Let’s Kick It Again … and a look at Washington’s draft history

April 1, 2013

It’s back. And nope, it’s not some cruel April Fool’s Day joke. The NFL draft is in a few weeks, the free agents the Redskins can actually afford are signing, and there’s plenty to talk about. As of today, orchestrating Redskins coverage and livening up The Insider become parts of my full-time job.

That means we can resume starting each morning off with a topic to, er, Opening Kick around. But it also means a lot more — a chance to reimagine how we do things. We’ve got a great stable of writers and a long history of tremendous Redskins and NFL coverage, so in many ways, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But inside our offices, we share a lot of the concerns you’ve voiced, about interactivity and accessibility, the need for more nuanced analysis, and for doing more with The Insider than just delivering the news.

The people who make the decisions have bravely given me the keys and offered the support we need, and I’m excited to soon have the time to devote to this. It’s my job to make this a better blog.If you remember the Opening Kick from last fall, the goal was to start the Redskins-related conversation each weekday morning, to reach beyond we’re-telling-you-how-it-is to let us all enlighten each other. You drive the conversation, and part of my job is to listen to and respond to you; E-mail is keith.mcmillan@washpost.com, and on Twitter, at least for now, it’s @D3Keith. I was writing those Opening Kicks in the fall while editing here full-time for all sports, as I have since late 2007, and covering Division III football (hence the twitter handle) in my spare time. I can do better Opening Kicks; being able to focus almost solely on the Redskins will help.

Although I’ll be editing at night for another week and you won’t see me diving into the comments much during the day until April 9, there’s no reason we can’t start improving The Insider from Day 1. Skepticism and paywall-related jokes are fair game, as we have a lot of work to do. But I can assure you, I’m built for this challenge and I can’t wait to dig in.

Now that we’re in the month of the draft, just 26 days away, it’s a perfect time to break out and compare a few studies I’ve seen on the best drafting teams in the NFL. They all cover different time spans and use different methodologies, and in the not-spoiler of the year, the conclusions probably won’t surprise you. I mean, they cover the Cerrato era. But they are worth mining for info nonetheless.

Seems like there are a million ways to analyze drafts, and most are fairly worthless, because they’re either done immediately after the picks are made (but be honest, who doesn’t love draft grades?) or three years down the line with a simple metric such as number of starters picked determining whether a draft was good or not so much.

Football Perspective cleverly gave each draft slot a value that pick is expected to deliver, then looked at 2000 through 2007 to see how teams did. Washington finished just outside the bottom third in the league over that period, getting less than they should have out of half the eight years analyzed.

FP scored the 2006 Redskins draft, best known for Rocky McIntosh in the second and Reed Doughty and Kedric Golston in the sixth, best in the time frame, ahead of 2004, the year they landed Sean Taylor and Chris Cooley. Casually, you might think the year Washington got LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels with the second and third overall picks was a great draft, but it scored a -15.4, partially because the Redskins whiffed on their other six picks in 2000.

A site called Eagles Rewind reviewed 1999 to 2009, which marks the year Vinny Cerrato was hired in his first Redskins stint and the year he was fired from his second stint. It looked at the results two different ways, but go ahead and guess where Washington ranked overall in drafting over that span.

Via the National Football Post, Draftmetrics looked at the 10 years from 2003 to 2012 with different methodology, but the Redskins are in the same spot. It also looked at just the past five years, which bumped Washington up a bit. Draftmetrics also kindly published its raw data, which confirms some things you probably suspected, but seeing the numbers on it is still a little stark. For instance, in the past 10 years, Washington has had 67 draft picks, third-fewest in the league, and just 20 in rounds 1-3, by far the fewest. All but a handful of teams had between 28 and 38 picks in those early rounds, which probably begins to explain the lack of success for Washington drafting overall.

In the past five years, the Redskins have drafted 43 players — 21 in the past two years and 27 in three drafts under Shanahan — but have still picked only 12 times in the first three rounds. By comparison, the Patriots have picked 24 times in the first three rounds the past five years. Washington has gotten 324 starts from draft picks the past five years, compared with a league-high 687 by the Chiefs.

Anyway, mine the data for your own conclusions. We can pick apart the methodology of one look at it, but it’s interesting that in three different studies over three spans, the Redskins have been bad drafters. Even if you knew that already, comparing them to, say, the defending champion Ravens in each study provides a look at how far Washington has been from draft success. Baltimore ranks in the top seven drafts five times over the past 10 years in the Eagles Rewind spreadsheet, and Green Bay ranks in the top four drafts five times.


(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

If we look at just the three years of Shanahan-era picks, there are the franchise-changing picks of Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan, but also the meat-and-potatoes guys such as Perry Riley, Jarvis Jenkins and DeJon Gomes. Most of those players are still around and contributing. Meanwhile, from the last three pre-Shanahan drafts, only Brian Orakpo, Rob Jackson and Fred Davis are still around. But worse, of the 21 players taken between 2007 and 2009, very few of them even remain in the NFL. If those drafts had even been decent, those players in Years 4-6 are forming the background of the current team. Depressing as reviewing those seasons might be, it’s encouraging that a few more Shanahan drafts could solidify the foundation.

With seven picks this season but none until 51st overall, it’s unlikely there’ll be a splash this year, although you have to count RGIII as part of this year’s draft. But there’ll be opportunities to add those foundation guys — safeties and linemen and special teamers who are so absent from those 2009 and earlier drafts.

How much better do you think the drafting has been under Mike Shanahan? Is it strong or just satisfactory? Is simply not drafting like Vinny Cerrato enough?

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