As you all know, in the last few weeks we've really started to get the draft talk in full swing. We've had a few discussions about how to draft, the quality of our front office's talent evaluation, etc..., and its got me thinking about how good teams draft. Are there patterns? Do they spend a lot of picks at one position? Are they able to find talent consistently in the later rounds? So I decided to break down the 2004-2006 drafts of consistently good teams, and compare them to ours. I chose 2004-2006, because I consider these players to be the core of your team. You should know by season 5 or 6 that you have an elite player, and after 3 you should know that you have at least a starter/quality player.
I seperated the players into two categories: 1. Elite players, and 2. Starters/Quality contributors. Here's where the extremely unscientific part comes in: Its mostly based on my own judgment. I think it safe to say however, that as a starter on a consistently exceptional team, you definitely have something to offer any club. For example, I included Nick Kaczur for the Patriots. I consider him to be a marginal starter at best, but he would be an exceptional player in a reserve role. I will leave out a few players that technically are stil on the rosters, but I buried in the depth chart. Also note that this does not take into account undrafted FAs. I don't really have time to factor them all in, but it should be noted that some of these find a lot of talent on the rookie FA wire (the Colts for example, are exceptional at this).
I also threw in some percentages regarding quality picks (only picks that are still on the team) per draft and overall.
Anyways, enough of my yapping-
Basically I looked at eight teams, the four teams in the championship games this year (Cards, Eagles, Steelers and Ravens) and four more teams who have been consistently successful over the last five years or so (Patriots, Giants, Colts and Chargers).
Steelers: 7 starters or elite players, 25 drafted total (28%)
Elite: Ben Roethlisberger- 1/04
Starters: Heath Miller- 1/05, Santonio Holmes- 1/06, Max Starks- 3/04, Bryant McFadden- 2/05. Chris Kemoeatu- 6/05, Willie Colon- 4/06
Yearly: 2004- 2/8 (25%), 2005- 3/8 (37.5%), 2006- 2/9 (22.2%)
Ravens: 6/24 (25%)
Elite: Haloti Ngata- 1/06
Starters: Chris Chester- 2/05, Mark Clayton- 1/05, Jason Brown- 4/05, Adam Terry- 2/05, Dawan Landry- 5/06
Yearly: 2004- 0/7 (0%), 2005- 3/7 (42.9%), 2006- 3/10 (30%)
Cardinals: 6/21 (28.6%)
Elite: Larry Fitzgerald- 1/04, Darnell Dockett- 3/04
Starters: Karlos Dansby- 2/04, Antrell Rolle- 1/05, Deuce Lutui- 2/06, Antonio Smith- 5/04
Yearly: 2004- 4/7 (57.1%), 2005- 1/7 (14.3%), 2006- 1/7 (14.3%)
Eagles: 6/29 (20.7%)
Elite: Shawn Andrews- 1/04, Trent Cole- 5/05, Brodrick Bunkley- 1/06
Starters: Mike Patterson- 1/05, Todd Herremans- 4/05, Chris Gocong- 3/06
Yearly: 2004- 1/10 (10%), 2005- 3/11 (27.3%), 2006- 2/8 (25%)
Patriots: 7/25 (28%)
Elite: Vince Wilfork- 1/04, Logan Mankins- 1/05
Starters: Ellis Hobbs- 3/05, Ben Watson- 1/04, Matt Cassell- 7/05, James Sanders- 4/05, Nick Kaczur- 3/05
Yearly: 2004- 2/8 (25%), 2005- 5/7 (71.4%), 2006- 0/10 (0%)
Colts: 7/26 (26.9%)
Elite: Bob Sanders- 2/04
Starters: Joseph Addai- 1/06, Marlin Jackson- 1/05, Kelvin Hayden- 2/05, Freddie Keiaho- 3/06, Charlie Johnson- 6/06, Antoine Bethea 6/06
Yearly: 2004- 1/9 (11%), 2005- 2/10 (20%), 4/7 (57.1%)
Chargers: 12/26 (46.2%)
Elite: Philip Rivers- 1/04, Shawne Merriman- 1/05, Antonio Cromartie- 1/06
Starters: Igor Olshansky- 2/04, Nick Hardwick- 3/04, Shaun Phillips- 4/04, Luis Castillo- 1/05, Vincent Jackson- 2/05, Darren Sproles- 4/05, Marcus McNeil- 2/06, Tim Dobbins- 5/06, Jeromey Clary- 6/06
Yearly: 2004- 4/11 (36.4%), 2005- 4/7 (57.1%), 2006- 4/8 (50%)
Giants: 7/18 (38.9%)
Elite: Chris Snee- 2/04, Justin Tuck- 3/05
Starters: Eli Manning 1/04, Brandon Jacobs- 4/05, Corey Webster- 2/05, Mathias Kiwanuka- 1/06, Barry Cofield- 4/06
Yearly: 2004- 2/7 (28.6%), 2005- 3/4 (75%), 2006- 2/7 (28.6%)
Bills: 5/21 (23.8%)
Starters: Lee Evans- 1/04, Donte Whitner- 1/06, Kyle Williams- 5/06, Brad Butler- 5/06, Duke Preston- 4/05
Yearly: 2004- 1/6 (16.6%), 2005- 1/6 (16.6%), 2006- 3/9 (33.3%)
A Disclaimer: I know most folks will take issue with Preston being on this list. I don't think he's a high quality player either. However, I'm sure there some other players who are listed above who aren't particularly good either, but I haven't watched them play enough to know it. So just to be safe I listed players who started a majority of the games at their position this year on the basis of their play on the field. I left Simpson off due his (repeated) benching during the year. I almost put Ellison on, but his promotion wasn't due to his outplaying Crowell, but rather Crowell's bizarre surgery drama.
Conclusions: First, the obvious: The Bills drafts under Donahoe in the middle of the decade were abysmal. We have only 4 of the 12 players drafted on 2004 and 2005 still on the roster: Evans, Losman, Parrish, and Preston. Losman is certainly gone this year, and conceivably, so is Preston. Which means we would have a good WR and a good PR to show for two entire drafts. The Chargers unearthed twice as many each year as we found over that two year stretch (just in the draft obviously).
Secondly, also somewhat obvious: The Bills have been terrible at unearthing elite talent, and this is generally due to the poor job we do at the top of the draft. If you look through above, while many teams have found contributors and even very good players in the later rounds, a majority of the elite players are first rounders.
Third. These teams are excellent at drafting for the O and D lines. Of the 58 players listed, 29 play on the lines (compared to 9 total between RB, WR and TE). They combined to draft 73 in that time frame, which means that they hit on a lineman roughly 2 out of every 5 times. The Bills have hit on 3 of 9, or 2 of 9 if Preston is removed. Either way, we hit below their average; between 1 of 5 and 1 of 3.
The Good News: By far the best year of the three I examined was the first year under the Jauron/Levy/Modrak regime. We got two very good values for the O and D lines with Butler and Williams. We have at least a solid talent (if well below expectation) in Whitner and potential from Youboty. We can even throw in some good special teams play and a solid backup with Ellison.
Overall, the above teams averaged finding 2-3 higher quality players per draft. We seem to have accomplished that in 2006, and signs are good that 2007 may be the same (Lynch, Poz, and TE). While we have missed at the top of the draft in the past, we appear to have certainly hit with Lynch (although I don't consider him elite yet), and McKelvin has shown flashes. Only time will tell.
Ok, I'm exhausted. Was this at all helpful? Pointless? Feel free to weigh in.