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Is Chris Ballard really the best drafting GM in the league?

NFL: FEB 25 Scouting Combine Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We Colts fans love to think that Chris Ballard is the best general manager in the entire NFL, and that he is at least the best at drafting does not even fall into consideration. However, the off-season, and a lot of spare time and boredom because of lockdown, gave me the chance to start questioning some things we take as given. First, I questioned whether Frank Reich was truly the best option at head coach for this team. The answer was absolutely yes, but some fans jumped at me for even bringing the topic into discussion. Now we will go into it again, trying to dissect how good Ballard actualy is at acquiring talent through the Draft.

I wanted to leave my personal opinions out of this, as I fully believe that there are no GMs better than Ballard at this aspect of managing a team. In order to do so, I tried to create a new metric that measures just how good a general manager is at drafting. The simple idea was to take the AV (Approximate Value from PFR ) from the last 3 draft classes, add them up, and the team with the most AV is the best team at drafting. However, as it is often the case with econometric models, simplicity brings plenty of bias and errors.

There were 3 major issues that I had to take into account in order to make this metric as solid as possible for the article:

1- The AV for quarterbacks is significantly higher than that of any other position, by a lot, and teams that drafted a starting quarterback, tended to have higher cumulative AVs. Take the case of Daniel Jones, from the Giants. Jones has played like a backup throughout his first seasons in the NFL. His career AV, however, is the same as that of Josh Jacobs, a running back that has rushed for over 1.000 yards in each of his first two seasons. In order to solve this, I just took quarterbacks out of the equation entirely. I think that drafting quarterbacks deserve a whole different article, and Ballard has not drafted a quarterback as a Day One starter just yet.

2- The way that career AV is calculated, is taking 100% value from the player’s best season, 95% from the player’s second best season, and 90% from the player’s third best season. Think of it like this: say a player has played 4 seasons, with AVs of 10, 9, 8, and 6. Then his career AV would be 10 * 1 + 9 * 0.95 + 8 * 0.90 = 25.75 = 26. The problem with this way of calculating is that players drafted 3 seasons ago, have 3 seasons that go into the AV equation, while players drafted in the last Draft only have one. In order to solve this, I tried to project the AV of players multiplying the AV of players with just one season by 2 and players with two seasons by 1.5, in order to have a number that measures players without giving an unfair advantage to the players with more seasons played.

3- When measuring draft success, we also have to take into account the draft capital the GM had when drafting. As we are only judging drafting players here, trades will not be taken into account. It would not be fair to judge all GMs the same as some enjoyed plenty of earlier picks than others. To solve this, I used the Draft Capital Calculator and gave values to picks according to where they were in the Draft. Top 10 picks were worth 1.800 points, 10-32 were worth 800 points, second round picks 450 points, third round picks 200 points, fourth round picks 75 points, 5th round picks 35 points, 6th round picks 15 points, and 7th round picks were worth just 5 points. I then summed up those values with the picks over the last 3 seasons and we got the total draft capital that a team used. Say a team has the 3rd overall pick, 54th pick, and 240th pick, then the draft capital for that draft would be 1.800 (3rd pick) + 450 (54th pick) + 5 (240th pick) = 2255.

To calculate the GM Draft Rating, I just took the Adjusted AV that the general manager drafted, and divided it by the amount of Draft Capital (/100 to create a number >0). Anyway, this is the final result of my caffeine-induced, 5-hour late night research:

GM Draft Rating over past 3 seasons

Team Draft Capital Adj. AV GM Draft Rating
Team Draft Capital Adj. AV GM Draft Rating
Ravens 47.30 237 5.0106
Rams 26.15 125 4.7801
Bills 43.15 178 4.1251
WFT 49.00 191.5 3.9082
Colts 65.95 243 3.6846
Dolphins 56.70 206 3.6243
Chiefs 33.05 120 3.6157
Vikings 53.10 188.5 3.5499
Bears 40.95 133.5 3.4359
Falcons 48.65 160.5 3.2991
Bengals 41.90 136 3.2458
Texans 32.80 105 3.1860
Packers 45.70 145 3.1729
Bucs 65.90 207.5 3.1487
Seahawks 49.10 153.5 3.1263
Saints 27.40 84.5 3.0839
Titans 43.15 132 3.0591
Chargers 40.05 119 2.9713
Steelers 44.90 129 2.8731
49ers 69.95 196.5 2.8091
Eagles 33.25 93 2.7970
Giants 71.05 179.5 2.7970
Panthers 57.85 151.5 2.6188
Broncos 62.00 162 2.6129
Patriots 54.10 138 2.5508
Cowboys 39.00 134 2.5264
Cardinals 39.55 99 2.5032
Raiders 80.05 189 2.3610
Jets 44.35 101 2.2661
Browns 64.65 144 2.2274
Lions 69.30 154 2.2222
Jaguars 75.15 137 1.8164
On the last row, 3.0940 is the average for GM Draft Rating.

As we can see in the chart, while Ballard got the most AV out of the last three draft classes, with 243, he was actually just the 5th best GM at getting the most out of the draft capital he had, with the Ravens, Rams, Bills, and Washington Football Team getting more out of what they had than him. The numbers are fair, while Ballard managed to get plenty of blue-chip players for this Colts roster, he also inherited the 3rd overall pick in the draft, which later turned into more high picks, through a steal of a trade with the Jets, but again, we are not judging how good a GM is at trading, but solely and purely drafting.

Look at the 4 teams above the Colts in this metric right now: The Ravens, even without taking into account Lamar Jackson, are by far the best team at drafting. They got players like Patrick Queen, Marquise Brown, Orlando Brown, Mark Andrews, Bradley Bozeman, J.K Dobbins, Kenny Young, and Deshon Elliott all without using that much draft capital. Then we have the Rams, that were severely handicapped after the trade for the #1 overall pick used on Goff, but still managed to get plenty of talent with that little they had, getting players like Taylor Rapp, David Edwards, Joseph Noteboom, and Sebastian Joseph. The Bills have been excellent at drafting over the past 3 seasons, building perhaps one of the best all-around rosters in the NFL with players like Gabriel Davis, who torched the Colts in the WC game, Cody Ford, Ed Oliver, Tremaine Edmunds, and Taron Johnson. The Washington Football Team has also quietly been building a solid roster, even though they are still a long way from being a truly elite team. All 4 teams above the Colts made the playoffs last season, so it is not really bad company to be with.

Overall, we can take into conclusion that Ballard is elite at drafting, and can be considered Top 5 in the NFL with actual evidence. While he may not be inarguably the best at this, as there are some GMs that are better than him, Colts fans can rest assured knowing we have a very competent guy leading this roster and one that will hopefully take us to the promised land.