Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday Bag of Footballs - Drafting Pro Bowlers

Finally, we have dug our way out from under the heap of draft discussions and news long enough to get to a project that has been in my bin since April.  I realize this is more of one of those "Ask Sports Sturm" topics, but perhaps you will indulge me to avoid exciting mini-camp news about how so and so looked like standing in the slot or so and so appearing to be in a blitzing posture on a beautiful May afternoon long enough to tackle something far more irrelevant.  
And that is a single, solitary Adam Schefter tweet from several weeks ago.  From the looks of his tweet, he merely took a picture of someone else's research, but regardless, the moment he sent this out to his vast Twitter audience, the internet broke from Cowboys fans sending it to me (and others, I am sure) who have suggested the Cowboys could improve their drafting.




Now, it is an odd sample - 15 years - that should tell you right from the start that arbitrary sample sizes can give us all sorts of results to fit one's agenda.  But, 15 years also covers almost every active player who is still in football, so I have no issues with it.  Tom Brady and a few others predate the 2002 draft, but it is down to a simple handful.  
For the Cowboys 2002 is a clumsy fit.  In 2002, the Jerry Jones draft room was in full effect with Larry Lacewell and friends.  Then, in 2003, Bill Parcells was in full power and cleaned out a good part of the front office (Lacewell) over the next few years.  By 2007, when Parcells was gone, it seemed to be a Jeff Ireland draft.  And then by 2008-2010, it seemed like Jerry Jones, Wade Phillips, and even Lacewell was back in the mix to some extent along with young Will McClay and Stephen Jones beginning to have bigger seats.  By 2011, we believe that Jason Garrett, Jones, and McClay started having a greater influence on things and that has only grown until now.  So, 2 things from this paragraph.  1) I used the word "seemed" a lot because the Cowboys are great at not being fully transparent about who has what say on things - partly because I think it has changed countless times.  There is not a consistent system that can be pointed at as their way of doing business.  Some times Jerry Jones has the influence.  Other times, they will say they asked Butch Davis to vouch for Bruce Carter or Rod Marinelli to break a tie on Shariff Floyd and they would.  And 2) the front office has evolved into at least 5 different groups of football brains in these 15 drafts.  Jerry has always sat at the head of the table, but the others may vary.  
And finally, as I am one to do this sort of thing, I personally checked the math.  Using the fabulous www.profootballreference.com draft finder tool, you can easily roll through this and I found Scheffer's tweet to be absolutely true.  The Cowboys have found more pro bowl berths from their draft than anyone else in the sport.  By a mile.  An amazing 37% more than anyone else in the sport.  I really think that is amazing, and I think you should find it amazing, too.  Here is my less beautiful graphic:




So, yes, a few things here:
1) I agree, pro bowls are a very sloppy way to measure quality.  Every year, the cliche is that everyone gets to go to the pro bowl.  It doesn't prove anything.  We all agree.
2) the NFL average is 29 per team and the Cowboys have 62???  Seriously?  Yes.  
3) Let me stop you before you say it.  62 Pro Bowls did not really translate to playoff wins or a Super Bowl.  We get that.  Everybody does.  If you were forced to choose between good players and a good team, you would always take the team.  But, usually, having good players helps make a good team.  That is what is weird about this.  
4) It should be pointed out that during 2002-2016, there have only been 8 teams in the entire NFL that have more regular season wins than the Cowboys.  The Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Packers, Broncos, Eagles, Seahawks, and Ravens.  So, while many act like the Cowboys have been bad during this stretch "since the triplets", we should at least point out that on a winning percentage basis, they are still a top 10 team during their "down time".  At 131-109 over those 15 seasons.  Pretty good, to be honest.
5) 2nd place is the Chiefs.  Also surprising and also no real post-season achievements of note during this stretch.  And they are actually sub-.500 during that stretch.  
So, how do they get to 62?  Well, Jason Witten has 10 and DeMarcus Ware has 9.  Roy Williams and Andre Gurode both went 5 times each.  Tyron Smith and Jay Ratliff are both at 4.  So, we already have 37.  Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, Dez Bryant, and DeMarco Murray are all at 3.  That puts you at 49.  So, just with those names, you already are better than any other team in football.  Sean Lee and Terrance Newman both have 2 and then 9 more guys each have gone once.  
And this number does not even include Tony Romo.  Romo was undrafted, so he is not included.  So, if you really want to run up the score, you would put Romo's 4 pro bowls - 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2014 spots - and get to 66.  Again, this is not to suggest anything more than I find it amazing.  The entire league thinks getting to 40 is impressive.  The Cowboys have 66.  
But, again, what does the Pro Bowl even mean?  Anyone of us who follow football know that All-Pro teams are the real bar.  That should tell us the true story.  Only 22 players a year get to the All-Pro 1st team that puts these guys into the Hall of Fame.  One of the highest honors a football player can receive.  
SOOOOOOO, let's run this study back with only 1st Team All-Pro teams from drafted players from each team from the 2002-2016 drafts:




I was amazed when I saw this - having done this research myself - but it is true again.  No team has drafted more 1st Team All Pro players since 2002 than the Dallas Cowboys.  
DeMarcus Ware 4, Witten, Martin, and Smith each have 2.  Roy Williams, Ratliff, Frederick, Murray, Bryant, Lee, and Elliott all have 1 for a grand total of 17.   Again, this leads the NFL and in a league where the average is 7.25, it doubles that total.  
As you can see, Green Bay has 3.  Washington 0.  So, 17 seems pretty phenomenal when Ted Thompson and Green Bay are credited for being great drafters.  
Now, here is the other side of all of this.  The Cowboys have nailed the draft at the top.  They have clearly done the most with their first round picks.  That list of Ware, Martin, Smith, Williams, Frederick, Bryant, and Elliott tell us that they have nailed their 1st rounders as much as anyone.  
It doesn't say that depth is what wins in the NFL.  We have always said that the Cowboys have a "top heavy" roster that has as much talent at spots 1-10 as anyone.  Where they have lost - especially after December starts - is the depth down to spot 53 where they can survive the march to the Super Bowl as well as other teams.  We blame these guys at the top of the roster - Romo for sure - for this team not winning the big one, but it is usually the quality down the roster and down the draft that helps these teams survive.  And that is where the Cowboys are finally catching up, but have always lingered behind a bit.
So, it is all true.  Every bit of his tweet.  The Cowboys have blown away the competition in finding Pro Bowlers and All-Pros in their drafts.  They should be commended.  But, of course, there is one reason why teams go through all of this and that is to pursue Lombardi Trophies.  
The rest of these fun facts are just numbers on a page.  They are true numbers, but the league isn't impressed unless you can win things with them.  They maybe on the right path now, but with just 2 postseason wins since 2002 - fewer than the Bears, Texans, Buccaneers, in fact, and tied with the Tennessee Titans - the Cowboys won't get recognition until they make these great numbers add up to January glory.  
Anyway, an interesting little project for you on this May Monday Morning.

Friday, April 21, 2017