------WARNING: There's Math inside!-----
How do you judge a draft pick?
It's a simple question, but it's one that the answer to can make or break a career. In any given year, you have the shot at making the right selection six to eight times, and if you do you look like a genius. If you don't, you're going to hear about it for years to come. And if you miss too often, you're not going to be around to hear about it.
Even when you do make a decent selection, the odds are that you'll still get your fair share of criticism from fans who are sick of missed tackles, dropped balls, poor blocks, or any other mistake that a player may make long after they've been drafted. So what if you're not a coach, you're still responsible. As a GM, it's your job to somehow accurately predict future performance. You need to just know that a quarterback taken in the sixth round will eventually become a seven time pro-bowler.
Ever wonder how they do it? Who can possibly become an expert on the thousands of college players who want to make an NFL roster every year? The answer is, no one. Every NFL franchise has a staff dedicated to college scouting. They're the ones at all the college games, big and small, compiling stats and notes, looking for the sure thing and diamonds in the rough. And come draft time, they provide input and film to the GM and head coach, who narrow down the pool and then do their own evaluations, interviews, and rankings. And then they do what the Owner tells them to, right?
So a lot of people participate in the process. At the end of the day though, it's the GM who makes the decision. And that makes sense, as the GM is also the guy who hires the scouts and the coaches. It's the GM who really does have the ultimate responsibility on which players are drafted.
So how do you rate his performance? Obviously you need to find a way to fairly judge a pick. Lets look at that after the jump...
From the GM's perspective, the goal is to turn every draft pick into a player who can contribute, and the sooner the better. If you're trying to give him a grade, you need to consider a simple question--how much impact does the GM's ability to find talent have in the case of a player who doesn't earn a starting job until his third year? How much of that is due to the coaching staff's skill at developing talent? What about the player's dedication?
And then there's raw talent, which is why early round selections are incredibly important. That's where you get the ones who are supposed to start, who are supposed to be good. You can get second and third day players who can contribute in spots all day long, but the playmakers are rare, and you usually get them in the first round. So if you miss on a first rounder, you've done a bad job even if you do get two six rounders and a seventh that contribute. Imagine getting a fifth rounder right but taking Ryan Leaf ahead of Peyton Manning. Would you feel good about that draft?
We want to reward the GM for getting playmakers, but measuring that is a chore. One good indicator, though, is the pro bowl. It may not capture all of the great players out there, but it's still a good marker. The all-pro team is another one, and an even better indicator of overall skill. A player who makes those rosters is obviously a better pick than one who doesn't.
Finally, getting someone who can stick to the roster shouldn't be overlooked. Just getting a jersey is hard enough, getting one for five or six years is pretty special. The average length of a pro football career is 3.3 years, and that figure includes kickers, who tend to hang around until they're eligible for social security.
So from a GM's perspective, the ideal pick is someone talented enough to be taken in the first round, make the pro bowl, and earn a spot on the all pro team. Even if such a player flames out in two years, he's still a more valuable pick than one who sits on the bench for five years and then becomes a star. Players last 3.3 years, the GMs who don't also own the team have been in their jobs an average of 4.1. Win now, right?
Once again, from a GM's perspective early success is better than long term, sustained performance.
With all that said, let's recap the measurables so we can come up with some way to measure our draft picks.
First, we should look at the simple ability of the player to get a jersey on game day. It may be heartless, but if a player is injury-prone, then it was a bad pick. If you disagree, ask yourself if you would take Thomas Davis or Derick Johnson back in 2005, if you could do it again. When they're both healthy, they're both great players. But Johnson is healthy a lot more often than Davis. Which was a better pick?
After the player gets a jersey, it's fair to ask if they've earned a starting position. This can get a little shaky where some positions are concerned, because of positions like the slot receiver and the nickel back. They're kind of starting positions but not listed as such. And you can get hung up on that until you realize that no one ever goes into the first round hoping to find that ideal back-up tight end, or a great punt returner. The goal is to get starters, and that's the biggest indicator of draft success.
Another thing to consider here, as a fan, is that starters are hard to find, and you're not going to get stars at every position. Fans love to hate on Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey, but replacing them with Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu is easier said than done. Like it or not, they're starting quality. At least, they are according to the two coaches who they've played for. So by definition, they're good picks. Maybe not great players, but good picks.
Then there's the round the player is taken. Early in a player's career this is more important, from the GM's perspective. If you nail a first round pick you should get more "points" than nailing a third rounder. But after a few years, that third rounder may be your Charles Johnson, and at that point any bonus applied to a first round selection ought to apply to him as well. To properly grade a selection, there should be a scale that eventually rewards diamonds in the rough, but only after they've managed to stick around a few years.
And then, there are the seasons where a player makes the pro bowl or the all pro team. Those two are simple.
So let's put it all together, in order of how important we feel each element is.
First, let's look at the round modifier. We're going to use that to add emphasis to early round picks, because as we've stated, they're more important. But they get less important over time. So because we're already getting fancy enough, we will make the modifier a simple one: It's the round where you were drafted. So, first rounders get a modifier of one, second rounders get two, and so on. The catch here is that in year two, you will get a half point subtracted from that. In year three, you get a point and a half taken off. In year four, three points. Eventually, every pick will be treated as a first rounder, assuming they last that long.
Basically, we're adding an extra half point every year to the prior year's modifier. So a second round player gets the following: 2, 1.5, 1, 1, 1, etc... A third rounder would get 3, 2.5, 1.5, 1, 1... A fourth would get 4, 3.5, 2.5, 1, 1... And a seventh would get 7, 6.5, 5.5, 4, 2, 1, 1... So if you nail a seventh rounder who lands a starting job after a few years, eventually you're getting as much credit for them as you are for the first rounder you took.
For our formula, the Round Modifier will be represented as RM.
Now let's take the jersey. It's almost easy for most rookies to get one, because they're under small contracts and no one wants to admit that they flubbed the pick, so a rookie tends to get the benefit of the doubt. Still, it's harder to get one the later you've been picked. So, a simple multiple of games played by the round you were drafted in would be a nice starting point. However, that's still not really as important as starting, so in our score we're cutting it by a third. Getting a jersey is noted as G. And for this equation, the round modifier will never be less than 1.
(G * RM)/3
And now we're at starts. Starters are where you really make your money as a GM, as far as the draft is concerned. So we're going to use the round modifier again, but this time we're giving the advantage to early round picks, and the way we're doing that is by subtracting the round modifier from 8. So a first rounder will get a modifier of 7, and a seventh will get a modifier of 1. Starts are S.
(G * RM)/3 + (S * (8-RM))
And let's not forget the Pro Bowl (PB), or the All Pro (AP) team. For these, you should always get the maximum modifier (7), and you should go off the number of starts earned. They're not as important as Starts, but they're more important than just getting a roster spot. An they're an either/or, so for each season they will be represented by 1 or 0. So for them, you will have the following additions to the formula:
(G * RM)/3 + (S * (8-RM)) + (S * (7 * PB))/2 + (S * (7 * AP))/4
And there you have it, a draft pick formula. Calculate it for each year a player makes the team, and take the average for the overall score. Let's look at how it works for a few players.
James Anderson was taken in the third round, and suited up for 16 games as a rookie, starting two. For that year, his score was a whopping 26. The next year, he suited up for 10 games, started one, and earned a score of 13.8, which dragged the draft score down to 19.9. And in his third year he was worse, only appearing in 8 games with no starts. He was starting to look like a 'meh' selection, and his score (4.0 for year 3, average grade of 14.6) reflected that.
Then in his fourth year he got his shot, and started 7 games. By this time he's getting the full RM, so his score is just like a first rounder who's starting, and he earned 54.3 points. And in his fifth, he starts 15 out of 16 and earns 110.3. In year six, he starts 16 games and earns 117.3 points. So today, we would score his draft value at 54.3. Not bad for a third rounder, Marty.
Then there's Cam Newton. First rounder, so you have to nail it. And he does, starting 16 games and making the pro bowl. That gives him a massive score of 173.3. Think that's too high? Consider how important it was to strike gold, and then ask yourself how much better Hurney feels than Marty Mayhew does. His Lions took Nick Fairley, and he got 10 games with no starts. He may turn into a great player someday, but do you want to argue "may become" against "already is" when your job performance being graded?
How about Jon Beason? I'll spare you the details, but his overall score is 134.5. Missing this season hit the draft grade hard (it was at 166.3 for him last year at this time). Sounds heartless, but we're measuring on production, not potential.
For a mid rounder who took several years to blossom, Charles Johnson earns a current score of 55.9. Too bad it's not higher, but he barely played his first year and didn't start until his fourth. Nice job, coach Baker. Decent selection Marty.
So that's the system, and it's not perfect. I don't expect it to be, but at least it's an indicator of draft success.
Feel free to pick it apart in the comments, your input will be used to refine it to the point where we can really get an effective measure on just how well a GM has drafted.
And then the fun begins... :)