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How teams are built

Posted by Doug on January 11, 2008

Over at the footballguys message board, it was noted that 12 of the Packers' 22 starters this season were drafted in the fifth round or later, or not at all. As I pointed out in the same thread, this is a very high number, but not quite a record. The 1984 Steelers, who went 9-7 but won their division and a playoff game to make it to the conference championship game, had 14 of 22 their starters being 5th-or-later or undrafted. A handful of other teams since 1980 had 13.

This got me thinking about the more general question of how teams are built. So I looked at all 22 starters on every team from 1980 to 2006 and sorted them into categories according to what round they were drafted in. Why 1980? Because that's roughly the point where the guys who were drafted by both the NFL and the AFL had disappeared from the league. If a guy was drafted in the 2nd round in the AFL draft and the 3rd round of the same year's NFL draft, how should we classify him? What about a guy who was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft and the 10th round of the AFL draft? Rather than wrestle with that sort of question, I decided to declare that the data from 1980 forward would give us enough to chew on, at least for now.

OK, so here is the the summary data:

               Draft   Acquire    TOT
=====================================
Round  1        4.5      1.4      6.0
Round  2        2.9      1.0      3.9
Round  3        1.8      0.8      2.6
Round  4        1.3      0.6      1.9
Round  5        0.8      0.5      1.3
Round  6        0.7      0.4      1.1
Round  7        0.6      0.4      1.0
Round  8*                         4.3
=====================================
Total          12.6      5.1     

* - or later than the 8th round, or undrafted

The Draft column shows how many players were drafted by the team they were starting for, while the Acquire column shows how many were acquired by some other means. You could look at this as the construction of a hypothetical average team from the 1980--2006 time period. Such a team would have about 6 starters who were first round picks. Of those, 4.5 would have been drafted by that team, 1.4 would have been acquired somehow from the team that drafted them, and I guess .1 would have been lost to rounding error.

The numbers in the far right column add to 22, the number of starters on a team. In that column you can see, for example, that a typical team would have almost half its starters coming from the first two rounds of the draft and just over half coming from the first three.

Note that the "Round 8*" row doesn't have a Draft/Acquire split, because many of those players were undrafted and I don't have enough information to know whether they were starting for the first team that signed them out of college, which I guess would be the analogous thing.

Interestingly, the distributions for good (10+ wins, or the equivalent), average (7--9 wins), and bad (6 or less) teams are pretty similar.

Bad teams

               Draft   Acquire    TOT
=====================================
Round  1        4.4      1.4      5.7
Round  2        2.9      0.9      3.9
Round  3        1.8      0.8      2.6
Round  4        1.3      0.7      2.0
Round  5        0.9      0.6      1.4
Round  6        0.7      0.4      1.0
Round  7        0.5      0.4      0.9
Round  8                          4.4
=====================================
Total          12.4      5.1
(245 teams)

Average teams

               Draft   Acquire    TOT
=====================================
Round  1        4.5      1.5      6.0
Round  2        2.7      1.1      3.8
Round  3        1.7      0.8      2.5
Round  4        1.3      0.6      1.9
Round  5        0.9      0.5      1.4
Round  6        0.7      0.4      1.1
Round  7        0.6      0.4      1.0
Round  8                          4.3
=====================================
Total          12.4      5.3
(267 teams)

Good teams

               Draft   Acquire    TOT
=====================================
Round  1        4.7      1.4      6.1
Round  2        3.0      1.0      3.9
Round  3        1.9      0.7      2.6
Round  4        1.3      0.6      1.9
Round  5        0.8      0.4      1.3
Round  6        0.7      0.3      1.1
Round  7        0.7      0.3      1.0
Round  8                          4.2
=====================================
Total          13.1      4.8
(253 teams)

Let's see if things are the same in recent years. This data is for 2000--2006:

Bad teams

               Draft   Acquire    TOT
=====================================
Round  1        3.9      1.7      5.7
Round  2        2.9      1.5      4.4
Round  3        1.8      1.0      2.8
Round  4        1.0      1.0      2.0
Round  5        0.7      0.6      1.3
Round  6        0.7      0.5      1.2
Round  7        0.6      0.6      1.2
Round  8                          3.4
=====================================
Total          11.6      7.0
(76 teams)

Average teams

               Draft   Acquire    TOT
=====================================
Round  1        4.3      1.9      6.1
Round  2        2.9      1.7      4.6
Round  3        1.6      0.9      2.5
Round  4        1.4      0.8      2.2
Round  5        0.6      0.7      1.3
Round  6        0.5      0.6      1.0
Round  7        0.6      0.5      1.2
Round  8                          3.1
=====================================
Total          11.9      7.0
(70 teams)

Good teams

               Draft   Acquire    TOT
=====================================
Round  1        4.8      1.6      6.4
Round  2        2.9      1.2      4.1
Round  3        1.8      1.0      2.8
Round  4        1.4      0.8      2.2
Round  5        0.7      0.6      1.3
Round  6        0.6      0.5      1.0
Round  7        0.5      0.5      1.0
Round  8                          3.2
=====================================
Total          12.7      6.1
(76 teams)

I've highlighted in red what appears to me to be the main difference between those three tables. The good teams are starting more first round picks than the bad teams, but it's not first round players they acquired from other teams, it's their own first round picks.

I don't know that there's much to be learned here (correct me if you think I'm wrong, of course). But it's interesting data.

This entry was posted on Friday, January 11th, 2008 at 8:15 am and is filed under General, NFL Draft. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.