Spoiler Alert: This post is going to discuss a completely non-controversial subject matter that some of you on this site don’t recognize and that is Positional Value. If you believe, for example, that a Center is of equal importance to a QB (and more than a few of you have commented on this over the years), then this may not be the post for you. You can quit reading now, and go back to the reality that doesn’t exist, where all positions on the football field are equal. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, “You can’t say, ‘I choose not to believe in E=MC2’. You don’t have that option. It is true, whether or not you believe in it”. Just like Positional Value.
Last week I wrote a post titled “Miami Needs To Party Like It’s 1972”.
In that post, I referenced the 1972, 1982, and 2000 Dolphins and what they all had in common. Those 3 teams all ran the ball well and played good defense. That’s the formula that the 2017 Miami Dolphins needs to follow. To do that, I briefly discussed the upcoming draft and how loaded with defensive talent it is. But it is easy to say “draft defense”. It is much harder to draft the right defense, especially early in the draft (rounds 1-3). In this post, a companion with the one last week, I attempt to add some clarity to the draft process on defense.
Let’s start with some basics. What is the draft good for (remember, we are only talking rounds 1-3)? It seems a simple question to ask, but the answer isn’t always simple. Simple answer is that the draft allows teams to select young players to upgrade their rosters. It adds depth to the roster. There are more simple answers, but you get the drift.
For me, the more complicated answer is that the draft, when used properly, gets teams CHEAP production. With the CBA and the rookie salary cap in place, drafted players are CHEAP and if you can get them to produce to a high level, you get a tremendous asset at bargain basement prices. Jarvis Landry for the Dolphins is the perfect example of this. Landry was a 2nd round pick for Miami in 2014. Since drafted, he has caught more passes in his 1st 3 years as a Pro than any other WR in the history of the league and he is going into his 4th year of his rookie contract that pays him at 4 years / $3,474,911. Miami is getting tremendous production from Landry at under $1M / year. That’s the value of rookie contracts (because come next year, Landry is going to get a HUGE raise) and that is the value of the draft.
Now, if you look at the draft as a value proposition, you should ask, what positions offer the best values? Where will you get the biggest “bang for the buck”? In other words, which positions get paid the most on the open market and where should teams focus the early draft to get the most production relative to the cheapest cost?
Using www.spotrac.com I went position by position and tabulated the Top 5 Average / Year salaries for those positions. I then averaged out those Top 5 salaries to get a “positional” average cost and then compared the positions.
(Note: Some will argue that using an average salary over the contract length isn’t the best way to determine “cost of contract”. I would agree. But for simplicity, that is the method I used. Using different parts of the “contract” might change a few of the numbers and a few of the players in those Top 5 Contracts, but I imagine that you will get similar results.)
Here are the results on offense:
Here are the results on defense:
Here are the overall results:
For me, when I saw this list, I was somewhat surprised. I thought CB and WR would be higher on the overall list. But then I did some digging, and thought about it a little more, and then realized (probably later than I should have) that www.spotrac.com doesn’t take into consideration base defensive fronts. For example, 3-4 and 4-3 OLB’s are in the same list, yet they have significantly different roles. 3-4 OLB’s are primarily pass rushers, which makes them a premium position on defense and they therefore get premium money. Here is the list of OLB’s from spotrac.com. Notice they are all pass rushing OLB’s which skews the $$$.
(Note: Snap Count % is the % of defensive plays that they were on the field for their team. So Von Miller was on the field for 81.2% of Denver’s total defensive plays. Overall Rank is how many plays that defender was on the field compared to every player in the league at all positions. Von Miller played the 86th most plays on defense in the league last year. Olivier Vernon played the 30th most plays on defense in the league last year.)
The DE’s getting paid are all pass rushers as well again warranting premium $$$.
And then you get to the DT’s. Spotrac.com combines 4-3 DT’s with 3-4 NT’s. Let me just say that the Top 5 DT’s make a lot of money because they are pass rushers as well, mostly 4-3 DT’s in the 3-Technique.
(Note: From what I could tell, if you separated the 3-Technique DT’s in a 4-3 from the 1-Technique DT’s and NT’s, the 1-Technique DT’s and the NT’s combined would rank 11th or 12th on the overall list of salaries. I didn’t do deep dive on this because I wanted to keep the overall feel of the numbers the same based on the sites used to gather the information.)
So now that I’ve bored you with numbers and charts (congrats for making it this far), it seems obvious which positions on defense Miami should target early in this draft. Because Miami runs a 4-3 defense, they should look at DT, DE, CB, and FS (seems obvious). OLB isn’t a pass rushing position in a 4-3, so knock that down a notch. ILB isn’t a “premium” position salary wise. And SS is the lowest salary on the field (which Miami has the highest paid SS in the league).
Basically, there are lots of possibilities (again, a lot of words for the obvious, thanks CT). How would I refine this search a little more? A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I was able to have a conversation with Dick LeBeau. This was 1995 and he was the DC for the Steelers at the time. I was among a group of 10-12 coaches (college offensive coaches) who were able to have an hour long conversation with who I consider the best defensive coach of the last 3 generations. One of the many things that he talked about that stuck with me was how he wanted versatile defenders able to stay on the field regardless of personnel and formation. He didn’t want to have to substitute a lot because when he did that, it took away from being able to disguise his blitz packages.
With that in mind, being versatile and able to stay on the field, I looked at defensive snap counts. I wanted to know what position stayed on the field. Here is the site I used:
Looking at this chart, I then did a count by position of players in the Top 25 of snaps played and in 26-100 of the snaps played. Here is what I came up with …
(Note: Miami had 3 players in the Top 100 of defensive snaps played. Kiko Alonso at #25, Suh at #65, Abdul-Quddus at #74. I’m sure Jones would have been on that list if he didn’t get injured.)
What this shows me is that DB’s are a premium position. DB’s make up more than 50% of the Top 100 defensive plays list (51 out of the 100). They stay on the field more than any other position group. That makes sense since the league is predominantly a passing league (58% pass to 42% run). Last year, there were 18,295 pass attempts and 13,321 rushing attempts.
Stopping those almost 5,000 more pass plays is the priority in the league right now. Not only do the numbers say as much, but the GM’s in the league have recognized this as well. The players that are getting paid the most on defense are the players that stop the pass. They are the pass rushers and pass defenders. If you consider that the 1-Technique DT and NT’s are basically run stoppers and if you look at their salaries separate from the 3-Technique pass rusher DT’s, you will find that the Top 8 Average Salaries by position all have to do with either the passing offense or defending the pass on defense. The Bottom 8 Average Salaries by position all have to do with either the running offense or defending the run on defense. (There are exceptions, of course, but in general, I believe this to be correct.)
And, coming full circle, that leads us right back into the 2017 draft. This draft is LOADED with players on the defensive side of the ball that stop the passing game. The CB class is one of the best in recent memory. The safety class is deep. There are good pass rushers available at DE and at OLB. There are enough good ILB’s in this draft to stay on the field for all 3 downs. This draft meets Miami’s needs on defense.
This draft also answers the basic question of what is the draft good for? It’s good for cheap production, and with a proper draft this weekend, Miami could have a lot of cheap, very high production on defense for the next 4 years.
I know in the “Party Like It’s 1972” post I mentioned that I could see Miami using a high pick on an OG. After doing this analysis, I’ve changed my mind. The 1st 3 rounds of this draft better be all defense. That is where the most bang for the buck is this year