It’s pretty much an NFL truism now that good franchises draft well and bad ones don’t. If you’re looking for a reason why the Redskins have perennially finished at the bottom of the division during Dan Snyder’s ownership, examining our organization’s abhorrent record in the draft is a good place to start. In fact, a good case can be made that the Redskins have been the worst drafting team in the entire league going at least as far back as the past decade.
ESPN the Magazine ran an interesting set of charts in its 2011 draft preview. One of them depicted a series of graphs demonstrating the quality of each team’s drafting as judged by the number and quality of the drafted players remaining on an NFL roster (or injured reserve) for week 17 of the 2010 season. The findings are frustrating to Redskins fans. Only 34 players drafted by the Redskins remained in the league in 2010, the lowest number for any franchise in the NFL. Of that 34, only 23 were with the team (or were placed on our injured reserve) for week 17 of last season. That number ties for the league low with Kansas City. There are only two other franchises in our sad orbit, the aforementioned Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both teams have 36 players drafted still in the league. The Bucs have 25 remaining on their roster. After that, it’s not really close as every other team in the league has at least 40 players drafted still in the league. Yes, we’ve been outdrafted by the Lions. Even worse, the Redskins only drafted eight total linemen still in the league last season–by far the worst record in the NFL.
By contrast, all of the best franchises have drafted extremely well. These are my unofficial counts (Math is my worst suit, so if you spot an error, let me know).
Patriots: 56 players drafted still in the league; 35 on roster
Green Bay: 59 players in league; 39 still on roster
Pittsburgh: 52 players in league; 39 still on roster
Indianapolis: 56 players in league; 41 still on roster
Baltimore: 50 players in league; 33 still on roster
Philadelphia: 53 players in league; 30 still on roster
Atlanta is a relatively new league power set to sustain their recent success. The evidence for that projection is in how successfully they’ve drafted: 50 remaining in the league and 30 remaining on their roster.
I think the evidence presented by the success of those organizations is pretty clear. If you want to be an annual contender, you’ve got to build through the draft. There is no other way. So in order to do this, a team has two choices. They can either hit on nearly all of their draft picks each year (a practical impossibility) or they can stockpile lots of picks each season. It makes intuitive sense that the Packers and Patriots would have so many successful picks when you see them reel in nine and 10 player classes just about every year. Picking four and five times each year like the Redskins do just doesn’t cut it.
Interestingly enough, despite being the worst drafting team in the league, the Redskins haven’t picked higher than fourth in a class since 2001. My guess as to the reason we’ve never been the worst record in the league is because, every year, we’re also the most desperate spenders in Free Agency. Our absurd spending has probably been the only thing that’s allowed us even the smallest modicum of competitiveness year to year. That’s no ringing endorsement for building through Free Agency. In fact, I’d argue that, if anything, it would have been better to just bottom out and build with elite draft picks for a few seasons in a row so we’d at least have reliable access to the very best prospects in the class.
Just to pile on, not only have the Redskins had trouble drafting enough players that stick, the ones that have worked out have generally been of low quality. Doug Drinen at pro-football-reference.com created a statistical measure called approximate career value using a complicated set of formulas that would take a sharper mind than my own to explain for you. The short of it is that the stat assigns a numeric value to a player’s career across any position, kind of like the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) advanced metric in baseball. ESPN the Magazine’s chart names the most valuable players drafted by position group. Here is the depressing list for the Redskins:
QB: Jason Campbell (with the Raiders in 2010)
RB: LaDell Betts (with the Saints in 2010)
WR/TE: Chris Cooley
OL: Derrick Dockery
DL: Kedric Golston
LB: Rocky McIntosh
DB: Champ Bailey (with the Broncos in 2010)
According to Drinen’s metric, Chris Cooley has had the most valuable career of any remaining drafted Redskin by far. The best player in the league that the Redskins drafted (Champ Bailey) has been on a different team for the past seven seasons. It’s depressing stuff realizing two of the best players your team has drafted and developed are Rocky McIntosh and Kedric Golston. This is especially so when you gaze across the league wide charts and see names like Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and Dwight Freeney for Indy; Tom Brady and Richard Seymour for New England; Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed, and Ray Lewis for Baltimore.
But wait a second, take that gun out of your mouth Redskins fans. There is actually a positive note upon which I can end this entry. Our approximate career value numbers figure to get a lot better once the young careers of Brian Orakpo, LaRon Landry, and Trent Williams unfold. Those are some names that don’t look too bad at all when you consider them.
Further, being in company with the Chiefs and Bucs isn’t necessarily a bad thing because those teams were actually good in 2010. Each made huge strides this past season based on the strength of a recent run of excellent drafting. Like us, both organizations went through sweeping regime changes that effectively purged their number of drafted players remaining in the league. Yet cutting the dead weight and making a commitment to build anew through the draft ended up being beneficial to both organizations, and each went from last place finishes to 10+ game winners in the span of only two seasons. So it doesn’t take long to rapidly improve the quality of your roster when you make that commitment to build through the draft and you acquire quality young pieces that stick.
Let’s all hope Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan read ESPN the Magazine and looked at the pretty charts.