Grading an NFL draft after only one year into the careers of the players drafted is a fool’s errand. So you must trust me when I suggest that this little venture of mine must be taken with a big grain of salt.
Nonetheless, grading the 2011 NFL Draft for every team is my task, and so I set upon deciding which criteria to use in the grading.
I figured there must be some subjective element to deciding who drafted well and who did not, but there also has to be some sort of objective framework to work around.
In the modern era, NFL teams draft players with immediate impact high on their list of priorities. It is a fact of life that young players are expected to contribute sooner, as compared with 20 years ago.
So one objective framework that I was curious to use was data for each snap. You can find snap data at Pro Football Focus.
However, pure snap totals would not be enough. Some teams simply had more to work with in the draft, and they would have an unfair advantage in their snap totals because of this.
That is when it occurred to me that I could cross-reference the snap data with pick values on the good old Draft Trade Value Chart and turn the two into a ratio of snaps per point.
Still, the formula needed a little tweaking. Cam Newton was drafted No. 1 overall, which carries a point value of 3,000 points on the Draft Trade Value Chart.
Cam started the whole year and was one of the best true rookie quarterbacks to ever play the game, yet he "only" played 1,061 snaps relative to his 3,000 point value.
Essentially, this would be the same as a No. 24 overall pick only playing about 260 snaps.
Newton played just about every offensive snap for the Carolina Panthers, but the Panthers’ total objective grade would suffer because of the point value.
That is why I decided to make the point value a percentage of the total number of possible snaps played by that player's offensive or defensive unit. For instance, Newton only could have played 1,072 snaps on the year, and so instead of using a 3,000 point value in the denominator of his ratio, I would use 1,072.
I then turned the results into a simple percentile and handed out letter grades of A, B, C, D and F on a simple curve. These constituted the letter grades for the objective portion of a team’s draft grade.
The subjective portion of the team’s grade was a little trickier. I felt there had to be some objective element to the grading even though it opens up the floor for criticism of my subjective grades.
The perfect case study for why there needs to be a subjective element is the San Francisco 49ers.
Strictly speaking, they did not get a whole lot of snaps out of their draft picks, in part because Colin Kaepernick was taken as a backup quarterback (for now).
However, Aldon Smith was a hugely successful pass rusher, and one of the most effective in the NFL. There was also positive signs out of guys like tailback Kendall Hunter, fullback Bruce Miller and defensive back Chris Culliver.
The 49ers chose to sit the rookies that were not ready to play, rather than putting them out there.
The bottom line is, just using snap data, the 49ers’ draft would have ranked in the bottom quartile of the league, and given the success of Aldon Smith and the other guys that did play, I am not sure that’s entirely fair.
So I introduced an element of subjective grading, which I based on how well the players that did grace the field actually played. From there, I was able to issue total grades based on the combination of the objective and subjective grades.
Let's take a look at the the results, from the best team's draft to the worst.