Packers Draft Picks Reflect a New Wave of Analytics

Packers Draft Picks Reflect a New Wave of Analytics

The Green Bay Packers are one of the many NFL teams that are embracing a new wave of Analytics when it comes to the process of selecting players.  In last weeks draft, the Packers drafted players to fill their areas of immediate need on defense with their first three picks, drafted playmaking offensive players with their 4-6 round picks and were able to select the best available players left on the draft board in the 7th round.

The Packers draft was graded out by many as one of the highest valued drafts in the league and the secret to this seasons draft success lies beneath the numbers.  Beneath what numbers do you ask? the relative athletic metric scores.  Most of the players that the Packers drafted scored in the upper percentile in their athletic metrics at the position that they play.  This backs up the talent evaluators assessments that the Packers drafted high valued picks throughout each of the seven rounds of their draft.

What is a Relative Athletic Score? A relative athletic score grades a player’s measurables (height, weight) and combine scores and compares them against other prospects in their position class and draft class.  Each players results from their measurables and each combine drill is graded from a 1-10 score (1 being the worst, 10 being the best) and averaged together to score a cumulative relative athletic grade (1-10).

I believe that one of the greatest cases for the validity of relative athletic scores is made by the value that the Packers acquired at the wide receiver position in this year’s draft.  Many talent evaluators both in the NFL and across other media outlets had Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk rated as two of the top receivers in this year’s wide receiver class.

Both Ridley and Kirk were off the draft board by the end of the first and middle of the second round respectively.  However, their athletic metrics suggest that both players were overvalued and should have been drafted much lower than they were.  Both Ridley who was selected 26th overall with a relative athletic score of (5.10), and Kirk, who was selected 47th overall with a relative athletic score of (6.27), were among the worst early round value amongst wide receivers.
Conversely, Equanimeous St. Brown, a 6th round selection, with an RAS of (9.84), Marques Valdez-Scantling a 5th round selection with an RAS of (9.46), and J’Mon Moore a 4th round selection with an RAS of (8.43), rank superior in their athletic metrics, and provide much more value at a position where athleticism is held at a premium and is necessary for success.

Another interesting case in the evaluation of athletic metrics is the comparison of LB- Leighton Vander Esch, who was selected 19th overall, with a RAS score of (9.97) to 7th round pick LB- Kendall Donnerson, who has a RAS score of (9.88).  Leighton Vander Esch is an example of a player who did not play in a power 5 conference that had his draft stock helped by his athletic metrics.  He backed up his solid performance at Boise St. with a standout combine which translated into receiving an off the chart assessment of his athletic metrics.

Vander Esch’s case shows that his metrics backed up what talent evaluators raved about when they watched his tapes; that he has the potential to be a difference maker. Jerry Jones believed in this assessment so much that the Cowboys invested their 19th overall pick on Vander Esch, hoping that he will eventually replace former pro bowler Sean Lee.
If these metrics can validate Vander Esch’s stock as a first-round talent, then they most certainly can validate the fact that Kendall Donnerson can be a potential 7th round steal for the Packers.
Donnerson’s athletic metrics show that he is a player who possesses the athletic talent to make an impact comparable to that of a Leighton Vander Esch if coached, developed, and deployed correctly within the Packers system.

These metric evaluations ultimately lead to the question of how much value should we put in athletic metrics, measurables, and combine results when it comes to determining where a player should be drafted and how successful he will be in the NFL? After reading these athletic metric comparisons there will undoubtedly be detractors of athletic metrics, measurables, and combine results.

However, my question to the detractors of these metrics, is how many times have we seen players slide dramatically on draft night because they did not score favorably on their combine and metric scores? The fact of the matter is that we cannot simply dismiss athletic metrics when evaluating draft picks because they clearly do serve a purpose and offer a snapshot into determining the probability of success of each draft pick.
We can use metrics for the probability of success because we are studying observable, measurable, and repeatable data from multiple tests that the draftees have taken throughout the evaluation process (combines, pro days, and senior bowl events).

For example, the metrics indicate that Equanimeous St. Brown, Marques Valdez- Scantling, and J’Mon Moore will be more explosive players at the wide receiver position than Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk will be.  To dismiss this fact would simply be burying our heads in the sand, especially when we are evaluating a position that is heavily reliant on athleticism.

Conversely, Ridley and Kirk could become solid possession receivers and fit the needs of their system and go onto have productive careers but in a cap driven league, the advanced metrics suggest that drafting athletic defenders early in the draft is a far better investment than spending an early pick on an overvalued wide receiver.

I believe that relative athletic scores can have their greatest impact on evaluating positions that require high twitch movements, I.e skill positions, edge rushers, and linebackers.  Conversely, the case can be made that Athletic metrics may not play as big of a factor in determining the probable success rate for positions like quarterback, guard, kicker, and punter.

However you personally view athletic metrics, it is undeniable that they are playing a much larger role in many teams draft strategies than ever before and show that there is a very plausible probability that the Green Bay Packers have found impact players late in this year’s draft, that could go a long way into solving many of the problems that the Packers had on both offense and defense last season.
If you would like to delve more into the world of relative athletic scores, I encourage you to check out Kent Lee Platte on twitter at @MathBomb.  Kent developed the relative athletic scoring system and can answer any of your athletic metric questions on twitter.  Also, be sure to check out Mockdraftable.com to see these advanced metrics measured out on a visual data analysis.
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David Michalski is a recent college graduate from Princeton New Jersey who has been a life long Green Bay Packers fan. Like the great Vince Lombardi, he values God, family, and the Green Bay Packers in that order. You can follow him on twitter at @kilbas27dave

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