Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tier Drops: Deciphering The Ted Thompson Code

I am going to predict that Ted Thompson is going to trade out of pick #9. You heard it here, first.

Now, of course, now that I’ve said it aloud, it probably won’t happen (I’ve noticed Ted loves to blow my predictions out of the water), but let me go through what I have learned over the years. Of course, it is that “doing the unexpected” that has made want to figure out why he does things in that way.

But, I do think he will trade down. And when he does, I am not going to throw my foam brick on the television and curse his name (again). Because, slowly, I've figured it out. I get it.

First of all, I am the furthest thing from a draftnik. At best, I review a couple of scouting reports for the first round. I have never made a mock draft and pray I never resort to doing so. I am as much of a greenhorn as you will find.

But, watching Thompson draft over the past few years has made me have to study and learn a little more about the draft and how he (and others approach it). If you are a draft geek and endlessly over-analyze and pontificate about it, you’ll probably want to dismiss this as the ramblings of a beginner’s dawning awareness. No offense taken.

Listening to Patty at PackerChatters over the years, I’ve realize that the prospects aren’t just grouped by position in some massive pool. Most scouts and GMs organize them into groups of talent, referred to as “tiers”. It’s those levels of talent that the scouts look at to progressively impact your team, and they do not neatly organize themselves in exact groups of 32, so that every team in the first round gets a first-round caliber player.

In other words, the last pick in the first round isn't necessarily "better" than the first pick of the second. While it sounds obvious, there is still always that cheated feeling when you don't get a first round pick, like last year.

Each draft is different, but going back to 2006, the first “tier” of players seemed to end at about the top 6-7 players. You may remember the names pretty well: Bush, Williams, Ferguson, Hawk, Young, Davis..and then a tweener in Huff, which marked the end of that particular tier.

After that, the prospects were still good players, but organized into a second tier of talent, somewhat interchangeable in their grades. Every draft is different, and every evaluator is different, but usually that second tier tails off between the 17th to 25th pick. And so it goes.

It’s been an interesting learning process for me, especially with Ted Thompson’s draft approach. Like most everyone, I questioned his penchant for trading down constantly, asking why you’d want two lesser players instead of one higher-quality player.

And understanding those tiers helped me put a finger on it. For example, in 2006, the Packers picked at #5. This means that they were going to be able to pick a first-tier player, no matter who fell to them. And since they were at the tail end of the tier, it was unlikely that Thompson would trade back, because in doing so, he would trade out of that first tier of players.

Go back a year, and you understand it even more. In 2005, the second tier of players started running out around pick #21-22. This would have positioned the 24th overall Packers’ pick at the beginning of a larger group of third-tier players. At the time, I saw the draft as your “turn” to pick, and it made total sense that Thompson stayed there.

But divining what I’ve since learned about Thompson, I believe he would have likely traded back from #24 in 2005. The reason he did not is because of the “Tier Drop” of Aaron Rodgers, a first- or second-tier player who fell into the third tier. Had Rodgers not been there, Thompson would have had essentially the first pick of a large group of perhaps 15 or more players that all graded out at a similar level, a tier that would have extended into the start of the second round.

And that’s where I see the wisdom in the trade-backs that I didn’t see before. Had Rodgers been taken by another team at #23, it would have been logical for Thompson to trade back ten spots, pick up another draft pick, and still gotten a player in the that tier….quite possibly the same player he might have been hoping for earlier.

Conversely, had Thompson traded back from #5 in 2006, he would have traded out of the first tier into the second tier of players, and that’s where you lose a level of talent, at least in the sense of what you’ve scouted and graded out.

In 2007, I think Thompson found himself in no-man’s land. At pick #16, he was right around the middle of the second tier and might have discovered that a trade-back would have placed him out of that level of talent. So, he reached for his second-tier player of choice, Justin Harrell.

And last year, he traded out of the first round. Had he done that a few years ago, I might have howled about the drop in talent, but understanding now that tiers don’t adhere to the round numbers, I get it. He traded back several picks and still got the third-tier player that he wanted in Jordy Nelson, a player he could have had at pick #30, but was able to get at pick #36, too.

Now, mind you, this doesn’t mean that because I understand it that I subscribe to it or would do it myself. And, judging from the number of teams willing to trade up with Thompson over the last four drafts, Ted isn’t using a strategy that every single other team uses. But, it is his strategy, and overall, he has stuck to it.

For example, instead of trading back for Nelson last year, I would have likely taken FS Kenny Smith at #30, as I would be looking more to fill a need rather than looking for the best value at each pick. But, if you use a tier-based approach, the trade-backs allow Thompson to try and get the most value at each pick.

So, when I look at this year’s draft, with the Packers picking at #9, you would think that it would place the Packers either at the end of the first tier or at the beginning of the second tier. As we’ve heard before, this draft has been far more difficult than others to get settled into tiers. What one draftnik thinks are the top players seems to be different from others.

Some have suggested that this draft doesn’t even have a top tier: that it simply starts with a much wider second-tier or only has a top-tier of a couple of players. But it isn’t my opinion or the draftnik’s opinion that counts, it’s that of Ted Thompson and where he thinks those talents fall.

Which is why I think we hear so much talk of Larry English, a guy predicted to fall closer to pick #20 than pick #9. The example I can come is where you have this group of tweener DE/LBs that are all projected in the first round and would seem to fit in a 3-4 OLB role. If all those players are at roughly the same level, or all fit in the second tier, I think Thompson might be more willing to pass on Everette Brown at #9 and be content to pick Larry English or Aaron Maybin at #15 instead.

Which means, as in the case of Aaron Rodgers, we have to see if there are any “Tier Drops” that fall to Thompson at #9, a guy that is clearly grading out higher than what we’d expect from the large group of second-tier guys.

What players might those be? You have to think high on Thompson’s board at #9 must be Aaron Curry, Jason Smith, Earl Monroe, and Malcolm Jenkins. I think BJ Raji may be on that short list, also, but it depends on how the Packers are reacting to the allegations of failed drug testing, and if they think he also would fall farther back in the second tier of players.

If any of those players (or, more properly put, the players on Thompson’s list of first-tier players) sneak through to him at #9, I think the Pack will take him. If not, however, it places the Packers #9 pick likely at the start of the second tier of players, a tier that, likely goes back into the twenties.

If that is the case, and if Thompson holds true to his philosophy, we’ll see Thompson actively try and shop that pick and move back to get a second-tier player that he has graded out similarly as many of the other players that are available at pick #9.

What might make it interesting is if one of the first-tier players at a position of non-interest to Thompson falls through. If QB Matthew Stafford or WR Michael Crabtree were to fall to #9, you would think that the trade offers would be coming to Thompson. If that happens, it will be interesting if he takes them up on it, or selects the Best Player Available, regardless of position, because he would be passing on a first-tier talent with a trade.

My prediction? Thompson will trade back into the teens and end up taking one of the tackles (Oher, Smith) or one of the OLBs (Orapko, Brown, English, or Maybin), and potentially Jackson, the DE.


Clark Aycock said...

fantastic article, CD. i rarely feel i learn something new when i read blog, but that was fantastic -- a real eye-opener. thanks!

nunobow said...

Interesting thoughts. Very interesting thoughts indeed.

Whether being the "truth" or not... it surely does make sense as to understanding Ted Thompsons ways.

Nice post CD!


Anonymous said...

WOW... I can't believe some people thought that was eye opening!!! I guess I thought it was pretty much common sense... Nothing of any importance in the article, as it happens to be the same philosophy that Ron Wolf used. It has been around for YEARS!!!

Heres another little gem for you... Not all teams rate players the same! Teams actually take into account the talents needed to succeed in the "system" the play, and rank players according to how they would perform in the "system"

Something like a West Coast QB for instance... Or how about a College DE that is too small for NFL DE, but if a team plays a 3/4 defense that same guy gets a much higher grade because he projects to 3/4 OLB...

This is NOT a Ted Thompson code by any means!!! It is an NFL code, as the Vast Majority of NFL teams use these formats when grading players!!!!

C.D. Angeli said...

Clark, nuno, thanks for the comments.

Anonymous, I appreciate your candor. However, for many folks, understanding tiers is a new concept...I know in just the last few years its something I'm grasping...I always just looked at ranked lists and figured you take the next BPA.

The idea of tiers isn't limited to Thompson...but how he approaches them can be more of his code. If everyone followed his approach, no one would ever trade up, would they? And yet, he has no shortage of teams willing to trade up to the Packers' spot.

Thompson's approach balances those two ideas: he uses a value-based approach in how he grades his players, and utilizes teams that want a certain player in order to move back and still get that same value.

And I did mention several times in my article that the ranking depend upon the evaluator, which is another way that Thompson can get those small-school types that other GM don't see when they are being blinded by the next overhyped big-school prospect.

Anonymous said...

You can still use the tier system and trade up... If a player you like from say tier 2 is on the board, and you are now into tier 3, its not out of the realm of possibility to move up to get him. THe problem comes w/ the pick you lose. Do you lose another player in the same tier or is it a much lower tier player. Obviously in the top of the draft the price of moving up is steep! Mostly, Thompson choses to be conservative about trading up. Of course when you want to move up, you are doing the calling, and then other teams know you want to move up for someone and will ask more than if they are calling to move down...

C.D. Angeli said...

Exactly. And that is the point, that while many other GMs may choose to use the rankings or tiers to trade up into another tier, it is not the strategy of our current GM. In his mind, trading up into a tier means you lose two talents in the next tier or beyond, and this isn't how he operates.

But, he does choose to trade back...often. And, in doing so, he tries to keep the value of that tier in the pick he trades back for.

The fact that, as you say, there are GM who WANT to use the tier system to trade up into a better tier is what Thompson thrives on...if it weren't for those people with different strategies, his strategy wouldn't work. You can't trade back unless people are willing to trade up.

IPB said...

Interesting chatter, but I think I will disagree. Currently, with our needs in the changeover for the 3-4, it does a dis-service to the Packers, for Ted Thompson to trade away from the 9th pick overall.

Ryan Pickett could very well be the weakest link on Defense this year. Jenkins is coming back, but will most likely be in-effective until he gets his game legs back under him around Game 5. Colin Cole is gone - even though I felt he would have been a great 3-4 player. Dems da breaks.

This all means that Green bay MUST go after Raji and/or Brace (as well) if the option is there to do so. The pundits being never right, is (of course) the only real evidence we can take into account. Personally, I'd prefer our first pick to be for the O-Line, so Rodgers can have all day in the pocket, like all other SuperBowl winning Teams get. There have been scenarios discussed where Ted could profit with your idea without losing any real position in the first round. If that were to happen, I'd be amazed - there's too much against it.

Like I say - TT needs to use that #9 pick for the Packers and take a Top Ten player, not let someone else grab the golden goose.

Let's just see .... it's right around the corner.

C.D. Angeli said...

I hear what you are sayin', IPB...and I do think there are some players that will fall to him that he will not trade back if they are there. And, I think Raji (at least, for me) is on that list.

But if Raji, Jenkins, and Oher are gone, I really do think he will trade back, rather than take the first of the OLBs. Depends who is there and who is on his chart. I'm just preparing myself for it, too!

Anonymous said...

If you watch Past To The Draft or Total Access on NFL Network and listen to Charlie Casserly who was a GM with Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans he always uses the term Tier and Team Projections meaning how that GM sees that player(OLB or hand on the ground DE). TT takes the position that GB never has enough of any one position when going to the BPA and will take a QB or WR if he thinks that they are better than he has already!

Anonymous said...

Also if you want to see the point value for each Draft Position join ESPN Insider and they have a chart at