By: Edward Egros

Draft

The Cleveland Browns Won the Draft

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You may already be thinking: "Of course the Cleveland Browns had a great draft! They had the number one pick! Myles Garrett was the obvious move! You can't screw that up!"

You haven't been keeping up with the Browns, have you?

Cleveland picked a defensive end from Texas A&M who was so respected in College Station, two assistant coaches came to his draft party in Arlington to present him with a framed jersey (Garrett is also the Aggies' first-ever number one overall pick). During the combine, as
NFL Research pointed out, Garrett is:

  • Taller than Julio Jones
  • Heavier than Rob Gronkowski
  • Quicker than Devonta Freeman
  • Faster than Jarvis Landry
Cleveland could have drafted a quarterback like Mitch Trubisky or DeShaun Watson, but instead went with the pass rusher. Nothing is a guarantee when it comes to who will have the best NFL career, and the Browns have had failures with top picks in the last several years (i.e. Trent Richardson, Johnny Manziel, Justin Gilbert, etc.) What matters here is how much value the Browns acquired simply with moves they made in the draft.

NFL Draft charts have been around since
Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys popularized their own in the 1990s. As sports analytics have become more commonplace, others have come out with their own. But one that is worth noting is a chart by Michael Schuckers of St. Lawrence University. Using games started, Schuckers used a LOESS function to assign value to each pick (to read his entire paper, click here). Here is the table he came up with:

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What Schuckers extrapolated from his study was that teams tend to overvalue earlier picks and undervalue later ones. The Cleveland Browns seemed to believe the same thing, and stockpiled multiple draft picks in the last couple of years. Here are the trades they made and how much value they acquired, using the chart:

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Note: + is a second round pick to be determined
++ is a first round pick to be determined

Because two of these picks are undetermined, I used the lowest possible value and added that to the Minimum Known Value Added column, when applicable. Even by doing that, every move the Browns made added value to their draft class. Here is who the Browns drafted last year and how many games they started, in parenthesis:

  • WR Corey Coleman (10)
  • DE Emmanuel Ogbah (16)
  • DE Carl Nassib (3)
  • OT Shon Coleman (10)
  • QB Cody Kessler (8)
  • LB Joe Schobert (4)
  • WR Ricardo Louis (3)
  • S Derrick Kindred (5)
  • TE Seth DeValve (2)
  • WR Jordan Payton (0)
  • OT Spencer Drango (0)
  • WR Rashard Higgins (0)
  • CB Trey Caldwell (0)
  • ILB Scooby Wright III (0)
Combined, this draft class has 61 starts. Yes, this draft class was part of a 1-15 team, bad enough to acquire the top pick in the 2017 draft, but these rookies beat out more experienced players, so it might be safe to say Cleveland did not have much talent before this approach.

The Browns drafted 10 players this year, and currently have a dozen picks for next year's draft. Myles Garrett can be a complete bust, and the Browns have enough insurance, in the form of younger players, to keep going. But if Garrett is as advertised, not only will the Browns have won this year's NFL Draft, they will start winning a lot more games.

You've Drafted Your Team, Now What?

image1For three days, there is a frenetic pace to the NFL Draft, where specific needs are addressed (or not), value is appropriated for each pick (or not), opponents' draft boards are analyzed and combated (or not) and undrafted free agents are debated and signed. After all of these minuscule details, there comes a bigger picture question: What the heck just happened?

Pundits and perhaps those within each franchise grade these draft classes before anyone attends a rookie minicamp or any single contract gets signed. Though there's always the inexplicable human elements, grading draft classes is becoming easier and more analytically sound.

Last year, the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective posted a blog about
predicting success based upon combine numbers. Some positions are much easier to predict than others. For instance, cornerbacks and outside linebackers with good combine numbers tend to do well in the NFL, whereas quarterbacks and wide receivers are much harder to predict.

Value also matters. Franchises will be crippled if an average player is chosen in the first or second round, while others can be bolstered by picking stellar athletes in later in rounds. Many of these problematic picks happen when a team drafts an offensive skill player.
One research paper suggested 60% of running backs and receivers taken in the 3rd-7th rounds have better average career statistics than those taken in the first and second rounds. The trend with receivers makes sense, given combine numbers not having as much predictive power, but perhaps the trend with running backs is a sign of the times (i.e. the NFL evolving to a passing league). As for quarterbacks, the more highly touted ones tend to have better careers.

So who drafted well in 2016? Without offering clear answers, perhaps surprisingly, the perennial bottom feeders in the Cleveland Browns did well. They took defensive stars with good combine numbers like Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib and, for the most part, waited on skill players in later rounds, including Ricardo Louis and Jordan Payton. Another possible surprise is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their first round pick was a cornerback with excellent combine numbers in Jalen Ramsey. They also took defensive risks like Myles Jack and Sheldon Day, also suggesting they are focusing on addressing some of their bigger needs. As for the uncertainties, obviously the Rams and Eagles gave up a lot for quarterbacks who may or may not pan out, but the Cowboys, Texans and Redskins also drafted skill players in the first round who will be tougher to predict if they can translate to wins.

What we're learning with the latest research is the NFL Draft is not the crapshoot it once was. It will never be perfect, but it is also becoming clearer which teams are heeding this research and who prefers considering non-analytical advice.