The writing habits of good teams

One of the less popular moves New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen made during the 2022 NFL draft was trading twice in Round 2. The first trade traded the No. 36 pick for the No. 38 plus an additional Round 5 pick (No. 146, who became ILB Micah McFadden). The latter traded No. 38 for No. 43 plus an additional Round 4 pick (No. 114, who became S Dane Belton).

What upset many fans were the players who were moved from No. 36 to No. 42, which included two cornerbacks (Kyler Gordon and Andrew Booth) and a safety (Jalen Pitre). The Giants drafted Cordale Flott and Dane Belton to fill both needy spots later, but fans felt better options were missed.

A similar scenario played out in 2021, when then-general manager Dave Gettleman traded from No. 11 to No. 20 and earned an additional Round 5 pick plus additional Round 1 (No. 7) and 4 (No. 112) in 2022. The Giants passed OT Rashawn Slater and LB Micah Parsons, both of whom had breakout rookie seasons. (Interestingly, few people lamented that the Giants didn’t use the No. 11 pick to select QB Justin Fields.) he did not play long enough to make a strong impression. The No. 20 pick was used on Kadarius Toney, who had several spectacular games but also missed considerable time due to injury.

In this year’s draft, names were finally placed on those two additional 2022 picks: No. 7 became OT Evan Neal and No. 112 became TE Daniel Bellinger. So for the fans who didn’t like the 2021 trade, here’s the comparison:

  • Rashawn Slater, or Kadarius Toney + Evan Neal + Daniel Bellinger + ability to get Aaron Robinson.

Since the Giants had the No. 5 and No. 7 picks, and no offensive tackles were taken in the first four picks, Joe Schoen could have taken Neal (or Ikem Ekwonu) with No. 5 and gotten Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 7 if Carolina took the other AT (“yes” being the reason why she didn’t do it this way). Viewed that way, critics of the trade-down can make this comparison:

  • Micah Parsons, or Kadarius Toney + Kayvon Thibodeaux + Daniel Bellinger + ability to get Aaron Robinson.

The point is that what looked bad last year may turn out to be quite good now. Slater vs. Neal, or Parsons vs. Thibodeaux could be seen as cross bets, so if either Toney, Bellinger and Robinson turn out to be good players, the Giants will have benefited from the additional draftees.

And that’s important, because the Giants roster Schoen inherited was pretty devoid of talent. Part of that is a matter of recruiting the right players versus the wrong ones. The Giants have certainly had their share of that: think Ereck Flowers, Eli Apple, Deandre Baker. But there is inherent uncertainty in the draft, and even the best teams make poor draft decisions. At best, half of the prospects picked in Round 1 go on to become very good NFL players, and for every “gem” a team finds in Round 5, there are often many others picked earlier by several teams that fail.

The history of the Giants draft vs. that of the most successful teams

One way to see which teams are successful in the draft is to see how many of their current players are locals. Not every player on a roster is good, but in general, the more recruits of yours you keep over time, the better you’ve done. Let’s compare the Giants to the two most recent Super Bowl winners, plus a subset of other teams that have a reputation for organizational stability and good drafting and are generally playoff contenders. The table below shows the number of “homegrown” players (drafted by that team and remaining on that team) on each team at the end of the 2021 season, how many came from the previous four drafts, and how many came from previous drafts (all Pro Football Reference data):

home players

home players 2018-2021 2017 and before
home players 2018-2021 2017 and before
giants 23 twenty-one two
buccaneers 23 18 5
steelmakers 27 23 4
foals 28 25 3
packers 29 twenty-one 8
rams 30 26 4
Eagles 30 24 6
ravens 31 twenty-one 10

The Giants have fewer recruits of their own on the team than any of the others except Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are, of course, a special case: Their formula for success was to be bad to mediocre for most of the last decade, then get Tom Brady to sign with them and bring in Rob Gronkowski and (for a time) Anthony Brown with him.

All other teams have been more successful at retaining their own players. Splitting the total into 2018-2021 and prior to 2018 roughly isolates the number of players who received second contracts, which is a good indicator of success (eg Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Donald, Cam Heyward, Fletcher Cox, Mike Evans, Ronnie Stanley). The Giants have just two pre-2018 draft picks, and that’s a technicality: 2017 pick Davis Webb was released, but Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen brought him back this year. The other player is Sterling Shepard. Every other team, including the Bucs, who were miserable for most of the last decade, found and kept more players on second deals than the Giants. Some teams kept a lot more, especially the Packers and Ravens.

Dividing recruits in this way also separates the regimes of Jerry Reese and Dave Gettleman. The failure of Reese’s last few years as GM is clear from this chart. Gettleman’s track record is more in the middle of the pack, but it’s also more recent, and only in the next few years will we see how many, if any, of his recruits Schoen offers second deals.

The more (draft picks), the better

Some of this probably indicates that good teams are better at identifying good players. But there is another factor at play. The chart below shows how many players each team has drafted in the last decade, along with how many are still in the league and the percentage that is no longer in the NFL.

Draft performance over the past decade

recruited Still in the NFL % not in the NFL
recruited Still in the NFL % not in the NFL
giants 71 43 39.4
buccaneers 69 46 33.3
steelmakers 81 46 43.2
foals 83 51 38.6
packers 90 54 40.0
rams 88 55 37.5
Eagles 75 fifty 33.3
ravens 92 57 38.0

Aside from Tampa Bay, which took a unique path to success that other teams will find difficult to duplicate, every other team has had more draft picks in the past decade than the Giants, who have averaged just over seven a year. The Ravens and Packers could almost field an entire offense and defense with draft picks they’ve had beyond what the Giants have.

The Rams, you know, the team that supposedly scraps the draft and trades their picks for star players, had 17 more picks than the Giants over the last decade. The reason is that the Rams don’t really ignore the draft: They trade their top picks, but they rack up a lot of mid- and late-round picks. And yet they’ve retained more recruits than the Giants, as the chart above shows. It seems to have worked for them.

All of these teams have more of their draft picks still playing in the NFL, either with them or with another team, than the Giants. But that’s mainly because they have more recruits to begin with. The percentages of draftees who are no longer in the NFL don’t vary drastically from team to team. Tampa Bay and Philadelphia have been the most successful in drafting players who remain in the league (only 33.3 percent are no longer on a team). But the Giants are in the middle of the pack on this metric (evidence that drafting high often doesn’t help much: Good teams draft low because they’re good at it). They may or may not be noticeably worse in the draft than other teams, but one thing’s for sure: They just haven’t gotten as many “bites in the apple,” so they’ve had fewer opportunities to find good players.

There are three ways to get additional draft picks:

  • Trading players for picks, like Schoen is trying to do (unsuccessfully so far) with James Bradberry.
  • Trading down within a given draft to rack up additional picks (as Schoen did twice this year and Gettleman twice the year before).
  • By receiving compensatory picks for lost free agents and for developing minority coaches and GMs (the Giants are projected to get a 2023 5th-round compensation pick for Evan Engram and a 2023 round 7 pick for Keion Crossen, per Over the Cap).

The Ravens are the NFL’s courtesy pick champions, having received 53 since 1995 (the Packers are second with 43). That’s why these teams have had far more draft picks than the Giants (who have had 26). Baltimore loves letting free agents walk around and sign expensive contracts elsewhere while recruiting their replacements on the cheap.

Over the past decade, the Giants have had six draft picks — fewer than seven nominal picks — five times. During that same time, the Ravens have had seven-plus picks nine times. Even the Rams have had extra picks eight times in 10 years, even though they seemingly always trade their Rund 1 pick. These teams realize it’s hard to outsmart every other team when it’s your turn to pick, so you better have more chances to succeed.

In 2023, the Giants are currently in line to have nine draft picks because of those two early complementary picks: Rounds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (x2) and 7 (x3). Why isn’t there a sixth round pick and a third seventh round pick? First, Gettleman gave the Giants’ Round 6 pick to Houston in exchange for Crossen, who did little for the Giants except (hopefully) bring back a Round 7 pick when he left in free agency. Second, Gettleman traded the Giants’ 2022 4th round pick to Baltimore (which the Ravens used to draft OT Daniel Faalele) for Ben Bredeson, a 2022 5th round pick (who became Marcus McKethan). ) and a 2023 round 7 pick.

So Faalele, or Bredeson + McKethan + 2023 Round 7? Time will tell. Faalele could become a star, or he might not have the mobility to play overtime in the NFL. Bredeson and McKethan may see significant playing time at LG this year, or maybe neither of them will make it to 53. It’s a lottery.

Will Wan’Dale Robinson + Dane Belton + Micah McFadden be better for the Giants than one of Kyler Gordon, Andrew Booth or Jalen Pitre? It’s too early to tell. Maybe, maybe not. But if you try (switch down and let free agents go) sometimes, well, you might find that you get what you need. That’s the song the Ravens sing, and it could also be Joe Schoen’s tune.

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