One thing blatantly obvious when reviewing the post NFL Draft breakdown and analysis – there’s very little consensus when FINAL GRADES are divvied out. Much like the mock draft momentum that can catapult a college star to the top of the list, post draft pundits get caught in a wave of euphoric bias that is rather difficult to navigate through.
First, whose final evaluation of a prospect is to be the standard? After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so why should I or anyone else agree to utilize one scouting report (yours) over another (mine)?
Second, the age old debate of “need vs best available” is often hypocritically utilized to make a politically biased point when building up or tearing down a club’s body of work in the draft. Clearly there were selections forced by roster holes and the ramifications of leaving them unfilled. Critics argue that glaring weaknesses were overlooked to add yet another talented player at an already log-jammed position. Yet other teams are seemingly allowed to skate by with the selection of an unnecessary addition to a position filled over the course of free agency.
Third, what are we grading anyway? Is it the fulfillment of past production or the potential of future expectations? Should a club be appraised upon the continuing collection of a college all-star team, or the value of likelihood that a player will contribute to his team at some point down the road?
Finding the BLUE CHIPS
Having been a part of War Rooms and the decision making process for 16 years, I look at drafting college players much like selecting stocks; take into account past performance, the vitals of the company, the current market indicators for the industry, and the potential for future growth. In some cases the numbers point towards an easy decision, in other cases you just have to go with your gut. But if you pick your portfolio based upon biased assumptions, you’re more than likely going to lose…and lose BIG.
So for the purpose of this exercise let’s set some parameters to hopefully come up with something that eradicates personal bias, takes into account historical trends, and uses both the past & future as an indication of present value.
In my last post I wrote about Making the Grade; What real numbers say about the NFL Draft. The post looked at where starters and long term players came from since 1992. NFL General Managers shouldn’t be “spackling the cracks” of their club with the draft, rather they should be building the foundation of their roster with the rebar that can be found through the addition of college football’s elite. When you hear “Build through the Draft” that is meant to project over the long haul, not a season or two. Therefore NFL General Managers should be looking to select prospects that can fulfill their rookie contracts and do so with a significant amount of playing time. Isn’t that why you pay players in the first place? I’m looking for starters and potential starters when given the opportunity to freely pick and place personnel on my team.
The pool is shallow
History shows that college football can only provide the next level with so many top prospects each season to fulfill that order. This is a nation that roots for the underdog and our fondest memories are of the player that overcame all odds to make it big in the NFL, when in reality it’s the top 100 or so each year that give an NFL General Manager that long term stability he’s looking for in a selection. You wouldn’t put risky stocks in your 401K.
So these grades are based upon the players selected in rounds one through three. The odds of finding a player who can provide you with 56 starts over his first 5 seasons dramatically reduce after around pick #80. That analysis was actuated from the player pool of 1992-2009, a rather significant total of players by position.
GRADE by the numbers
Next, an NFL General Manager has to trust his own scouts and what they’re tasked to look for on behalf of the club. This is another fallacy with regard to the 30,000’ viewpoint that most fans and media take when looking at the work of each individual club. That’s not how it’s done by the 32 NFL Teams, it’s ground zero from their perspective. That’s all that matters. But for the elimination of personal bias, I’m using the evaluation grade numbers administered by the NFL’s own NFL.com. You’d hope these would have some validity with the following Mike Mayock, Gil Brandt, and Nolan Nawrocki garner from fans on Twitter. These evaluations emanate from past production (as read in reports) and constitute a prediction of future success at the professional level. (If you don’t think they’re valid, I’d stop reading them.) Here’s the NFL.com scale;
|7.00-7.49||Pro Bowl-caliber player|
|6.50-6.99||Chance to become Pro Bowl-caliber player|
|6.00-6.49||Should become instant starter|
|5.50-5.99||Chance to become NFL starter|
|5.20-5.49||NFL backup or special teams potential|
|5.01-5.19||Better-than-average chance to make NFL roster|
|5.00||50-50 Chance to make NFL roster|
|4.75-4.99||Should be in an NFL training camp|
|4.50-4.74||Chance to be in an NFL training camp|
|NO GRADE||Likely needs time in developmental league|
With a much statistically greater opportunity of selecting a long term player/starter in the first 3 rounds, any pick of a player inside the top 90 to 100 and graded below a 5.50 “Chance to become NFL starter” seems pointless. But again, we have to “assume” these grades are accurate and meaningful, just as you probably assume your own are.
The more selections provided to an organization in rounds 1 through 3, the more opportunities to add future long term players and starting potential to your roster. The less number of picks, the more pressure to perform under that mandate.
Penny Stocks and late rounders
Start arguing all you want, rounds 4 to 7 are “Penny Stocks” to me. Case in point is the idea of the Denver Broncos 5th round selection OLB Lamin Barrow. A recent Denver Post article all but penciled him in as a starter for the defending AFC Champs in 2014. Since ’92 only 27 of 85 players selected at LB in the 5th round have had ANY starts to their credit. This past season (2013) there were only 5 LB’s in the NFL that came from this pool (1 x ’05, 2 x ’06, 1 x ’08, 1 x ’09). Only one had over 56 starts (Michael Boley). No 5th round LB’s drafted from 2010-2013 were their team’s primary starter and only 7 games total were started by the 13 players from this group. Pittsburgh Steeler Vince Williams (6th rd, 2013) started 11 of 15 games from below the 5th round threshold.
The Report Card
And because I don’t come from Generation Y, “Not everyone gets a trophy”. There IS a grade scale based upon the percentage of players each team picked up in the first three rounds and projected on their future ability to start in the NFL. Indianapolis added only two players (without a 1st round pick), but evaluation grades were 5.6 & 5.9. Conversely, Seattle added two picks at 5.2 (see above scale).
One more historical note of analysis; certain positions are more apt to produce as rookies than others. This data is running 3 seasons old and could stand an update. Clubs mindful of this draft dynamic should be given credit within their grade group, but not to elevate them out of it. I’ve italicized those on this list.
|(A)100%||(B) 75%||(B-) 66%||(C+)60%||(C) 50%||(D) 33%||(F) 0%|
In the end it’s up to the players to respond to the coaching and development offered to them (good & bad) in order to produce on the field. Just like the grades you received in high school didn’t necessarily define your future career potential, nor do these really count in any team’s portfolio towards a Super Bowl Championship.