(Editor's note: Promoted from the Field Gulls fanpost section to the front page)
Massive thanks up top to Kyle Lampe for his assistance in scraping and gathering the data used in this series. Literally could not have done this without him. And special thanks to James Parkinson for editing, and to Jed Fowler for assistance with Excel/Google Sheets know-how.
It's mid-June and I've now had a month to digest yet another mind-bending draft class by the Seattle Seahawks. I put an order into Etsy for decorative plates commemorating the 1000th year in a row of trying to draft anyone other than an OL in the early rounds, solidified my plans to have "The Seahawks Have Traded Down" etched on my headstone, and performed my yearly ritual of scouring YouTube to try and dig up highlights of the latest projected 6th rounder taken in the 2nd by the braintrust of Pete Carroll and John Schneider.
They've had 10 drafts together and, sure, there is zero question that in that time they have drafted a number of good-to-great players. A non-exhaustive list of guys chosen by this front office who have occupied places at, or near, the top of their respective positions would include names like Russells Wilson and Okung, Earl "Come Get Me" Thomas, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and ADB. The Hawks have also banked a good amount of hardware, capturing the NFC West four times, two NFC Championships and one Lombardi Trophy, on their way to winning 100 regular season games - 4th most in the NFL since 2010.
Last year I tuned in live for the first time in a couple years, and as Kaleb McGary slid down almost out of the first round, I shouted at the TV "Wow! What an opportunity for a team that has really struggled to protect the QB to pick up a young, healthy, talented tackle that we've all seen play locally!" And of course, we picked defensive end LJ Collier instead. So I shrugged when my dad asked me if I knew who any of the guys were we drafted, and watched as the team did pretty well despite being middle of the road in run blocking and allowing nearly 50 sacks. And all that draft capital invested in Collier?
Sure paid off: Collier played 150 snaps all season and the Hawks were once again laughable at getting pressure on the opposing QB.
But then I started thinking: what if I had it all wrong? What if the Seahawks were Moneyball-ing the rest of the league with their trading down and pick hoarding, and the perceived misses in early rounds weren't really misses, or if they were, they weren't really that bad? I decided to set off on a magical, mathematical journey over Brian Schneider, Pete Carroll, and Co's first 10 years of drafts to figure this out once and for all.
Ground rules up front: for this first set of analyses we will be using the stat "Approximate Value" to evaluate player worth. AV, if you're not familiar, was created by Pro Football Reference founder Doug Drinen, and is an attempt to create a single numerical value for an individual player's season. You can read more about it here. Helpfully for our purposes, in 2007 Doug also created a draft pick value chart based on the career AV totals of the players picked at any given position between 1980 and 1999. Also, some of you may know he took a slightly different approach to the chart in 2012, and don't worry, we'll get there. All stats are taken from pro-football-reference.com.
So. Who has picked the most valuable players over the last 10 years? What front office has done the best job on draft day? For our first crack at that question. let's take a look at the overall total value drafted between 2010 and 2019. Now, to make this a little interesting, I'm going to show you a chart first with most of the team names removed. I've left a few notable franchises on there for reference. Can you guess which line is the Hawks?
Everyone got their guesses?
I know we’re not supposed to use chatspeak on Fieldgulls, and it certainly doesn’t meet journalistic standards, but I think in this case I’m allowed a genuine WTF?!?!
That’s not a data error, the Seahawks have drafted the most value in players over the last 10 years and it’s not even close. Their 1453 total AV smokes the Patriots, second with a paltry 1200, by nearly 25%. Green Bay and all the stars they’ve brought in? Just 1148. Bit unfair to dump on San Francisco too much, they had a rough go of it in the first part of the decade, but they net just 966.
The mean total AV, for those curious, was 989, making Washington at 991 the most average drafters in the league.
The Seahawks are draft geniuses! Probably your first thought - and mine too. That and, "I guess I’m the idiot for ever doubting these guys." But I know what some of the more mathy types out there are contemplating. "Well, sure," you think, scratching that quarantine beard, or whatever the female equivalent of a quarantine beard is, "of course the Hawks crush in total AV - they are the masters of trading down and adding picks. Over 10 years, even those late round picks add up, and boom, you have the reason we’ve lapped the rest of the NFL." Let’s take a look at picks by team over that time:
We can see that yes, the Seahawks have picked the most, but it’s not as dramatic as you may think. They’ve actually selected just once more than Minnesota and San Francisco, and four more times than Cincinnati, which is relatively inconsequential over 10 years. Although they are obviously well above the average team, who is making 79.5 selections (median of 79).
It's interesting to note that the NFC West, long considered one of, if not the best divisions in football has three teams above average in terms of picks. In fact if you group the NFC divisions by total picks over the decade, you get the NFC West at #1 with 357, the NFC North at #2 with 324, the NFC East at #3 with 317, and the NFC South at #4 with 268 picks. And that's pretty close to how I'd power rank them as well (since 2010, of course).
So that brings us to the next question to ask when evaluating the Seahawks’ draft ability. We know how they do with volume (real good!). But how efficient are the Hawks being with all those draft picks they stockpile?
I mean, I already catalogued the value of 2455 individual draft picks over 10 years, so let me just plug that question into the data and...
How are the 49ers so absolutely terrible at drafting? Seriously guys, get it together.
We can see the volume approach just generally doesn’t work to the advantage of many teams when we evaluate them this way. The 49ers, Vikings, Bengals and Browns all sit below average (12.49 aka "The Chargers") as a result of dropping picks like Russell drops deep dimes (Chris Simms, don’t let the door hit you on the way out). The Seahawks stand tall though, placing second to the Saints. New Orleans is an interesting case: if you refer back to the table above, they’ve actually drafted the fewest times (61) since 2010. So on one hand you have a team that’s picked the fewest, but most valuable players over the last decade. On the other, a team that’s picked the most, but still comes in second in efficiency. By this measure, one could certainly argue that the Hawks only continue to build their case for being the best drafting team in the league over the last decade.
So the Seahawks crush in total AV, they come in a relatively close second in average pick value despite picking the most times in the decade. Case closed, right? I'm stupid. You're smart. I was wrong. You were right. You're the best. I'm the worst. You're very good looking. I'm not very attractive.
Nah, we're just getting started. More angles, more numbers, more analysis, and a serious plot twist to come in Part II.