NFL Draft History: Judging Draft Success By the Numbers

Jeff Zelevansky

Using some serious math, Football Outsiders has found that the Packers have been one of the best-drafting franchises in the NFL since the merger.

As Green Bay Packers fans, we tend to think that our team drafts well. We in general believe in Ted Thompson, and believed in Ron Wolf before him. (And we'll just not talk about that Mike Sherman period in between, thanks.) Obviously, before Wolf's arrival there were some very lean years in Green Bay, but there was still talent on the roster. But how can one really define whether one franchise drafts better than another?

The folks at Football Outsiders decided to give that a shot and posted an article this morning showing the "Historical Draft Efficiency" of each NFL franchise. This analysis makes heavy use of the Approximate Value rating from Pro Football Reference in determining an "expected" value for each draft position and adjusting each draftee's career relative to that expectation.

When looking on a team-by-team basis over nearly 40 years of drafts, most franchises will find themselves overall close to the break-even point; they tend to end up getting about the expected value from their draftees. However, a few franchises show substantial value above expectation (or VAE, as FO calls it), and return on investment (ROI), which together measure the total and relative values that teams get above or below what you expect from their picks.

Coming in at a strong third place on both metrics are the Green Bay Packers. They have a total VAE of 48.1; put another way, 48 is the Approximate Value of the career of a Mike Alstott. A few very good seasons, maybe not a superstar, but still solid. In essence, the Packers have drafted one Mike Alstott better than they should have given the picks that they have had in nearly 40 years. It doesn't seem like a lot, but when you think of all the hits and misses that balance out, it's pretty good.

The number one team in VAE, the Pittsburgh Steelers, have a total of 82.8. For comparison's sake, that's roughy one Jason Witten.

Perhaps a better measure is the ROI value, which illustrates in percentage form the value that a team drafts. The Packers again come in third with a +8.1%. In other words, they Packers get about 8% more value from their draft picks than the average team would. That helps put it in a little better perspective.

The article does note that draft success isn't necessarily an exact predictor of overall record success, but it at least shows a trend. Though the Packers are third in both draft measurements, they had the 10th-best winning percentage between 1970 and 2007. So while the draft success does not always translate directly into wins, you can bet that if your organization drafts and develops players who exceed the league average for your draft position, you'll more than likely be winning a lot of football games.

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