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 The Myth of building in the trenches 
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Post The Myth of building in the trenches
Recently there's been a lot of criticism on this board over the last draft.

The FO didn't spend enough picks on the lines. They didn't "build through the trenches" and everybody knows that's the surefire way to success, right? That's why Millen was such a failure, right? He didn't spend enough draft picks on lineman. The successful teams? They knew the importance of drafting lineman, and they did, unlike Millen.

...Or so the story goes. I decided to take this widespread belief and put it to the test. (I designed the methodology before I even consulted the data, so don't try to accuse me of changing the parameters to make the data fit.)

The methodology: I started from the 2001 draft--Millen's first. Knowing that it takes, on average, approximately three years for a draft class to truly impact a team, I stopped at the 2006 draft. Even though Millen pulled the strings on the 2008 draft, it would be unfair to add that into the data, considering that the players from that draft have not fully had a chance to impact the team and its record.

So, I looked at drafts 2001-2006 and football seasons 2003-2008 (a three year shift).

I selected six teams. The three worst teams over that span, and the three best (by winning %). The three worst: Lions, 49ers, and Raiders. The three best: Patriots, Colts, and Steelers.

I created a point system. I would give 3 points for every draft pick spent on a lineman in the first round; 2 points for every draft pick spent on a lineman in the second or third round; 1 point for every lineman selected in the fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh rounds.

Next, I went through every draft of each team over that six year span. I compiled the point totals for each team. Here's what I found:

Patriots 29
Steelers 28
Raiders 26
49ers 25
Lions 20
Colts 20

When I compiled the points, I gave the Patriots and the Steelers credit for outside linebackers. This gives them one extra line position to be drafting for, and therefore their point totals should be higher. (They would have 10 line positions, as opposed to the other teams which would only have 9) To adjust for this, I reduce their point totals by 10%, resulting in point values as follows:

Patriots 26.1
Raiders 26
Steelers 25.2
49ers 25
Lions 20
Colts 20

Myth busted?

The Raiders have devoted nearly as many draft resources to "the trenches" as the Patriots. Ditto for the Lions and Colts. Yet the teams resulting success couldn't be more different.

It's not that the successful teams spend more picks on lineman, its the the fact that the lineman they take actually become good players. Easy example: In 2001, Millen took Jeff Backus in the first round. He traded his second round pick away to the Patriots. The Patriots used that pick to draft Matt Light. Who proved to be the better tackle?

Honestly, I don't know how many times it needs to be said: It's not what positions you draft, its which players.


May 8th, 2009, 4:57 am
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Post Re: The Myth of building in the trenches
Blueskies wrote:
Honestly, I don't know how many times it needs to be said: It's not what positions you draft, its which players.

I think it's also the situation those players arrive in.

Had Light been drafted by the Lions and Backus by the Patriots, I reckon there's a good chance their reputations would be vastly different to what they are now.


May 8th, 2009, 6:29 am
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Actually, I believe that Seattle beat us out in the Backus draft by taking Steve Hutchinson who I really wanted. But I think both we highly rated. Still...I have a hard time because when the Lions draft or pick up FA for the OL they often get guys labelled as good "tacticians". Hutchinson was called a "Mauler" and non of the guys Millen drafted were ever considered that. To me that is a big difference...a key ingrediant to me is that they have to be intense, that way even if they are not the best OLmen they will fight like hell to get there. Backus seems like the Pilsbury doughboy to me.

Anyways, interesting post and well thought out. I posted something similar in another thread outlining the starting linemen for some of the best teams over the last few years and the starting lines draft positions and the vast majority of teams didn't even have a 1st rounder on the line. Many of them were comprised of 4th-6th rounders and I don't think there were any 1st round tackles in that list at all. I will see if I can dig it up...I am NOT looking it up again cause it took awhile. But I do this every year or too when this debate occurs and the top teams always show the large majority of their starters are 3rd round to undrafted FA's.

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May 8th, 2009, 8:56 am
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Nice post! You successfully showed that drafting line doesn't equal success without bashing the need to have a great line.

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May 8th, 2009, 9:53 am
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No, I don't consider the myth busted. Not in any way shape or form. What it proves is that the Lions (I could give a rats asz about the other teams) have NOT drafted linemen as often as two of the three successful teams in the league.

YOU CAN'T DEVELOP WHAT YOU DON'T HAVE!!

Just because the Lions haven't done a good job developing what little they have gotten is no reason to dismiss the importance of selecting linemen higher in the draft.

No one has ever said that coaching and development is not an integral part of the teams success. Interesting that the successful teams have had consistency and longevity at the HC but the teams that had the worst records have not. Could it be that despite taking these linemen the reason these teams sucked is because the coaches reached for players in the draft, or just flat out couldn't coach them?

The Lions have taken only 9 offensive linemen, total, since 2001 in the draft. That's 9 out of 72 picks. Are you going to tell me that is sufficient for addressing line needs? Out of those nine picks, only three were taken as part of first day (round three or above) picks (Backus, Raiola, Cherilus). Sorry, but that is NOT addressing line needs.

On defense the Lions have taken only 11 defensive linemen since 2001, none in the first round. Out of 72 picks over nine drafts the Lions have taken only 11 d-linemen. In that same time, they've taken 13 linebackers, who account for less positions on the field. They've taken 12 players in the secondary. They've taken 9 receivers (four in the first round) and 4 tight ends. That's 13 players total for what amounts to three positions on the field in a base offense. They've likewise taken thirteen backs (QBs, RBs, FBs) over that same period of time, devoting three first round picks to those skill positions.

So, the Lions have taken a total of 20 linemen out of 72 picks in these nine drafts, accounting for slightly less than 27.77% of their picks. Yet, with 9 linemen being among your 22 starters, that comes to 40.9% of your total starting players.

Of the 31 first day (round three or above) picks the Lions have had in that time frame, only 8 were spent on linemen, three on offense, five on defense, or roughly 25.8%....you wanna tell me they are addressing their needs?

40.9% of your starters are linemen
27.8% of your picks in nine drafts were spent on linemen
25.8% of your premium picks were spent on linemen.

That is ALL that needs to be said. The Lions have not addressed their line needs, and it is one of the BIGGEST reasons for their continued rotten product they put on the field. The only other reason that comes close is the fact that the coaching and scheme changes allow for no consistency and in depth development of talent. The Colts, Steelers and Patriots have had the same offensive and defensive schemes for over a decade.


May 8th, 2009, 11:07 am
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I think though that the 'buidl in the trenches' at this point is cliche. There is not one protoype that is successful but many. As in there is not just one way to lose...the Lions for example have explored many different methods of futility.

I will agree the Lions need to make a larger investment in the line for sure. But I will always protest against spending a super high 1st round pick on a tackle when even the most successful teams rarely have a 1st round left tackle. The offensive line more than any other position or role is about people gelling as a unit and much less than any one individuals talent. To me it is also one of the most difficult positions to judge the best from the rest of the crowd and therefor many of the high profile draftees get nod's to pro bowls than likely less well known more deserving linemen. How often have teams signed an big name offensive linemen during free agency and they never perform as expected...likely because they were part of a successful unit more than their individual dominance.

Find the best teams and you will not find the highest drafted oline that's a fact that I have shown on a year in and year out basis.

BUT...yes...I have suggested in the past that the Lions pick up a skilled position or dominant dlinemen in the first round and go out and take the best linemen available with the remainder of their picks. The fact is the Lions HAVE 2 1st rounders (most teams have 0), a 2nd rounder, a 3rd rounder and an undrafted FA for their line. That is on average higher than I remember any of the best teams picks that I can think of. So IMO as the conclusion of the original post the quality of pick definately matters.

I would prefer the higher volume of picks spent there until we have a solid line...but in the later rounds.

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May 8th, 2009, 12:56 pm
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m2karateman wrote:
No, I don't consider the myth busted. Not in any way shape or form. What it proves is that the Lions (I could give a rats asz about the other teams) have NOT drafted linemen as often as two of the three successful teams in the league.

YOU CAN'T DEVELOP WHAT YOU DON'T HAVE!!

Just because the Lions haven't done a good job developing what little they have gotten is no reason to dismiss the importance of selecting linemen higher in the draft.

No one has ever said that coaching and development is not an integral part of the teams success. Interesting that the successful teams have had consistency and longevity at the HC but the teams that had the worst records have not. Could it be that despite taking these linemen the reason these teams sucked is because the coaches reached for players in the draft, or just flat out couldn't coach them?

The Lions have taken only 9 offensive linemen, total, since 2001 in the draft. That's 9 out of 72 picks. Are you going to tell me that is sufficient for addressing line needs? Out of those nine picks, only three were taken as part of first day (round three or above) picks (Backus, Raiola, Cherilus). Sorry, but that is NOT addressing line needs.

On defense the Lions have taken only 11 defensive linemen since 2001, none in the first round. Out of 72 picks over nine drafts the Lions have taken only 11 d-linemen. In that same time, they've taken 13 linebackers, who account for less positions on the field. They've taken 12 players in the secondary. They've taken 9 receivers (four in the first round) and 4 tight ends. That's 13 players total for what amounts to three positions on the field in a base offense. They've likewise taken thirteen backs (QBs, RBs, FBs) over that same period of time, devoting three first round picks to those skill positions.

So, the Lions have taken a total of 20 linemen out of 72 picks in these nine drafts, accounting for slightly less than 27.77% of their picks. Yet, with 9 linemen being among your 22 starters, that comes to 40.9% of your total starting players.

Of the 31 first day (round three or above) picks the Lions have had in that time frame, only 8 were spent on linemen, three on offense, five on defense, or roughly 25.8%....you wanna tell me they are addressing their needs?

40.9% of your starters are linemen
27.8% of your picks in nine drafts were spent on linemen
25.8% of your premium picks were spent on linemen.

That is ALL that needs to be said. The Lions have not addressed their line needs, and it is one of the BIGGEST reasons for their continued rotten product they put on the field. The only other reason that comes close is the fact that the coaching and scheme changes allow for no consistency and in depth development of talent. The Colts, Steelers and Patriots have had the same offensive and defensive schemes for over a decade.


You missed the point.

Even though the Lions failed to draft many lineman, as I myself pointed out, that can't be the reason for their failure as a team.

Why? Because the Colts, who--in that time--won the SB and dominated the league with numerous 12 win seasons, drafted just as few lineman.

On the other hand, the Raiders, who have been almost as bad as the Lions, drafted plenty of lineman--just as many as the Patriots.

So, what it comes down to is that team success is independent of lineman drafted. Obviously, if you never draft lineman you'll never win, but you can't tell me that the good teams draft lots of lineman and the bad teams don't, because it isn't true.

As for the coaching thing: its an interesting avenue to explore, but irrelevant to the current argument. Its also kind of chicken and egg--you can't keep a bad coach around, but you don't want to fire him because you'll lose continuity.


May 8th, 2009, 3:00 pm
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Well you also have to take in account that a team with a quality O-line already in place isn't likely to go out and draft O-line players early in the draft. The Raiders are a team that hasn't succeeded with their draft picks because they are a poorly run organization and have blown through O-line coaches like baby goes through diapers. There is no one way to build a team but data and stats have to be looked at from all angles. The Lions failed to draft any quality O-line help early on because Mil len was hell bent on having Backus be the guy as well as Raiola. They also failed continuously in trying to fill holes with overpaid FA acquistions. A major flaw of the last regime was that he was to stubborn to admit his draft picks were not quality players and thus failed to not just replace them but he also retained their services and gave them new contracts.


May 8th, 2009, 5:20 pm
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Well done! If it was easy as just drafting every dick, joe, and harry who weighed over 300 pounds, you could pick up guys like Calvin Johnson and Matt Ryan in the 7th round! Offensive and defensive linemen have real value, but yes, it is possible to overstate their importance.

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May 8th, 2009, 10:58 pm
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sweetd20 wrote:
Well you also have to take in account that a team with a quality O-line already in place isn't likely to go out and draft O-line players early in the draft. The Raiders are a team that hasn't succeeded with their draft picks because they are a poorly run organization and have blown through O-line coaches like baby goes through diapers. There is no one way to build a team but data and stats have to be looked at from all angles. The Lions failed to draft any quality O-line help early on because Mil len was hell bent on having Backus be the guy as well as Raiola. They also failed continuously in trying to fill holes with overpaid FA acquistions. A major flaw of the last regime was that he was to stubborn to admit his draft picks were not quality players and thus failed to not just replace them but he also retained their services and gave them new contracts.


Exactly. Just because one continuously good team like the Colts hasn't drafted more linemen than the Lions, doesn't mean that building from the trenches isn't a good idea.

Do you honestly feel that what we have on our offensive line is sufficient to protect our QB and open up holes for our RB? Do you honestly think our current crop of DTs are sufficient, or that our current group of DEs will get to the QB? If you feel that any of those are acceptable, then I don't know what to tell you.

Indy has a HOF QB, first of all, for their offense, which helps. Without Manning I doubt the Colts have the success they do. Secondly, they have struck gold with first Tarik Glenn, and now Tony Ugoh. They have found and developed good linemen for their offense. They have maintained that same offense for over a decade. That all helps. On the other side of the ball, they have one of the most prolific pass rushers in Dwight Freeney, and were able to get a solid DE in Robert Mathis in I believe the fifth round. Knowing that they have a weakness at DT, they took not one but two to fill their needs in this past draft.

Just because two other organizations out of 32 teams have taken a decent amount of offensive linemen in the draft and they haven't panned out makes no difference. Those are two franchises who have poor draft records overall, and one is run by an insane old man (Al Davis), sort of like the Lions are. The lack of continuity in their schemes and at the head coach position have as much to do with their problems as anything else. Same goes for the Lions.

NOBODY said that it is only the lines that are the problem. HOWEVER, this current front office continually spoke of needing to address the lines, stating that it was their intention to fix this roster by building the lines first. They did not do that, and they had the opportunity to in the draft. That's all that needs to be said.


May 9th, 2009, 4:46 pm
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Post building in the trenches... No Myth at all!
Blueskies wrote:
The Myth of building in the trenches.



Thanks for your effort but this has proved nothing.

If I'm ever the GM of the Lions (or any team) I'm rebuilding the team from the lines out. I've got to much evidence and common sense that says that's the best way to do it.

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May 10th, 2009, 8:14 am
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I think this does prove something. It proves that just because your team drafts through "the trenches" doesn't mean that your team will be successful. The point is not that the Colts don't need offensive linemen, but that teams like the Raiders, 49ers, etc. drafted lots of the big uglies and are still awful.

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May 10th, 2009, 11:07 am
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Strawberries&Chocolat wrote:
I think this does prove something. It proves that just because your team drafts through "the trenches" doesn't mean that your team will be successful. The point is not that the Colts don't need offensive linemen, but that teams like the Raiders, 49ers, etc. drafted lots of the big uglies and are still awful.


It ONLY proves that the Raiders and 49ers don't draft well. It has nothing to do with the fact of whether or not the Lions should be drafting more linemen than what they are.

I have already shown that the Lions draft WELL below, in matters of percentages, the number of linemen we have as starters. 41% of the positions we start are linemen (9 of 22). The Lions, since 2001, have drafted only linemen only 28% of the time in that period. And can you HONESTLY tell me that we didn't have needs to fill at those positions during that time? No, you cannot. Even more so, of the third round and above picks we had in that time, we used them on linemen only 26% of the time.

You keep on alluding to the Colts. Interestingly enough, you ignore the fact that the Steelers and Patriots, who have won MULTIPLE Super Bowls since then, have a better rate of drafting linemen than the Lions. Why do you not bring that up? Interesting how you choose to force your point based on one team whose done well, and two teams that haven't. Poor sample size.


May 10th, 2009, 1:10 pm
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Quote:
Do you honestly feel that what we have on our offensive line is sufficient to protect our QB and open up holes for our RB? Do you honestly think our current crop of DTs are sufficient, or that our current group of DEs will get to the QB? If you feel that any of those are acceptable, then I don't know what to tell you.


That wasn't what I was getting at....

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they have struck gold with first Tarik Glenn, and now Tony Ugoh. They have found and developed good linemen for their offense.


Now you're starting to see it. While the Lions draft Jeff Backus and Stocker McDougle the Colts draft Glenn and Ugoh...

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On the other side of the ball, they have one of the most prolific pass rushers in Dwight Freeney, and were able to get a solid DE in Robert Mathis in I believe the fifth round.


Continuing the trend, the Colts take Freeny and Mathis--the Lions take IAF and Kalimba Edwards.

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It ONLY proves that the Raiders and 49ers don't draft well. It has nothing to do with the fact of whether or not the Lions should be drafting more linemen than what they are.


What it proves is: it doesn't MATTER how many lineman you draft, if you're a poorly drafting team. You could take ALL lineman, and your trenches would still probably suck, because your FO sucks at drafting.

The original post was an attempt to destroy the myth that the reason the Lions have failed as an organization was that they did not draft enough lineman over the last 8 years.

It's not that they didn't draft enough, its that the guys they drafted sucked.

If Backus had turned into a HoFer, and Raiola went to multiple pro bowls, and all the guards they took in the 5th round had actually panned out; and Sean Cody was actually a good DT and Kalimba Edwards got double digit sacks--then NONE of you would ever say they needed to draft more lineman.

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You keep on alluding to the Colts. Interestingly enough, you ignore the fact that the Steelers and Patriots, who have won MULTIPLE Super Bowls since then, have a better rate of drafting linemen than the Lions. Why do you not bring that up?


Well, Oakland has taken MORE lineman than the Steelers. I think that's all I need to say.

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Poor sample size.


Not really, 6 teams is 18.75% of the league--almost a full 1/5. That's a large enough sample.

And I only took the top three and the bottom three because those teams have been unquestionably successful/horrendous. Other teams records swing up and down every year, and the data becomes murky.


May 10th, 2009, 1:31 pm
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M2K,

I'm not sure what you think I'm saying. Blueskies and I are not saying linemen aren't important, that you shouldn't draft them, or the Lions have had great drafts picking wide receivers/safeties/etc. rather than tackles. He is just busting the myth that if all you do is "draft linemen" you're going to necessarily build a good team, which is quite simply not true.

As far as your concerns about "sample size" here is an excellent take on the same issue by Pro-Football-Reference.

Quote:
Do good teams really build along the lines?
Posted by JKL on Friday, April 24, 2009
If you hang around team message boards or websites or listen to talk radio this time of year, you will hear lots of discussion and debate about who teams should take. Inevitably (at least it seems to me), somebody will make some comment about how good teams build along the lines, or build from the inside out, or how teams that know what they are doing draft the big uglies. The quarterbacks, wide receivers, flashy defensive backs, these guys are risky! Take the offensive lineman, he’s a safe pick, someone will call in and say, that’s what a good franchise would do.

The problem is, I can’t find any substantial evidence to support such a view. Plenty of anecdotal cases come to mind to counter those who point out that the Lions were idiots for spending first round picks on wide receivers. Namely, that same organization also is the last one (and only one I can find since 1978) to draft three offensive tackles in the first round in three straight years, from 1999-2001, and Aaron Gibson, Stockar McDougal and Jeff Backus didn’t exactly set the Lions up for success. People also think of the Steelers as doing it the right way. In the last 15 years, they’ve actually taken more pass catchers than the Lions in the first round, with four wide receivers and two tight ends.

But those are just isolated examples that come to mind. I thought I would sit down and do a study to see how good and bad teams did draft in the first round, and determine if there were any differences in where they focused. I’ll start by saying this is far from a perfect study (as with most) as it entails arbitrarily, though I hope logically, defining good and bad teams in a way that can be used to create useful categories with large sample sizes. We also know that while first round picks are important, they do not solely decide who is good and bad over a period of time. As Doug wrote about here, there are generally somewhere between 4 to 5 originally drafted first round picks starting for a team at a given time–which leaves most of the starters coming outside round one. Also, sometimes good teams draft bad players, and bad teams draft good players.

Still, acknowledging all that, I plowed forward.


I focused on three types of teams, which I will call the “Good”, the “Bad”, and the “Up & Comers”. All of these types of teams were determined by looking at five year (or more) periods for each franchise.

I’ll start with the UP & COMERS. These were teams that for any given five-year period, must have losing seasons in both years 1 and 2. Then, in years 3-5, must have either (a) 10 or more wins in two different seasons, or (b) a winning season every year. Starting in 1976 (I selected this year so that year 3 for these teams coincided with the start of the 16-game schedule), thirty franchises qualified, and with five seasons each, that adds up to 150 team seasons for my UP & COMERS. Most of these teams would correspond with general conceptions of breakout teams that turned really good, as 19 of the 30 franchises reached a Super Bowl either by the end of the UP & COMER five year period, or soon after with the key players who were drafted in that period.

The next two categories, GOOD and BAD, are roughly mirror opposites. GOOD teams, for any given five year period, must have at least four winning seasons and no more than 10 losses in the fifth, and at least a .500 record in any consecutive two year period within that five years. GOOD teams could extend beyond five years so long as they kept meeting those requirements. For example, San Fransisco, after qualifying as an UP & COMER team from 1979-1983, remained a GOOD team under this classification from 1984-1997. If you’ll notice, I didn’t include 1998 even though San Fransisco had a winning season. This is because I removed seasons that would otherwise qualify as GOOD at the end that were either right before the team lost 11+ games, or two seasons before the team had consecutive non-winning seasons. This is because I didn’t want to include draft picks right before the collapse or drop-off.

As I said, BAD teams are just the opposite–at least 4 of 5 losing seasons, no more than 10 wins in the other, and no better than .500 in any two consecutive seasons. Again, I did not include years at the end, right before teams became good, if it was immediately before an 11+ win season or consecutive non-losing years.

You may notice that my UP & COMERS could overlap with BAD teams, such as Tampa Bay becoming good in the late 1990’s after over a decade of futility. My priority rule is that I calculated the UP & COMERS first. Thus, starting in 1995 (when they happened to draft both Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in the first round) Tampa Bay was an Up & Comer, even though the first playoff season occurred in 1997. From 1982-1994, though, Tampa was counted as BAD. If there was an overlap with an UP & COMER team, the GOOD/BAD team had to have four other qualifying seasons to be included in the list.

Here’s the list of all teams and years for each category:

THE UP & COMERS:
1976-1980 Philadelphia Eagles
1977-1981 Buffalo Bills
1978-1982 Cincinnati Bengals
1979-1983 San Fransisco 49ers
1981-1985 Chicago Bears
1981-1985 Los Angeles Rams
1982-1986 New York Giants
1983-1987 New York Jets
1984-1988 Minnesota Vikings
1984-1988 New Orleans Saints
1985-1989 Philadelphia Eagles
1985-1989 Houston Oilers
1986-1990 Buffalo Bills
1987-1991 Kansas City Chiefs
1988-1992 Dallas Cowboys
1989-1993 Detroit Lions
1990-1994 Green Bay Packers
1990-1994 San Diego Chargers
1992-1996 New England Patriots
1995-1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1996-2000 Saint Louis Rams
1997-2001 Baltimore Ravens
1997-2001 Indianapolis Colts
1997-2001 Philadelphia Eagles
1998-2002 Pittsburgh Steelers
1999-2003 San Fransisco 49ers
2001-2005 Carolina Panthers
2002-2006 Chicago Bears
2003-2007 New York Giants
2004-2008 Tennessee Titans

THE BAD TEAMS
1976-1979 Green Bay Packers
1976-1978 Kansas City Chiefs
1976-1983 New Orleans Saints
1976-1980 New York Giants
1977-1980 Saint Louis Cardinals
1978-1985 Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts
1981-1984 Houston Oilers
1982-1985 Buffalo Bills
1982-1994 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1983-1994 Atlanta Falcons
1983-1988 Detroit Lions
1985-2005 Saint Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals
1986-1989 San Diego Chargers
1986-1989 Green Bay Packers
1988-1991 New England Patriots
1989-1992 Cleveland Browns
1990-2001 Cincinnati Bengals
1990-1995 Los Angeles/Saint Louis Rams
1991-1995 Seattle Seahawks
1993-1997 New Orleans Saints
1996-1999 Chicago Bears
1997-2000 Carolina Panthers
1997-2001 San Diego Chargers
2000-2006 Detroit Lions
2000-2003 Jacksonville Jaguars
1999-2006 Cleveland Browns
2002-2005 Houston Texans
2003-2006 Buffalo Bills
2003-2006 Oakland Raiders
2004-2006 San Fransisco 49ers

THE GOOD TEAMS
1976-1984 Dallas Cowboys
1976-1989 Denver Broncos
1976-1979 Houston Oilers
1976-1979 Los Angeles Rams
1976-1980 Minnesota Vikings
1976-1980 New England Patriots
1976-1985 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
1976-1983 Pittsburgh Steelers
1977-1986 Miami Dolphins
1977-1981 San Diego Chargers
1981-1991 Washington Redskins
1983-1987 New England Patriots
1983-1988 Seattle Seahawks
1984-1997 San Fransisco 49ers
1985-1988 Cleveland Browns
1986-1990 Chicago Bears
1989-1996 Pittsburgh Steelers
1990-2003 Miami Dolphins
1990-1994 Los Angeles Raiders
1991-1996 Buffalo Bills
1992-1998 Kansas City Chiefs
1992-1999 Minnesota Vikings
1993-1998 Dallas Cowboys
1995-2003 Green Bay Packers
1996-2007 Denver Broncos
1997-2002 New York Jets
1999-2002 Tennessee Titans
2001-2008 New England Patriots
2001-2006 Seattle Seahawks
2002-2008 Indianapolis Colts
2002-2006 Philadelphia Eagles
2004-2008 Pittsburgh Steelers

In total, we have 229 GOOD seasons, 173 BAD seasons, and 150 UP&COMING seasons since 1976. In each group below, I list the number of players drafted in the first round at each position, along with the percent of total first round draft picks for that position. In an effort to distinguish how good the teams were at drafting each position, I also include the number of pro bowlers at each position.

THE BAD TEAMS

=================================================
OFFENSE Drafted Pro Bowlers Pct Draft
QB 20 5 0.103
RB 26 12 0.133
WR 22 8 0.113
TE 6 1 0.031
OT 25 8 0.128
OG/C 9 4 0.046
DEFENSE
DE 29 8 0.149
DT 14 5 0.072
LB 19 5 0.097
DB 23 9 0.118
K/P 2 0 0.010
TOTAL 195 65
=================================================
First lesson, don’t use a first round pick on a kicker or punter. Moving on from that, most of those numbers won’t mean much until we compare them to the UP & COMERS and the GOOD teams. You might notice that our 173 BAD teams had a total of 195 first round picks, so there was a tendency to actually have multiple first round picks, we’ll compare that to the other two types.

Here are the UP & COMERS:

=================================================
OFFENSE Drafted Pro Bowlers Pct Draft
QB 12 8 0.078
RB 27 11 0.175
WR 17 8 0.110
TE 2 2 0.013
OT 12 7 0.078
OG/C 10 4 0.065
DEFENSE
DE 21 5 0.136
DT 14 8 0.091
LB 17 10 0.110
DB 22 6 0.143
K/P 0 0 0.000
TOTAL 154 69
=================================================
. . . And the GOOD TEAMS:

=================================================
OFFENSE Drafted Pro Bowlers Pct Draft
QB 14 8 0.067
RB 28 9 0.133
WR 20 8 0.095
TE 13 4 0.062
OT 18 6 0.086
OG/C 17 8 0.081
DEFENSE
DE 23 8 0.110
DT 19 8 0.090
LB 23 6 0.110
DB 35 15 0.167
K/P 0 0 0.000
TOTAL 210 80
=================================================
Now it’s time to put those three categories side by side. My goal was to compare bad teams who continued to stay bad to two different types of teams. The first are bad teams who become really good, and the second are good teams that continue to stay good (like the bad teams stay bad). As I said earlier, it is not perfect. LaDainian Tomlinson shows up in the final year of BAD San Diego, as the Chargers didn’t make a leap until 2004. Bruce Smith (1985) and Jim Kelly (1983) are part of Bad Buffalo, as they broke out in year 4 for Smith and 6 years after Kelly was drafted (though only three years after he actually joined the team). For the most part, though, you can see why the UP & COMERS became good. Take the Colts from 1997-2001, who added Tarik Glenn, Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne during those years. The Chargers first qualified in 1990, the year that they drafted Junior Seau. How about them Cowboys? Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, and Emmitt Smith. The 1989 Lions-Barry Sanders. Here’s a complete breakdown of the pro bowler percentage for each position, among the GOOD, the BAD, and the UP & COMERS:

GOOD BAD UP&COMER
===================================================
QB 0.571 0.250 0.667
RB 0.321 0.462 0.407
WR 0.400 0.364 0.471
TE 0.308 0.167 1.000
OT 0.333 0.320 0.583
OG/C 0.471 0.444 0.400

DE 0.348 0.276 0.238
DT 0.421 0.357 0.571
LB 0.261 0.263 0.588
DB 0.429 0.391 0.273
===================================================
Where are the differences? Well, clearly and not surprisingly, at Quarterback, both GOOD and UP & COMERS posted their highest hit rate while the BAD teams struggled. Other than quarterback though, the differences are slight between GOOD and BAD teams when looking at the hit rates at each position. Lots of good running backs have toiled for BAD teams. When comparing the BAD teams with the UP & COMERS who went from bad to good, we see that in addition to QB, the hit rates at WR, OT, DT, and LB are much higher. Additionally, these teams are different in how they accumulate first round picks. This shows the average number of first round picks per team, along with the total number of teams with no first, or multiple firsts.

Average No First Multiple Firsts
GOOD 0.92 38 13
BAD 1.15 17 30
UP & COMER 1.03 17 19
Now lets compare the allocation of draft picks by position for each group.

GOOD BAD UP&COMER
===================================================
QB 0.067 0.103 0.078
RB 0.133 0.133 0.175
WR 0.095 0.113 0.110
TE 0.062 0.031 0.013
OT 0.086 0.128 0.078
OG/C 0.081 0.046 0.065

DE 0.110 0.149 0.136
DT 0.090 0.072 0.091
LB 0.110 0.097 0.110
DB 0.167 0.118 0.143
K/P 0.000 0.010 0.000
===================================================
Bad Teams usually lack a quarterback, and we see that they spent a higher percentage of picks at that position. But it wasn’t the position with the largest difference–that distinction goes to offensive tackle. Let’s group those positions a little more, into offensive skill, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs, and linemen and others in general.

GOOD BAD UP&COMER
===================================================
QB 0.067 0.103 0.078
OFF Skill 0.290 0.277 0.299
OFF Line 0.167 0.174 0.143
DEF Line 0.200 0.221 0.227
Linebacker 0.110 0.097 0.110
DEF Back 0.167 0.118 0.143

Non-line 0.634 0.595 0.630
Linemen 0.367 0.395 0.370
===================================================
Now, to be clear, I don’t believe that drafting offensive tackles causes teams to be bad. Teams draft for need, and if you have issues along the lines, particular at the offensive tackle positions, you are going to try to address it. If you don’t have issues on the lines, you are free to look elsewhere. The numbers above are close, but as I’ve defined the GOOD, BAD, and UP & COMERS, the GOOD teams and the UP & COMERS (who are a version of bad teams who became good) actually drafted slightly fewer big guys.

The above was an attempt to look at how different levels of successful teams drafted. But I also tried to look at it other ways. What if we actually look at teams that spent a lot of first round picks on linemen in a short period of time? I found every team starting in 1976 that drafted four linemen (offensive and/or defensive line) in the first round in a span of five years or less. There were actually 32 such occasions, with Houston 2005-2008 being the most recent qualifier. I then looked at how those teams did in the five years following the drafting of the final lineman of the four, figuring if focusing on the big guys is a winning strategy, we should see the effects in the five years after the four first round linemen have all joined the team. So, for example, the Atlanta Falcons drafted DT Mike Pitts in 1983, DE Rick Bryan in 1984, G Bill Fralic in 1985, and DT Tony Casillas in 1986. So we start their five year window in 1986 and go until 1990. I did that for every “draft lots of linemen” team, looking at overall record and how far they advanced in the playoffs over those next five seasons. Now, some of them haven’t finished the five year period yet, but we have 151 team-seasons with our “draft lots of linemen” teams. Here’s how they did versus an average randomly selected team:

win pct playoffs ch game sb app sb win
=========================================================================
Line Heavy 0.516 0.444 0.106 0.033 0.000
Random 0.500 0.388 0.136 0.068 0.034
=========================================================================So on the one hand, they won slightly more games than the average team over the next five years, and made more playoff appearances. However, alot of those appearances were by 9-7 or 10-6 teams that entered as wildcards and lost early, so the “linemen heavy” teams underperformed in reaching championship games and the Super Bowl. None of the 151 seasons produced a Super Bowl Champion, with easily the best incarnation of a line heavy team being the recent Patriots teams that drafted four linemen ending in 2005. The five Super Bowl appearances were by 2007 New England, 1996 New England, 1985 New England, 1988 Cincinnati, and 1981 Cincinnati.

Now, I suspect that when most people talk about building a good team, they mean making Super Bowls. There is a little evidence that a line-heavy drafting philosophy in the first round leads to a few more wildcard appearances, but the best teams of the last thirty years, and the turnaround teams, have generally not built heavier than normal along the lines in the first round of the draft. Will good teams actually start building around the lines in the future? I don’t know. But I predict the chances of some talking head spouting it as fact over the weekend are high.


http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=2123

_________________
Alphonso Smith for Dan Gronkowski? Epic fail, McDaniels.


May 10th, 2009, 1:56 pm
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