Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Evaluating the Draft: The 33-33-33 Rule

When it comes time to evaluate drafts, they are often placed into categories of “hits” and “misses”. In fact, there’s been quite a bit of chatter lately as both the media and pundits in the Packer Blogosphere prepare for this weekend’s draft.

The following is a framework for evaluation of draft picks based on an idea once mentioned to me by Patty over PackerChatters, a former scout and draft expert. I’ve tried to take her 33-33-33 idea and flesh it out a bit.

The basic premise comes from the usual notion that your draft picks must either “hit” or “miss”, and the biggest target lately has been Packer linebacker AJ Hawk, a former first round draft pick that hasn’t lived up to his lofty expectations, which is leading some to declare him a bust.

The 33-33-33 Rule is fairly simple. On average, 33% of all your draft picks live up to expectations, 33% are able to fill a lesser role on your team, and 33% will simply bust. So, with every pick you make, they have a 33% chance of living up to their expectations.

But it is that word…expectations…that is ultimately important. Certainly, we’ve all heard that a draft is successful if you can come out with 2-3 solid players from it, regardless of draft position. But in evaluating a pick, you have to look at what expectations that player had based on where they were drafted. Hawk has an extraordinarily large microscope on him, because he was drafted fifth overall in 2006, an expectation that tends to be synonymous with words like “Pro Bowl” and “All Pro” in this amount of time.

Let’s say we draft a player who ends up becoming a serviceable backup and a special teams’ ace: for argument’s sake, a player like Wil Blackmon. Had Blackmon been drafted in the first round, we would be declaring him a bust, because he didn’t live up to the expectations of a first round pick. But had Blackmon been a seventh rounder, we’d probably be pretty happy with the success of that pick, because most of us don’t expect seventh-rounders to be contributors at all, unless we get lucky.

As it turns out, Blackmon was a 4th round draft pick, which puts him almost right in the middle of both of those expectations, and naturally, right in the middle of those assessments. Is Blackmon considered a “hit” as a 4th round pick? Many of us would likely say he isn’t, but he isn’t a failure either.

Had he been drafted even a round ahead, in the third round, we’d probably be more skeptical of his worth. And if he had been drafted a round behind, in the fifth, we’d be more likely to say we got some decent value for the pick.

This table is a general look at the decreasing expectations as you go down the rounds, and how the 33-33-33 Rule tends to follow.

A lot depends on how you want to define the expectations for each round you draft a player in. Obviously, this fluctuates as you go through the round (you may put more of a onus on a 5th overall pick that the 20th overall pick), but I would imagine that we all expect our first rounders to at least become solid starters someday.

First Rounders:
Minimal Expectations: To become a solid starter within a year or two
Reasonable Goal: To be a Pro Bowl player in a few years

Second Rounders:
Minimal Expectations: To develop into at least a serviceable starter in a couple years
Reasonable Goal: A Pro Bowl caliber player after a few years

Third Rounders:
Minimal Expectation: To compete for a starting job within a few years
Reasonable Goal: To excel as a starter after a few years

Fourth Rounders:
Minimal Expectations:To provide quality depth, solid backup
Reasonable Goal: To become a solid starter

Fifth Rounders:
Minimal Expectations: To provide quality depth, serviceable backup
Reasonable Goal: To become a serviceable starter

Sixth Rounders:
Minimal Expectations: To become a special team player, quality depth
Reasonable Goal: To become a solid backup

Seventh Rounder:
Minimal Expectations: To provide special teams depth
Reasonable Goal: To become a solid backup

Now, your definitions of success may differ from mine, and mine essentially came from the top of my head. The point is, though, that we place expectations on players taken at different times, and they can succeed or fail at varying levels.

To illustrate the 33-33-33 effect, I took a look at all the first round picks from 1995 through 2005. I chose these years as 1995 was the first year with 32 teams drafting, and 2005 as it was the last year before Ted Thompson started drafting for the Packers (and most of those picks haven’t had a chance to fully prove their worth yet).

While I know this is a flawed measurement, its as good as any other without going through each and individual player taken over that time span and examining their entire career (and when TundraVision makes me enough coin to hire a crack research staff, I’ll get right on that). However, for now, I will simply look at players taken in the first round that made a Pro Bowl during their career.

I know that is flawed, because Javon Walker will be on the Pro Bowl list, while Nick Barnett is not. However, I’m looking for general patterns here.

First Rounders that made a Pro Bowl

1995: 13
1996: 15
1997: 10
1998: 9
1999: 13
2000: 13
2001: 15
2002: 9
2003: 11
2004: 14
2005: 7

This comes out to an average of 11.7 players out of 32 that end up making a Pro Bowl, meaning about 36% of players taken in the first round end up reaching, to some level, the lofty expectations we set for them.

That’s not very high, being we can look back on the Packers’ drafts over that time, and that somehow we expect that every first-rounder should make the Pro Bowl. In reality, it just doesn’t happen. Well under half of all first-rounders ever do.

But just because they didn’t make a Pro Bowl doesn’t make them a “bust”. As stated before, Nick Barnett hasn’t made a Pro Bowl but would likely be considered a solid starter and worthy of the first-rounder cast on him.

Looking at, say, the 1998 draft, which had only 9 Pro Bowlers, you can also find a number of players that were still decent players for their teams (though perhaps not first round material): Grant Wistrom, Kyle Turley, Duane Starks, Kevin Dyson, Vonnie Holliday, Shaun Williams, Donovan Darius, and R.W. McQuarters.

After that, you can find the lower-tier shrapnel of that first round: Curtis Enis, Ryan Leaf, Andre Wadsworth, Robert Edwards, and Victor Riley.

By comparison, only 5.7 of every second-rounder over that time frame made a Pro Bowl, 3.5 of every third-rounder , and only 1.3 of every fourth rounder. With diminishing expectations come diminishing results. But a third rounder that performs at a solid starting position has to be considered a great pick, whereas a first-rounder might be teetering on the line between the top and middle percents.

Taking a look at Ted Thompson’s first round draft picks, you can almost see the 33-33-33 fall right into place. In 2005, Ted Thompson selected quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Given what we saw in 2008, it would be difficult to place Rodgers anywhere else besides the top tier of production. He is a solid starter and still has the potential to achieve a Pro Bowl level.

In 2006, Thompson took AJ Hawk, the source of consternation right now among Packer pundits as to whether or not he is a “hit” or a “miss”. He has been a three-year starter and led the team last year in tackles. However, his play has been questioned, and some are even questioning if he will have a place in the 3-4 defense.

Right now, you would have to think that Hawk is riding that line between the top and middle 33 percents. Solid starter, the minimal expectations of a first rounder? Pretty close, and as I’ve stated before, this is a watershed year for Hawk to prove himself. But he is far from a “bust”. He’s a valuable player minimally a serviceable starter.

And, of course, in 2007, Thompson infamously took defensive end Justin Harrell, who so far, would have to fall in the bottom tier. Sure, he has time to blossom, but you would expect a first-rounder to have shown something so far.

If Hawk ends up being in the middle tier, Thompson’s first round picks fall right into the 33-33-33 Rule. If Hawk blossoms this year and becomes the truly solid starter that we expected him to be, we can say that Ted Thompson is actually ahead of the curve.

As I will bring up in the next article, however, the draft isn’t just a complete crap shoot, and you don't simply have a blind 33% chance of hitting. Doing your homework and scouting players well can put you ahead of that curve, while not doing so can put you behind. But for every second-round Nick Collins, there is a second-round Terrance Murphy whose inevitable fate is out of your control, too.

This weekend, the Packers will be looking at any number of players at the #9 pick, or even look to trade back. You have to figure, only 11 of the players taken in that first round will end up playing in a Pro Bowl someday. Hopefully, Thompson has done his homework and picks wisely.

1 comment:

GreenBay Packer Nation said...

I love statistics, so I loved this post. I would, however, draw the percentage of draft picks that live up to expectations down quite a bit. I think your estimate is a bit high.

I might be able to agree with 25%.

Great post though. Fun reading.