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Scot McCloughan and the NFL's Best and Worst Drafting GMs

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Using a statistical approach to determine which general managers are the best and worst drafters and to see where new Redskins GM Scot McCloughan ranks among them.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

New Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan is widely regarded as one of the NFL's best evaluators of college talent.  It's a sentiment that's not hard to get behind when you consider that he's played an instrumental role in the drafting of over a dozen pro bowlers in the last 14 years, a list of players that includes the likes of Richard Sherman, Frank Gore, Russell Wilson, Vernon Davis, Steve Hutchinson and Patrick Willis.

But how does Scot McCloughan compare to his peers?  Is he really one of the best drafters out there?  If so, then how much better is he than what we've had here recently in Washington?  I endeavored to find out by examining the value added by every single draft pick made by McCloughan and each of the league's 32 general managers over the course of their entire careers as GMs and college scouting executives.  And it's only fitting that we find out on March 1st, Scot McCloughan's birthday.

Measurement Method

My primary means of measurement was Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value metric.  This is certainly not a perfect way in which to measure the effectiveness of a player's career and by extension to evaluate the abilities of the men that draft them, but at this point it is the best measure that we have and it has actually become one of the most widely used tools in studies like this one.

Here is a brief explanation of Approximate Value pulled from PFR.

"AV is not meant to be a be-all end-all metric. Football stat lines just do not come close to capturing all the contributions of a player the way they do in baseball and basketball. If one player is a 16 and another is a 14, we can't be very confident that the 16AV player actually had a better season than the 14AV player. But I am pretty confident that the collection of all players with 16AV played better, as an entire group, than the collection of all players with 14AV."

"Essentially, AV is a substitute for --- and a significant improvement upon, in my opinion --- metrics like 'number of seasons as a starter' or 'number of times making the pro bowl' or the like. You should think of it as being essentially like those two metrics, but with interpolation in between."

PFR and others that have used the Approximate Value metric for similar exercises have typically looked at the total AV accumulated by a player over the course of their career, but in this case we should do things a bit differently because it would simply not be fair to compare the aggregate AV of all the players that were drafted by GMs who have been running their team's drafts for 15 years or more to those that have only being doing it for less than five years.

In order to keep everything on a level playing field, I decided that we should only use efficiency metrics to compare these general managers and to only use ones that did not reward for the number of years a player was in the league.  Therefore, instead of looking at the average Career AV or the average Weighted Career AV of all players drafted by a GM we will instead look at the average of the AV accumulated by each player on a per year basis (Average Approximate Value per year or Avg. AV/YR).

More Metrics

During this process, I also collected data for several other metrics.  Almost all of these measures factor in to the AV number for each player in one way or another, but seeing them separately should help to give us a better idea of how the GMs compare to each other.

  • Draft Picks Per Year (Picks/YR)- This is the one metric that actually doesn't relate directly to the players' performance.  It's simply the average number of draft picks that a GM used to draft players with each year.
  • Pro Bowl Percentage (PB %)- The percentage of players drafted by a GM that made a Pro Bowl at least once in their careers.  The number of Pro Bowl appearances by a player is not a factor.
  • Primary Starter Percentage (Starter %)- PFR tracks the number of years that a player was the primary starter on their team.  This metric divides the number of years in a player's career by their number of years as a primary starter.  The percentage for each player drafted by the GM is then averaged together to get this number.
  • No Approximate Value Percentage (No AV %)- This is the percentage of players drafted that did or have not yet accumulated any AV points in their careers.

The Redskins GMs

Before we look outward to compare Scot McCloughan to the rest of the top personnel decision-makers around the league, I think we should first examine how he measures up to what we've had here in Washington recently.

In the table below you'll see how McCloughan's drafting resume as the top personnel man in an organization stacks up against the drafts of Bruce Allen, Mike Shanahan, Joe Gibbs, Vinny Cerrato and Charlie Casserly when they held similar positions.  I even included Dan Snyder because many would argue that he has been the one truly at the controls of the franchise.

Before we dive into the data I need to briefly explain the criteria in which drafts were credited to executives in this study.  First, Scot McCloughan's time as the VP of Player Personnel is counted here as time as the general manager because while he did not hold the title of GM, he was performing essentially all of the duties of one.  This rule will apply to several other executives.

For the Redskins executives you may notice that there's some overlap with Vinny Cerrato and Dan Snyder.  I am counting the entire time that both men were here as time spent as GMs, because at a minimum each of them were some part of a decision-making duo or triumvirate.  The same thing goes for Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan as well.  The focus of this study was not on the minutia and semantics of the Redskins' dysfunctional hierarchy.

Finally, you will also see that Scot McCloughan is listed twice.  The reason for that is because he left the 49ers organization exactly one month prior to the 2010 draft and it's my belief that he should get some credit for the players that San Francisco drafted that year.

Many personnel men have discussed how most of a team's draft board is set by the end of March.  At that point, teams have already gone through all of the bowl games, all-star games, the combine and the majority of the college pro days.  McCloughan was there through all of that; however, he ultimately was not a part of the organization during the actual draft, so there's also a strong argument to be made against him getting any credit for it.

I've left the decision up to you by creating two entries for him.  I did not, however, rank them against each other in the tables.  For example, if one of them ranks first and the other second in a category, then they will both get credit for being first in these rankings.  A George Scot McCloughan divided against itself cannot stand!

It shouldn't surprise anybody to see Scot McCloughan at the top of these rankings and Snyder, Cerrato and Allen at the bottom of them.  Let's take a look at McCloughan's rankings in each category.

McCloughan Rankings Picks/YR PB % Starter % No AV % Avg. AV/Year
Scot McCloughan (2005-2009) 3rd 2nd 1st 1st 1st
Scot McCloughan Alt (2005-2010) 3rd 2nd 1st 1st 1st

Anyway you cut it Scot McCloughan comes out looking like he will be by far the best drafting general manager that the Redskins have had in recent memory.  This, however, does not take into account all of the work that McCloughan did as a college scouting executive in two stints with the Seahawks.

In order to adequately compare him to other GMs in this regard I collected the draft data for each GM when they were in executive-level college scouting positions (GM, assistant GM, director of player personnel, director of college scouting, etc.).  Time spent as an intern, a scout, a scouting coordinator, a cap administrator or in pro personnel was not counted because I wanted to focus solely on the drafts that they took part in as high-level college scouting executives (this includes their time spent as a GM).  If a given general manager did not have any prior experience in an executive-level college scouting role then his numbers will be the same as they were in the previous table.

Scot McCloughan left his position as senior personnel executive with the Seahawks just two weeks prior to the 2014 draft and to account for this I created a second entry for him just as I did in the first table.

McCloughan Rankings Picks/YR PB % Starter % No AV % Avg. AV/Year
Scot McCloughan ('01-'09, '11-'13) 1st 3rd 1st 1st 1st
Scot McCloughan Alt (2001-2014) 1st 3rd 1st 1st 1st

McCloughan's Average AV/year numbers took a slight dip, but not much else changed as he still comes out on top in nearly every category.  Snyder and Allen did not have any prior experience that fit the criteria, so their numbers did not change and as a result they still remain in the cellar.  Vinny Cerrato actually got a nice bump from his time spent in the 49ers personnel department.  While there, he helped San Francisco draft players like Terrell Owens, Bryant Young, Dana Stubblefield and Elvis Grbac.

Scot McCloughan vs. the NFL (GM Drafts)

McCloughan's drafting acumen is no match for the collection of misfit GMs that the Redskins have trotted out in recent years, but how does he compare to the rest of the GMs in the NFL?  Are the suggestions that he is one of the best talent evaluators in the NFL warranted?  Should we include among the likes of greats like Ozzie Newsome and Ted Thompson?  Let's find out.  We'll start again by looking at drafts done strictly in a GM or de facto GM role.

I first need to point out that if you peruse the following tables you will notice this offseason's recently deposed (John Idzik and Phil Emery) and demoted (Howie Roseman) GMs are included instead of their successors.  I chose to go this route because their replacements have no experience as general managers and very little experience in top college scouting roles.

McCloughan Rankings Picks/YR PB % Starter % No AV % Avg. AV/Year
Scot McCloughan (2005-2009) 10th 1st 5th 5th 8th
Scot McCloughan Alt (2005-2010) 11th 1st 5th 5th 5th

Scot McCloughan no longer stands alone at the top of the heap, but he still ranks among the league's best in each category.  Surprisingly, though, three of the executives that bested him in the average AV/YR rankings were Doug Whaley (Bills), David Caldwell (Jaguars) and Ray Farmer (Browns), three of the league's least experienced general managers.  As a matter of fact, this group only has a combined four years of general manager experience and 30 draft picks.

We should not ignore the good work these personnel bosses have done and at the very least we should look at them as up-and-comers, but at the same time we should probably take their numbers here with a grain of salt.  With that said, I thought it would be wise to remove them and some of the other GMs with smaller drafting sample sizes.  The following table only includes GMs with at least three years of experience and that have made more than 20 draft picks.

McCloughan Rankings Picks/YR PB % Starter % No AV % Avg. AV/Year
Scot McCloughan (2005-2009) 8th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Scot McCloughan (2005-2010) 9th 1st 2nd 3rd 2nd

Removing the small sample size GMs only moved McCloughan up a few spots, but it feels like he made a much bigger jump up than that, because he now goes from being ranked in the top five in the majority of these categories to being ranked in the top three in them.  When you see his name side-by-side with the likes of Ozzie Newsome, Ted Thompson and John Schneider you start to get a sense that he may in fact be one of the league's best.

McCloughan vs. the NFL (College Scouting Drafts)

If possible, I would like to get more than just a sense that McCloughan is one best talent evaluators in the league.  Perhaps comparing McCloughan's track record as not just a GM, but as a top college scouting executive (director of college scouting, general manager and senior personnel executive) will help accomplish this.

McCloughan Rankings Picks/YR PB % Starter % No AV % Avg. AV/Year
Scot McCloughan ('01-'09, '11-'13) 5th 4th 7th 5th 6th
Scot McCloughan Alt (2001-2014) 5th 4th 9th 10th 6th

And finally, here is one more table with the small sample sizes removed.  This time the cutoff used was six years and 50 draft picks.

Bengals GM Mike Brown was also left out of this table.  He was the team's assistant GM since the Bengal's inaugural season in 1968 and all the way up until his father, Paul Brown, died in 1991.  I believe that working in different eras has skewed his numbers and I didn't think that it would be worthwhile to make an adjustment for this, so I chose instead to just leave him out.

McCloughan Rankings Picks/YR PB % Starter % No AV % Avg. AV/Year
Scot McCloughan ('01-'09, '11-'13) 4th 4th 5th 2nd 4th
Scot McCloughan (2001-2014) 4th 4th 6th 6th 4th

McCloughan drops in the rankings here a bit because of his less sterling first tour in Seattle, but he still places in the top five according to nearly every measure.  Scot McCloughan didn't just acquire the reputation of being one of the league's best drafters based on the strength of a few solid drafts as the GM of the 49ers; he earned it based on an entire career of sustained success.

Additional Observations

  • I've looked at all of the data and metrics and averaged the results together in a number of different ways and according to that information Seattle's John Schneider is the NFL's best drafting GM.  It's hard to argue with that when you look at the results on the field.
  • Schneider is just ahead of Scot McCloughan and Les Snead, and those two hold just a slight edge of Mickey Loomis, Ted Thompson and Ozzie Newsome.  Thompson and Newsome deserve some extra credit for being at that this for so long, though.  Efficiency often drops with increasingly large sample sizes, but that is not the case with them.
  • Former Jets and Eagles GMs John Idzik and Howie Roseman come out looking like two of the worst drafters in the league.  It's no wonder that they were removed from their positions.  They are joined by Trent Baalke, John Elway and Martin Mayhew.
  • The two most surprising results were that the numbers indicate that Jerry Jones is an above average drafter and Bill Belichick is a well below average one.
  • If the NFL and Redskins tables were combined you would see that both Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen would rank in the bottom ten in starter percentage, no AV percentage and average AV per year.
  • Marty Schottenheimer was not included in this study because of his extremely small one-year sample size.  Had he been included he would have ranked in the top two among all of the listed Redskins general managers in both starter percentage (27%) and average AV per year (2.76).

Bottom Line

Scot McCloughan has the sixth worst record as a general manager among all of the 32 men that held that position for an NFL team in 2014.  That is because his 49ers teams had the sixth worst record in the league during his time as personnel chief there between 2005 and 2009.

However, he inherited a roster that was in just as bad of a shape, if not worse, as the one that the Redskins have now, and since he left the 49ers have gone from having the fifth worst record to having the fifth best one.  This was not a case of addition by subtraction, but rather it was one in which the talent that McCloughan acquired blossomed into highly productive players that helped the 49ers to turn their fortunes around.

In fact, he acquired nine of the team's top thirteen total Approximate Value producers from 2010 to 2014 (12 of the top 13 if you count the 2010 draft).  About 50% of the entire team's AV in that span was produced by players he acquired (60% if you include the 2010 draft).

Scot McCloughan is now tasked with rebuilding a Redskins team that has amassed the fifth worst record in the league over the course of the last five years.  He will need to do so primarily through the draft if he hopes to create a consistent winner.

Fortunately, McCloughan is one of the very best evaluators of college talent in the NFL and the numbers in this study bear that out.  If past is prologue - and I believe that it is - then Scot McCloughan will indeed be able to provide the Washington Redskins with the significant infusion of young talent that they so dearly need.  The question is: will he still be here when that talent is fully realized on the field.