NFC West GM analysis: 2010-2014 NFL draft classes

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This fan post is building off work I've done in the past year to assess draft value vs draft order. I used Profootball references Career Approximate Value as my metric to grade each player picked between 2010-2014. I was hoping to update it with another ~half year of games to make it more current but they don't give players AV points during the season.

My goal is to figure out how our front office compares to to the others in our division over a 5 year span. I recognize that the front offices of the 4 teams in our division haven't been static over this time period. Furthermore I'm making no corrections for players who were drafted for 1 team and now play for another team. You can think about this comparison as being a measure of scouting acumen combined with trade market savvy. Free agency acquisitions of veterans and undrafted players don't contribute either.

My method is fairly simple but comprehensive. 1233 players were selected during the time period in question. Through my study of this data set I've found that career value is related to draft order by a logarithmic curve with negative "slope". Hence I can calculate the expected value of each draft pick based on what other players have done that were selected there. Complicating matters is the fact that teams trade their picks either for other picks or for veteran players. They also acquire compensatory picks from the league based on net free agent losses. (Occasionally a team forfeits picks due to corporate malfeasance). Over the time period in question the average NFL team selected 7.7 players per year.

For sake of simplicity I don't "expect" teams to gain any extra picks so each of these GMs will benefit from a slight bump in their perceived performance vs expectations. That boost is applied uniformly so the team to team comparison shouldn't be affected. The first baseline for each team is based on how many AV points they should expect if they had taken 7 picks per year in the order awarded based on their record. The 2nd baseline is the expected AV for the picks where they actually took them. Comparing actual AV to the 2nd baseline gives the purest look at the scouting department without consideration of value gained/lost via trade/etc.

Here are the results in the format of team: initial expected AV/expected AV/actual AV

A few observations... The Seahawks trounce the division, lapping the competition by over 50%. The on field results speak for themselves and almost all of their best players are home grown. Looking through their drafts they succeed largely by picking exceptional players in the mid to late rounds. They received the 2nd fewest expected points and gained roughly 50 AV through compensatory picks and trades. Its pretty clear that they're scouting is just better than the competition.

The Cardinals are not a very successful team when it comes to acquiring extra value via trade or compensation. Compared to the other 3 teams in the division their expected AV based on where they selected is the worst in the division despite starting with the 2nd highest expected value. Initial expected value is essentially a grade of how your team has performed over the span '09-'13 as the draft order is set by wins/losses. Improving over that means you've either managed to make smart trades or you've been given comp picks. Despite failing to make many smart moves the cardinals are 2nd in the division in terms of pure scouting. They beat their expected AV by 7% based on where they picked. Unfortunately for them that still landed them in last place on draft day although finding an above average QB in free agency gave them a huge upgrade to their roster.

The Rams have been the least successful team in the division over the period sampled by most metrics. That gave them a big edge in initial expected value and they parlayed that into even more value through smart trading. The bulk of that came when they flipped the 2nd pick in the 2012 draft (expected value: 24.33) into 4 high draft picks (expected value 54.66). Unfortunately their scouting (or perhaps player development) is the worst in the division by a large margin as they only have received 87% of their expected value based on where they took players. No player more typifies that failure than Sam Bradford who was taken 1st over all in 2010. By now he should have netted them nearly 56 points of value and has only achieved 26.

The 49ers started these drafts with the least expected value (albeit only slightly less than the Seahawks) and made the 2nd most savvy moves in the division to acquire expected value. Unfortunately Baalke et al couldn't keep pace with Seattle and Arizona in terms of finding players to exceed expectations. While we can take solace that we didn't bungle our draft picks as badly as St Louis, our draft acquired talent pales in comparison to Seattle. I might add that many of the players who contributed to our respectable AV score are now gone (Aldon, Iupati, Davis) or a shell of their peak (Bowman, Kaepernick).

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.