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Analyzing team success in the NFL Draft

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Let's take a look at one method of analysis to view team success in the NFL draft over the last four years.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The draft is a little less than a month away. I love this time of year because I'm an eternal optimist, and every team, every fan gets to share in that optimism over what will be the main source of improvement for most teams this year. The draft is a chance to get an infusion of young talent at a reasonable cost. Why wouldn't you be excited about that?

Part of a general manager's duty is selecting the best players in the NFL draft. That's why draft analysis and the mock draft industry are so prolific and successful. That's looking forward. Today, I wanted to take a look back. I wanted to see how each team did from 2013 to 2016, with special attention to the New York Giants, of course. Why did I go back four years? It's mostly arbitrary. The biggest reason I did this was because going back a lot of years will give us a muddled insight on who is drafting well RECENTLY. Another (biased) reason is because 2013 is probably the point in time that I think, along with most people, saw a difference in Jerry Reese and the types of players he drafted. So I wanted to see how well he stacked up to the rest of the group from then on. Now, this is meant to only be a cursory look and just one data set. There are a lot of disclaimers about this project which will be noted below.

Methodology

I looked at how teams did both in drafts as a whole over the past four years and I looked at how teams did specifically in the first round over the past four years. We are going to compare how they did in relation to where they picked as well. In order to further go ahead and explain this, let's take a look at some terminology you'll need to understand what I did.

Approximate Value (AV): This is the system that I used to determine a player's "value." Approximate Value was created by the great football resource site, ProFootballReference. The higher a player's career AV, the more value that player has. This is a method that uses an algorithm for however many yards, points, sacks, etc you are responsible for your team and compared to the average of everybody else. For a full explanation of how Approximate Value is created, including the equations and explanations behind the equations, please visit this site: Approximate Value Explained.

Average Draft Position (ADP): This is, in simple terms, the average (mean) of every single draft pick a team has had from 2013 to 2016. Average First Round Draft Position is exactly that, the average draft position a team has had in the first round from 2013 to 2016. That means if a team picks 1st overall, and then 33rd overall, and so on, you take all of those picks and take the average.

Average Approximate Value (AAV): This is the measure by which I'm going to use to judge draft "success". it's fairly simple, but it's the total approximate value of all the players drafted for a particular team over the past four years divided by the total number of picks that team has made over the past four years. Again, the first round version represents only first round players and picks from 2013-2016.

Disclaimers

Football, in all aspects, be it the draft or the game itself, is too complex, too beautiful, and has too many variables to full qualify in just metrics, let alone just a number like "AV". That's not to say that metrics and statistical analysis are useless...just the opposite. There's beauty in them too, and they tell a story and gives tons of information. Just may not be the entire story, is all.

My analysis has several biases that may impede interpretation. For one, AV is a biased formula because it doesn't (no one formula can) account for everything a player is responsible for and simply just uses tangible results. It also doesn't account for reasons why a player is drafted. For example, AV is very dependent on player starts to record numbers, but teams often draft for depth in the later rounds without having an intention for players to start. That doesn't mean the team "screwed up" but it will be reflected in the results.

This system also has an inherent bias against teams for trading down and gaining more picks. This is natural. More picks, especially in the later rounds, means a lower AAV most of the time since teams don't expect players to contribute right away. Another example of bias is time bias. Draft picks in 2016 often have lower AVs simply because they haven't played enough. That means you have players like Justin Britt having AVs of 24 while Ezekiel Elliot (one of the highest rated rookies) has an AV of 16. You'd take Elliot over Britt all day but it may not necessarily reflect this in the rankings.

Finally, the analysis that was done in relation to the correlation between draft position and AV was linear when in fact we know that it is much more curved. For example, players drafted at No. 1 and No. 200 are not the same talent wise as two players drafted at No. 100 and No. 101. Hell, the line of best fit in the plots below have an r^2 value of less than 0.30 due to the erratic nature of the draft and sample size. I'm sure that the more statistically inclined among us can find more biases in my analysis, but you get the idea.

So, with all that being said, what can we take from this? Well it can certainly give us a general idea of how teams are doing and where they are headed. Teams that are so far above or below the curve can certainly provide helpful (and accurate) information. The teams in the "muddled middle" are a bit more murky.

So that's that. I'll give you my thoughts after the data is presented. There's some good stuff here but interpret at your own risk. Enjoy!

Comparing Total AAV vs. Average Draft Position

Team Average Draft Pick (ADP) Picks Total AV Average AV (AAV) Rank Best Career AV
Arizona Cardinals 119 29 194 6.689655172 9 David Johnson (24)
Atlanta Falcons 127 31 203 6.548387097 12 Devonta Freeman (29)
Baltimore Ravens 127 39 185 4.743589744 27 C.J. Mosley (33)
Buffalo Bills 122 28 172 6.142857143 14 Preston Brown (23)
Carolina Panthers 106 21 167 7.952380952 1 Kawann Short (27)
Chicago Bears 117 29 190 6.551724138 11 Kyle Long (33)
Cincinnati Bengals 132 34 156 4.588235294 28 Giovani Bernard (29)
Cleveland Browns 115 37 148 4 31 Christian Kirksey (14)
Dallas Cowboys 139 33 218 6.606060606 10 Travis Frederick (38)
Denver Broncos 203 30 125 4.166666667 29 Sylvester Williams (23)
Detroit Lions 125 36 214 5.944444444 16 Ezekiel Ansah (30)
Green Bay Packers 133 35 253 7.228571429 4 David Bakhtiari (41)
Houston Texans 128 32 176 5.5 21 DeAndre Hopkins (31)
Indianapolis Colts 146 27 144 5.333333333 24 Jack Mewhort (21)
Jacksonville Jaguars 117 32 242 7.5625 2 Blake Bortles (28)
Kansas City Chiefs 127 32 217 6.78125 8 Travis Kelce & Eric Fisher (27)
Los Angeles Chargers 117 25 158 6.32 13 D.J. Fluker (29)
Los Angeles Rams 128 33 226 6.848484848 7 Aaron Donald (44)
Miami Dolphins 121 32 176 5.5 22 Jarvis Landry (25)
Minnesota Vikings 140 37 203 5.486486486 23 Anthony Barr (25)
New England Patriots 140 36 186 5.166666667 25 Jamie Collins (33)
New Orleans Saints 106 25 151 6.04 15 Brandin Cooks (24)
New York Giants 109 27 185 6.851851852 6 Odell Beckham (32)
New York Jets 122 32 158 4.9375 26 Sheldon Richardson (26)
Oakland Raiders 133 35 249 7.114285714 5 Khalil Mack (36)
Philadelphia Eagles 134 29 160 5.517241379 20 Lane Johnson & Bennie Logan (22)
Pittsburgh Steelers 135 33 186 5.636363636 18 Le'veon Bell (43)
San Francisco 49ers 137 44 179 4.068181818 30 Eric Reid (23)
Seattle Seahawks 151 38 131 3.447368421 32 Justin Britt (24)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 108 26 191 7.346153846 3 Mike Evans (26)
Tennessee Titans 115 33 194 5.878787879 17 Marcus Mariota (24)
Washington Redskins 134 32 180 5.625 19 Jordan Reed, David Amerson, Morgan Moses (19)

Observations

You may be asking why teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans have a later total ADP than the Giants, who actually have one of the earliest ADPs among all teams. That's because a lot of these teams have a ton of late round picks that often number in the 200s. The Broncos have more picks in the 150s and later than they have in the top 100 picks, which helps to partially explain how they are such a ridiculous outlier.

The Panthers nabbed the top spot here thanks to consistently finding usable talent with limited picks. Kawann Short, AJ Klein, Trai Turner, and Kony Ealy all provided roles here along with the good amount of playing time from other draft picks. On the flip side, Seattle's recent drafts have been nothing short of putrid. Their mid-rounds are a barren wasteland of failed picks. Had we analyzed 2012, it would've been a different story. Their 2012 draft class (Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson, Jaye Howard, Jeremy Lane, J.R. Sweezy) had an AV of 241. That's almost TWICE as much as their draft classes from 2013-2016 where they had a combined AV of 139.

The Giants also had limited picks, with fifth fewest of all teams, but made use of them with non-first round picks with decent AV like Johnathan Hankins (please re-sign),  Weston Richburg, Landon Collins, and Devon Kennard. With their 2016 draft, they were average, with a total AV of 15, but expect that to explode next year as Paul Perkins, B.J. Goodson, and Darian Thompson settle into starting roles with Sterling Shepard and Eli Apple.

Ozzie Newsome, noted as one of the best draft gurus ever, has been pretty subpar the last four years, with his big hits being C.J. Mosley, Brandon Williams, and Ricky Wagner. His 2015 draft in particular has been poor, with Breshad Perriman fighting injury, Maxx Williams outperformed by several other TEs, and Carl Davis not really having much of an impact.

The 49ers are the epitome of "throw s--- at a wall and see what sticks" according to this, which isn't a bad strategy by any means, with an insane 44 picks in 4 years. This data is biased against this strategy and that shows, though to be fair, a LOT of their picks just didn't pan out.

Comparing First Round AAV vs. First Round Average Draft Position

Team Average 1st Round Pick 1st Rd Picks 1st Rd Pick AV 1st Rd AAV Rank
Arizona Cardinals 21.75 4 29 7.25 29
Atlanta Falcons 13.25 4 72 18 7
Baltimore Ravens 20.25 4 54 13.5 15
Buffalo Bills 13 3 31 10.33333333 21
Carolina Panthers 24.25 4 53 13.25 17
Chicago Bears 12.5 4 51 12.75 18
Cincinnati Bengals 22.5 4 22 5.5 32
Cleveland Browns 13.66 6 43 7.166666667 30
Dallas Cowboys 19.5 4 98 24.5 1
Denver Broncos 27 4 40 10 22
Detroit Lions 14.75 4 64 16 9
Green Bay Packers 26 4 39 9.75 23
Houston Texans 16.25 4 63 15.75 10
Indianapolis Colts 23.66 3 26 8.666666667 28
Jacksonville Jaguars 3.25 4 55 13.75 14
Kansas City Chiefs 14 3 61 20.33333333 2
Los Angeles Chargers 13.5 4 62 15.5 11
Los Angeles Rams 10.6 6 119 19.83333333 3
Miami Dolphins 12.25 4 37 9.25 26
Minnesota Vikings 21.7 7 105 15 12
New England Patriots 30.5 2 21 10.5 20
New Orleans Saints 18.2 5 67 13.4 16
New York Giants 12.5 4 75 18.75 5
New York Jets 13.2 5 69 13.8 13
Oakland Raiders 8.75 4 69 17.25 8
Philadelphia Eagles 13 4 39 9.75 24
Pittsburgh Steelers 19.75 4 46 11.5 19
San Francisco 49ers 20 5 46 9.2 27
Seattle Seahawks 31 1 6 6 31
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6.33 3 56 18.66666667 6
Tennessee Titans 7.75 4 76 19 4
Washington Redskins 13.5 2 19 9.5 25

Observations

The Giants have been very good under Reese in the first round. Any team above the line of best fit is considered to be "above average." Aside from the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans, no other team with 4 first round picks in the last four years had a better combined AV. Odell Beckham Jr. and Justin Pugh take credit for that, though Ereck Flowers has a decent career AV of 16. Eli Apple ranks 16th in AV from the rookie class with 4, so just about average.

Speaking of the Dallas Cowboys, they wrecked this analysis. They are so far ahead of everybody else and it's thanks, of course, to their monstrous offensive line. Zack Martin and Travis Frederick alone combine for an AV of 72, which is more than all but four teams total. Ezekiel Elliot was the highest graded first round rookie (and tied with teammate Dak Prescott for highest overall) with an AV of 16. The Cowboys continue to be cap strapped and cannot make moves in free agency, but they are still the major force in the NFC simply because they are elite at drafting. That really hurts to say that about them, but at least the Giants beat them twice last year.

On the other end of the spectrum, it's scary to see how little the Bengals have gotten from their first round investments. William Jackson was injured for most all of the year, Cedric Ogbuehi and Darqueze Dennard haven't really fulfilled expectations, and while Tyler Eifert is a really, really good player, he's also fought through injuries.

The Cleveland Browns are following suit with six first round picks with basically Danny Shelton to show for it, though they have high hopes for Corey Coleman.

The Rams are a tremendous example of how this data set really rewards superstars. Aaron Donald has a career AV of 44, and he (along with Alec Ogletree's AV of 31 which essentially is the going rate for a good player that has four years worth of starts) pretty much propelled the Rams into a top 3 spot despite them also drafting Jared Goff (who has an AV of -2), Greg Robinson, and Tavon Austin. Aaron Donald is a monstrosity of a player, so you can almost understand it, but it does raise some questions.

Finally, checking in on our other division rivals, the Eagles and the Redskins, we see poor scores. The Eagles suffer from Marcus Smith, Nelson Agholor and Lane Johnson's suspension. Carson Wentz gives them hope for the future however. The Redskins only had two first round picks from 2013 to 2016 (Thanks RG3!) and they were hurt by Josh Doctson being hurt, though Brandon Scherff (Scherff!) is a good player.

Final Word

Analyzing draft success isn't a cut and dry process. Nor is it completely objective. I'm sure there are data sets and examples out there to support whatever opinion you have. This is simply one lens of many to view Jerry Reese and the other 31 general managers. This one, for what it's worth, seems to have a pretty good opinion of him.