The Data Analytics of the NFL Draft

draft 2007 2010 2009 2008 photo (sports analytics data analytics advanced analytics )Today is a big day for all you football fans and data geeks. Are you ready for the NFL draft?

draft 2007 2010 2009 2008 photo (sports analytics data analytics advanced analytics )Today is a big day for all you football fans and data geeks. Are you ready for the NFL draft?

This year’s draft features more analytics than ever before. Plus, the business decisions of NFL owners are center stage in light of what happened in Denver and Indianapolis the past couple months.

Tonight, after nearly not having a 2011 season, we’ll see NFL teams lessen their risks as new NFL collective bargaining rules go into effect. According to an article in Forbes, this year’s draft is less of a risk than years past and “drastically” reduces the amount of moolah “an unproven player” can receive in his first year.

From a business perspective, it’s a good move to make a decision based on analytics and performance over the perceived value of talent. And some teams fare better than others when you look at the historical data.

To determine which teams have scored touchdowns in past drafts and which teams couldn’t even split the uprights, Forbes turned to a source after our own hearts – the analytics of drafted players over the course of four years (2005 to 2009).

The author defined parameters and specific questions before engaging the data and was able to make some solid decisions on which teams have made the best and worst NFL draft picks over time.

Best & Worst Teams in Draft Proficiency

We won’t leave you in suspense for the best and worst teams regarding drafting proficiency (according to research conducted by the author, Patrick Rishe, and a Syracuse sophomore with a bright career ahead – perhaps in analytics – named Tyler Wasserman).

According to Rishe’s feature in Forbes, the best teams at draft proficiency are the Green Bay Packers and the New York Jets and the worst teams at draft proficiency are the Cincinnati Bengals and the St. Louis Rams.

Now, for the data analytics criteria:

  • The researchers looked at a strict time period – 2005 to 2009 – to ensure that the players had sufficient time in the league to adapt to the pro environment;
  • They analyzed seven rounds of draft picks for 32 teams. (That’s all of the teams and all of the rounds.);
  • They looked at four variables to determine draft proficiency: the percentage of games a draft pick played; the percentage of games the player started; the career of a player (still playing in the NFL); and the number of Pro Bowl nods a player earned.

With this criteria, Rishe calculated an index that he explains here to get his top picks for draft proficiency. It’s well worth the read.

Bad Draft Pick = Costly Decision?

According to our featured infographic, the impact of a bad hiring decision in football can result in the loss of millions of dollars. However, a traditional college grad who works from age 25 to age 64 earns about $2.1 million or roughly $51,000 per year. That’s just 1% of an NFL draft flop. But here’s a question for you to ponder: Would a $51,000 flop hurt your business? Analytics can help any HR executive come up with the right answer.

The Year of the Quarterback Draft

Who will be the lucky first named pick – the appropriately named Andrew Luck (Stanford) or Heisman Trophy winner RG3 (Robert Griffin III of Baylor)? The expectation is that Luck will get the draw and take Peyton Manning’s old seat at the head of the Indianpolis Colts and RG3 will go second to the Washington Redskins. But strange things can happen in the NFL draft.

An interesting note about this year’s draft is that it’s only the fourth time since the NFC and AFC combined their selection processes in 1967 that two quarterbacks will go first and second. Even more interesting – in each of the other three times two quarterbacks went first and second in the draft, only one of the two went on to have a successful career in the league. Maybe RG3 and Luck will change this stat.

Defensive Deficiency Draft Indicator

Just for fun and to give the data geeks a little context around the defensive side of the draft, we’ve put together a heat map visualization on the 2011 season defenses. It breaks down the most important team defense KPIs and ranks each team by yards per rush, yards per pass, total yards allowed and total points allowed. It could give you a few insights into NFL draft strategy based on the defensive deficiencies. For instance a team that has high yards per rush allowed may need to draft interior linemen and middle linebackers and teams with high pass yards allowed may need a little help in the pass rusher and corner back positions.

Next Steps:

  • Tweet us your thoughts on this year’s draft and our heat map on the defensive deficiencies.
  • Don’t forget to check out our complimentary “5-Minute Guide to HR Analytics“ to see how you can get solid answers to questions like: “How do we spot and retain the most valuable players?”

Amanda Brandon
Spotfire Blogging Team