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25 Apr 2013

Historical Draft Efficiency: Best and Worst Picks

by Danny Tuccitto

In this fifth (and final) episode of our historical draft efficiency series, I'll attempt to determine the best and worst individual picks since the AFL-NFL merger. At this point, I assume you know what value above expectation (VAE) and return on investment (ROI) measure. And given the difficulty of today's task, I also assume that you realize I'll be employing a format similar to the one I used to rank draft classes: present all the stats, offer my opinion about who should be in the conversation for best and worst, and have at it in the comments section. If any of what you just read seems mysterious, here are links to previous parts in the series so you can get up to speed:

Now that we're all on the same page (both literally and figuratively), I'm going to make one minor change to how I present the stats today. It only takes a little bit of thought on the topic to realize that, because there have been a ton of draft picks with essentially no NFL career to speak of (2,244 of 8,436 selected in the top 222), simple math dictates that there will be a 2,244-player tie for last place in the rankings for Adjusted Career AV per Year (CarAV/Yr) and ROI. I don't think you would be satisfied if my answer to, "What was the worst pick since the merger?" was, "These 2,000-or-so guys."

You would be even less satisfied with that answer when I also told you almost every high-profile draft bust you can think of off the top of your head is not among those 2,000-or-so guys. For instance, the NFL Network counted down their Top 10 draft busts a few years ago, and not a single one of the players on their list are among the cast of thousands tied for last place according to Adjusted CarAV/Yr and ROI. Therefore, I'll only be using VAE to determine the handful of candidates for worst pick.

Best Picks by Adjusted Career AV Per Year

Here is the table showing the top 20 players from 1970 to 2007 according to Adjusted CarAV/Yr:

Player Team Year Pick CarAV/Yr
Barry Sanders DET 1989 3 12.1
Lydell Mitchell BALC 1972 48 11.7
Billy Sims DET 1980 1 11.3
Patrick Willis SF 2007 11 11.2
Marshall Faulk IND 1994 2 11.0
Jack Lambert PIT 1974 46 10.8
Jake Scott MIA 1970 159 10.2
Jack Ham PIT 1971 34 10.2
Anthony Muñoz CIN 1980 3 10.2
Peyton Manning IND 1998 1 10.0
Player Team Year Pick CarAV/Yr
Lawrence Taylor NYG 1981 2 9.9
Terrell Davis DEN 1995 196 9.9
Chuck Foreman MIN 1973 12 9.8
Derrick Brooks TB 1995 28 9.7
Mike Singletary CHI 1981 38 9.6
Walter Payton CHI 1975 4 9.6
LaDainian Tomlinson SD 2001 5 9.6
Randy Gradishar DEN 1974 14 9.5
Tom Brady NE 2000 199 9.5
Adrian Peterson MIN 2007 7 9.4

As Adjusted CarAV/Yr is simply the measure of value in my model, it's no surprise that nearly every player on this list is a Hall of Famer, would-be Hall of Famer, or should-be Hall of Famer. If that weren't the case, we would be in trouble. No, the surprise comes from the fact this group has an average career length of 10.5 years.

One of the criticisms of dividing Career AV by career length was that supernova-like flashes in the pan could break the system. The table clearly shows otherwise. Yes, it's true that Billy Sims and Terrell Davis had shortened careers, but few, if any, people would label them as "flashes in the pan." Meanwhile, people think Barry Sanders had a shortened career, but that's more perception than reality: The man did play 10 seasons. At the end of the day, even at a position as notorious for short careers as any, the nine running backs at the top of Adjusted CarAV/Yr averaged 9.0 seasons.

The other thing I'll draw your attention to is that, given where the players in the table were selected, you can see the VAE and ROI rankings already taking shape. The average draft slot for these players is about the 41st pick, but that's only because of the trio taken after No. 150. Removing those outliers, the remaining 17 players were selected, on average, about 15th. Again, this is the reason why VAE and ROI are better measures for our little relative-value exercise: Over a large sample, and over time, better players tend to get picked earlier in the draft. Sanders was a great pick, but not as great of a pick as Terrell Davis, Tom Brady, or Jake Scott (a two-time All Pro safety for the early 70's Dolphins).

And who the heck is Lydell Mitchell, you may ask? We'll get to him in a bit.

Best Picks by Return on Investment

Here is the table showing the top 20 picks according to ROI:

Player Team Year Pick ROI
Terrell Davis DEN 1995 196 +881.9%
Tom Brady NE 2000 199 +857.6%
Jake Scott MIA 1970 159 +716.8%
Shane Olivea SD 2004 209 +623.1%
Stan Walters CIN 1972 210 +607.1%
Tom Nalen DEN 1994 218 +591.0%
Charlie Johnson PHI 1977 175 +584.6%
Eric Martin NO 1985 179 +562.5%
Myron Guyton NYG 1989 218 +559.9%
Mark Lomas NYJ 1970 202 +558.8%
Player Team Year Pick ROI
Shannon Sharpe DEN 1990 192 +551.7%
Seth Joyner PHI 1986 208 +538.6%
Jessie Armstead NYG 1993 207 +534.8%
Jamal Anderson ATL 1994 201 +522.0%
Lemar Parrish CIN 1970 163 +516.7%
David Woodley MIA 1980 214 +512.7%
Skip Thomas OAK 1972 176 +503.9%
Johnny Johnson ARI 1990 169 +489.8%
Richard Dent CHI 1983 203 +485.9%
Zach Thomas MIA 1996 154 +483.9%

Davis, Brady, and Scott are the only picks that show up on this list too, so let's set them aside for reasons that should be obvious. (Hint: They show up again later.)

For all I said about how Adjusted CarAV/Yr didn't elevate flashes in the pan as much one might have expected, it did still happen. The player ranked fourth in ROI is a perfect example. Shane Olivea was a steal for the Chargers at No. 209. Of his four years as their starting right tackle, San Diego's offensive line ranked in the top eight of ALY twice: seventh in 2005 and first in 2006. Unfortunately, thanks to injuries and a subsequent pain-pill-popping problem, Olivea washed out of the league in 2008. Based on that resume, do I agree with his ROI ranking? No, I do not.

At No. 6 is center Tom Nalen, who you will notice is one of three players in the top 11 from the back-to-back Super Bowl-winning Broncos teams of the late 1990s (along with Davis and Shannon Sharpe). Unlike Olivea, Nalen definitely deserves to be considered one of the most efficient picks since the merger. Nalen was a 13-year starter, made five Pro Bowls, and was voted first team All-Pro twice. And when you consider that the 1994 draft only had 222 picks, he's one of the closest things to a star Mr. Irrelevant that the league has ever seen. Despite Mike Shanahan being seen as one of the best late-round drafters in league history, a reputation further cemented by his selection of Alfred Morris last year, both Nalen and Sharpe were taken before he took the reins in 1995. (I'm not giving him credit for the Sharpe pick when he was a mere "offensive assistant.")

Most of the rest of the list should be familiar to those who have been following this series over the past month, either because I've specifically discussed them or because they were part of great draft classes. However, one final player worth noting is David Woodley, who checks in as the second-most efficient quarterback pick since the merger. As a lifelong resident of Miami save for a longer-than-anticipated stint in Gainesville, I can tell you that the Woodley era is all but forgotten down here. Granted, it's tough to recall a member of the Dolphins quarterbacking relay team who took the baton from Bob Griese and passed it to Dan Marino. Nevertheless, in his two full years as the starter, he helped Miami win two division titles and reach Super Bowl XVII. Even knowing as a stathead that wins is a bad thing by which to judge quarterbacks, that's still one hell of a return on the 214th pick.

Best and Worst Picks by Value Above Expectation

Before proceeding, let me just point out that, although Tampa Bay getting nothing from their No. 1 pick in 1986 is technically the worst relative value since 1970, it just doesn't feel right to have Bo Jackson on the list of worsts -- let alone atop it. Don't worry, though. For any Bo-philes out there, the list does have one, just not attached to the same surname.

I know this exception might also apply to Kelly Stouffer, but come on, it's Kelly Friggin' Stouffer. The same lack of sympathy goes for Russell Erxleben. As the Saints punter for four years, Erxleben's career should not be worth 0 AV, which is what PFR defaults to for specialists. Nevertheless, I kept him on the list because (a) New Orleans had no business taking a punter 11th overall; and (b) Erxleben pulled a Garo Yepremian in his first NFL game -- in overtime no less. Dapper Dick Nolan was not pleased, banishing the rookie to Quarantine Bay until Week 1 of the following season. Also, there's this sordid tale. (Seriously, click that link!)

So, with that said, here is the table showing the top-20 and bottom-20 picks according to VAE:

Best Picks by VAE Worst Picks by VAE
Player Team Year Pick VAE Player Team Year Pick VAE
Lydell Mitchell BALC 1972 48 +9.1 Ki-Jana Carter CIN 1995 1 -6.0
Jake Scott MIA 1970 159 +9.0 Ryan Leaf SD 1998 2 -5.9
Terrell Davis DEN 1995 196 +8.9 Akili Smith CIN 1999 3 -5.7
Tom Brady NE 2000 199 +8.5 Charles Rogers DET 2003 2 -5.3
Jack Lambert PIT 1974 46 +8.1 JaMarcus Russell OAK 2007 1 -5.3
Jack Ham PIT 1971 34 +7.1 Aundray Bruce ATL 1988 1 -5.0
Jared Allen KC 2004 126 +6.9 Bruce Pickens ATL 1991 3 -5.0
Patrick Willis SF 2007 11 +6.8 Steve Emtman IND 1992 1 -4.9
Lawrence McCutcheon LARM 1972 70 +6.8 Steve Niehaus SEA 1976 2 -4.8
Domanick Davis HOU 2003 101 +6.8 Reggie Rogers DET 1987 7 -4.8
Player Team Year Pick VAE Player Team Year Pick VAE
Mike Singletary CHI 1981 38 +6.7 Larry Stegent STLC 1970 8 -4.8
Charlie Johnson PHI 1977 175 +6.7 Bo Matthews SD 1974 2 -4.7
Curtis Martin NE 1995 74 +6.6 Kelly Stouffer STLC 1987 6 -4.6
Derrick Brooks TB 1995 28 +6.4 Rich Campbell GB 1981 6 -4.6
Jahri Evans NO 2006 108 +6.4 Art Schlichter IND 1982 4 -4.5
Lemar Parrish CIN 1970 163 +6.3 Heath Shuler WAS 1994 3 -4.4
Eric Martin NO 1985 179 +6.3 Mike Junkin CLE1 1987 5 -4.4
Zach Thomas MIA 1996 154 +6.2 Russell Erxleben NO 1979 11 -4.4
Barry Sanders DET 1989 3 +6.2 Brian Jozwiak KC 1986 7 -4.3
William Andrews ATL 1979 79 +6.2 Alonzo Highsmith HOIL 1987 3 -4.1

The best 20 picks have already been accounted for, so let's focus on the bottom 20. Going back to the NFL Network, it turns out that, unlike some of the laughable inclusions on their top 10 draft classes, nearly all of their top 10 draft busts were worthy of such ignominy according to VAE. Ryan Leaf (first on their list), Aundray Bruce (sixth), Art Schlichter (seventh), and Heath Shuler (ninth) overlap with the above table. Tony Mandarich (second on their list, 30th on mine), Rick Mirer (fourth, 23rd), and the Cougars combination of Andre Ware (10th, 29th) and David Klingler (10th, 51st) are distinctions without much of a difference.

That leaves only three players in their top 10 draft busts that VAE says didn't belong. NFL Network ranked Lawrence Phillips eighth, but his -1.9 VAE only ranks 577th-worst according to my model. Tim Couch was fifth on their list, but his -1.8 VAE ranks 748th on mine. Granted, with over 8,000 picks in my database, both of these players are in the top 10 percent of VAE busts; they're just not anywhere near the top 10.

NFL Network's final, and easily worst, sin of commission had Brian Bosworth as its victim. Because he was a supplemental draft pick, he technically isn't included in my rankings. However, the 1988 pick Seattle forfeited to select him in 1987 would have been No. 19 overall. Adjusting for the fact that the 1988 draft was 6.2 percentages points more valuable than the 1970 baseline, if Seattle's 19th pick had produced the same Career AV/Yr as Bosworth (3.5), that player's VAE would have been a mere -0.4. To reach his name, the above table would have required 4,318 rows. Now, maybe Bosworth would have been taken before 19th in 1988 (or a Boz-less 1987 Seahawks would have picked earlier than 19th in the following draft), but he would have had to have been taken in the top five to produce a VAE as "bad" as that of the also-undeserving Couch.

In terms of NFL Network's sins of omission, there aren't many, but one is a real doozy. If we include players added to the their updated top 10 in April 2010, Akili Smith (eighth on their newer list) and Charles Rogers (seventh) also overlap with the table. And considering that their update was in black celebration of JaMarcus Russell's release, we can check him off as an oversight as well.

If you haven't figured it out already, NFL Network's mindboggling omission is the player that sits atop my list of worst picks according to VAE: Ki-Jana Carter. The expectation for a No. 1 pick is 7.2 CarAV/Yr; after adjusting for the strength of the 1995 draft, Carter's CarAV/Yr was 1.2. He only qualified for our DYAR rankings once in his seven-year career (1997), and finished 28th out of 45 running backs that season. To be fair, for all intents and purposes, his career ended before it ever began. It was 1995, not 2012, so a Purple Jesus-esque recovery simply was not possible. Nevertheless, Carter did play again -- for seven more seasons. He could have put together some kind of decent career, but he didn't. If NFL Network wants to give him a pass for his knee injury, fine; I'm nowhere near as accommodating.

The Exciting Conclusion

Given everything I've presented here, I think we have a pretty clear picture of which players should be in the conversation for best and worst picks since the merger. Regarding the worst, I'll go with Ki-Jana Carter and the picks that overlap between NFL Network's top 10 and the top of the VAE list: Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Charles Rogers, JaMarcus Russell, Aundray Bruce, and Steve Emtman. There's only a 1.0 VAE difference separating those seven, so absolute worst is probably in the eyes of the beholder.

However, perhaps we can help those eyes by also looking at ROI. Among the sad seven, here's how they stack up against one another: Smith (-96.2% ROI), Leaf (-92.9%), Carter (-83.9%), Rogers (-83.3%), Russell (-73.3%), Bruce (-70.2%), and Emtman (-68.4%). Armed with this information, it becomes pretty clear that Smith, Leaf, and Carter were feet and ankles below the rest.

On the flip side, my candidates for absolute best include three obvious players and one wild card. Terrell Davis, Tom Brady, and Jake Scott appear in all three tables. Despite producing an incredible career as a seventh-round pick, I'm inclined to put Scott behind Davis and Brady; however, not by much. And between the latter two, I think it's important to point out that Davis ranks above Brady according to all three stats.

As a wild card, I'm going with Lydell Mitchell for a couple of reasons. First, unlike the other three, he wasn't a late-round pick. There's something to be said for massively exceeding high expectations. He's in the top two of both Adjusted Car AV/Yr and VAE, and it's not because he benefited from a shortened career. And although he didn't make the top 20 in ROI, he's ranked just outside the top one-tenth of one percent (96th). Second, just look at the guy's career. In 1974 and 1977, he led the NFL in receptions -- at running back. In 1976, he had the highest AV of any player in the league. And if you scroll down to the bottom of that link, you'll see that he was basically the equivalent of Terrell Davis and Priest Holmes two decades beforehand.

So there you have it. Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments, and ask about players who aren't listed above, but whom you think are worthy of being in the conversation. I hope you enjoyed this series. If there's enough of a demand for it, I'd love to indulge everyone's draft history sensibilities in the future, so let me know if that's something you'd like to see.

Posted by: Danny Tuccitto on 25 Apr 2013

51 comments, Last at 10 Oct 2013, 3:49pm by The Cash Box Blueprint

Comments

2
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 3:06pm

Barry Sanders DET 1989 3 12.1
Lydell Mitchell BALC 1972 48 11.7
Billy Sims DET 1980 1 11.3

See, I take the opposite conclusion that you do about Billy Sims. Ask any Detroit fan, and Barry Sanders is miles ahead of Sims every day and twice on Sunday. And the difference is precisely that Sanders played for 10 seasons, whereas Sims played for the equivalent of 4 in 5 years. Say Sims pulled a Ki-Jana Carter (remember: "If NFL Network wants to give him a pass for his knee injury, fine; I'm nowhere near as accommodating."), and padded his career with 5 more hobbled seasons, to get to Sanders career length. Are we still even having this conversation with a straight face?

In another Detroit-oriented question, would you rather have Verlander or Fidrytch? Konstantinov or Lidstrom? Career length matters to franchise stability and team construction. There is value in longer careers.

Also:
"Sanders was a great pick, but not as great of a pick as Terrell Davis, Tom Brady, or Jake Scott (a two-time All Pro safety for the early 70's Dolphins)."

That's incorrect. He was a better pick. He was not a more efficient pick.

3
by Danny Tuccitto :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 3:07pm

Sanders-Sims point taken. Was just narrowly saying that people might perceive Sanders as a short-career guy, but he really wasn't.

Re your correction, I plead semantics. Think in that construction and context, it's pretty clear I'm using the word "great" to mean "efficient."

10
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:18pm

Sanders left some good years on the table, but still played for a long time.

Regarding semantics, I agree, but I just wanted to point out that there is a valid difference. Sanders was the most valuable player in his draft year, regardless of when he was picked. He outperformed any draft slot.

Brady is praised for being a great pick for the 6th round, but he also would have been a great pick for the 1st round. He wasn't just efficient (high-value relative to draft position), he was also objectively high-value.

9
by Dean :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:18pm

Take Lidstrom. Revisionist history tries to forget that Konstantinov was the dirtiest player in all of hockey - and in an era that included Ulf Samuelsson and Claude Lemeiux, that's saying a lot. I cringe any time I hear someone try to lionize the guy simply because his career ended early. How quickly we forget.

11
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:22pm

I remember Konstantinov being dirty in the Theo Fleury sense, as opposed to the Todd Bertuzzi, Chris Simon, or Dale Hunter sort of dirty.

But considering how often Detroit and Colorado played, there's no measure by which he was dirtier than Claude Lemeiux (who never saw a fair fight he wouldn't run away from). And unlike Lemeiux, he was objectively a talented defenseman, as opposed to just being a goon.

19
by CoachDave :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 5:24pm

That's a complete overstatement.

Konstantinov was clearly a cheap-shot artist dirty player, I will give you that...but dirtiest in all of hockey at the time...not even close.

Claude Lemeiux, Dale Hunter and Ulf Samuelsson were by far bigger cheap shot artists and dirty players.

12
by Travis :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:27pm

Career length matters to franchise stability and team construction. There is value in longer careers.

Especially in the era before free agency. It was harder to replace Billy Sims in 1985 than it would have been in 1999.

17
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:54pm

Sims being chronically hurt might be part of why the Lions took James Jones and his 3.5 ypc in the 1983 draft, instead of trading for Elway, or picking Marino, Kelly, O'Brien, or Eason.

Think of what the Lions could have done with a competent QB at any point between QBs who attended Highland Park High School.

1
by Mark Fischler (not verified) :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 3:02pm

I'm curious how the greatest passer in NFL history Daniel Constantine Marino is not on your list? What kind of metrics would not value a QB who played with only 1 hall of famer (Dwight Stephenson for what 3 years) for a brief period and who dominated in his time doesn't make it. Hmmm...leaves me questioning a bit your process. I look forward to finding out!

Best,
mjf

4
by Danny Tuccitto :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 3:13pm

Which list? Marino's VAE was +4.1, and his ROI was +124.4%. His CarAV/Yr is getting adjusted downward from 8.5 to 7.5 because of the strength of the 1983 draft, so that's a big reason. He's still in the top 0.2% of VAE among the 8k+ picks.

5
by Independent George :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 3:54pm

Good question; he was the 27th pick, and has an adjusted career AV of 145 (8.53 adjusted CAV/Year). I'm curious where his expected ROI puts him.

ETA: Asked, and answered. Thanks!

6
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:12pm

This was capped at 7 round equivalent, right?

If so, if you treated Keenan McCardell and Karl Mecklenburg as Mr. Irrelevant, as opposed the 12th and 13th round picks they were, where would they fall on this list?

13
by Danny Tuccitto :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:31pm

Capped at pick 222.

OK, so there's two ways we can do this. If we magically turn McCardell & Mecklenburg into pick 222, then their stats are

Mecklenburg = +5.9 VAE, +687.6% ROI
McCardell = +3.8 VAE, +436.0% ROI

If we just apply the formula in Part 1 of the series to picks after 222, then their stats are

Mecklenburg = +6.3 VAE, +1341.8% ROI
McCardell = +4.2 VAE, +1021.7%

Not going to say where any of these rank because that might be something I write up in the future.

14
by Independent George :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:41pm

Well if we're going to play that game, what happens to Kurt Warner?

16
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:44pm

He gets discussed in the "best free agent signing efficiency" series next year?

18
by Danny Tuccitto :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 5:23pm

Yeah, don't think we can play that game with UDFAs. We can with guys drafted eleventy billionth, though!

8
by Travis :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:16pm

[Mitchell's] in the top two of both Adjusted Car AV/Yr and VAE, and it's not because he benefited from a shortened career.

How much does Mitchell benefit from being traded at the apex of his career? That is, are Mitchell's unproductive years spent with teams other than the Colts counted at all for AV/Yr and VAE purposes? If not, I'd consider 6 years a "shortened career", at least when compared to Sanders's 10 with the Lions and Payton's 13 with the Bears.

(Mitchell held out during the 1978 preseason, was traded to San Diego for Joe Washington and a 5th round pick, and was out of the league just three years later.)

7
by usctrojan11 (not verified) :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:16pm

This TD stuff is complete horsesh*t. Even FO's own numbers don't make the conclusive case that he was anymore than a cog.

AAron Schatz, I saw you say in another comments thread that the numbers make the case for td in your eyes. However, when making this case you ignore the fact that TD had four years in the system(and league, as all 3 of these guys-td-ma-cp- were drafted by denver) and anderson and portis only had two.

since the numbers sell you on td so well, aaron, answer this without looking it up:

which shanahan bronco rb never had less than 328DYAR and never had less than 17.9% in his first two seasons in denver/the nfl?

which shanahan rb was the only one to amass 400+dyar in either his rookie or sophomore season?

which two never had better than 17% dvoa in either of first two seasons?

The point is, if any number of runningbacks, including td or portis or several others, had gotten the starting job in denver from 1995-1998 without getting hurt or traded, they wouldve done as well or better than td.

15
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 4:41pm

Let's extend the argument: How is Brady any different?

Matt Cassel, the ultimate JAG, the guy who was a college backup, put up HOF AV in his one year in the New England system. He's Olandis Gary to Brady's TD. Was it Brady, or the system?

How about Jack Ham and Jack Lambert? Were they really good, or was it just that the Pittsburgh system makes any LB stellar?

Billy Sims was a great RB from 80-84. Sanders was great from 89-98. Was it them, or did Detroit have a much better than commonly-thought o-line or rushing system?

--
You're wrong about your years in system argument, too. If you look at the really exemplary seasons, and Portis' 2003 season is in there, they almost always occur in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd year in system. Brown, Simpson, and Peterson also had later stellar seasons, but their first one came in their first three years. Simpson was in his 5th year in the league, but wasn't a feature back until his 3rd year. Barry Sanders is the only exception -- the only runner in the class to peak in his 4th season as a starter or later. His first was in his 6th year, and his last in his 9th.

You also forget that Portis was pretty good on bad Washington teams in 2004 and 2005 before he started to break down.

20
by usctrojan11 (not verified) :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 5:24pm

I think the redskin part of his career showed portis for what he really was-a pretty good back in his own right, something TD and Anderson never proved.

I think the shanahan-kubiak-gibbs offense is a sensational system that once made mediocre-or-better rbs into league mvp types for denver and today does the same for houston rbs(if houston was smart, theyd develop ben tate as he has real talent and trade foster for a couple of second day picks).

I dont think you;re that far off about brady btw, either. I never thought he had exceptional talent either.

even if it's true that rbs usually peak at year two(it isnt, and i know that wasnt your argument either), the fact is td got 4 chances to have an elite season with denver, and portis only had two. but as it is, the numbers hardly make the case for td being better than MA or CP, and that was the focus of my rant.

29
by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 1:52pm

context is extraordinarily important when evaluating most positions. great players often benefit a great deal from their teams being built around them, schemed around them, drafted around them.

peyton manning has played his entire career with very good receivers, most of his career with very good running backs, and much of his career with very good blocking. he also is critical to the way that offense is designed, focusing on letting him do the things he does well. if you put peyton on the oakland raiders of the last 5 years, without changing any of the other offensive parts, the result would probably not be what we've been used to.

the same is true of every "elite" quarterback in the nfl today. Brady has the best blocking over the last decade in the nfl, and he still didn't take off as a passer until wes welker and randy moss came to town. Rodgers has an army of great receivers. brees went from "pretty good, some of the time, when he's throwing to antonio gates" to out of this world when he got into new orleans, got a ton of good receivers, backs, and blocking, and fell into a genius offensive system.

now, are those guys really good? probably. but what about philip rivers, who was just as good as any of them until his offensive line and receivers fell apart?

21
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 6:27pm

Agree that Tim Couch is only right around the ~10th percentile.

Where does Courtney Brown rank, though?

22
by Jerry :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 6:53pm

The odd thing about Lydell Mitchell is that he was Penn State's leading rusher, so it was something of a surprise (especially in that pre-draftnik era) when his backfield mate was chosen before him. Of course, the Steelers were right in taking Franco Harris.

38
by Bobman :: Mon, 04/29/2013 - 2:16pm

What a kick-ass backfield that must have been for PSU. Good to see Marchibroda's mid-70's Colts getting some love. Though my brother's and my old nickname for Mitchell, "The Worm," isn't very kind, he just kind of wiggled his way through crowds for his yardage. We could never quite figure out how he did it. As I recall, he did not have a single standout trait (maybe his hands?) but like a decathlete, did everything he needed to pretty well. He certainly overshadowed Roosevelt leaks who was a #3 pick (IIRC) just a couple years earlier. He also shared the backfield with Don McCauley who was sort of a 3rd down specialist, so Mitchell's numbers in a 90's/00's vintage single-back offense could have been a lot more impressive.

23
by Thok :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 7:18pm

A minor quibble: I feel your rating system underrates the awfulness of the Art Schlichter pick, because he basically kicked himself out of the league with his gambling problems (obviously, the rating system doesn't know this.) Washington, for example, got some of the value of Heath Shuler's pick back by trading him; Indianapolis was denied even that with Schlichter.

24
by Danny Tuccitto :: Thu, 04/25/2013 - 11:57pm

Point taken, but that's why I'm going with a "who's in the conversation" approach, not a "numbers are gospel" approach; acknowledged that Schlichter's in the conversation.

25
by Lelouch vi Britannia (not verified) :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 1:04am

I feel like this has the same problem of any AV-based metric: it underestimates the difference in value between positions. This is, however, a pretty damn good list.
Also, this might just be me, but the link to the Introduction doesn't seem to be working.

26
by Danny Tuccitto :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 1:08am

Yeah, no doubt that this entire exercise is limited by the deficiencies of AV. But, as you say, it spits out lists that pass the smell test despite that limitation.

Also, fixed the intro link, which (conveniently) makes the point I just articulated about using AV here: "It's the worst measure of value across football positions and NFL eras ... except for all the others."

27
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 1:36am

Keep in mind, relative position value itself has fluctuated remarkably since 1970.

28
by Danny Tuccitto :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 1:51am

...which (by brevity, not sure if you're pointing this out because of reading Part 1 or just stating a personal observation) is the main improvement of my model over the multitude of previous ones.

30
by Hank (not verified) :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 3:56pm

It's a tough argument, because you get into the intangibles of re-signing. If a team drafts a guy and gets 4 great years out him, then he goes somewhere else, is that a better draft pick than someone that is maybe a slight tick less, but stays with the team twice as long?

31
by tappertrainman (not verified) :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 8:37pm

As a San Diego Chargers fan (very little bias), I'd definitely put Brady above Davis, if only for the fact that Brady is still playing. How much longer does he have, 3-4 years given his age and current health history? Those extra years of production, even at a league-average level, would surely push his value above TD.

32
by Ferguson1015 :: Sat, 04/27/2013 - 8:03am

Does that list of worst picks by VAE take into account the fact that San Diego traded up for the honor of drafting Ryan Leaf? Or that they lost a perennial probowler in Eric Metcalf?
I still think Leaf is easily the worst draft pick of all time.

34
by Danny Tuccitto :: Sun, 04/28/2013 - 12:18am

That's fine. A vote for Leaf, it is.

33
by Usernaim (not verified) :: Sat, 04/27/2013 - 9:16am

Kinda stunned that Carter doesn't get an asterisk for blowing out his knee as a rookie. That wasn't a bad pick, like Bruce or Russell, just an ill-fated one. He looked good, and even after was at least a replacement level runner. There was no reason to think he was injury-prone. Jamarcus Russell was a bad pick whose production didn't justify his draft position and whose character flaws should have been discovered pre-draft. I don't remember the circumstances around Bruce's draft.

35
by Danny Tuccitto :: Sun, 04/28/2013 - 12:20am

No argument from me. A vote contra Carter, it is. So sounds like you're for Russell as absolute worst. Where do you put him against Akili Smith and Ryan Leaf?

36
by Jerry :: Sun, 04/28/2013 - 1:37am

I agree with Usernaim about Carter. In the aggregate, like evaluating franchises, we can assume that injury luck evens out over time, and we can ignore individual cases. For single picks, though, we want to differentiate between guys who were just bad players (or even had pre-existing medical problems) and those whose "failure" was the result of an unforeseeable injury.

39
by Bobman :: Mon, 04/29/2013 - 2:32pm

Wait, then... don't TWO blown knees give Emtman sort of an exclusion from the list? He had a pretty good half-season before the first one. The second one came early in season 2 IIRC, and after that he was just a guy. Looking at a list with Schlichter, I can't imagine them being remotely close in terms of being a bad pick.

Wait, wait, in 1994 the Colts had two first rounders--picked Faulk at #2 and Trev Alberts at #5. Yes, the LB who admitted afterwards that he had lied about injuries during college and so was damaged goods even before his career began (and it ended after three injury-plagued seasons). He started just 7 of the 29 games in which he appeared (worse numbers than Emtman). Now THAT was a bad pick.

49
by Theo :: Fri, 06/28/2013 - 4:44pm

Maybe it wasn't a 'bad pick' but the ROI was an apple and an egg.

37
by JimZipCode :: Mon, 04/29/2013 - 8:50am

I think Patrick Willis' inclusion on the lists above, and Ray Lewis' exclusion, point out a flaw with the CarAV / year metric. Lewis in his peak years was not less valuable or productive than Willis; and Lewis was drafted 15 picks later in the first round (#26 vs #11). One would expect Lewis to show up higher than Willis in any ranking of draft value.

I think the problem is, Lewis's career dragged on and on. Late in his career he was not adding much to the numerator of the AV / year metric, but he was increasing the denominator. That drags down his stat; but it does not in real life make him LESS valuable.

Methodological flaw. Players who hang on and contribute at a lower level for years at the end of their careers, will be systematically devalued vs guys who retire near the top of the game, like Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Robert Smith etc.

40
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 04/29/2013 - 7:28pm

Lewis could have retired years ago. It's his fault, not the methodology's, that he doesn't rate as high.

To be fair, though, perhaps the analysis should separate retired players from active players.

41
by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 04/29/2013 - 8:40pm

"Lewis could have retired years ago. It's his fault, not the methodology's, that he doesn't rate as high."

I don't understand this point. It's Ray Lewis's fault that he continued being a productive player into his late 30's while playing on top 5 defenses (save last year when he only played 6 games)?

43
by Intropy :: Mon, 04/29/2013 - 11:46pm

If he was productive then his rate stats weren't hurt to severely. If his play was poor enough to severely hurt his rate stats then he wasn't all that productive. I do get the point that you can start being average and not actively be harming your team by playing. Lewis had a few reputation years there at the end. I don't really like looking purely at rate or at counting for these sorts of things. Maybe something best five years out of a contiguous seven year block would capture it.

48
by MC2 :: Sat, 05/04/2013 - 10:44am

If his play was poor enough to severely hurt his rate stats then he wasn't all that productive.

This isn't necessarily true. To use a simple example from a different sport, if Ty Cobb had hung around for another 5 years, hitting .320 each year, he would have still been very productive, but his career batting average would have plummeted.

44
by LionInAZ :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 12:13am

Well, obviously I don't blame him for wanting to play longer, but neither should he get a break for years played well past his prime. Bad years count just as much as good years.

I do think that it's probably bad to compare retired players to active players in their prime.

45
by Arkaein :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 11:54am

A simpler solution would be to just look at Career AV instead of average per-season AV.

Personally, I think that a player who puts up a very good average AV over a 10 year career is more valuable than a player who puts up a great AV for half as long. Even a player who never rises above the level of "solid starter" can be a great draft pick if he has an especially long career, because he frees up later draft picks to be used to address other positions.

42
by andrew :: Mon, 04/29/2013 - 11:30pm

I'm glad I can count on your support for Chuck Foreman in the Hall of Fame. (no, seriously, he played a big role in developing the west coast offence, kind of a forerunner (no pun intended))...

46
by Weeb Ewbank (not verified) :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 4:14pm

I like a methodology where David Woodley is the 2nd-greatest post-merger QB steal behind Tom Brady because he was so bad he lost his starting job after going to the Super Bowl and was out of the NFL shortly thereafter, and a guy like Steve Emtman is penalized for continuing to play football after two blown out knees. If Emtman would have retired after his rookie year, he would have been "better" than had he continued playing. It seems like this exercise is based on a player's sense of timing than anything of merit.

The whole ROI list seems to be a list of randomly-generated players. Mark Lomas was the 10th best ROI pick in post-merger history...the same Mark Lomas who played defensive line for 5 years without distinction on some terrible Jet defenses from 1970-1974. How does Lomas rate a better career than Richard Dent, who was picked later in the draft than Lomas. I don't really understand any of this.

47
by nuclearbdgr :: Fri, 05/03/2013 - 7:57pm

I realize Donald Driver probably didn't put up huge AV numbers, but he did pretty well for a seventh round pick best known coming out of college for his high jumping skill.

50
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