Analytics Suggest Broncos Shouldn't Trade any of Their Arsenal of Draft Picks

Thomas Hall

The Denver Broncos enter the 2020 NFL Draft season with a slew of draft picks in their arsenal. The Broncos currently own nine selections, including three in the third round. 

In March, the team will know its compensatory draft pick fate when the NFL reveals how they will award those additional selections. By all projections, the Broncos are in line for three compensatory picks to increase their payload to a grand total of 12.

That is significant draft capital. With that firepower, the Broncos have the leverage to make many moves on draft day if they deem it necessary. Denver can trade some of those picks and go after targeted players early. 

That is the sexy philosophy. The less exciting philosophy would be to simply let the board fall as it may and use all 12 picks. The past 10 NFL drafts indicate the smart play is to go down the boring path and use them all. The following analysis will illustrate why.

Before we dive into the analysis, we must first understand a significant metric; performance value. This value is used to indicate how well players who were drafted performed on the field in comparison to other players who weren't. More specifically, compared to other players at their same position. I am using Pro Football Reference’s Car AV value to indicate that performance.

You may not agree with how PFR derives their Car AV, but they use the same methodology for each player. The importance of this is consistency. 

By applying their computation equally to each player, their Car AV can be used to compare players, especially when comparing players to others at the same position. It removes ambiguity and begins the analysis on equal footing.

For this deep-dive, I used a player’s Car AV per season played. This normalizes the value so that longevity is not the driving factor. Also, by doing this, missed seasons due to injury are part of the equation. 

After all, you know what they say; 'availability is the best ability'. Next, a player’s Car AV per season is compared to the average for all drafted players at their position. A successful pick or a player a team 'hits' on, is based on this performance value being at least better than average for the player’s position.

As a side note, success in the draft doesn’t necessarily equate to team success when it comes to winning. So many other factors contribute to winning or losing.

Why Using as Many Draft Picks as Possible is Preferrable

With that out of the way, the big question now is; why is it important for the Broncos to make as many selections as possible in the draft? Simply put, the draft is a gamble and the more times you roll the dice, the better chance you have on hitting it big. 

Secondly, no team has a roster of 53 elite players. It is an impossibility with the salary cap. What teams need is a bevy of solid role players and starters with some elite players to round out the team. That stable of role players needs to be filled out each year with the draft.

Even if a team could have a roster full of elite players, drafting said players is quite hard. Actually, it is near impossible. Since 2010, there have been 2,544 players drafted and only 36 (1.4%) have a performance value four times better than the average of their position. 

These are the elite of the elite at their position. 36 players shakes out to barely one player for each of the 32 NFL teams over the last 10 years. Not each year, only one for the past decade per team.

Even if you look at players who have a performance value three times better than the average, you will only find 88 (3.5%) players. These are players who are stars at their position. 88 doesn't even three per team over the decade. It is not quite equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack, but close.

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To break that down two steps further

306 (12%) players drafted have been two times better than average for their position. These are starters or solid role players. Only 12% of the players drafted have turned into starters or solid role players. Think about that. 

584 (23%) players drafted are just above average for their position. These are role players, backups or spot starters who are typically on the verge of being replaced by a new crop of draftees.

Again, drafting an elite player is nearly impossible and drafting the right players, in general, is not an easy task.

I can hear the grumblings now. People will say, “Well if you have a good GM and scouting department, you will come away with elite players in every draft.” 

Let’s examine that point of contention. To wit, since 2010, the team with the most success drafting players who have a performance value at least above average is the Jacksonville Jaguars. They have a success rate of 48.6%. 

The best drafting team has a 'hit' on less than 50% of their draftees! Think about that for a moment. You have a better chance of being correct on a coin flip. 

The worst has been the Cincinnati Bengals at 32.3%. There is definitely a distinction between the best drafting team and the worst drafting team, but neither are incredibly successful. Furthermore, most teams hover around the 40% success rate.

Thomas

Drafting successfully over time is a difficult process. However, by having more selections at a team’s disposal, the better chance the team has at landing players who can contribute.

Compare the Seattle Seahawks to the Chicago Bears. The Bears have 'hit' on 41.9% of their players which is better than the Seahawks' 36.1% success rate, but look at how many players Seattle has drafted. 

The Bears have taken a total of 62 players and the Seahawks have selected 97. Meaning the Seahawks have drafted nine more players who have contributed, even with the lower success rate. What that means is, if you want to fill out a roster, the more players you take a chance on, the better your odds become.

Compare the same thing with the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints. Each has nearly equal success rates, but the Patriots have selected 26 more players and have 10 more 'hits' than the Saints. It’s a war of attrition, so to speak.

Continue with this process with players drafted who perform at least two times better than average, three times better than average, and four times better than average. The best drafting teams' 'hit' rates are 25.7%, 10.2%, and 5.4%, respectively. Again, drafting stars and elite players is an incredibly difficult proposition.

Furthermore, even in the first round, there have been no teams that have drafted players at least two times above the average at a 100% rate. In the round that is a must for teams to get at least a starter, they miss.

Finding stars in the first round is even harder. The best team for drafting players at least three times better than average in the first round has a 'hit' rate of just 55.6%. Barely better than a coin flip.

That being said, most stars or elite players do come from the first round. It is imperative that the Broncos get that first-round selection correct. 

However, the teams that have the selected the most players who have a performance value at least three times greater than the average (Saints, Cowboys, Chiefs, Seahawks, and 49ers) have found many on day two and three of the draft. The Seahawks, Chiefs, and 49ers have more stars from rounds two through five than they do from the first round. Meaning, the Broncos must go to the well as often as possible through the draft rounds to find those star players.

Drafting NFL-caliber players is a difficult task, to say the least. The Broncos would be wise to use as many of the draft selections in their possession as possible if they want to increase their chances of finding their next star player and provide the depth needed to last through a grueling 16-game season.

Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL and @MileHighHuddle. 

Comments (51)
No. 1-17
B'wana Beast
B'wana Beast

Not to be rude; the data here is not compelling. You have all the data hidden essentially and you cherry pick what to tell us. This feels like the law of averages and just a business snapshot. Does not indicate future potential of teams.

10 Replies

Brainco
Brainco

Not rude, just ignorant. More throws at the dart board the more chances of a bullseye. Simple. Sorry you don’t get it.

B'wana Beast
B'wana Beast

🍑 💨 to you kind sir

Thomas Hall
Thomas Hall

I appreciate the feedback. I have in the past written articles with tons of data to support the thesis and frankly, most readers get bored of it. In fact, I wrote one that was done in scientific white paper form and it was very compelling, yet not well read. I try to keep it short and not overload everyone with data. However, I will be writing more articles with similar themes so it should give more perspective. Including a more detailed analysis of teams ability to draft Elite, Star, solid starters and above average players to add depth to this article. I do have a question for you: what do you mean “future potential of teams?” Do you mean future success in the field or the draft room?

B'wana Beast
B'wana Beast

I had a strong feeling you couldn’t really go into details. It is like you have completed a 10-k report worth of details; but an investor only wants to read one section of the report. Unfortunately, to answer your question on future success I mean both in the draft and overall. I do understand you make a note of this initially on other factors. The variables with an NFL organization are vast and human related. While I understand using analytics here; the numbers at this point (by any organization) cannot take in many of the human factors like other industries. This is why the Browns front office failed when trying to bring in baseball like analytics. On top of that I feel a debate needs to take place on KPI’s. I do not think this is the forum to have that debate and teams( I assume)internally set up multiple meetings to hash out those KPI’s. Overall, like you were saying it is hard to make a convincing argument on dense topics within this limited space. I wish I could give you a proper rebuttal. this is my first offseason with MHH and I have been jaded on analytics by a certain tv network.

Thomas Hall
Thomas Hall

I will be writing more Like this so hopefully I can address some of those questions. Writing about sports is more hobby than profession. My “day job” is in analytics and I’ve been doing it 15 years so hopefully I can convince you over time that we have good analysis here at MHH. Thanks for reading and commenting.

EchoChamber
EchoChamber

lol, that's quite the visual message you sent to him. Never have seen that before. I admit, he could have been more polite while disagreeing.

Brainco
Brainco

Whenever someone says “not to be rude” it usually means they are about to be an a hole. He obviously is a regular here and has some sort of “status” but his “one semester at school” did leave some gaps.
It is commonly stated by those who know, that the draft is more about random hits of success than of “better scouting”. Therefore, the article was well done and the fact the beast is unconvinced is a measure of his ignorance rather than a reflection of any deficiencies in the article.

B'wana Beast
B'wana Beast

🍑💨💩 to you kind sir.

B'wana Beast
B'wana Beast

I am generally confused by your comments. You are the reason “why” Mr. Hall cannot do a full report. No need to spend hours writing, formatting, providing sources and proper use of data tables when someone will just agree based on a short article. I never said I disagreed with his actual conclusion. I disagreed that the argument was convincing due to the lack of information.

Brainco
Brainco

I will gladly dive as deeply into analytics as the writer cares to go. Just got a thing about “not to be rude” preceding criticism. If you’re going to criticize, just do it. Anyway, you and I actually seem to on the same page ...at least regarding the value of analytics (as far as it goes). Moneyball. Billy Beane. Bill James. SABR. That’s where I got interested. But most people are morons. Apparently you aren’t. Sorry for assuming differently.

Denverkewl
Denverkewl

Intriguing. So Elway has done an above average job? I think it's very healthy to teach fans context. The X factor though may still be scheme fit and coaching in terms of the success of a player or whether they thrive in one setting but not in another. PLUS, what if a guy is drafted by one team then goes on to have long career for multiple teams as a cap casualty? Does the team that drafted him get the credit? It's unclear. In the end, refining these types of analytics can be very helpful with fan perspective on the FO.

Denverkewl
Denverkewl

Intriguing. So Elway has done an above average job? I think it's very healthy to teach fans context. The X factor though may still be scheme fit and coaching in terms of the success of a player or whether they thrive in one setting but not in another. PLUS, what if a guy is drafted by one team then goes on to have long career for multiple teams as a cap casualty? Does the team that drafted him get the credit? It's unclear. In the end, refining these types of analytics can be very helpful with fan perspective on the FO.

MarkLewis
MarkLewis

JAX is the best in the league? I doubt that. Somebody forgot to carry the 1 perhaps. This is why analytics ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

Brainco
Brainco

Did you fail to comprehend the part about success drafting does not correspond to winning? Too many other factors, such as free agents, coaching, schedule, timing of injuries and on and on ...

Thundersvictorylap
Thundersvictorylap

If Elway had taken this advice, last year, we wouldn't have Risner & Lock. It's silly to say never trade the picks, hold them, because of the long term stats & analytics, instead of getting guys they really want, that they scouted thoroughly, or knew about. That was a really good pick swap for Lock & Risner, netting 2 great picks. It's beyond silly. Now the rest of the stats & article is informative & interesting, but the conclusion is stubbornly, just wrong. I'd rather have Drew Lock & Risner, than have held onto the earlier spot & drafted only one of them! That's not hard to figure out.

Broncos61
Broncos61

"I'd rather have Drew Lock & Risner, than have held onto the earlier spot & drafted only one of them! That's not hard to figure out.:" and by dropping in #1 round, Broncos got compensatory picks, once of them was used to get D.Lock. N. Fant, after initial struggles, became TE in all-rookies team.

EchoChamber
EchoChamber

Honestly, I think John Elway regularly plays fast and loose with draft picks. Value them more. Yes, if you can trade up for a real difference maker, consider it yet don't just overspend and make poor decisions. As for last year, still pissed that Elway didn't get a first-round pick out of Pittsburgh to drop as far as the Broncos did.

JLopez68
JLopez68

Frankly alot of good draft picks don't pan out because of poor coaching, not being used properly, and scheme...which is why Elway changed his way to look for players who were coachable, had talent to be used differently, and smart and capable of be adaptive...in Elways case maybe he did pick well...he just did a very poor job of picking the staff after Kubiak left.
The Cleveland Browns should be a great team with all of the draft capital, top to bottom, that they have had for the past decade...but they have been consistently bad

Jefffrey55
Jefffrey55

Most top ten draft picks that are busts are QB's. Top ten draft picks in each draft is different from year to year and as I contended last year to trade down due so much second and third round talent as well as similar traits among many prospects it worked and Hollins is going to be a beast. This year there are no brainers that may although bust possess a much greater chance at being special than the second and third round choices. Even late in the first loses alot of luster this year. Henderson although incredibly talented has a much much great chance at busting than Obudah (sic). Kinlaw will be in the top ten I believe after the combine and so might Austin Jackson jump up to around 13 or 14. My feelimg without doing the math to take the QB's out andjust focusing on the top 13 I'm fairly confident a 30% increase in probability for those picks over later round first picks. The analytics I think you'll find are overly broad and not so specific as to a bust or not. Trade up and get Derek Brown. Then trade again with the Saints if Jackson is there. If Attachou is a possible way to get to Brown with your 15 do it. There are many questions surrounding late first round picks and we don't have to give up much to gain 30% probability of a special player. Don't need special players at every position, but don't miss an opprtunity to get one that only has a 12% of busting instead of 45%.

CUBuffinTX
CUBuffinTX

Here is some additional food for thought in any given draft there might be as few as 12 to 15 players with true first round grades. Then there might be 40 players that have true second round grades. So to look at net gain or loss without knowing what value they have placed on said players is really guessing about how they perceive things prior to making or saying no to a trade

Thundersvictorylap
Thundersvictorylap

Well, ok then. Gave your reply a "like," as it's very sensible.

DadRunAmok
DadRunAmok

This makes good sense to me. Drafting is hard--harder than consistently winning in the financial market. And just like on Wall Street, having more wealth (more picks) allows for greater diversification and a better chance that a selection will be a winner. The trade down in round 1 last year gave them the capital they needed to grab Lock when he showed up in round 2. Grabbing extra capital made buying up in round 2 a no-brainer, and having three potential "bedrock" guys from the first two rounds of the draft is phenomenal success, especially when the first one was at #15.

JNDoud
JNDoud

Elway didn't trade up to get Risner. That was Denver's original pick.

Jman75
Jman75

I don’t know why it took me so long to read this, love the work. Your articles will definitely be on my watch list in the future. Thank you

RMS
RMS

As a retired newsman I commend you for this article. It provides more depth than I have read here or elsewhere on football moves, real and/or what is possible, and the whys of said actions. It is dense in its read, yes, and I like that.

DKMI
DKMI

I agree with alway drafting as many players as you can. Draft picks should be viewed as a high value item. I don’t need analytics to tell me that the draft is a crap shot. I’ve observed this over the years. We all get excited about all the picks and highlights on draft day, but there’s no guarantees anywhere.

Go back and look at Broncos drafts as far back as you want. Very few notable players every draft. Spending multiple picks to move up hasn’t been all that successful either. I don’t think scouts and GMs are stupid. They’re not just making guesses. They’re making educated guesses. Give them extra educated guesses and you’ll land more real players. Imagine giving a baseball team an extra three outs per game. That baseball team is going to win a lot more games than it would without those extra outs.

Another thing to look at are past picks taken where the broncos sit in the first round. Not many game changers taken in that spot going back 20 years. I’d strongly consider trading down and getting more picks.


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