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Draft Analysis: Right Player, Wrong Team

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Last year I studied draft pick values, and trades. This year I will look into teams and how often do they get the right guy, but for the wrong team.

NFL Draft Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Introduction

The NFL Draft is fun. Yeah it is over-hyped. Yeah it can be annoying with the nit-picking. However, it is not the media circus and non-stop coverage, that bothers me to no end. I like the wealth of data behind this. For example, at the NFL Combine players ran drills that gave teams and evaluators a wealth of data. Some people would dismiss it for fluff, others put a lot of weight on measurables (see SPARQ and teams that routinely draft top athletic talent ex. Seahawks, Chiefs, and Packers, give the article a read!).

Last year I looked at trading draft picks, I looked at historical AV and ran a lin-log OLS model to predict values of each pick.

This year I will look into the idea of “Right Player, Wrong Team”. A football player is not just dependent on their own skills/capacity/determination, but also dependent on the team they are drafted into. And their success is determined by those factors. And sometimes the team trades or fails to re-sign a player who goes on to have a good career. Example: Steve Young was taken by the Bucs but only succeeded under Bill Walsh, Justin Smith didn’t succeed until he got to the Niners.

AV is “Approximate Value” it is a widely used measure developed by Pro-Football-Reference that tries to synthesize a player’s production into a number that can be used to compare careers of players across time and position. I looked the data from 2003-2016 (post-Expansion) from Pro-Football-Reference. And then looked at mean values for each team and the round they drafted.

I tweeted about the Median AV Per Round on Tuesday night as I was doing my research:

Actual Research

For example, we can see the 1st/2nd round data below:

The chart depicts median player Career AV values in the 1st/2nd rounds. The Panthers have been the best 1st round drafting team in the median, and the best 2nd round drafting team are the Cardinals. However, Cardinals, Pats, and Cowboys are the best teams at getting the right players for their system, not just great players overall. Which is an issue for the Chiefs, Washington, and Miami. They have taken good players but failed to retain them, losing out on key production. The worst offender is Dallas, whose median player drafted in the 2nd round contributed more to their post-Cowboys teams.

Another interesting tid-bit: the median player drafted by the Ravens in the 1st round, a historically good drafting team has had a career of Cal’s own Justin Forsett.

There are some issues with this. Is this measure skewed by the fact that teams are less likely to give up on their 1st/2nd round picks due to their value and thus are skewed towards being conservative and keeping a median player.

So I looked at a mid-round

Here we see that the median players are much worse across the board. Makes sense, in the 4th you’re not drafting long-term blue-chips, you’re taking depth/starters. Some notes. Jets have drafted the best 4th round players, just failed to take full advantage of their skills by letting them go. Saints, and Dolphins players are interesting case studies: they are players have contributed negative AV to their second/third teams after being released by their original teams.

A negative AV exists, for example Jared Goff’s poor 2016 season measured at a -2 AV.

Here we can see more teams fallowing between the two thresholds, with the Eagles, Niners, and Bills loosing out on some production.

The following table depicts the top 10 teams that historically have failed to retain talent and the rounds they have lost the most. Dallas’ drafting in the 2nd round tops the list with the team missing out on the production from players such as Marterllus Bennet, Antony Fasano, and Kevin Burnett. (The first two make sense due to the immortal Jason Witten manning the TE spot).

Right Player, Wrong team

Team Round Median Career AV Median AV for the Drafting Team Right Player, Wrong team Percent of Production Missed-Out On
Team Round Median Career AV Median AV for the Drafting Team Right Player, Wrong team Percent of Production Missed-Out On
DAL 2 22 5 17 77.27%
NYJ 2 13.5 6 7.5 55.56%
MIA 1 36 19 17 47.22%
CHI 1 20 11 9 45.00%
NYJ 4 14.5 8.5 6 41.38%
ARI 2 35 21 14 40.00%
PIT 3 11 7 4 36.36%
IND 1 25 16 9 36.00%
SEA 2 27 17.5 9.5 35.19%
ARI 1 26 17 9 34.62%
Pro-Football-Reference

Context: Cal Players in the NFL

Finally, since this is a Cal sports centric blog. I looked at all Cal players drafted since 1994 to see if any of them fell into the “Right Player, Wrong Team” category:

We got the 2x MVP Aaron Rodgers topping the charts with being on the right team. Likewise, Tarik Glenn (Drafted in 1997, 3 time Pro-Bowler, and was on the Colts), and Cam Jordan. Tony Gonzalez split his production between the Chiefs and Falcons, likewise with DeSean getting 14 of his AV with the Washington and soon Bucs.

Marshawn Lynch tops the list of players who were mis-fit by their original team and had to go somewhere else to produce (Bills to Seahawks in his case). With Andre Carter finding more luck with the Pats than Niners, and Scott Fujita being a better Saint than Chief.

Conclusion

What we see here the fact that teams often mis-fit the players they take in the Draft. Often by taking best-player-available they forget that some players can produce in certain schemes, or they cut/trade/fail to re-sign players that have still something left in the tank. Either way do not judge a player drafted in the NFL by their short term production, the leap from college to the NFL is hard on many players, add in the possibility that it may not simply be a scheme/culture fit and may find more luck in their future teams.