Are NFL Draft Results Enough to Evaluate a NFL GM: Part 1

In 2001, the Panthers were coming off a 1-15 season, and Head Coach/General Manager George Seifert was shown the door. The Panthers were still largely considered an expansion franchise, and no one really wanted to come in and take the reins. At the time, Marty Hurney was the Director of Player Operations. That's a fancy way of saying that he managed the salary cap, first for Dom Capers, and then for Seifert during his tenure. Hurney was also a friend of Jerry Richardson, and when he was asked if he would step in and be the GM he agreed. And the rest is half of the Panthers' history.

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How do you think he's done?

When you grade Marty Hurney, you should consider the following. First, how do you tell if a GM is effective; how do you evaluate their strengths and weaknesses? And second, how easy would it be to find someone who could come in and do a better job?

There are a lot of Madden jocks and internet cowboys who think that being an NFL General Manager is easy, it's simply a matter of drafting as many superstars as you can and finding the rest in Free Agency. With YouTube and other internet video sites, evaluating talent is a snap. You just look at the highlight clips, read a few blogs, and suddenly you're an expert who would do way better than the chucklehead who's in charge of your favorite team.

It's not that simple. More after the jump...

Imagine, if you will, having to summon someone into your office to give them bad news. This person is at the peak of his profession. He's worked his entire life, sacrificed untold hours in the gym and film room, played through injuries and pain, and basically suffered through a lot to achieve his ultimate dream. And it's your job to take it all away from him, to tell him that he isn't good enough.

Imagine having to juggle the salary cap and deal with 53 agents representing 53 players, and at the same time having to carry out the owner's marching orders as far as how he wants the roster assembled. You might want to go get flashy free agents, but the owner won't let you because he's afraid of being burned. Or you might want to build through the draft, but your boss keeps telling you to sign the flavor of the month because it helps ticket sales.

Imagine trying to navigate the free agency market, where you get to recruit players who always want far, far more than they're worth, and who rarely work out as well as you hope. Do you think it's fun spending a ton on a guy only to find out he doesn't quite fit into your system?

Imagine being the guy who has to draft some 20 year old kid who will potentially cost your franchise millions of dollars. If the pick is good, then you get the headache of keeping your guy happy while still balancing the books to make sure you can afford the rest of the roster. If the pick isn't, then you're going to hear about it for the next decade. Fans are always quick to point out the Eric Sheltons, but rarely give credit for the Chris Gambles. And forget about being praised for Cam Newton or Julius Peppers, because those were totally obvious, right?

Can you imagine all that? It's not Madden, it's real.

Face it. Being an NFL GM is a truly difficult job. You have to hire the right staff, assemble the right roster, and then hope your team catches some lightning.

And it's not just a matter of getting the best talent out there, because as the Eagles showed in 2011, talent alone isn't enough. It's about getting talent that works well together. The NFL is made up of 32 teams, not 1696 players who happen to be grouped together. And the first step in getting talent happens in the NFL Draft.

We've looked at various ways of evaluating draft picks here and here. That system isn't perfect, no system really is. But it does provide a standard way of evaluating how well a GM does in the draft. And that's a little extra important in Carolina.

In the early days of the franchise, the Panthers loved free agency. Kevin Greene, John Kasay, Lamar Lathon, Sam Mills, Steve Beuerlein, and Wesley Walls are just a few notable examples of big name free agents that the Panthers signed. But then their GM at the time, Bill Polian, went to Indianapolis and his successor in that area, Jack Bushofsky, just didn't have the same success in evaluating talent.

Acting GM Dom Capers set his sights on Sean Gilbert, and the Panthers gave up far, far too much for him. They also whiffed badly on the Jeff Lewis trade, lost their own free agents, and watched as their draft picks didn't work out.

The whole experience left owner Jerry Richardson with a bad taste in his mouth over both the Coach/GM idea, and about acquiring high priced free agents. The organization separated the GM and Coach duties again, and team building was directed to focus more on the draft.

Although Marty Hurney has made some decent-sized splashes in Free Agency (Ken Lucas, Mike Wahle, Maake Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig), under his tenure the primary way to build the Panthers has remained the draft. So if he's to be graded as a GM, that's where the evaluation should start.

As we pointed out here, Hurney's grades by round average out as follows (Note that the formula has had subtle changes based on reader feedback, so some scores may be a little different now):

Round Total Picks Average Grade League Average
1 9 107.31 89.18
2 10 54.39 53.35
3 16 47.02 36.93
4 9 19.56 29.79
5 13 26.66 20.25
6 11 17.40 16.44
7 15 20.81 16.42
Overall 83 39.61 36.2

By this table, it's obvious that he's above average. And he's particularly good in the first round, which is where you tend to get your stars. But what does that really mean? Is it that hard to be successful? Consider that there are currently six GMs who are starting their first year. Out of 32 teams, that's not an insignificant number.

In fact, the average tenure of a GM who doesn't also own the team (like in Cincinnatti and Dallas) is just over 4 years. That's a little better than coaches do, but that still doesn't leave a GM a lot of time to put his stamp on a franchise. A lot of teams have tried to get a GM who's better than Hurney, and most have fallen short.

Based on the current GMs in the league, Hurney rates as follows:

Team General Manager Start Year Tenure Score
Cleveland Browns Tom Heckert, Jr. 2010 2 51.0
Jacksonville Jaguars Gene Smith 2009 3 46.0
Arizona Cardinals Rod Graves 2002 10 44.5
New York Jets Mike Tannenbaum 2006 6 43.1
Houston Texans Rick Smith 2006 6 42.1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mark Dominik 2009 3 41.7
New Orleans Saints Mickey Loomis 2002 10 40.0
Carolina Panthers Marty Hurney 2002 10 39.6
Detroit Lions Martin Mayhew 2008 4 38.1
Denver Broncos Brian Xanders 2009 3 37.9
Seattle Seahawks John Schneider 2010 2 37.9
San Diego Chargers A. J. Smith 2003 9 37.4
Miami Dolphins Jeff Ireland 2008 4 37.3
Atlanta Falcons Thomas Dmitroff 2008 4 37.1
Dallas Cowboys Jerry Jones 1989 23 36.2
Buffalo Bills Buddy Nix 2009 3 34.6
Baltimore Ravens Ozzie Newsome 2003 9 34.4
Green Bay Packers Ted Thompson 2005 7 33.7
Cincinnati Bengals Pete Brown 1991 21 33.1
Pittsburgh Steelers Kevin Colbert 2000 12 31.7
Kansas City Chiefs Scott Pioli 2009 3 30.3
New York Giants Jerry Reese 2007 5 28.3
New England Patriots Nick Caserio 2008 4 28.3
Washington Redskins Bruce Allen 2009 3 27.9
Philadelphia Eagles Howie Roseman 2010 2 26.5
San Francisco 49ers Trent Baalke 2011 1 11.9

Obviously this is a system with inherent flaws, notably in the wild fluctuations caused by GMs recent to their role.

But it's something, and that something says that Hurney is in the top ten for drafting talent that can actually make the roster. If you take only GMs who have had three drafts, he's 8th in the league in finding effective talent. And interestingly enough, another short study that just looked at draft picks that made the Pro Bowl game also Hurney tied for 8th place. So maybe there's something to it. Maybe not.

So as far as the draft goes, at the very least we should give Hurney a passing grade. And that's a very good thing, given that it's coming up on us quickly.

Of course, the draft still doesn't tell the whole story of how well a GM is doing. In Part Two we'll look at a couple of other critical measures of being a successful GM, and see how well our guy does.

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