Yardbarker Horiz

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The 2010 Offseason: How to Predict the Draft

To try to discern what one team might do come draft day is nearly impossible. But to know ahead of time why some decisions occur and their impact on a franchise is not impossible at all.

The 2010 offseason has not officially started in the NFL, but important offseason decisions are well underway. These are just the first few events in a large chain reaction which will sweep across the league before the 2010 preseason begins.

Don't get me wrong -- it's fun to create (and look over) mock drafts. It's a veritable closet industry on the Internet. If you enter "2010 NFL mock draft" into Google you'll get results for about a million web sites (I'm not kidding). At this point in the year, mock drafts are totally and wholly misleading. I had planned to track several and see who was "most accurate" -- but how boring would THAT be??

The evolution of a roster during the offseason is where the thoughts and plans of General Managers and Coaches are revealed. Anyone can slap down a sheet of statistics and see which players on a team were productive (or not) or ranked lower than NFL peers. But a more careful look is needed -- no matter how many NFL teams there are, there will always be a first and a last place in the rankings. For example, the Denver Broncos averaged about 395 yards of offense per game last year, making it the #2 offense in the NFL. If Denver had produced the exact same number of yards this year, they would have finished #4 – so did Denver get better, or did other teams produce more offense? Even with that high ranking in Denver the house was cleaned, a new GM and new coach put in place, and eventually the starting quarterback was traded away. This is just one example of how only using statistics will tell us nothing about what a team is thinking.

Opinions on NFL talent are what matters in front offices, period. And nothing matters more than the talent already under contract. Statistics are never a great indicator of how a team values a player (or a unit), particularly if it is a young player who received limited playing time. Do the coaches think a player fits in their system? Does a player have upside? Is a player not maturing? To understand where the Rookie GM Class of 2009 is going with their teams will take some time. But they will tell us through their actions.

If I were an NFL GM (no thank you!!) the first part of the analysis I would want going into the 2010 offseason is a "current state" picture of the team. Not just a depth chart -- a depth chart with forward-looking numbers. So that is where we will start.

Next I would want to know the value of each player to my coaching staff. We can't know what coaches think, and this time of year you shouldn't really believe what they say (more about that later). In this case there are numbers which are important, such as how much a player played, what point during the season a player played, injury information, etc. A basic headcount is also surprisingly important.

Finally, as General Manager, contract information comes into play. Does the value of the player match the relative payroll outlay for that player. For example, the Tampa Bay media bristled with the re-signing of Micheal Clayton, citing poor performance. Yet reports persisted he was valued by the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. Those teams saw a player they valued to fit into their organization. When the Buccaneers re-signed Clayton, Seattle signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the Vikings did not find another candidate of sufficient value, so they spent their first round pick on WR Percy Harvin. In this light, the move to keep Clayton by the Buccaneers makes sense, particularly if you believe the previous regime had not utilized his talents properly, if you believe that the Buccaneers needed a #2 receiver going into last season, and if you saw the market as empty. By noting these transactions it would have been reasonable to predict on draft day that Minnesota wanted a receiver.

So no mock draft here becuase, really, we just don't have enough facts. Besides, who wants to just guess when you can make educated guesses. They may take time but it's the offseason -- so let's get started!

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