That said, I wanted to see what snap count could actually tell us (if anything) about a draft picks. I took an in-depth look at rookie participation in the NFL by team, position, and round drafted from 2010 to 2012. I looked at these statistics in multiple ways and wanted to share my findings with others who are interested in the NFL and specifically the draft. For this analysis, I concentrated on average snaps per pick instead of total snaps per class (per team). I believe the average snaps per pick is a better statistic to analyze since having a larger number of draft picks inflates a total number. Granted, even an average can be inflated, but over time it's more reliable in my opinion.
Below are the tables I put together and some of my observations:
*(Snap count data was gather from ProFootballFocus.com)
The above table (right side) is comparing the average numbers of 1st year snaps by all draft picks (per team) to the 3-year regular season winning percentage of the team that drafted them. The reason I did this, was to see if there was any connection to draft pick usage and winning football games. That teams highlighted in RED were above the 3-year NFL average of 254.6 snaps per draft pick, while the BLUE highlight indicates below the NFL average in snaps per pick. New England has the highest winning percentage and is above average in snaps per pick, but the next nine teams with the highest winning percentage were all below the NFL average in snaps per pick. This tells me that there is very little correlation between snap count per draft pick and winning football games. In this case, the Patriots are the exception not the rule.
The above table on the left is comparing the average of snaps per pick to the 3-year winning percentage of the drafting team. In this case, the RED indicates a team who has a winning percentage over 50% the last three years. You can see that only 2 out of the top 14 teams have had a winning percentage high than 50% (DEN & SEA). Again, first season snaps counts do not translate into on field success (in most cases). In fact, in most cases it the exact opposite. The more rookie snaps a team has, the more likely they are to lose.
To me, these numbers indicate that New England, Denver, and Seattle might have had the best draft classes over the last three seasons. These teams are bucking the trend. The are putting rookies on the field in their very first season, while winning games. Teams like Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Oakland continue to give their rookies more snaps while losing games at a very high rate. Many of the perennial losers get a lot out of their rookie in regards to playing time, but very little positive impact when it comes to winning games.
The teams that are losing the most games year after year have an advantage by being able to draft before the winning teams. With the exception of Cam Newton in Carolina and possible Josh Freeman in Tampa, the worst teams in the NFL year in and year out continue to be epic failures at the most important position in football - quarterback. How many times can a team like Cleveland get it wrong? Honestly, since they've were brought back to the NFL in 1999, their best QB was arguably Derek Anderson (and they didn't even draft him).
Of course, these numbers could also indicate that easing a rookie into NFL will result in more (overall) team success.
This table doesn't mean that the players drafted in the 1st round were a complete success, it just means they receive the most playing time. We've all seen 1st round busts who receive the snaps, but never reach the expectations that come with their draft position. Teams are trying to draft impact players in the first round, and due to the large investment in money and draft (position) value these players are expected to contribute immediately.
All teams are drafting players with the hope that they will contribute. If a team consistently misses on a picks from the 5th round on, I think they should talk a long hard look at their scouting department. For instance, San Diego has been horrible in all rounds the last three years. In fact, they are below the NFL average in every round. Do you think that could explain why they can't get over the hump? Possibly. On the other hand, the New York Giants are not doing any better. The Giants are dead last in the league for snap count per pick at 115.0, yet they have won a Super Bowl during that time. Are they horrible at evaluating talent, or do they have a coach that would rather rely on veterans? I believe it's the later.
This table might be my favorite out of all of them. This is the total snaps by position, including what percentage of snaps came from 1st round picks. We've all know that a 1st round QB has a tremendous amount of pressure to perform early, but they blow away the rest of the field in percentage of 1st round snaps. Don't fool yourself into thinking that your team's 1st round QB isn't going to see the field their rookie season. The stats say he will.
The defensive line comes in a distant second at 46% of 1st rounders accounting for all rookie snaps.
These numbers give you an idea of the NFL trends in regards to drafting. Quarterbacks and defensive lineman are always in high demand which contributes to the 1st round percentages. On the other hand, linebackers and tight ends are not in as high demand and tend to be a better value in the later rounds.
Offense and defense as a whole are very close, with the offensive line accounting for the most total snaps and the defensive backs coming in second.
So, what about a draft class over time. The above table looks at the 2010 draft class for every team and shows average snaps per pick from 2010 through 2012, as well as total snaps (right side).
Seven of the top 14 teams in average snaps per pick had a winning percentage higher than 50%, that is five more than first season snaps of rookies. Six of the top 14 teams in total snaps had a winning percentage higher than 50%.
I think looking at a draft class over a period of years is a better indicator of over impact/success. Teams like the Giants, Vikings, and Bills have gotten very little return (in regards to playing time) from the their 2010 class, while Kansas City, Denver, and Green Bay have.
That last table shows the average numbers of snaps per year per pick from the 2010 draft class. Please note, these snaps are only for the players that remained on their drafted teams. You can see a nice increase from 2010 to 2011, but after that it leveled off. Compare your favorite team's average to the total average of 863. What are your thoughts?
There you have it. It was interesting research to say the least. Next time someone tries to grade or judge a draft class (in the first season) by total number of snaps, remember to take it with a grain of salt. Enjoy and feel free to leave your comments below.
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