Battle of the AFC North 2013 Draft Class: The Final Assessment

via marcuswheaton11.com

A few weeks ago I started a series revisiting the 2013 draft for the Steelers. You can read about the first-round picks here, the second-round picks here,  and the third and fourth round picks here. The 5th and 6th round picks are here, and the seventh round picks and UDFAs are here:

Before I embark upon my overall assessment of the 2013 draft, posted below is the chart I promised in the previous post. It is from a great article  from “Chartsnthings” (a New York Times blog) titled “Charting Skill and Chance in the N.F.L. Draft.”

To make the chart they used data from Pro Football Reference, which assigns an Approximate Value for each player in each season. Just to give you a feel for their valuations, last season Terence Garvin received an AV of 1—Antonio Brown received an AV of 16. Lawrence Timmons received an AV of 11. 

Draft Randomness

The authors averaged out these values over the whole league going back to 1995 or so to come up with a distribution for what one might reasonably expect out of a player drafted in each round, as follows:

Average Value chart

As the authors said:

What we wanted to focus on was the reality that there’s much more randomness in the draft than people realize. Cade Massey and Richard H. Thaler, behavioral psychologists, analyzed the draft and found that not only is there no persistent skill among teams in picking players – teams have good years and bad years in equal measure – but that across all players and positions, teams only picked a player better than the person who went next at that position 52 percent of the time.

Their main point seems to be, the draft is a crapshoot. But within this crapshoot you can see that you should, everything being equal, expect to get a good deal more value from your higher picks than the ones in the lower rounds. Nonetheless, you’re not going to get it right every time. And this does not take into account the effects of injuries which can quickly derail a career. (The AV, like the honey badger, don’t care…if you aren’t playing, you aren’t accruing any value, no matter how awesome you might be.)

With that proviso, I thought of a number of possible ways to evaluate the class thus far. Total snaps? Pro Football Reference cumulative value? Number of Pro Bowls? (In some ways, if you get a Pro Bowl player out of the lower rounds, this ought to count for extra credit.)

All of these methods are flawed to one degree or another, and would take a tremendous amount of time. So I’m going to eyeball it, if your will, and note how many players each team got from this draft and a gut approximation of their value and call it a day. The truth is, we’ll never know for sure about this class until they have all retired and gone on with their life’s work.

Nor will we ever know if they would have been better (or worse) players on a different team, with different coaches and/or a different system.

Here goes.

Most Valuable Player for Each Team:

Ravens:

Strangely, given the reputation General Manager Ozzie Newsome has around the league as a complete draft wizard, the first few rounds were not kind to the Ravens in 2013. In fact it looks as if the best player in the class might well turn out to be their fifth round pick Ricky Williams, who has been contributing early and often. This is critical given that the upper round picks seem to be a bit of a washout.

Bengals:

The Bengals had an embarras de richesse from which to choose. A year ago one would have said Giovani Bernard was the ‘class of the class.’ Now it looks as if he will be a serviceable change of pace back but not an elite talent. it’s possible that instead one of the defensive players—Margus Hunt or Shawn Williams—will break out this season. This is also a possibility for first round pick Tyler Eifert. So their draft is much harder to read than the others.

Browns: 

They made it easy. At this point it’s Barkevous Mingo, no question. Should Josh Gordon come back fixed (not in the veterinary sense, naturally) it could change, but it looks like Mingo is going to be a good player for a long time.

Steelers:

At this point it’s difficult to not go with Le’Veon Bell as the most valuable pick by far. And, barring injury, this would seem to hold up to further scrutiny, although Marcus Wheaton, Vince Williams, or Shamarko Thomas could eventually turn out to be the better player in the long term. Or even, for that matter, Jarvis Jones, although it would be surprising at this point. I think this year will go a lot farther toward “achieving clarity” with this draft class.

Least Valuable Player for Each Team:

This is going to be a tough call. I will be attempting to consider the value one would expect to get from the draft round in which the player was picked, extenuating circumstances, and so on. So a seventh-round player who doesn’t pan out nonetheless by definition can’t go in this category, because it’s unreasonable to expect them to produce much of anything. So unless your entire class is absolutely stellar, your failed seventh round pick isn’t going to make the list.

Ravens:

This is a tough one. At this point you pretty much have to go with Arthur Brown, since one would expect a lot more from a second round pick. Matt Elam has at least contributed something. Fourth-round pick John Simon is an honorable mention, not because he’s a bad player but because he’s looking like a good one the Ravens let get away.

Bengals:

Again, it is tough to call at this point. It’s safe to say that if Tyler Eifert doesn’t show a lot this year he will be edging toward this category. But there is no reason at this point to think that’s the case. It’s annoying when a first round draft pick gets derailed by injuries, but it happens, as the Steelers know all too well. Right now it is fair to say the Bengals have gotten little value from their third round pick and less from their fourth. They are both on the roster, though, so again this season will tell the tale.

Browns: 

Such a lot of choices. You can’t pick Josh Gordon, because he did give the Browns a great deal of value when not suspended. I think I have to go with Davone Bess. He not only didn’t play well for 2013 (although he played a lot) but he was gone by 2014.

Steelers:

A lot of people in Steeler Nation, a remarkably crusty and impatient group, would say the obvious answer is Jarvis Jones. But it is too soon to say this. The same for Shamarko Thomas. But there is no question fifth round pick Terry Hawthorne neither gave them anything before nor will in the future. So Hawthorne it is, for now.

Best and Worst Call by the Pundits:

Best Call: 

Possibly by Rob Rang of CBS Sports, who said this:

Frankly, I thought the Browns got their best value in the seventh round with intriguing developmental pass rusher Armonty Bryant and Garrett Gilkey, a developmental offensive lineman who impressed me at the Senior Bowl.

Worst Call: 

This is got to be this one, by Pete Prisco:

[I didn’t like] taking Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell in the second round. I just think he takes too long to get to the line of scrimmage. He is more of a plodder…The Bell pick lowers the grade.

Regrading the 2013 Draft

How should one rank the relative value each team got out of this draft? It’s very hard to compare across positions, to weigh possible future production against substandard past production, and so on. But I’m going to give it a try, and give my grade compared to that of the pundits.

Ravens:

For once the Ravens had what appears to be a substandard draft, at least so far. This draft was very highly thought of at the time—an A- (Kiper,) A (Rang), and Bs from Brooks and Prisco. At the moment they all seem too high, and I would go with a B- or a C at best. At the moment only getting a great offensive tackle in the fifth round saves them.

Bengals:

The lowest grade the Bengals got was an A-, from Mel Kiper. And although a lot of players haven’t yet shown whether they are boom or bust, I think at least a B is a fair grade.

Browns: 

The highest grade the Browns got was from Mel Kiper, who gave them a C+. All the others gave the Browns a C. Despite Mingo looking pretty good, this seems an overly generous grade. Again, this depends a bit on whether the Manziel pick in 2014 which they got from the Steelers for their 2013 fourth round pick turns out to have been a good idea or not. If they end up with a franchise quarterback, it will make this whole draft look better. But for now I’m giving them a D.

Steelers:

Brooks liked the Steelers’ draft well enough to give it an A-. The other grades were Bs, and Prisco’s was even a B-. (The minus was presumably his downgrade for picking Le’Veon Bell.) A lot of the value of this class will, like the Bengals’ class, rest on whether Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas end up being good picks. But the value they have gotten from Marcus Wheaton and Bell makes it a good draft, at any rate, and that’s without considering Vince Williams. So I know I’m a homer, but I’m declaring the Steelers to be the only ones to get an A, although at the moment I’m calling it an A-.

Feel free to disagree in the comments, but you must show your work!

8 comments

  • This should be required reading for anyone who is tempted to give a thumbs up or down to a draft prior to at least five years. Those guilty of ‘premature evaluation’ should consider seeking medical attention. There certainly would be a market for an over the counter medication of some kind. Maybe we could get Mel Kiper to do some sort of testimonial.

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  • I don’t know if it is too early to say it about Thomas. JJ at least gets on the field each year. Thomas hasn’t gotten his butt off the bench yet and he’s in Year 3. If Allen has a concussion and is out next week, and Thomas remains on the bench, I think it is fair to say that he’s not ever going to have an impact.

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  • So….what are your overall conclusions, Rebecca? I’ll admit I normally would never read this kind of grading assessment (or assessment of grading?) except that this one had your name attached. Do you agree that drafting is a crapshoot? Were you hoping to see something in particular in relation to the Steelers or any of the other teams? Did you have an idea you were hoping to see confirmed or the opposite? And while I’m asking questions, I assume you enjoy doing things like this and I’m curious about that as well.

    So many things about other forms of fandom puzzle me. 🙂 Sometimes I’m a bit appalled, other times just interested in what would never occur to me. Is a study like this just a way to look more closely at the whole process? What did you enjoy about it? Does it change your view of….well, of anything?

    Finally, while I”m asking questions, do you believe there are people who are very good at it and did that show up in the articles you read if pertaining to teams other than the AFC North? I often talk to a Seahawks fan who is convinced that Pete Carroll (as having significant input in the process) is better at drafting than anyone else in the NFL because his college coaching experience both gave him certain assessment skills others lack in terms of how the players translate to the NFL and also created his expectation of an almost complete turnover of players every 2-3 years, I guess so that he wants more than other coaches to draft players who make an immediate impact, then he replaces them. To make that more clear, I’m not claiming that he is the best in the NFL at drafting. I pay almost no attention to the draft but that’s my friend’s belief and the Seahaws do seem to have an enviable talent for finding late round draft picks who are stars. And then–replacing them? I guess we’ll see on that last point.

    Earthling–still too lazy, I guess, to figure out why I got hung up on making an account here

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    • I started to write a very long reply to this and decided I couldn’t possibly address it all in a comment. So it will be an article, probably early next week. Thanks for that! Part of the difficulty of a site like this is coming up with things to write about. The article will undoubtedly reveal a great deal more than anyone one wants to know about how my mind works, because as I’m sure you’ve ascertained I tend to be a fairly stream of consciousness type writer. So sorry to make you wait, but a 5000-word comment might break the site : )

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