Defense wins championships. This is a tried and true axiom of the NFL that is accepted by virtually everyone, but in the context of evaluating quarterbacks, seemingly applied by relatively very few.
When defending a quarterback like Peyton Manning (feel free to insert the name of another quarterback like Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, or Dan Marino), a proponent will naturally bring up the issue of a lack of defensive support.
Sometimes that lack of defensive support means losing in the playoffs (Manning and Marino), and sometimes that lack of defensive support means not making the playoffs in the first place (Brees, Palmer, and Cutler).
Either way, a lack of defensive support can hardly be blamed on a team’s quarterback, right? Well, right or wrong, quarterbacks often do get blamed for their lack of defensive support.
Probably the most common manifestation of this blame is the accusation that their defense would be much better if only they were willing to sacrifice resources spent on offense to build a better defense.
Let’s test the validity of that argument using the Colts and their quarterback, Peyton Manning.
The Colts have long had a reputation of being an offense-first team when it comes to the draft, and presumably their lack of strong defensive support in the postseason stems from that philosophy.
Conversely, the Steelers, Patriots, and Eagles all have reputations for being defense-first teams when it comes to the draft, and presumably their strong defensive support in the postseason follows from that philosophy.
In other words, the perception is that the Colts sacrifice defense in the draft in order to puff up their offense, while the Steelers, Patriots, and Eagles more prudently spend their draft picks on defense in order to win in the postseason.
In order to test this assumption, I used the same draft value chart commonly used by NFL teams in the draft to put a quantifiable value behind each team’s draft strategy.
The first overall pick in the draft is valued at 3,000 points, and each subsequent pick is assigned an ever-decreasing value after that.
Naturally, these values diminish fluidly, so the drastic difference often perceived between a late first round pick and an early second round pick does not exist.
More value is lost dropping from the first overall pick to the second overall pick (400 points) than dropping from the bottom of the first round to the top of the second round (10 points).
I compiled the numbers for every draft selection made by the Colts, Steelers, Patriots, and Eagles in 10 consecutive drafts from the 1999 Draft through the 2008 Draft.
I considered including the 2009 Draft as well, but I decided against it since those players have yet to play a single down for their teams, and thus have no bearing on wins and losses at this point.
My original thought was to start with the 2000 Draft in order to use the beginning of the decade as a natural starting point.
However, I decided to include the 1999 Draft to ensure that Edgerrin James’s fourth overall selection was counted “against” Peyton Manning. I certainly don’t want to give anyone an excuse to cry foul.
I excluded quarterbacks from the offensive totals, since it hardly seems fair to penalize Ben Roethlisberger and Donovan McNabb for their own selections considering that Peyton Manning was drafted before the designated draft period.
Likewise, it hardly seems fair that Tom Brady should get credit for being drafted in the sixth round.
Also, the draft value spent on backups for these quarterbacks hardly seems relevant in terms of answering the question of drafting offensive support or defensive support for these franchise quarterbacks.
After compiling the numbers for offense (without quarterbacks) and defense, one of the teams really stood out from the other three.
While three of the four teams spent more of their draft value on defensive support, one of the teams clearly spent more on offensive support. For every draft value point spent on offensive support, that team only spent 0.86 points on defensive support.
Was it the Colts?
No, it was the Steelers.
The Colts actually ranked third out of the four teams in terms of the proportion of their draft value spent on offensive support relative to defensive support. They spent 1.32 draft value points on defensive support for every one spent on offensive support.
The Patriots were second and the most balanced team of the group, spending 1.18 draft value points on defensive support for each point spent on offensive support.
The Eagles were the most defensively minded team of the group, spending 1.47 draft value points on defensive support for every point spent on offensive support.
The Eagles easily spent the most on backup quarterbacks (McNabb’s injury history likely played a role there), so the results would have been a bit different had I made the decision to only exclude the franchise quarterbacks.
In terms of raw total draft value points spent on offensive support, the Steelers spent 8,021.3 points, the Patriots spent 7,368.25 points, the Eagles spent 6,196.4 points, and the Colts spent 6,121.4 points.
As for raw total draft value points spent on defensive support, the Eagles spent 9,126.1 points, the Patriots spent 8,724.6 points, the Colts spent 8,106.9 points, and the Steelers spent 6,901.3 points.
So, there you have it.
Not only did the Colts invest more on defensive support than offensive support, but they also invested a greater proportion of their draft value on defensive support than the offense-crazy Steelers (did you ever think you’d hear that said?) and the Patriots.
In terms of raw total draft value points spent on offensive support, the Colts spent the fewest of the whole group, even behind the Eagles.
Is it surprising that the Colts wound up third in the proportion of points spent on offensive support relative to defense and fourth in total points spent on offensive support?
Is it surprising that the Steelers wound up as the only team investing more on offensive support than defense with 31 percent more draft value spent on offense than the Colts?
You know what they say about assumptions.