The Giants' 1-4 start in a season that held so much promise for many of us has only intensified questions about whether the Dave Gettleman era will end when the season is over. Ed has provided breakdowns this week of the Giants' problems on offense and defense. I'd like to complement that with a different kind of analysis.
Teams can be built through the draft, free agent signings, and trades. The last two are not completely under the GM's control, because a free agent signing requires that the player want to come to the Giants for the $ being offered, and a trade requires another team willing to dance to make an equitable exchange.
For most teams, the draft is the primary way to put together a Super Bowl contender. There are exceptions, e.g., the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but even that team added FAs Brady, Gronk, and AB to a team that had been built largely by shrewd drafting over the previous 5 years. GMs do not have complete control over the draft, i.e., they can't control who gets drafted ahead of their pick, but the draft is the closest thing we can get to evaluating a GM's moves.
One way to evaluate a GM's draft is to look at who the GM could have drafted instead of who they actually did draft, with hindsight. In fact I wrote a post a while back doing exactly that, and many of you played along with your own drafts. But to some extent that is unfair. The draft is much more of a crapshoot than most of us admit. At best only about half of first round picks become really good NFL players, and sometimes it takes years for them to realize their potential if they ever do. There are obvious bad decisions recognizable even at the time (e.g., DG trading away 2 mid-round picks to move up only 7 slots in the 2019 draft to select a CB who flamed out in one year when decent CBs were available at the Giants' original draft slot). But many seemingly good picks do not pan out.
A different way to evaluate the draft that does not require so much hindsight is to ask whether a GM allocated resources wisely to different position groups. This bypasses the question of whether the right individual player was drafted and asks instead whether the GM tried to build up the parts of the team that are most important to success in today's NFL and that correspond to known weaknesses. Here is a rough ordering of position groups by their value in contributing to wins, based approximately on the PFF Pro-Adjusted Wins Above Average (PAWAA) metric (https://www.pff.com/news/nfl-using-pro-adjusted-wins-above-average-to-examine-positional-value-in-the-nfl-draft). (I've lumped all OL positions together while PFF separates them.) You'll probably be surprised at PFF's conclusions about the relative value of each position, but no matter, this post is about how the Giants have allocated resources by position. Here is PFF's order of importance as estimated from PAWAA:
QB, CB, WR, RB, S, LB, EDGE, TE, OL, IDL (I have left out P and K because they are often not drafted at all).
To objectively assess how much DG has valued those assets in the draft, I use the Fitzgerald-Spielberger trade value chart (https://overthecap.com/draft-trade-value-chart/). Unlike e.g. the more famous Jimmy Johnson trade value chart, which was just a figment of Jimmy's imagination, the F-S chart uses the value of second contracts signed by NFL draftees to objectively (to the extent that NFL front offices can be considered to be objective) estimate how much players in different positions are worth after they have been in the league for a few years. For the Giants during the DG era, here is how much F-S chart value points the Giants have devoted to each position in the 2018-2021 drafts, in descending order:
These values cannot be directly compared, because e.g., there is only 1 QB on the field at one time but 5 OLs. So let's normalize to per-player-on-the-field values assuming 1 QB, 1 RB, 5 OL, 3 WR, 1 TE (I'm a 11 personnel fan), and 2 IDL, 2 EDGE, 2 LB, 3 CB, 2 S, i.e., a base nickel setup. Then we get, in descending order of capital spent per position:
Of course FA signings and trades can make up for drafting deficiencies at several positions, but drafts are overall the cheapest way to build a championship roster in a salary-capped NFL. My reactions to the rankings above, in order of how PFF values their importance, are:
1.) We appropriately valued the QB position most highly by using a high draft pick on one that shows signs of working out for us, plus a shot at a backup QB in a middle round that didn't work out, can't blame DG for that.
2.) We have drafted 7 CBs in the DG era, which sounds good, but the average value of those CBs has been only middling considering that PFF sees CB as second only to QB in value. We have spent one round 1 pick on a CB (who crashed and burned) but have drafted no other CBs higher than round 3. That is a mistake we have tried to rectify with 2 FA signings.
3.) We have unconscionably ignored the WR position in the draft. We have made up for that because of a round 2 pick that was already on the roster when DG arrived, because of a shrewd round 5 pick, because of 2 very nice FA additions, and because we finally allocated a high draft pick to a WR (who looks like he could be the steal of the draft).
4.) As many people have stated, we spent too much draft capital on RB, a position whose value is just not great enough to warrant using a #2 pick on it. Instead we could have e.g. used 1800-2200 F-S trade value points to draft RBs in round 2 and round 3 over the past 4 years and had a dangerous 1-2 punch at RB instead at lower cost, the way many good teams do.
5.) We have only drafted one S and filled the other with a FA signing. In general we have undervalued that position in the draft.
6.) Likewise, we have undervalued LB in the draft. We have drafted a ton of them the past 4 years (5 to be exact), but all in rounds 5, 6, and 7. We spent big FA bucks on one to compensate, but it's been many years since we used a high draft pick on one, especially one quick enough to cover RBs and TEs.
7.) Surprisingly, contrary to the notion that we have skimped on the EDGE position, we have spent a fair amount of draft capital, maybe even more than enough, on the EDGE position. No round 1 picks, but a round 2, 2 in round 3, 1 in round 4. Crossing my fingers, the round 2 pick, who was considered round 1 value, will become a star for us. The round 4 pick hasn't seen the field yet due to injury. But the round 3 picks have been disappointments, that's why the perception that we have underspent.
8.) In 4 years, not even one TE selected in the draft. Enough said. This has been a big mistake.
9.) We have almost drafted enough OLs (5 in 4 years) and spent enough draft capital on the position, contrary to what many people feel. But that includes a round 7 and a round 5 pick. In principle, 3-4 of those draftees should make up a solid OL, and we'd only have 1 or 2 slots to upgrade in the 2022 draft. In practice, though, we could need as many as 4.
10.) As many people have noted, we devote too much of our resources to IDL in today's NFL. Unless you have an Aaron Donald, those interior positions just do not contribute enough to winning games to emphasize them. I know it doesn't look that way at the moment, but LW, Dexy, and even Austin Johnson have done OK vs. the run and have gotten an adequate though not great amount of pressure on the QB. It's mainly the LBs that have let us down.
We can't blame DG for high draft picks that were favorites of draft experts before the draft but who have not panned out for us yet (Hernandez, McKinney). But we can ask the 2022 GM, whoever that is, to get us a LB, another CB, another S, another EDGE, at least another OL if not 2,, and a TE.