Monday, April 26, 2010

On NFL Draft Grades

If it's true there are lies, damn lies, and statistics... it is equally true there is shit, horseshit, and draft grades.

This time of year you'll see draft grades everywhere football is discussed. They usually have several things in common:

1) Literal grades, as in "B+" or "C-". How comforting it is to know the grader is so confident in his (and yes, I say his, because no woman in her right mind grades a draft) assessment that he feels the need differentiate within each letter grade. "Ya know, I was going to give you a "B", but when you took Mike Kafka, well, I thought you deserved a little more. "B+".

2) A winners and losers section. And these sections are truly necessary, as football has no others means of determining "winners" and "losers", outside of the 254 regular season games, and 11 playoff games. With the number of times I have seen the Seahawks listed as "winners" in this year's draft, I can only assume they are officially 1-0 in the 2010 season.

3) Numerous quotations from general managers, coaches, and front office types about how pleased they are with the their own work.

4) Liberal use of the word "value".

How does a lucky NFL team earn a passing grade, or even better, an honor-roll potential "A"? The very best way is to have a top-5 pick. Drafting a Bradford, Suh, or McCoy is a pretty good start on the path to a high grade. Of course, you only get a top-5 pick if you were either awful last year, or if you managed to acquire said 1st rounder from the Raiders or Browns for a nice assortment of beads, trinkets, and magic beans. In either case, whoever you select at this point in the draft is going to haul in a signing bonus equal to, or greater than, an established, top-notch, possibly Pro Bowler at his position. But, why worry about that on draft day? You have just made the sound decision to pay an untested, gimpy shouldered, 22-year old quarterback a $40 million signing bonus. Congratulations.

But, what if you don't have a top-5 pick? Can you still get a good grade? Yes!!! All you need to do is draft a player(s) who had a high "value" (I'll get back to that word) assigned to him by Mel Kiper/Todd McShay/Mike Mayock, who also went to a recognizable school, and slides to you later in the draft than the originally assigned grade suggested he would. Pull this off a couple times you will surely take home a good overall grade.

If the player doesn't fit your system, or if the combined scouting departements of 32 NFL teams determined he wasn't worth taking until, well, when he was actually taken... these are worries for another day. You have just acquired a great value.

It should be noted, value is derived through a simple formula: Accuratly rate every draft eligible player in all relevant criteria (Speed, size, strength, skill, condition, toughness, intelligence, etc.), adjust for level of competition, then simply cross-reference that rating with every other rating of all draft-eligible players, complete a basic historical analysis of NFL player development (position-by-position), and finally slide each rated player into a 32X7 grid. Just like that, you have tamed the subjective idea of player value.

Of course, all grades can't be "A's" and "B's". The best way to get a bad grade (though, usually not anything worse than a "C", unless you are the Raiders) is to ignore value. Do you like a player in the middle of the 1st round with a late-1st round value? Well, you better think twice about picking him (if you want at least a "B"!). Of course, you could argue that only one other team needs to fall in love with the player for you to lose him... no, it's probably best to trade down, get a 3rd round pick, and pray to the approriate diety of your choice that the player you fell in love with over a dozen hours of workouts and interviews just falls into you hands. Surely you are the only team to discover how special he is. You know what they say... if you love a player, let him go. If he doesn't slide 15 spots back into your hands, it wasn't meant to be. (how could Jacksonville forget this!?!)

If you really want to face the wrath of the NFL version of Dean Wormer's double- secret-draft-grade-probation, go ahead and load up on interior linemen, small school players, late draft picks who might actually contribute to your team on special teams (instead of using those picks under-talented, big-named, college divas), or trade any of your picks for one of those so-called "veterans", who are similar to draft prospects, except that they have actually accomplished something.

Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through the NFL draft, GM Blutarsky.

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