft for need.  The best player on the board is a tight end, but you have Jimmy Graham.  What do you do?  The best player on the board is a quarterback, but you have Drew Brees.  What do you do?  As the Saints’ roster has begun to falter we’ve begun to see a bit of a resurgence in their drafting.  The 3 most recent drafts (2015, 2016, and 2017) could all turn out to be pretty good drafts for the Saints as they rebuild their roster.

 

Advertisements