View Full Version : WSJ: Snap-by-snap analysis of NFL drafts between 1997 and 2004

El Minion
04-27-2009, 06:47 PM
Via FO: (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/extra-points/2009/snap-judgments-nfl)
Reed Albergotti's article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal reveals an interesting tidbit about the drafting ability of NFL teams, thanks to a study from Cornell professor Michael Fry that incorporates a statistical holy grail: player participation data.
(Full disclosure: I spoke with Albergotti regarding the piece more than once before it was published, although the content we discussed does not appear in the article.)
Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 27 Apr 2009

Snap Judgments in the NFL (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124053397118950941.html)
Top Teams Take Multiple Approaches to the Draft; the Ellis Island Method

When it comes to the NFL Draft, which takes place this weekend, the Indianapolis Colts are exceptionally good at picking productive players, while the Cleveland Browns are not. The Baltimore Ravens have made the best picks in the first round since 1997, but over the full seven rounds, nobody's better than the Arizona Cardinals.

And here's a bit of a surprise: Some of the NFL's best teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, haven't distinguished themselves at all in the draft.

Conclusions are based on a comprehensive study of the results of eight NFL drafts between 1997 and 2004 conducted for The Wall Street Journal by Michael Fry, an operations-management professor at Cornell University. Unlike most attempts to "grade" the drafting abilities of NFL teams -- which rely on simple measures for players like games started or years played -- Mr. Fry used a more sophisticated metric: How many plays each draftee was on the field for in his first five seasons.

This snap-by-snap data, which is generally available only to NFL teams, can be used to rank the league's 32 teams in terms of the overall "snap percentage" of the players they've drafted. If a player was on the field for 450 of his team's 1,000 offensive or defensive plays in each of the past five seasons, for example, he would have a snap percentage of 45%. By combining these figures for every player each team drafted over eight years and comparing them to leaguewide averages by position and draft round, Mr. Fry's study revealed a fascinating divide in the NFL. (See the full chart here. (http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/st_NFLDRAFT_20090423.html))

Some of the league's winningest teams, like the Colts, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, ranked near the top -- a signal that good drafts are an integral part of their approach to team-building. But for many others, including recent Super Bowl winners like the Steelers, New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished near the bottom, show that for some teams, a mediocre draft is no impediment to greatness.

Overall, the results suggest that there are four methods of building a winning NFL team -- and that only two of them require teams to dominate in the draft room. Here they are:

1. Draft and Coddle
Of all the teams that finished near the top of the draft rankings, the Colts have been the winningest in recent years. The draft is clearly an element of their success: It finished No. 8 in the NFL last season in the number of homegrown players on its roster. The team then anchors its roster by signing a few of its best players, like quarterback Peyton Manning, to long-term deals and surrounding them with a few key free agents.

When it comes to draft picks, Colts general manager Bill Polian says he uses three separate statistical models to determine how the team's draft picks are contributing. And contribute they must. "They play early and they play often," he says.

2. The Long Haul
Between 1997 and 2004, the Arizona Cardinals' draft picks have played a higher percentage of all possible snaps than those of any other team. last season they ranked No. 9 in the NFL in the number of homegrown players on the roster.

In some ways, this is nothing to brag about. For most of those years the Cardinals were lousy. (Mr. Fry's study showed that playing a lot of draft picks right away actually makes a team more likely to lose.) Last season, however, all those years of drafting players and letting them play together finally yielded success. After adding a few relatively inexpensive free agents like quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Edgerrin James, the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl.

3. The Best of the Rest:
The Pittsburgh Steelers, who have won the Super Bowl twice in recent years, are not exceptionally adept at drafting players who see a lot of snaps. Their players rank No. 27 on Mr. Fry's ranking.

But a closer look shows that the Steelers are one of the best teams in the NFL in another area: Scooping up talented players who weren't drafted at all. Players like linebacker James Harrison, who helped anchor the team's Super-Bowl winning defense, came to the team as collegiate free agents. The Steelers ranked No. 10 last season in the number of undrafted players on its roster. By finding these gems -- and locking up a few great draftees, like wide receiver Hines Ward, the Steelers have maintained a dominant profile.

4. The Ellis Island Method
The New England Patriots, who rank No. 21 on our list, have succeeded by another method. Rather than relying on draft picks, they've prospered by picking up unrestricted free agents form the league's dustbins. Players like running back Corey Dillon, who came from Cincinnati looking for a second chance, have helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls.

Write to Reed Albergotti at reed.albergotti@wsj.com

Arizona 59.76 45.88 31.34
Atlanta 58.87 45.24 29.07
Baltimore 70.25 46.97 31.13
Buffalo 58.87 45.51 26.63
Carolina 65.2 49.11 28.43
Chicago 41.4 45.16 29.16
Cincinnati 51.43 45.05 27.95
Cleveland 61.21 49.63 29.98
Dallas 75.38 48.45 32.01
Denver 57.64 34.15 22.66
Detroit 53.34 45.85 28.05
Green Bay 44.09 35.77 24.85
Houston 67.67 42.47 26.38
Indianapolis 64.79 47.4 34.83
Jacksonville 56.35 51.19 26.94
Kansas City 53.59 31.95 21.7
Miami 51.1 40.42 24.88
Minnesota 51.56 36.1 23.5
New England 60.2 44.54 27.44
New Orelans 64.34 45.98 25.99
New York Giants 58.24 46.5 28.8
New York Jets 59.94 46.21 28.61
Oakland 54.38 43.01 25.66
Philadelphia 55.02 42.1 28.43
Pittsburgh 66.63 42.13 24.13
San Diego 67.98 51.99 29.19
San Francisco 47.34 41.99 27.92
Seattle 51.55 41.89 25.24
St. Louis 54.47 46.02 28.03
Tampa Bay 55.5 39.9 19.66
Tennessee 47.75 41.4 26.92
Washington 73.87 58.91 31.4