Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Buyer Beware: Are players on better college teams more likely to be busts in the NFL?

Since I’m dipping my toe back into the water with this post, I figured I should stay in safe territory and look at some NFL Draft-related stuff. Enjoy!

With the recent release of Trent Richardson, it seems pretty safe to say that he has been a bust in the NFL. His performance has underwhelmed at a position that is held in low regard in the league. This is especially surprising given that Richardson was held in extremely high regard coming out of college.

As I was reflecting on this I saw an opportunity to test one of my theories on the draft – that players on good teams, specifically those on good units, are overdrafted relative to those from worse units. A player from a good unit, the theory goes, benefits by his skilled teammates taking away attention (no double teams for the second best DE or second best WR) and a better team will execute better in general, making all players look better.


I’ll be keeping things pretty simple for this one. For 1994-2010 (I don’t have 2014 data yet and want to use 4 years of data for each player) each player’s first 4 years AV will be compared against the log regression for their draft position. Then I will check to see whether the sum of draft value spent on other players from the same school/same unit in that year or the next explains the over or underperformance.


It does not. 

The overall regression shows no relationship at all (R=0.01) between players from the same unit in the same year (p-value=0.73) or the following year (p-value=0.69). When I tried to splice it by position the results were similarly underwhelming.

While there is a slight uptick in R and R-squared for QBs and offensive linemen, it is extremely slight. It's possible this is related to the draft combine effect I noted a few years ago. QBs and tackles were among those positions for which predictions actually got worse after the combine, guards stayed in place and there weren't enough centers included in Mel Kiper's Big Board (typically just the first round) to include in the analysis. Since these positions are relatively less influenced by raw physical skill than WR, DB and others, teams are more dependent on game film where the quality of teammates could confuse things more. This is all very speculative because, as noted above, this is a very slight effect.

At least the way I approached it with this analysis it appears that playing on a good team isn’t the reason Trent Richardson was overdrafted, he’s just a bust.


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