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The "This GM is a good/bad drafter" fallacy, and why Quantity > Quality

Interesting article: http://www.footballperspective.com/are-certain-teams-better-at-drafting-than-others/

The short answer is "No" with a very interesting look at AJ Smith and Bill Polian.

The bottom line is that all the GMs and scouts in this business are well-schooled pros, and statistically speaking no one is meaningfully better than others and innately knowing which players are going to be busts and which players are going to become stars and exceed their draft position. As simple and obvious as that sounds, I think MANY of us intuitively believe (or at least want to believe) the opposite.

The article doesn't flesh out the implications of its conclusion, but here's mine: Although no GMs are inherently better than their peers at drafting when it comes to hits versus misses, some teams are better at strategic aspects such as draft day maneuvering, stockpiling picks, extracting value in trades, and the like. Again, this is simple and obvious, and I think the evidence is already pretty clear that Baalke does fit into this category of adept draft day GMs along with guys like Belichick and Newsome.

Now, why we should NOT trade up significantly in this draft


I think the reason most commonly given is: "This draft is deep and not top-heavy, and you can get roughly the same caliber player at 15 as you can at 40."

That may be true, but I think the above article provides a far stronger reason not to trade up. "Good" GMs are going to have misses; "bad" GMs are going to have hits. It's like flipping a coin. Everyone's luck runs hot and cold. That's why I hope Baalke doesn't get too carried away with talk of "our guy." Especially in this new salary cap era, you are far better off bringing in more and more bodies on rookie contracts. And by stockpiling picks in the first two or three rounds, you increase you chances of finding star players.

I bet if we could run an experiment where one team drafts at #10 every year for five years and another team drafts at #35, #45, and #55 in those five years, then fast forward another 2-3 years, Team B would have more quality depth from those picks (kind of obvious) AND ALSO have more blue-chip, Pro Bowl type players (more counter-intuitive). Even if Team A never "misses", Team B only has to find a "gem" 33% of the time to keep pace in the "stud" department.

Summary: The odds say trading 31 and 34 (or 34 and 61 and 93, etc) is a bad strategy, but if you do it, you damn well better be right.
[ Edited by LieutKaffee on Apr 22, 2013 at 3:21 PM ]
Good post.
Those 3 picks are equivalent to the 9th pick in the draft according to the draft value chart and in a year with great depth, a team should have to give up less to move up (and even less based off the new value chart). This year, Baalke might see a top 10 talent fall to 13-14 and pull the trigger if he is confident the guy can be a difference-maker. This could just be a rumor, but there does appear to be a dropoff after the top 10-11 players (not including Geno Smith or another QB who could cause a top player to drop to 14).

The reason I don't completely agree with this way of thinking is that by picking fewer guys in the first 3 rounds, you're giving lower picks or players from last year's draft a better shot at making the team. You should really be comparing the success of the 9th pick plus 2 guys picked later on who were given a shot instead of the #45 and 55 picks since the team has the same amount of roster spots either way. If the 35, 45, and 55 picks are consistently worth more, then the draft value chart should probably change and teams probably already recognize that by now and are more willing to trade down. You're also never going to find a freak like Calvin Johnson in the second round, so although your chance of finding a great or even Pro-Bowl type player might increase, your chance of finding a guy like Justin Smith or Calvin Johnson who is the best player at his position for a long time is smaller. A guy with that type of upside just won't fall to the 2nd round even if they don't produce much in college.

Some of the players we draft early may be starting for the first time in 2-3 years, so we might even end up with more Pro Bowlers by picking one guy with a great shot at making a Pro Bowl early on and 3 other players in the first 3 rounds rather than 6 players in the first 3 rounds including some that aren't at a position of need. 31, 61, and 93 would probably be enough to get up to 14 and then the 49ers might be able to trade back into the 3rd round with their later picks.

I think you're probably right in thinking that having more picks is usually better, but if Baalke sees a guy drop far enough to see value in trading up, then I'd trust him given he has a pretty solid track record. I think the 49ers would still have plenty of picks to address other needs and the combination of DL, S, CB, WR/TE they get would actually be better if they got a guy like Sheldon Richardson.
[ Edited by eastcoast49ersfan on Apr 22, 2013 at 3:49 PM ]
Originally posted by eastcoast49ersfan:
Those 3 picks are equivalent to the 9th pick in the draft according to the draft value chart and in a year with great depth, a team should have to give up less to move up (and even less based off the new value chart). This year, Baalke might see a top 10 talent fall to 13-14 and pull the trigger if he is confident the guy can be a difference-maker. This could just be a rumor, but there does appear to be a dropoff after the top 10-11 players (not including Geno Smith or another QB who could cause a top player to drop to 14).

The reason I don't completely agree with this way of thinking is that by picking fewer guys in the first 3 rounds, you're giving lower picks or players from last year's draft a better shot at making the team. You should really be comparing the success of the 9th pick plus 2 guys picked later on who were given a shot instead of the #45 and 55 picks since the team has the same amount of roster spots either way. If the 35, 45, and 55 picks are consistently worth more, then the draft value chart should probably change and teams probably already recognize that by now and are more willing to trade down. You're also never going to find a freak like Calvin Johnson in the second round, so although your chance of finding a great or even Pro-Bowl type player might increase, your chance of finding a guy like Justin Smith or Calvin Johnson who is the best player at his position for a long time is smaller. A guy with that type of upside just won't fall to the 2nd round even if they don't produce much in college.

Some of the players we draft early may be starting for the first time in 2-3 years, so we might even end up with more Pro Bowlers by picking one guy with a great shot at making a Pro Bowl early on and 3 other players in the first 3 rounds rather than 6 players in the first 3 rounds including some that aren't at a position of need. 31, 61, and 93 would probably be enough to get up to 14 and then the 49ers might be able to trade back into the 3rd round with their later picks.

I think you're probably right in thinking that having more picks is usually better, but if Baalke sees a guy drop far enough to see value in trading up, then I'd trust him given he has a pretty solid track record. I think the 49ers would still have plenty of picks to address other needs and the combination of DL, S, CB, WR/TE they get would actually be better if they got a guy like Sheldon Richardson.

Good post. The problem is that drafting is always forward-looking while grading a draft is always backward-looking. No matter how much you and I and Baalke all love Richardson, you can make a pretty good argument it's still not worth it simply because of the possibility we're all wrong. But then again, if we make the move and then Richardson makes the PB, it will look genius.
  • fryet
  • Veteran
  • Posts: 2,840
Personally, I don't think you or the original author has proven the point. Just because there is similarity between a random exercise and an exercise of skill, does not mean the skill exercise is just luck. It is impossible to hit on all of your draft picks each year, because you only have so many roster spots. That also means that skilled players that sit on the bench may not develop as well as if they were starting from day one. Winning also makes it more difficult to pick good players, both because you have a lower draft position, but also because you tend to swing for the fence more - trying to get a starting caliber player on a stocked team. It should also be noted that development of players by the coaches have a big impact. I think one reason that Baalke looks like a genius is that he has JH coaching his draft picks.

I don't like a draft strategy where we spend lots of draft picks on players, hoping that a couple gems are found, and toss out the rest. If we draft 9 players, I want them to be in positions where it is conceivable that they could all make the team - i.e. don't draft 3 safeties for 1 spot and keep the best out of the 3.
Originally posted by fryet:
Personally, I don't think you or the original author has proven the point. Just because there is similarity between a random exercise and an exercise of skill, does not mean the skill exercise is just luck. It is impossible to hit on all of your draft picks each year, because you only have so many roster spots. That also means that skilled players that sit on the bench may not develop as well as if they were starting from day one. Winning also makes it more difficult to pick good players, both because you have a lower draft position, but also because you tend to swing for the fence more - trying to get a starting caliber player on a stocked team. It should also be noted that development of players by the coaches have a big impact. I think one reason that Baalke looks like a genius is that he has JH coaching his draft picks.

I don't like a draft strategy where we spend lots of draft picks on players, hoping that a couple gems are found, and toss out the rest. If we draft 9 players, I want them to be in positions where it is conceivable that they could all make the team - i.e. don't draft 3 safeties for 1 spot and keep the best out of the 3.

Oh yeah I wouldn't like that either. I want to draft "more" players but all at positions where it is likely they will make the team and succeed.
if the niners weren't a talent rich team, they could basically rebuild themselves in a draft like this. with a great deal of talent in the middle rounds, they could walk away with numerous players that would become starters.

for the niners, if there was a stud, it might be worth trading up to get someone (like a rice). they are at risk of being hampered by the cap, so if they could stash folks, they could posture themselves for the next cap bloodletting, which needs to happen in the next two years.
Originally posted by LieutKaffee:
Good post. The problem is that drafting is always forward-looking while grading a draft is always backward-looking. No matter how much you and I and Baalke all love Richardson, you can make a pretty good argument it's still not worth it simply because of the possibility we're all wrong. But then again, if we make the move and then Richardson makes the PB, it will look genius.

Fair enough. I think the biggest risk with Richardson is his injury history, but if he didn't have the shoulder and wrist injuries, I'd rank him ahead of Floyd who could go top 3 this draft (Richardson is probably a better fit for the 49ers with his versatility anyways). He plays hard and has plenty of physical gifts and long arms, but he's also 24 already. I guess it all depends on how confident Baalke is in Richardson or whoever else drops (and how much the Jets/Panthers/another team are asking for).
Good analysis, the closer we get to the draft the more I feel we should keep our top picks. The only time to trade your top picks is if you need a QB, and we definitely don't.
I agree with you and the article. I don't think we will trade up that far into the top 15 at all. But baalke has shown that he is willing to trade up or down to land a specific player. I don't have the exact stats in front of me but he moved up because Kaep was the guy. He traded for Anthony Davis I think. I think we moved up for Kilgore and I've always heard the rumors about Aj Jenkins name being written in an envelope the day before... Which would mean that he had his mind made up on a specific player.

Again I can't see us trading up that high but I could see us trading up to around 25 or so.
Simple statistics will tell you its harder to go 1/1 than 1/3, and that really all we need.
  • kent
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  • Posts: 36
Not sure whether history would say that one high pick is better or worse than multiple lower picks. It worked out well for the 49ers with Jerry Rice but not so well with JJ Stokes. For fun I took the last 6 drafts and listed below picks 31, 34, 61, 74, 93 as well as the equivalent based on the draft chart which would be pick 4. Not sure if I would want the 6 fours or the 30 others. Obviously, you need to fill a roster but I think the striking part is how few impact players there are in the 36 picks.

31 Cameron Hayward Steelers DE
31 Jerry Hughes Colts LB
31 Chris Wells Cardinals RB
31 Kenny Phillips Giants DB
31 Greg Olsen Bears TE
31 Kelly Jennings Seahawks DB

34 Aaron Williams Bills DB
34 Chris Cook Vikings DB
34 Patrick Chung Patriots DB
34 Devin Thomas Redskins WR
34 Paul Posluszny Bills LB
34 D'Qwell Jackson Browns LB

61 Jonas Mouton Chargers LB
61 Vladimir Ducasse Jets G
61 Sean Smith Dolphins DB
61 Martellus Bennett Cowboys TE
61 Gerald Alexander Lions DB
61 Tony Scheffler Broncos TE

74 Ryan Mallett Patriots QB
74 D'Anthony Smith Jaguars DT
74 Glen Coffee 49ers RB
74 Dan Connor Panthers LB
74 Yamon Figurs Ravens WR
74 Brian Calhoun Lions RB

93 Chris Conte Bears DB
93 Tony Moeaki Chiefs TE
93 Corvey Irvin Panthers DT
93 Philip Wheeler Colts LB
93 Garrett Wolfe Bears RB
93 Dominique Byrd Rams TE

4 A.J. Green Bengals WR
4 Trent Williams Redskins T
4 Aaron Curry Seahawks LB
4 Darren McFadden Raiders RB
4 Gaines Adams Buccaneers DE
4 D'Brickashaw Ferguson Jets T
[ Edited by kent on Apr 22, 2013 at 10:21 PM ]
Originally posted by kent:
Not sure whether history would say that one high pick is better or worse than multiple lower picks. It worked out well for the 49ers with Jerry Rice but not so well with JJ Stokes. For fun I took the last 6 drafts and listed below picks 31, 34, 61, 74, 93 as well as the equivalent based on the draft chart which would be pick 4. Not sure if I would want the 6 fours or the 30 others. Obviously, you need to fill a roster but I think the striking part is how few impact players there are in the 36 picks.

31 Cameron Hayward Steelers DE
31 Jerry Hughes Colts LB
31 Chris Wells Cardinals RB
31 Kenny Phillips Giants DB
31 Greg Olsen Bears TE
31 Kelly Jennings Seahawks DB

34 Aaron Williams Bills DB
34 Chris Cook Vikings DB
34 Patrick Chung Patriots DB
34 Devin Thomas Redskins WR
34 Paul Posluszny Bills LB
34 D'Qwell Jackson Browns LB

61 Jonas Mouton Chargers LB
61 Vladimir Ducasse Jets G
61 Sean Smith Dolphins DB
61 Martellus Bennett Cowboys TE
61 Gerald Alexander Lions DB
61 Tony Scheffler Broncos TE

74 Ryan Mallett Patriots QB
74 D'Anthony Smith Jaguars DT
74 Glen Coffee 49ers RB
74 Dan Connor Panthers LB
74 Yamon Figurs Ravens WR
74 Brian Calhoun Lions RB

93 Chris Conte Bears DB
93 Tony Moeaki Chiefs TE
93 Corvey Irvin Panthers DT
93 Philip Wheeler Colts LB
93 Garrett Wolfe Bears RB
93 Dominique Byrd Rams TE

4 A.J. Green Bengals WR
4 Trent Williams Redskins T
4 Aaron Curry Seahawks LB
4 Darren McFadden Raiders RB
4 Gaines Adams Buccaneers DE
4 D'Brickashaw Ferguson Jets T

Of course it would be far more interesting if you cherry-picked the best players in the general area of those lower picks.
  • kent
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Originally posted by LieutKaffee:
Of course it would be far more interesting if you cherry-picked the best players in the general area of those lower picks.


Yes, but the same could be said for the top picks. Just a little depressing if that reflects an expected value of the 49ers top 5 picks.
Originally posted by LieutKaffee:
Of course it would be far more interesting if you cherry-picked the best players in the general area of those lower picks.
I'll bite. I picked players selected within 3 (ocassionally 4) spots of where we will pick in this years draft. I rated players as either Elite, Star, Key Starter or Solid Contributor. Sometimes I included 2 players when I couldn't decide.

2012

Matt Kalil OT #4- Elite
-------
Harrison Smith S #29- Star

Derek Wolfe DT #36- Key Starter

Casey Hayward CB #62/Dwayne Allen TE #64- Key Starter

Russell Wilson QB #75- Star

Ty Hilton WR #92- Key Starter (Could be star if keeps developing)


2011 (Holy s**t what a great top 11 that was)

AJ Green #4/Julio Jones #6- Elite
-----
Muhammad Wilkerson #30- Star

Colin Kaepernick #36- Star

Randall Cobb #64/Torrey Smith #58- Star

Steven Ridley RB #73- Key Starter

Chris Conte S #93- Solid Contributor


2010 (Excellent 1st round with 14 Pro-Bowlers already. Meh 2nd day)

Gerald McCoy DT #3- Elite
----
Devin McCourty CB #27- Star

TJ Ward S #38- Star

Ben Tate RB #58- Solid Contributor

Major Wright S #75- Key Starter

Navorro Bowman LB #91/Jimmy Graham TE #95- Elite


2009 (Yuck! What a hideous top 10!)

Andre Smith OT #6- Key Starter
----
Hakeem Nicks WR #29- Key Starter

Louis Delmas S #33- Key Starter

Sebastian Vollmer OT #58/William Beatty OT #60- Star

Terrance Knighton DT #72- Solid Contributor

Keenan Lewis CB #96- Key Starter


2008

Chris Long DE #2- Elite
------
Kenny Phillips S #31- Key Starter

Brandon Flowers CB #45- Star

Martellus Bennett TE #61- Solid Contributor

Jamaal Charles RB #73- Star

Cliff Avril DE #92- Key Starter

Analysis: In 4 of the 5 drafts the player selected was an elite player, while only 1 elite player was drafted in the 20 other picks, but many stars and key starters were drafted. If you want an elite player, the top of the draft is still the place to be in most drafts but you better select wisely because if you miss you're missing out on potentially grabbing one or two stars or key contributors.

In this draft which is considered to be very weak at the top with few if any elite prospects but very very deep it doesn't seem like a very smart move to trade a bunch of picks for a top 5 pick. It might be worth it if there was a guy you considered a "once in a decade player" available and you didn't have a lot of holes to fill but otherwise it would be a pretty ballsy gamble. Our best move is to keep our picks in the first 3 rounds and either trade up with later picks back into the 3rd or use those 4th-7th rounders to continue to stockpile picks for the future.
[ Edited by AllTimeGreat on Apr 22, 2013 at 11:38 PM ]