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Should Pace Get Another Shot at QB? History Shows Patience with Young GM Has Value.

| June 30th, 2020

As the fate of the Bears franchise rests on their ability to find a franchise quarterback, it is easy to question a general manager who has missed at the position so often. But history suggests Ryan Pace has as good a shot at finding the team’s first franchise quarterback in more than 50 years as anyone else does. Because if there is one thing that can be gleaned from studying how some of the best franchises in the NFL have obtained their leading signal callers, it’s simply that finding quarterbacks is an inexact science that can have many misses before a big hit.

The gold standard team in the NFL is the New England Patriots. They built their dynasty on the back of a sixth-round quarterback from Michigan named Tom Brady. But, before we give them too much credit for some secret they knew but the rest of the world didn’t, we should probably ask why they didn’t take Brady earlier.

The Patriots have more hits than Brady. They took Matt Cassel in the seventh, Jimmy Garoppolo in the second and Jacoby Brissett in the third. All three eventually became valuable trade pieces. But there’s also Zac Robinson in the seventh in 2010, Ryan Mallett in the third in 2011 and, if they really had that much faith in 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham, they wouldn’t have signed Cam Newton on Sunday. Because they hit on Brady, they have had the benefit of letting other players develop and play in a consistent offensive scheme while they have continued to win games. It’s easy to develop talent at a position when those players never have to contribute.

And, of course, we can look at Green Bay.

Can you imagine the outrage we’d see today if a team traded a current first round pick for a player who was drafted in the second round and barely made the roster the year before? That’s how Ron Wolf grabbed Brett Favre. And he deserves credit for finds like Mark Brunell in the fifth, Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth and Aaron Brooks in the fourth — although that one is debatable. Wolf also drafted guys you’ve never heard of like Jay Barker and Kyle Wachholtz.

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Establishing Realistic Expectations for Cole Kmet

| May 13th, 2020


The Bears spent their first pick (43rd overall) on Cole Kmet, a big tight end from Notre Dame who has a chance to plug a Bears’ roster hole from day one.

It should be noted, however, that tight end is a position where conventional wisdom says it’s hard to make a big impact in your rookie season due to a steep learning curve. In order to establish realistic expectations for Kmet, let’s take a look at how comparable tight ends have fared in their first few years of the NFL.

In order to do so, I looked at all 18 tight ends drafted in the 2nd round between 2010-19. I tracked their playing time and statistical contributions on offense after extrapolating to a full 16 game season to normalize the data since several players missed games with injuries.

The full data can be seen here, but I’m just going to show the range of snaps played, targets earned, passes caught, and receiving yards, which can be seen in the table below.



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Why Do Day Three Draft Picks Hit (or Miss)? A Deep Dive…

| May 6th, 2020


Former NFL executive Joe Banner did an interview a few years ago where he referenced a study by an NFL team that found most day 3 picks who turn into successful NFL players are guys who slip through the cracks either because they were from small schools, had an injury in their last year of college, or were undersized for their position.

This made me curious, and since it was a private study without information published, I decided to do it myself.


The Setup

I used the Pro Football Reference database to grab information about every day 3 draft pick from 2007-16. I stopped at 2016 because I wanted players who had finished their 4 year rookie contracts, and started at 2007 to give me 10 seasons’ worth of data. This gave a sample size of 1509 picks.

I then identified players who were a hit based on 2 criteria:

  1. They were a primary starter on offense or defense for at least 2 seasons (as defined by Pro Football Reference).
  2. They had a career AV (a Pro Football Reference metric that attempts to quantify overall impact of each player) of at least 15. I chose this value as the cutoff because Nick Kwiatkoski finished his four years in Chicago with an AV of 15, and that feels about right for the cutoff for a hit.

Any player that hit at least one of these thresholds was considered a hit, while all others were not. I also found that the majority of players who hit this threshold also hit the 1st one, though there of course some outliers.


Results

Let’s take a look at some different factors and see how they influenced hit rates on day 3 of the draft.

Small School

We’ll start with players from a small school, which I defined as anything but the “power 5” conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC). The table below shows hit rates for Power 5 picks vs. small school picks for each round of the draft’s 3rd day.

A few thoughts:

  • Generally, the small schools hit at a slightly higher rate than Power 5 schools, a difference that is more pronounced later in the draft.
  • Given this, it seems weird that teams spend far more day 3 draft picks on Power 5 players than they do small school guys. Between 63%-74% of picks in each round were spent on players from Power 5 schools. Of course, fewer small school players getting drafted probably helps explain why they have a higher hit rate. If you take more small school guys just because, they probably won’t be able to sustain that higher odds of success.
  • Notice rounds 4-5 are fairly similar, but very different than rounds 6-7. In order to have larger sample sizes, I will split day 3 into those 2 groups going forward.
  • With that in mind, general rules of thumb to keep in mind are that roughly 1/3 of picks in rounds 4-5 pan out, compared to roughly 15% (1 in about 6.5) of picks in rounds 6-7. As we look at other factors, we’ll look for anything that changes appreciably from those numbers.

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Data Draft Thoughts: On Small Schools, Selecting Needs & Not Mortgaging Future Picks (Finally)

| April 29th, 2020

Here are some random musings about the Bears’ approach to the draft last weekend.


Mortgage Paid

This draft marked the first time since 2016 that Ryan Pace didn’t trade away a future day 1 or 2 pick.

Because of these frequent trades – and the  Khalil Mack deal – the Bears have had only two 1st round picks and 5 day 2 picks (out of 8 expected) over the last 4 drafts. That kind of continued deficit catches up to you eventually, and Pace has continually borrowed from the future to make up for it.

This year, Pace finally resisted the temptation to trade a high future pick for instant gratification. This is a good thing, because you always pay a steep interest rate on those kind of moves. The typical rule of thumb is that a pick 1 year away is worth a current pick 1 round lower, which we saw in action last weekend when Pace traded a 2021 4th round pick for a 2020 5th rounder and used it to select edge rusher Trevis Gipson. At least he only traded a future day 3 pick, which while less than ideal is still better than trading away a pick from the first 2 days of the draft. Next year the Bears will have close to their full complement of picks with which to work.


Positional Focus

Prior to the draft, I identified wide receiver, offensive line, cornerback, safety, and edge rusher as the Bears’ greatest 2020 needs, with tight end as a looming roster hole for 2021 and beyond. Given that every pick this weekend was spent on these positions, and all of them besides safety were addressed, it seems they mostly agreed with me.

I also did pre-draft work looking at where value was likely to be found in the draft, and concluded:

  • The best value at defensive back is early.
  • Tight end and interior offensive line have better value late.
  • Wide receiver has value throughout the draft.
  • Edge rusher is unlikely to provide value anywhere in the draft.

Well, Pace’s approach in regards to this wisdom was mixed. They did take a defensive back early, but also late. They took a wide receiver and waited on interior offensive line, but grabbed a tight end early and took an edge rusher. Let’s compare where their selections were drafted with where they ranked on the Athletic’s consensus big board. Note Hambright and Simmons did not appear on the 300 player big board.

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Second Round Pick: Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame

| April 24th, 2020


Listen, I say the same thing every year.

I don’t criticize or applaud the selection. I criticize or applaud the approach. The position is WAY more important than the player. The positions show the direction of the organization. The player…is a coin flip. Every player taken. Coin. Flip.

The Bears needed a tight end. They got the best one in this draft.

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Where is the Positional Value for the Chicago Bears in the 2020 Draft? (Part Two)

| April 21st, 2020

Yesterday I looked at top 50 prospects and found there is likely to be excellent value at WR, with solid value expected at DB, OT, and QB. Today, I want to look at the top 175 prospects to roughly fall in line with the Bears’ 3rd pick, which is 163.

The table below shows how many players were drafted in the top 175 picks at each main Bears position of need in the 2010-19 drafts. Because every draft is different, I provided a range from the least to most players at that position drafted in the top 175 picks within the last 10 drafts, as well as an average. The last column shows how many players from that position are ranked in the top 175 right now according to a composite big board.



 

Look at the ranges compared to how many players are currently ranked in the top 175 to get an idea of what positions are strong or weak in terms of depth for this year’s draft. For instance, 28 WRs are ranked in the top 175 prospects this year, while an average of 21.4 go in that range, and never more than 25 in the last 10 years. That suggests there is likely value to be found at WR in round 5 (though we never know exactly how a draft will unfold). A few other thoughts:

  • Offensive tackle likewise sees a higher number of prospects ranked than have been drafted in the last 10 years. This position was strong in the top 50 as well, suggesting quality options can be found throughout the draft.
  • Interior offensive line and tight end both presented poorly in the top 50 but are above average in the top 175, suggesting the depth is better than the top end talent and the Bears might do well looking to address these spots on day 3.
  • On the flip side, quarterback and defensive back are both below average in the top 175 but above average in the top 50. This suggests the Bears likely want to focus their attention on those spots with high picks if they’re going to be selected.

Let’s go through position-by-position at the likely value spots for the Bears’ 5th round pick and see what players are likely to be options.

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Where is the Positional Value for the Chicago Bears in the 2020 Draft? (Part One)

| April 20th, 2020

The 2020 NFL Draft is upon us.

The Bears have a long list of needs but short list of picks. They are currently slated for two picks in Round 2 (43 and 50) and then don’t pick again until the middle of round 5 (pick 163). But trades could always shake that up.

In order to maximize those limited draft resources, the Bears need to be smart about finding positional value with their picks. We never know exactly how a draft will unfold, but we can examine historical trends to see what positions are most likely to provide value this year.


The Setup

I looked at every draft from 2010-19 to see how many players at each position were drafted in the top 50 (their 2nd round picks) and top 175 (their 5th round pick). Since this is Bears-specific, I especially focused on their top 4 needs that I identified after free agency died down: wide receiver, offensive line, defensive back, and edge rusher. I also looked at tight end and quarterback since those are two future needs that have gotten a lot of attention from fans this off-season. A few notes:

  • My source for this data did not differentiate between CB and S, so I combined the 2 into DB.
  • They did differentiate between interior offensive line and offensive tackle, so I kept those separate.
  • They had LB and DE as separate, with some edge rushers on both lists. I included all DE as edge rushers (even though some were more 3-4 DEs, not true edge rushers) and manually went through the LB list, looked up scouting reports for every player, and included anybody who was talked about as an edge rusher.

I then found a composite big board that averages player rankings from 18 different draft analysts and used those rankings to compare to historical trends.


2nd Round

Here is the data for players drafted in the top 50. Because every draft is different, I provided a range from the least to most players at that position drafted in the top 50 picks within the last 10 drafts, as well as an average. The last column shows how many players from that position are ranked in the top 50 right now according to the composite big board linked above.

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