I'm just going to put it right out there - the conclusion of this article is not going to surprise anyone.
Still, we've had a few instances this year where a statistical study validates things we think we know, and today we have another one for you. This time, it's the Green Bay Packers' success at drafting players at the offensive "skill positions*," defined as the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.
* I put that term in quotes because, in my opinion, it takes no less skill to play offensive line than receiver. If it were up to me, I would call these "ball-handling players."
For an example, think about the excellent track record that the Packers have in drafting wide receivers over the past decade. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb were all second-round draft picks, while James Jones was a third-rounder. Every one of the first three has been to at least one Pro Bowl, and Jones had some very good years of his own as a complementary piece.
At running back, the Packers got a great deal of value out of a sixth-round pick in James Starks, and Eddie Lacy has been more than worth his second-round draft price from two years ago.
Oh, and there's that Aaron Rodgers guy, picked 24th overall. That worked out okay.
That's the anecdotal stuff, though. How about some hard numbers to back it up?
The study breaking this down comes from NumberFire, who looked at the value of the draft picks used on players at the aforementioned "skill positions" since 2000, ranking the teams one through 32 according to the classic "Jimmy Johnson draft pick value chart." They compared that ranking to the ranking of each team's draft class based on their "Net Expected Points" (NEP) statistic, which accounts for the overall production of each player to the offense.
Based on the difference between those metrics, the Packers' draft picks have "outperformed" their draft value more than all but one other NFL team since 2000 - that team being the New England Patriots. Since 2000 was the cutoff year, Tom Brady's selection that season in the sixth round of the NFL Draft was included, driving them up to the top of the board.
NumberFire also broke down the analysis by position. The Packers rank in the top 5 at three of the four positions, only missing the cut at tight end. Rodgers helped the Packers finish third among all teams in drafting quarterbacks. At running back, the Packers have invested fewer draft capital than all but two other teams, but still rank in the top half of the NFL in production.
Receiver is where it gets interesting. The Packers actually rank 13th in the highest amount of draft resources put towards the position. However, they are 4th in NEP, meaning that they have hit remarkably well on those selections.
Overall, the Packers' use of draft resources on these "skill positions" is low, with just the 25th-most draft value in the NFL since 2000. This makes sense, as the Packers have been one of the few teams that is consistently in the playoffs every year and traditionally holds first-round picks in the mid-20s or later. However, they have the second-most NEP from those positions, a difference of 23 spots. That difference is one unit less than that of the Patriots, who ranked 28th and 4th respectively.
What does this mean? In short, Ted Thompson does an excellent job at finding good value in his offensive draft picks, and the coaching staff excels at developing those players into valuable contributors. Furthermore, since the team actually holds on to most of its key contributors rather than letting them get away in free agency, the Packers see more of the NEP that their draft picks contribute than most other teams.
Draft and develop? We know it works for Ted, but here's yet another data point that clearly illustrates it.