Spielman beating averages with 2012 draft

Rick Spielman's first draft with full authority is already beating the averages of a 15-year NFL study on the number of starts draft picks make.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has shown a propensity to follow the message of a 2011 speech on draft success that suggested accumulating more picks is the best method to achieve draft success since the study also showed that there isn't much difference in the pick-to-pick success from one team to another.

The Massey-Thaler study, conducted by professor Case Massey and economist Richard Thaler, also found that only 52 percent of players picked in the draft are better than the next player selected at their position – only slightly better than chance. In this case, "better" was measured by starts and Pro Bowl appearances. That's why accumulating additional picks helps increase the opportunities for a good overall draft.

But another interesting nugget from Massey's presentation was that the average draft pick starts four games per season in the players' first five seasons. The study was conducted over a 15-year period (1991-2004).

Spielman has been charged as being the final decision-maker for only the last two drafts and, just like he reserve a three-year window to judge individual draft picks, it might be too early to judge Spielman's draft classes as a whole. But if starts are a measure of grading his drafts against the average, how has he done so far?

His first draft as the man in charge was 2012 and he came away with Matt Kalil (first round), Harrison Smith (first), Josh Robinson (third), Jarius Wright (fourth), Rhett Ellison (fourth), Greg Childs (fourth), Robert Blanton (fifth), Blair Walsh (sixth), Audie Cole (seventh) and Trevor Guyton (seventh).

Last month, the Vikings selected Sharrif Floyd (first), Xavier Rhodes (first), Cordarrelle Patterson (first), Gerald Hodges (fourth), Jeff Locke (fifth), Jeff Baca (sixth), Michael Mauti (seventh), Travis Bond (seventh) and Everett Dawkins (seventh).

The assumption here is that the Massey-Thaler study didn't eliminate players that had been cut (like Guyton) or hurt (like Childs) since they took into account every draft made. Teams assume those risks when selecting any player.

The other issue is that many of these young picks likely will increase their average number of starts per season in the next few years as they mature as players, and Spielman's second "full authority" draft class hasn't had a chance to play yet.

That leaves us with just the 2012 draft class to measure for the early returns on investment.

Kalil made the Pro Bowl as an alternate and started all 16 games, and Smith also was a full-time starter as a rookie. Robinson started six games in 2012 and Wright made just one start in seven games played (he wasn't active until Percy Harvin was injured). Ellison doubled the average and started eight games, but Childs was hurt in training camp and spent the entire season on injured reserve, helping pull those two fourth-round picks to the average of four starts. Blanton played in 13 games but didn't start any, and Walsh, as a kicker, by definition doesn't start any games. Cole was a contributor on special teams but played only one snap on defense and didn't start any games, while Guyton never made the team.

The curve for the 2012 draft class goes about as expected according to the Massey-Thaler presentation. The first-round picks naturally start more games and it tails downward from there. Each one of the Vikings' first five draft picks in 2012 started at least one game. None of their final five picks started a game in 2012.

Between the 10 picks, they started 47 games, or 4.7 games per player per season in our small sample size.

By most subjective measures, Spielman was credited with a good draft class in 2012, and so far the objective numbers show that he beat the averages in starts. He was also given credit for having one of the best drafts in 2013 with three first-round picks.

Only time will tell if Spielman's draft decisions are better than average over the course of a more relevant time period, but at least now we have a quantifiable way to measure draft success.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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