Mega-post: Visual Positional Rankings and Flawed Draft Logic

My goal for today was to apply the same type of analysis I posted on Friday to each major position group, illustrating the prospects tiers in each one.  I have, indeed, done that and will post it below.  However, I also feel compelled to address an article I saw today on Philly.com by Phil Sheridan; so you’re actually getting two posts in one.  If you don’t care about the Sheridan piece, please scroll past it and go right to the positional breakdown, since it’s among the most important draft posts that I’ve done.

The Article

Here it is. In general, I have no problem with Sheridan and don’t mean to pick on someone simply voicing their opinion.  With this article, though, Sheridan PERFECTLY encapsulates the type of conventional “fan-think” and flawed draft strategy that I hate.

The column is titled “Eagles better off keeping the fourth overall pick”.  Now the title itself is not an issue, since there are definitely reasons to keep the pick.  The reasoning, however, is unfortunate.

“With their highest pick since taking Donovan McNabb No. 2 overall in 1999, the Eagles need an impact player. If new head coach Chip Kelly is going to build a championship team, he is going to need some championship players. The fourth pick of this draft is the best place to start.”

The Eagles need an impact player (a few in fact); I couldn’t agree more.  It’s important to note, though, that NEEDING something does not have any effect on it being available.

“If Roseman and his revamped staff can’t identify a Pro Bowl-caliber player from the hundreds available this week, the Eagles have a bigger problem than a single draft bust.”

This is perhaps the worst line of all, and it seems to exemplify what a lot of others are thinking.  The logic goes:

Howie’s job is to evaluate players (with his FO team).  If he can’t accurately identify an “elite” player at #4, he’s not doing his job and therefore doesn’t deserve it.

The flaw in this logic?  What if there aren’t any pro-bowlers in the draft?  It’s unlikely, and I don’t believe that’s the case this year, but it’s possible.  Again, simply wishing for an elite player does not make him appear.  More importantly, what if there are SEVERAL pro-bowl caliber players available at #4?

Here, Sheridan seems to completely ignore the notion of VALUE, which is, of course, the key to the entire draft process.  In essence, you want to get players you LOVE at the LOWEST POSSIBLE PICK.  Focusing on the first part (players you love) and forgetting the second part is a recipe for disaster (I’ll get to that in a second).

“The Eagles haven’t drafted a defensive Pro Bowler since Trent Cole in 2005. Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendrick, and Brandon Graham may get there, but their chances will be increased exponentially by adding a great player to the mix.” (I added the bold emphasis.)

I’ll just leave that one for you and move on.

“The experts would have torn their meticulously styled hair out if someone had taken Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson with the fourth pick of their respective drafts. But those picks would have looked visionary right now.”

WRONG.

First, the fact that each player lasted so long means taking them in the first round, let alone with the #4 overall pick, would have been TERRIBLE VALUE.

Seattle chose Wilson with the 75th overall pick (their 3rd rounder).  In the first round, the team selected Bruce Irvin, and while that was a “reach” at the time, Irvin went on to collect 8 sacks last season.  With their 2nd round pick, the Seahawks selected Bobby Wagner (MLB).  All he did as a rookie was collect 140 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 interceptions.  ProFootball Focus rated Wagner as the 2nd best inside linebacker in the entire league last year.

So let’s recap:  In hindsight, Seattle could have chosen Russell Wilson with the 15th overall pick and been relatively happy with that selection.  However, they would have given up Bruce Irvin and his 8 sacks as a rookie.  OR, the team could have selected Wilson with the 47th overall pick and been very happy with that selection.  However, they would have given up Bobby Wagner, one of the best young linebackers in the game.

In reality, the Seahawks chose Wilson in the third round, and is ECSTATIC, since the team was able to use its earlier picks on two potential building blocks for the defense.

Safe to say Seattle likes the way that turned out.

There’s a relatively pervasive strand of draft reasoning that says: “be confident in your board and take the guys you love, regardless of where that is.”  Sheridan seems to be advocating that here with his “visionary” comment and when he later says “Target your guy and make a bold move to get him.”  Those types of picks let you pat yourself on the back and feel good about “getting your guy”, but often end in disaster.

This is what happens when you ignore value:

Tyson Alualu, Tim Tebow, Darius Heyward-Bey, Matt Jones, etc…

Yes, there are a few cases that worked out, but they’re heavily outnumbered by the legends you see represented above.

Sorry, Phil, you’re way off.

 

Positional Breakdown

Now back to the prospects.  If you haven’t yet read Friday’s post, please do so, since it’s the basis for what I’m showing you today.  To recap, I’ve taken the three major scouting ratings (Scouts Inc., NFP, and NFL.com) and averaged them together to get a consensus score for each player.  I then calculated the standard deviation for each player and used that to create a corresponding value range (+- 1 SD).  Overall, I believe this provides a much more informative “draft board” than simply listing prospects sequentially.  While every team assigns each player a specific grade, they must also recognize that certain players have a better chance of reaching those grades than others.  These charts are an attempt to quantify and visualize that logic.

Two notes before I get to the charts: On friday I sorted each graph by average rating. I’ve changed that and am now sorting by the Upside score.  The theory here is that when a player is drafted, it’s likely to be by a team that has a relatively high grade on him.  Therefore, sorting by “high” should provide a better prediction of actual draft order.  Second, ESPN has some conflicting ratings depending on which page you load. I’ve updated a few of the ratings based on noticed differences, so you may see a few small changes in player ratings/ranges from Friday’s post.

Lets start with the CBs:Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 11.25.08 AM

We can see why Dee Milliner is the consensus #1 CB.  He’s clearly in his own tier, with both a higher expected value than anyone else and a lower range (less uncertainty).  After him, the guy to pay attention to is DJ Hayden, who seems to be rising up draft boards.  Mike Mayock actually has him ranked above Dee Milliner.  This chart shows that Hayden does indeed have the talent to become one of the best CBs in this class.  However, it also shows that he carries a lot of risk as well.  For my money, I’d rather have Jamar Taylor or Xavier Rhodes.  Giving up very little upside for A LOT less downside.

Now DEs:Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 11.29.13 AM

Note that the DE/OLB breakdown is difficult since there are several players who could go either way (Mingo for example could definitely be an OLB).  I’ve defaulted to whichever position a player is listed as by ESPN.

Here we can see that the top tier of DEs is composed of 3 players, Ansah, Mingo, and Werner, with little difference between them and a big drop-off after them.  Tank Carradine sticks out as the best option after the first tier, but he carries some injury risk that isn’t represented here.

OLBs:

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 11.32.51 AM

 

Similar to the CBs, we see a clear top tier of just one prospect (Dion Jordan).  The talent falls off relatively quickly after Jordan, which is something to keep an eye on in the draft.  If the Eagles really want an OLB, it might be best to take Jordan (if he’s there) at #4, since the options after him are lacking.

DTs:

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 11.35.34 AM

 

I’m a big fan of Star Lotulelei; I think his versatility and skill-set make him a great fit for the Eagles.  However, this chart is a pretty clear case for NOT taking him at #4.  The drop-off in DT talent is not nearly as severe as we saw in the OLBs or CBs, suggesting the team could slide down or wait until round 2 and still grab a DT with a lot of talent.  Five players here have “upsides” that crack 90, illustrating the very strong depth of this DT class.

The OTs:

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 11.39.06 AM

 

The chart confirms Joeckel and Fisher as perhaps the best players in the draft (on an absolute basis).  However, it also shows that there is reasonable depth behind them at the OT position.  I’ve mentioned him a few times, but Menelik Watson looks like he’ll be a great value at the end of the first round or beginning of the second.  He doesn’t crack the 90 point mark, but the scouts are very confident that he’ll be a good (not great) player.

The QBs:

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 11.43.18 AM

 

This is a particularly informative chart, as it clearly shows the risk associated with each QB.  Nassib is clearly the boom/bust player of the class, though EJ Manuel also carries in incredibly large range of potential values.  Tyler WIlson is the “least risky” QB, in that he offers the narrowest range, but he also does not show the potential upside that most teams are looking for in a starting QB.

Some team will take the plunge on Nassib and Manuel, but I wouldn’t touch them in the 1st round with a ten-foot pole.  Even at #35 overall, I’d probably pass.

The Safeties:

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 11.47.25 AM

 

This is a position of interest for Eagles fans, since the team is in desperate need of some talent at safety.  This is, potentially, a very deep class.  Notice, though, that many of the players carry a LOT of uncertainty.  At this moment, my only concrete “want” for the draft is for the Eagles to come out of it with one of the top guys here.  Cyprien would be my choice, and I think it’s possible the Eagles trade up into the end of the 1st round to get him.  The team could wait on either Elam or Swearinger, but each is a risky play.  Conversely, the team could almost definitely sit at #35 and select Eric Reid, but he doesn’t offer the potential upside I (and most fans) would like to see with that valuable a draft pick.

Lastly, the WRs:

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 11.51.57 AM

 

Not much to say here, other than there aren’t any clear gaps in the group.  That means if you want a receiver, you’ll be able to find one almost anywhere in the first three rounds without “reaching”.  Not a lot of high-level talent (only 3 players break 90, and one just barely), but lots of solid prospects.

That’s all folks. Congratulations and thank you to whomever stuck with this post for all 1800+words.  I’m going to post the positional charts separately under their own page, similar to what I’ve done with the PVM rankings.  That way you can easily refer to them during and after the draft.

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3 thoughts on “Mega-post: Visual Positional Rankings and Flawed Draft Logic

    • Good call. Definitely an example of the perils of ignoring value in the name of “getting your guy”.

      On Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 9:14 PM, Eagles Rewind

  1. I find it absolutely ludicrous that Hankins is rated so low by so many people. He’s one of the hardest working guys in the draft and yet most of the media seem to have mistaken his lack of endurance for a lack of effort. Once he gets into an NFL conditioning program and loses some of the excess weight he carries in his gut and butt, I think he’ll emerge as the best DT to come from this draft class.

    Likewise, I can’t help but feel the hype around Star is media driven. He’s a good player, but has a questionable commitment to the game (he “quit football…because he questioned his passion for the sport” per http://www.nfl.com/draft/2013/profiles/star-lotulelei?id=2539329 ). He’s not a guy that I’ve got any faith in sustaining the level of performance he’s shown up until now and if someone picks him high, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see his name added to the same lists as Vernon Gholston a few years from now.

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