On June 11th, 2020, Football Outsiders published an analysis by guest columnist Benjamin Ellinger which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that John Schneider and Pete Carroll were the best / most efficient drafters in NFL history.
Okay, maybe not in NFL history, but certainly for the period of time that Benjamin was evaluating, 2010-2019.
I still chuckle when I read his introductory paragraph:
Every year, NFL fans look back on the draft and immediately wonder: was it a good draft for my team? Pundits compare who was drafted to the consensus draft boards and are impressed when general managers make the obvious picks. Teams that have lots of high draft picks get excellent grades (unless they deviate too much from the conventional wisdom). The Seattle Seahawks get poor draft grades because nobody understands why they made the picks they did.
If it wasn’t obvious from that intro, Benjamin is a Seahawks fan.
Benjamin’s analysis includes three tables that look at how much draft capital each team had from 2010-2019 (Table 1), what each team’s total draft return was based on each player’s career approximate value (Table 2), and how much value each of those draft classes returned over expectation given the draft capital that was available (Table 3).
Here are the main takeaways as they relate to Seattle:
- From 2010 to 2019, the Seahawks had the 10th-lowest amount of draft capital.
- Despite that, Seattle had the highest total draft return in the league.
- In their first ten drafts together, John and Pete generated an average of 35% more value than expected given the draft capital they had.
Note: If +35% doesn’t sound impressive to you, think of it this way: The Seahawks added 13-1/2 drafts worth of value over a 10-year period.
Benjamin’s data-driven conclusion that the Seahawks were the most efficient drafters in the league drew some criticism though.
Critics point to the fact that Seattle’s legendary 2012 draft class had the highest return over expectation of any team during that 10-year period, and that the Seahawks’ 2011 draft class had the 2nd-highest return over expectation.
Those are, of course, valid points - those two drafts kicked ass and directly led to Seattle’s back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
The argument that flows from there is that Seattle’s two exceptional draft classes skewed the results and artificially buoyed John and Pete’s reputation as draft gurus after the USS Seahawk sprung a leak in subsequent drafts.
Critics pointed to the the less-than-stellar drafts in 2013 and 2014 as “proof” that the data didn’t support the conclusion.
Here is the value over (or under) expectation for each of Seattle’s draft classes from 2010 to 2019: +32%, +124%, +136%, (-23%), (-12%), +75%, +17%, +7%, +21%, and (-26%).
That’s seven classes above expectation and only three classes below.
- Only the Dallas Cowboys had more classes above expectation (8).
- Only three other teams had seven (Miami, New Orleans, and Washington).
- Each of our NFC West rivals only had four.
That’s just the appetizer though.
Let’s have some fun!
Chipping away at the data
Since the criticism is that the 2011 and 2012 draft classes are skewing the results, let’s remove them.
Of course, if we’re going to remove Seattle’s top two classes then we also have to remove the top two draft classes for each of the other 31 teams.
I mean, fair is fair.
Guess what though . . . with each team’s top two draft classes removed, Seattle is still #1.
Removing each team’s 3rd-best class drops Seattle to #2.
The Seahawks climb back into a tie for #1 when each team’s 4th-best class is dropped.
Seattle is alone at #1 when the 5th-best draft class is removed and maintains that position when the 6th-best class joins the others on the scrap pile.
It’s only when the top seven drafts have been taken off the board, leaving each team’s three worst drafts, that Seattle drops out of the top-3.
Seattle doesn’t fall far though, landing at #4.
The Seahawks remain at #4 when each team’s 8th-best draft is removed.
Then, when it’s only each team’s WORST draft remaining . . .
Seattle has the best worst draft.
Let’s do one more . . .
If we arbitrarily eliminate the first five years of Benjamin’s analysis (2010-2014) and only look at the last five (2015-2019), what do we find?
Note: Considering that we eliminated two of the best drafts of the last 20 years, while simultaneously letting Kansas City benefit from drafting Patrick Mahomes in 2017, finishing 3rd is pretty impressive.
Bottom line: From 2010 to 2019, there wasn’t another team in the league that was worthy of holding Seattle’s kicking tee when it came to draft efficiency.
That was then though . . .
This is now.
PFF enters the discussion
The Spielberger piece is similar to and yet very different from the analysis that Benjamin Ellinger published in 2020.
Personally, I think they complement each other well.
Benjamin’s piece looks at each draft class as a whole while the Spielberger piece breaks the draft up by days, by positions, and by trades.
We’ll look at these one at a time.
Spielberger uses some rather intense charts to share his data. I don’t feel right sharing them since they’re behind a paywall and, honestly, they tend to be more confusing than helpful (in my opinion). The main takeaways are easy to understand though.
Before we get to those takeaways, let’s look at the methodology that Spielberger employs:
The below charts (which we’re not sharing) illustrate how each draft pick performed in terms of generating PFF wins above replacement over their four-year rookie contract, with each position at each pick having a percentile outcome from 0-100. The range of outcomes is based on the historical performance of draft picks in each range from 2006 through 2022. The earlier a pick takes place, the larger the weight that result carries in the overall score.
Spielberger includes two charts in each of the “Day” sections. The first chart shows the data for all 12 years that are being analyzed (2011-2022). The second chart looks at only the last six years (2017-2022). For this article, almost everything I’m sharing is from the first chart in each section (i.e., all 12 years) and is based on my interpretation of the data.
Note: The reason that Spielberger started the analysis in 2011 is because that’s when the rookie pay scale went into effect.
In the first chart in the Day One section, teams are sorted / ranked by weighted average percentile outcome for all of their 1st-round picks from 2011 to 2022.
The Seahawks only selected seven players in the first round across those 12 drafts.
One of those seven picks was #9 overall (2022), one was #15 overall (2012), and the rest were between #25 and #31.
Between the five “missing” picks from 2011-2022, and the lateness of the picks the Seahawks did make, Seattle ends up being ranked next to last for “team draft success” in Round 1.
Spielberger’s write-up touches on this:
. . . the Seahawks’ placement here is fascinating considering their success throughout the decade, though they were without first-round picks for about half the years in the sample, and they also received very little value from players like tackle Germain Ifedi, running back Rashaad Penny and edge defender L.J. Collier. Seattle wasn’t just trading away first-round picks all the time; instead, they were often successfully trading down … more on that later.
Things look better for the Seahawks on Day Two.
To start with, Seattle has made 29 picks on Day Two over the last dozen drafts. Fourteen of those have been Round 2 picks; the balance have been Round 3.
From 2011 to 2022, the Seahawks are #19 in the team draft success category on Day Two.
Middle of the pack isn’t great, but it’s certainly better than next-to-last.
Note: Over 12 drafts, the average team would make 24 selections on Day Two. Seattle made five “extra” Day Two picks which certainly helped their ranking; although not nearly as much as the five “missing” picks hurt their ranking on Day One.
Again, Spielberger writes about the Seahawks, this time saying:
We once again see the brilliance of head coach Pete Carroll and the enormous benefit of knocking one draft class out of the park, as the Seattle Seahawks did in 2022. From 2017 to 2022, Seattle ranked in the bottom five on Day 1 and Day 2. However, general manager John Schneider wouldn’t stay down for too long, and he had what looks to be one of the great drafts of the past few years in 2022. With three top-40 selections and five top-85 selections in this year’s class, another group even close to 2022 could catapult the Seahawks back to the top of the NFC West in a hurry.
Over a 12-year period, the average team would make 48 Day Three selections. From 2011 to 2022, the Seahawks topped that by 50% with their seventy-two selections spread pretty evenly across the final four rounds.
Day Three selections, 2011-2022:
- Round 4: 19 selections, including three each in 2014 and 2019
- Round 5: 18 selections, including four in 2018
- Round 6: 16 selections, including two each in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2019
- Round 7: 19 selections, including four in 2013
The sheer volume of picks that the Seahawks made in Rounds 4-7 over the last 12 drafts is obviously a factor in Seattle landing at #5 overall in the team draft success category on Day Three.
Before diving into the results, let’s look at Spielberger’s methodology:
We converted each draft pick into their value on the Fitzgerald-Spielberger draft trade chart, which uses contract values to determine pick values, and then broke down what percentage of each team’s available resources they spent at each position.
Here’s the breakdown of where the Seahawks have used their draft capital:
- Last 12 years (2011 to 2022): EDGE 13.7%; Wide Receiver 13.0%; Interior Defensive Line: 11.3%; Running Back 10.5%; Tackle 10.1%; Linebacker 9.5%; Guard 9.2%; Safety 7.9%; Cornerback 7.0%; Tight End 4.2%; Center 1.9%; Quarterback 1.7%
- Last 6 years (2017-2022): EDGE 16.2%; Wide Receiver 13.4%; Tackle 11.6%; Safety 11.5%; Running Back 10.7%; Interior Defensive Line 9.1%; Linebacker 8.0%; Cornerback 7.2%; Guard 4.4%; Tight End 4.0%; Center 2.9%; Quarterback 0.8%
After providing the breakdown by individual position groups, Spielberger groups the individual positions into tiers.
- Tier One: Quarterback, EDGE, Wide Receiver, Interior Defensive Line
- Tier Two: Tackle, Cornerback, Linebacker, Guard
- Tier Three: Safety, Tight End, Running Back, Center
Here are the Tier breakdowns for Seattle:
- Last 12 years: Tier One 39.7%; Tier Two 35.8%; Tier Three 24.5%
- Last 6 years: Tier One 39.7%; Tier Two 31.1%; Tier Three 29.4%
Note: Here are the Tier breakdowns for our NFC West rivals over the last 12 years:
* Arizona: 39.2%, 39.6%, and 21.2%
* Los Angeles: 39.5%, 30.9%, and 29.6%
* San Francisco: 45.7%, 32.0%, and 22.3%
For mock draft fanatics out there in search of a potential trade in the top 10 to shake things up, look no further than the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks, with both willing to move in either direction.
Most draft trades since 2011:
- 44: Minnesota
- 41: New England
- 32: Philadelphia and Cleveland
- 31: Seattle, San Francisco, and the Rams
Most likely to trade:
Fun Fact: Since 2011, the Saints have traded up 16 times without ever trading down.
Most success with draft trades (2011-2019):
- Trading Down: New England (14 “wins”, 9 “losses”); Seattle (11 Ws, 6 Ls); and Miami (7 to 2)
- Trading Up: Seattle (6 “wins”, 2 “losses”), L.A. Rams (6 Ws, 3 Ls); and Philadelphia (6 to 4)
Three teams that rank in the top six in total trade downs since 2011 are the three most successful teams when they trade up. All of them like to utilize some of the extra ammo they’ve accumulated to strike when they really like a player.
Taken on its own, the 2020 analysis by Benjamin Ellinger paints the Seahawks’ draft efficiency in a very positive light.
The 2023 Spielberger analysis casts some shadows on Ellinger’s analysis by breaking down the picks by round, while also providing insight into how much draft capital the Seahawks are willing to use on each position group.
In combination, the analyses (plural) provide us with a much clearer picture of where the Seahawks strengths and weaknesses are in regard to adding talent through the NFL Draft since the current regime rolled into town 13 years ago.
It isn’t a perfect picture since the analyses cover different draft ranges (2010-2019 vs. 2011-2022), but it’s a better picture than either analysis provides on its own.
At the end of the day, I think the main takeaway is that John and Pete are pretty damn good at what they do when it comes to the draft.
Maybe not #1, but arguably top-5 (like their first choice in this year’s draft).