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Some statistical evidence that Washington’s draft picks have been highly productive

Is that a good thing?

Washington Football Team v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Yesterday, Hogs Haven posted an article that detailed the payments for Performance-Based Pay for 2020. This is a sort of “bonus” scheme that is detailed in the CBA; this year, it allocated $8.2m per team to be paid out to players on the roster based on percentage of playing time. As mentioned in the article, “ In general, players with higher playtime percentages and lower salaries benefit most from the pools.”

The upshot of that is that late round draft picks and undrafted free agents who play a lot get paid a lot. So do veteran players on low-priced contracts.

Here’s a snapshot of the top of the list as a reminder of who really benefited from this:

What I glean from this list is that Washington is relying on a roster of young players mixed with a few low-priced veterans at the moment. The amount of play time going to guys like Curl, McLaurin, Sims, Moreland, Holcomb, Settle, Reaves and Everett when you consider their draft positions is rather amazing. McLaurin is the highest drafted in that list (3rd round) and three of those players (Sims, Reaves and Everett) were UDFAs.

It’s also impressive to see what the front office achieved in signing low-priced veteran free agents who were able to come onto the team and contribute as starters or key role players (Wes Schweitzer, Logan Thomas, JD McKisssic, Jon Bostic) but that’s a different topic for a different article on a different day.

Today, I want to focus on the contribution of players on their rookie contracts to the fortunes of the Washington Football Team. It seems as if Washington is among the most successful teams in the league in accumulating draft picks and getting a lot of playing time out of their young players — which is an economical use of resources.

Here’s what I am relying on to support that statement. This week, Over The Cap published an article that looks at the number of snaps played by rookies, and compares that to the “expected” number (which is essentially the NFL average for players drafted at the same spot in the daft). Players who played more snaps were seen as a net positive (think Kamren Curl and Terry McLaurin); those who played fewer snaps — a net negative (think Josh Doctson and Su’a Cravens).

Step One

The first step in the analysis was to calculate the average number of snaps played for the team that drafted the player during the 4 years of the rookie contract. OTC plotted the results on a graph where the 256 draft positions form the X-axis and average snaps played form the Y-axis.

In general, the results are not surprising; players drafted earlier play more. Those drafted later play less.

There is one “aside” mentioned in the OTC article that I’ll reprint here, though it focuses on a different topic. I find it an interesting comment:

While not all snaps are created equal it is somewhat notable that a good percentage of 2nd round picks track similar to many of the 1st round picks. This pretty much goes right in line with the findings Brad and I had in the Drafting Stage (and many others have had when doing draft research) that the gap traditionally assigned to draft picks makes little sense and that it is more based on the emotion involved that leads to the “we cant miss” attitude that leads to big trade ups. If you hold that false assumption that every trade up is going to land you Patrick Mahomes rather than Mitch Trubisky it makes sense to overpay but in probably about 75% of the cases you land Trubisky.

Step Two

Getting back to the focus of this article, the second step was to look, on a team-by-team basis, at the number of snaps were actually played by each team’s draft picks during the player’s rookie contract. OTC looked at all the draft picks made between 2011 and 2020.

A player like Josh Doctson, who was selected 22nd overall in the draft, was compared to the snap average for all 22nd overall picks for those ten years. He would not have compared favorably.

A player like Kamren Curl, who was selected with the 216th pick in the draft, would have been compared to the snap average for all 216th picks for those ten years. He would have been a star in this metric.


OTC aggregated the results of snaps over/under the expected for all draft picks during the past ten years and graphed the results.

The Y-axis is the excess snaps played by the drafted players as an index, with the ‘center’ set at (almost) zero.


The expected number of draft picks in ten years seems to be 70 (7 rounds x 10 years), but, of course, there are 32 compensatory picks that push up the average for teams that use the comp pick system well, and a further imbalance is created as the result of trades.

The X-axis is the number of draft picks, with the ‘center’ points set at 80 picks (2,560 picks / 32 teams).

Here’s the explanation from the OTC article:

Basically the teams in the top right had a lot of picks and did really well with those picks while those in the top left hit a home run despite a limited quantity of picks. For those on the bottom the results have been poor in the draft.

The three clear overachievers on this graph are Washington, Dallas and Minnesota, who all have had a higher than average number of draft picks, and more football played by those draft picks than expected (based on mathematical averages).

There’s a question, I guess, about whether this should be a point of pride or concern. The most successful team in the league during the past ten years has been the Patriots, and they are at the very bottom of the y-axis, though above average on X-axis.

Other consistently good teams like the Seahawks, Packers and Steelers are also in the “minus” range of the y-axis, while mostly being in the “plus” range of the x-axis — but then the Browns and the Jets show up in that cluster as well.

On one hand, it’s great to know that Washington’s young players have been highly productive, but, looking at where teams fall on the graph tells me that productivity from the young players isn’t necessarily an ingredient of success. Just like QBR doesn’t tell you whether a quarterback is a winner or not, this chart doesn’t say which franchises are doing it right or wrong. For example, the Giants and Eagles — who between them have three super bowl trophies in the past 14 years — both appear in the bottom left quadrant (ie. presumably the ‘worst’ place to be).

I think the factor that’s missing in this chart is an understanding of why teams are where they are on the graph.

Teams like the Patriots, Packers, Seahawks and Steelers have had one quarterback for all or most of those ten years. They have relied on veterans playing at a high level and have had mostly traded down to accumulate more picks.

The Jets and Browns have chased quarterbacks, investing huge amounts of draft capital in one player after another who failed to produce (Baker Mayfield excepted), and they’ve relied on veteran free agency to try to surround their young QBs with talent.

Teams like Dallas, Washington and Minnesota appear to be drafting well because their young players are playing a lot, but that is too often because the roster overall has lacked the quality veterans that have made teams like NE, GB, and Pitt consistent playoff contenders.

I’m happy to celebrate the success of Washington’s young players. I feel as if the young group that Ron Rivera has in his charge comprises players with talent, and I think the team has finally figured out how to use free agency effectively. The future seems brighter than the past, but, then, that’s not a very high bar.

I think the key is to keep the pipeline full of young talent, but to make sure the roster has the four or five star veterans needed to reach and compete in the playoffs every year. The team appears to be drafting well, but without figuring out how to turn a collection of good draft picks into a consistent winning playoff-caliber roster. Hopefully Ron Rivera, the coaching staff and front office have finally figured out the missing ingredient.