Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

03 Nov 2007

More Than One Way To The Top Of The Mountain

ESPN's Len Pasquerelli looks at the very different approaches to roster construction taken by the Colts and Patriots. The Colts are almost entirely home grown, while the Patriots have shown much greater willingness to acquire veteran talent from other teams. It should probably be noted at some point that roster construction of any sort is a whole lot easier when you've got a franchise quarterback sitting on the roster, but Bengals fans are probably in no mood to hear it.

Posted by: Sean McCormick on 03 Nov 2007

15 comments, Last at 06 Nov 2007, 4:52pm by dryheat


by Vern (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 4:01pm

I would add that the systems are ideally suited to the schemes that they run.

The Colts Tampa-2 relies on speed and asking players to do just "one thing" well. That's perfect for young fresh speedy players without much experience right out of the draft.

The Pats 3-4 requires extremely well disciplined Veteran LBs who can read and react to almost any play situation. Even Bruschi couldn't start for a good 5 years in the system. So there's not a lot of value in keeping young LBs on the roster until they learn it. Better to just grab vets.

Meanwhile both systems have relied almost exclusively on the draft for OL and DL players.

by Catfish (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 4:41pm

I think the biggest similarity between the two teams is that whether they are getting players through the draft or free agency, they are getting good players. It doesn't matter whether you follow a Colts or Pats style roster construction philosophy if you don't have good talent evaluation.

by PatsSF (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 5:06pm

Ouch. I usually think that Pasquarelli is a good writer, but this article wasn't thought through.
The entire offensive and defensive lines of the Pats are homegrown, as is the entire TE corps (save Kyle Brady). Then there are Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson, Kevin Faulk, Tedy Bruschi, and, of course, Tom Brady.
That's not even considering players who have left: Daniel Graham, Ty Law, Deion Branch.
The only place where P's argument really works is at LB.

by Don Booza (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 5:37pm

#4. I'm not sure how you can disagree with facts. As the article states, 20 of the Pats 53 man roster have played for another team. In contrast, only 3 of the Colts 53 man roster have played for another team.

by Temo (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 6:04pm

It's 23/53 for the pats, and 9/53 for the colts, according to the article. 3/22 for colt starters, 9/22 for pat starters.

by Dom (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 6:30pm

Pasquerelli makes a valid point but he over-emphasises it. Most decent NFL teams are quite happy to wait for draft picks to develop without starting. The Colts are perhaps forced to do it more than most, but the Patriots are certainly willing to take their time with players (apart from at linebacker, seemingly) as are other well-run teams like the Eagles and Ravens. In fact I would argue that as far as team structure goes, the most similar thing between the Colts and the Patriots (apart from the superstar quarterbacks, obviously) is their success with drafting.

by Don Booza (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 6:47pm

#5, Not exactly. Read the article carefully and you will see that my numbers are correct. The key is "played" for another team. 3 Colts and 20 Pats. The numbers you cite are players who were drafted and/or signed by another team.

by James, London (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 8:42pm

Both approaches are better than the recent Miami one. You know, the "sign terrible free-agents and piss away draft picks" approach.

by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 9:39pm

all good things come to end someday. Pates and Colts can have their fun now, but it over next yr

by MarkV (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 11:51pm

I think P misses the key relationship, which is recognising the difference between system players and good players, and reacting accordingly. Both of the Pats and Colts, as well as the Eagles, Steelers, and Broncos (offense only) retain a stable coaching presence and philosophy that allows players to develop as necessary for the system. For example, all of the above teams use almost entirely homegrown/bargin bin talent for both lines, and in all cases it results in developing, over time, substantially superior players at those positons.

That there can and are different approaches to the "speed" positions (my word for skill positions + secondary + linebackers) is obviously true and well discussed.

by blacksuit (not verified) :: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 4:19am

Cost effectiveness is the most important thing for these teams. It's all about seeking out undervalued assets. The best example of this is what the Patriots did with Randy Moss: pay very little, and get the most productive receiver in football.

The Colts do it through the draft. You get starter production at a rookie salary. You run a schematically simple defense that younger players can learn. Sure, you have some highly paid veterans, but they're not overpaid relative to their value.

New England takes it a step further in free agency: they're so successful, they can get veteran players for less money.

The limiting factor is the salary cap. One way to be a good team is to get the most value out of that limited resource, and the Colts and Patriots do this effectively. The draft is important, but it's an indirect way of getting at this much more important value principle.

by starzero (not verified) :: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 2:16pm

colts fans freaked out when the team let marshall faulk go and picked up edgerrin james. they wept when the team let james go and drafted this no-name running back. even last season when rhodes left, fans were nervous about addai going it alone. it says a lot that the team can pick high-quality running backs in the draft, ride them to their peaks, then replace them with another draft pick and not lose a step. is this a common nfl situation, or do the colts have something special working for them?

by Pete (not verified) :: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 10:11pm

Both teams do well at getting the most from their players. I remember Bellicheck saying that their system tried to pay B-caliber players at C-caliber play and they had coaches who were able to get B+ or A- performance from them.

Indianapolis does well on defense trying to defend the pass. With so much potential on offense this is probably a good choice (how often is Indianapolis down by 14 or 17+ points?).

As far as Running Backs, most running backs have a very short career. They rarely are able to perform as quickly at 30+ like they did on their first contract (22-27 years old). The RB's take a beating that can slow them down a step or two. RB's who are used more judiciously (fewer than 250-300 touches) can sometimes last longer.

by MarkB (not verified) :: Mon, 11/05/2007 - 4:55pm

One difference may be that the Pats have been willing to cut loose players they drafted. Think Deion Branch and Bethel Johnson, for different reasons. It's not like the Pats trade draft choices for veterans. They seem to draft linemen to develop, and are willing to go out and get players at other positions. And remember guys like Stephen Neal - they drafted him, and basically taught him the game. They had Daniel Graham - home cooking - and lost him to free agency. They didn't "build their team" by free agency, but they were willing to go that way when necessary.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 4:52pm

And remember guys like Stephen Neal - they drafted him, and basically taught him the game.

Neal was undrafted, and I believe the Eagles were the first team to sign him.