Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Growing Your Own NFL Teams

When we roll out statistics these days, the bottom line question will always be: "What does it mean when it comes to winning games?"

As it should be.

Any way we measure a team should always be put to the test of who is winning games and how they are winning them and whether or not this particular statistic has anything to do with that end goal.

Well, in the National Football League, I believe there is a tried and true principle that is only becoming more important as we go that is claimed to be closely tied to winning.  And I wanted to see if it was true, because while I believe in it deeply, what shows up in the standings is the truth.

That truth is being a homegrown franchise is the best way to build a consistent winner.  In other words, those teams that build their roster primarily from their own draft picks and own college free agents will always win more games over the long haul.  The reason and logic being that you do not participate in the poor investment of free agency which throws off your structure and brings in players who do not have equity in the organization.  It can also mean that football players are of most use at the least cost to their franchise in the 4 years immediately after leaving college.  Either way, if you grow your own, you are a franchise that is "always in the mix".  If you don't, you likely are not - using other team's castoffs and trying to patch-work a team of vagabonds.  It is very difficult to build a mansion with your neighbor's garbage.

Now, in the field of arguing, sample sizes are thrown together to prove and disprove things, and many have said that you can get statistics to say anything.  Maybe, but we want to be a bit more discriminating and use broader samples to make sure that we see the bigger picture.  Therefore, let's use 5-year results.

On the other hand, we also must understand that players have ages and their ages cause their effectiveness to fluctuate and therefore what is true today may not be true in a few years.  Whether this particular measurement is a predictor is anyone's guess.

I broke down all 32 rosters to see how many of the players were in fact, homegrown.  How many were the team's own picks, how many were college free agents, and how many were brought in from afar.

We found that the average NFL team's final 53-man roster contained 33 home grown players or 62% of the roster.  The very high end - Green Bay and Atlanta each had 43 players make their final 53 who were their own players from college - was 81% and the very low end was the Indianapolis Colts who have put just 25 players on their 53-man roster for 47%.

Of course, you might say that the Colts have done plenty of winning in the last 5 years (49 wins) and this is not helping your correlation theory, much.

True.  So let's list the top 5 and bottom 5 and see what turns up.

TOP 5 HOMEGROWN (Wins Are Regular Season Only)
Team Home Grown  5 Yr Wins
Atlanta 43 56
Green Bay 43 53
Pittsburgh 40 53
Baltimore 39 54
Houston 39 45
Top 5 40.8 52.2

Team Home Grown 5 Yr Wins
Indianapolis 25 49
Washington 26 33
Detroit 27 22
Tampa Bay 28 33
NY Jets 29 43
Bottom 5 27 36

So, the Top 5 teams in the NFL for having their own talent win 52.2 games on average for the last 5 years and the Bottom 5 win 36 games.  That is a 10 win season and a 7 win season for 5 years straight to get to those numbers.  

In today's NFL, that is rather significant, don't you think?

So, where does that leave the Dallas Cowboys?  Actually, with 36 players on their roster who are life-long Dallas Cowboys players on their 53, they aren't in bad shape.  That ranks them in a group at about 10th best in the NFL and in very strong shape with teams that are also in the playoff mix generally, Minnesota, Cincinnati, New England, the NY Giants, and maybe a team that is on the rise in the St Louis Rams.

The Cowboys have 23 of their own picks on their roster.  That is below the NFL average of 26.2, but where they really clean up is that they rank 2nd in the NFL behind St Louis in their own college free agents on the roster.  They have 13 of them and the NFL average is 7.  

People often ask me if the Cowboys get enough credit for finding college free agents and it is a good question.  How many can say they found their franchise QB as a college free agent?  But, when you get to 13, you do have to counter with asking how they have that many spaces available?  If you only have 53 spots, it would seem that you would need to miss on a lot of actual draft picks to have vacancies to accommodate that many undrafted players.  So, yes, they have more undrafted players, but you could argue it is much easier to make Dallas' roster than a team that is hitting on its picks more often.  

In fact, only New Orleans has more college free agents (from any originating franchise) on their 2013 53-man squad with 23.  Dallas has 19 - tied with Seattle.  The NFL Average for undrafted players on a roster is 14, and the low is the NY Giants with just 9 players who did not get selected by anyone in their draft.

Back to our study, when we look at the worst at homegrown talent, the bottom 10 is completed with Oakland, Denver, Jacksonville, Carolina, and Chicago. Those 10 teams are all franchises that currently have 30 or fewer players on their roster who are homegrown.

There are obviously wildcards in this mix.  But, tell me, which of the following 2 groups do you associate with generally winning 10 games and which is generally losing 10 games?

Top 10 in Homegrown Talent: Falcons, Packers, Steelers, Ravens, Texans, Patriots, Giants, Bengals, Vikings, and Cowboys

These teams have 489 wins in the last 5 years - 9.8 wins per year, per team.

Bottom 10 in Homegrown Talent: Colts, Buccaneers, Lions, Redskins, Jets, Bears, Panthers, Jaguars, Broncos, and Raiders

These teams have 358 wins in the last 5 years - 7.1 wins per year, per team.

There is much more to this study, and much more to winning (Peyton Manning seems to help), but when you wonder what the teams that win consistently have in common, look here.  Depth is what covers teams.  Depth is due to solid drafting and cheap players filling out the back half of your roster, but not just cheap - Quality and cheap.  

You win by securing players early and then letting them grow for you.  Pulling through your competition's trash can yield results on occasion, but generally not enough over the long haul.  The Cowboys are starting to figure this out.  Let's see if they can stay on course.


Biosci said...

Great analysis, Dr. Sturm. I'm sure many are surprised to see Dallas anywhere near the top of the "homegrown talent" list, but I suspect that has a lot to do with the last 3 drafts + UDFAs. How hard would it be to turn back the clock and re-do this analysis at, say, 2 and 4 years ago? Is Dallas improving on this metric? And if so, does it predict more wins? Could be informative...

wavemkr said...

awesome, I love this kind of analysis

wavemkr said...

Awesome, I love this type of analysis

Arrhythmic said...

Love the work you do to back up your analysis. Don't always agree with your conclusions, but at least you aren't pulling them out of thing air, or some other less appetizing place.

This info seems spot on!

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I have similar question to Biosci as this seems like the same kind of issue you run into when evaluating draft performance since making the roster as a draft pick means different things based on the existing talent level or competition for spots on various teams. Would be curious if teams that win consistently have a more consistent % of college players staying on the roster from each draft year to year vs dallas having more warm body type stat, or are other teams better at free agency to fill in when they miss on a draft.