Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Were They Thinking?

I keep hearing/reading the phrase "what were the Lions thinking in their draft??"

I was getting all ready to write out an explanation of how the whole system worked...when NetRat went and beat me to it. Since he wrote it so well, I am going to both link to and copy it here. (permission was granted by NetRat)

I will add my .02 after NetRat's piece. You will also need to reference this list of players the Lions scouted. I also bolded some lines that stood out to me.

The 2009 Detroit Lions Draft (Part I)

They have a plan. They said they did, we all heard them, but until the Lions were on the clock just exactly what that plan was wasn’t quite known or if known, not understood.

As the draft unfolded I realized exactly what the draft plan was. It’s not something that a lot of people can grasp at first. Sometimes even after explaining it. Despite that, I shall give it a go.

The Lions drafted the best available player on their draft board that fit any need.

The key words there are “their draft board” and “any need”. The lions spent thousands upon thousands of man hours, and hundreds of thousands of dollars (or perhaps millions) scouting players throughout the United States, as all teams do to differing extent. They pay scouts, they spend hours scouring film, they travel to pro days, to the combine, they pay for players to come to Detroit. They update their information daily 365 days a year. Then they spend the weeks leading up to the draft ranking each player that will enter the draft vertically, by position. So they have the best LB at the top, then the 2nd best, then the 3rd, etc. They do this for each position. Then after they have hundreds of potential draft picks ranked, they combine the players into a horizontal ranking, meaning the best in the draft, the 2nd best player in the draft, the 3rd, etc. This gives them their draft board. They rank the players by adding to or taking away from their score based on play, based on competition, based on tangibles like height, weight, and even mental capacity. They learn less then a week before the draft which players failed the drug tests at the combine, and lower the scores of those players. The higher picks they talk to their college coaches, their families, their friends, their opponents. All of this is done in an attempt to get the best ranked draft board possible. Every team does this. But, every team puts more emphasis on one area or another, no two teams rank the players the same. No two teams scout players the same way, or have scouts who see the same things. So okay, the Lions now have their draft board set about a day or two before the draft.

They also have reviewed their own team, along with every other team in the league. They have a good idea of what teams need what… including all their own needs. The temptation during the draft for many is to rate the needs of the team into some sort of order then draft a player to fill the most important need, then the next, etc. This method tends to make for a pretty draft, but it causes a team to “reach” for players that normally wouldn’t be taken right there. In essence, the team drafts by ignoring all that work and all that money they put into their draft board. What the Lions did was draft based on the highest rated player on their draft board that filled one of their needs, any need, and in no particular order. If a team is successful in this, they will slowly fill their roster with the best player they could possibly get, and if they did their homework correctly, that position STAYS filled. The next year, there are that many more positions that do not need to be drafted. The main problem is that the this style of draft does not appear to be addressing needs. It is, obviously, but not in any particular order. Nor will it necessarily address the most important need, or the most needy need. Whatever. Teams that go with this method know they will have to address the remaining needs not filled in the draft after the draft as best they can, then draft again the next year. Like I said, eventually, as long as you fill your needs and they stay filled, you build a team, a very good team, the best team you possibly could build based on who was available as you were drafting.

That is what the Lions (presumably) did. Now, I am biased here. I totally agree with this method of drafting. The pressure to stray from the plan is always there, and sometimes a team will cave… and draft a player by reaching for him simply to fill a need. The trick is to resist that temptation and build your team with the very best players you can get your hands on. That way, if there are mistakes made, it’s not because you ignored all your time and money making your daft board, it’s because you made the wrong draft board.

A fan might not like this method, and I can appreciate that. A fan might not agree with the picks a team made, but the fan doesn’t have all the information a team has, so the fan might be wrong, or the team might be wrong. Unfortunately no one knows how a pick will turn out in advance, so it’ll be a year or two or three before it’s known if the team was right or the fan. Regardless of how the draft turns out, a fan needs to realize the team had no intention whatsoever to address all their needs, or even necessarily their most pressing need, they planned to fix ANY need they have with the best players they could get. And that part is very hard to accept.

So on to the Lions 2009 draft. Pick #1, Matthew Stafford. The Lions had him ranked #1 on their board, they had the first pick, and the only thing that would’ve stopped them from drafting him was if the player’s agent and the team couldn’t agree to a contract before the draft… or if some other team made an offer to trade that was just too good to resist. There was no blockbuster trade offer, or for all I know, any trade offer, and the contract was agreed to the day before the draft. The Lions picked their QB for the future. A need. Will he turn out? I have no idea at all. It was a need, he was the highest player on their board. End of pick #1.

Note: I would’ve probably had Eugene Monroe or Jason Smith rated higher then Stafford. So my first pick if a contract was agreed to would’ve been a left tackle. Also a need, in my opinion.Pick #20 puts the Lions on the clock with (presumably) Brandon Pettigrew TE on the top of their board. A need. The pick is made. They had him rated higher then the 4th left tackle on the vertical board, higher then the middle line backer who dropped nearly a full round from here, so there was info there that fans don’t have. (I might have had Alex Mack rated higher, a center/guard, so my pick would’ve been another Oline pick).

Pick #33 the Lions take their next top rated player, Louis Delmas, the best Safety in the draft. Another need. They had him ranked higher then say Laurinaitis, a much more pressing need, but they are not drafting for need, they are drafting the best player they can at any need. I probably would’ve had the same player on my list (the one I really wanted was drafted the pick before) [Me too. ~ DF79], so a Safety for me as well.

At this point they have their best players picked, QB, TE, S. I would’ve have LT, C/G, S. All these players were on the “list”. The list is posted under this post. [linked to above the story ~ DF79] It consists of all the players the Lions were known to have contact with. Last year, the list contains every single draft pick they took except for one. This year LionHawkeye, the fan who spent probably hundreds of hours scouring the internet for news and photos to determine who the lions contacted, made an even more in depth list. Between round 2 and round 3 we had no idea the Lions had been sneaky. They had brought in at least 3 players to Allen Park and no one knew (including DeAndre Levy on April 17th). In addition, they told players not to say anything, according to a guy in Iowa, they told the scouts to quit making comments after a couple got out. In other words, they shut down all leaks and the list was utterly incomplete… when we were thinking it was even more complete then the year before. I don’t know if it helped them in the draft, but they managed to get 6 players drafted that were not on our list. I applaud the front office being able to have that much control despite our efforts, we will of course have to try harder… anyone know how to do wire taps? *Just kidding*

The rest of the draft I’m sure you followed (you didn’t read all the way to here without being a big fan). The trades, the picks they took. How thin the draft was in the final two rounds. When all is said and done the Lions got (presumably) the best players they could possibly get based on their own scoring system to fill needs on the team. Not all of them. Maybe not even the most dire needs. Or the most important. Whatever. But if they did it right, they won’t need to fill those needs again next year. This year they didn’t need a #1 WR, or a #1 RB. A right tackle, a kicker, punter, long snapper, or starting weakside linebacker. Next year they also won’t need (hopefully) a starting QB, a starting TE, a starting Safety, and with luck, some other starting positions, or if not that, some backup positions (those are needs too). The more needs that get filled, the more players they will skip over even if rated the highest, because that highest rated player on their board won’t fill a need. If the next 10 players aren’t needs they will accept more trade downs in the higher rounds. Eventually they will be drafting players only to replace free agents and the older vets. The draft then might even appear to the fan like some of the Patriots or Pittsburgh drafts. That’s the plan. That's what the Lions planned to do and as near as I can tell, that is exactly what they did.

In a few days or so I’ll post part II. My opinions of the actual picks, and where I think they will fit in on the roster (or if they will make the roster)… and my opinion of what needs they will yet address in free agency.

DetFan1979's Additional Thoughts:

Be sure to read through the post carefully -- it is how the Lions will be drafting for at least the next 3 - 4 years. If it works, even longer. I will also be posting my thoughts on the players in the coming weeks as I learn more about them.

A couple of things to take second note of, that are misunderstood by many when talking about "BPA"

1. Top Player on Their Board who Fills a Need.

2. IF top 10 players or so don't fill a need, trade back. Repeat until a top player on board fills a need.

A definition of need also bears looking at: Levels of need are Starter, Backup, Future Starter, Specialist. Everyone who is up in arms over Schwartz saying they took a second in-depth look at Levy after scouting Beanie Wells in case he fell to them at the top of two. If Wells was there at 33 and was top on their board, they would have taken him because a young power back to complement Kevin Smith and back him up was a need.

It's not most dire need. Not most wanted need. ANY need.

See how it works?

This also takes a lot of pressure off draft-day decision making by the GM -- and if the players don't turn out to be like the scouts rated them, you can rightfully blame the scouts and get new ones, or work on what went wrong with more clarity. [for example, maybe the scouts totalyl whiffed on a lot of dline rankings. They can look at what went wrong and focus on fixing that part. Where maybe they were spot on with dback ratings, so they don't change a thing about how they scout them.] It allows the GM to make deals with other teams draft day looking at the value left on their board, versus figuring out who to take come your pick AND fielding trade offers. [no more voices from the back of the room shouting "Calhoun?!" as the clock is running out.] Millen so often went against the scouts' and coaches' wishes, I'm surprised they won any games! Oh wait...

Seriously though, a little noticed fact early this ifseason -- the week after the season ended -- was when Mayhew indicated that they were going back and looking at how every draft board over the past 8 years was stacked, and how each of those players turned out relative to their ranking on the Lions' board. [lost link, couldn't find story but I did have notes on it. Sorry.] Not who they took -- that was a decision, and Millen drafted for need. But how they had them rated.

After only letting go one person in the scouting department, I think it is pretty obvious what the conclusion of that study was. We'll see if that faith was rightly placed.

finally, one more point on the style of BPAFN (Best Player Available Fits Need) -- you end up with a team stocked with talent -- and the ability to target specific guys on your board to get int eh right spot to match need and value.

If you are always drafting for just need, and do it well, you will be taking a guy at say, 20 -- who should have gone 30th. then you take a guy at say 52 who should have gone in the 70's... what do you get? You get a team of guys you "needed" that are mediocre. Middle of the pack. So you still "need" an upgrade at that position. It's a great way to get an 8-8 team that gets lucky now and then, and not so lucky other times.

The method the Lions are using, when done right (in conjunction with a strong scouting department) will lead to a talent loaded team ala New England, or Pittsburgh -- two teams who religiously draft this way. It looks confusing right now because there are so many more needs for the Lions than these other team... while they may not be what holes you, or I, or even the Lions may WANT to fill first -- they are those needs that they can will with top talent first.

In the end, as long as they are filling holes that will STAY filled, they can patch them in whatever order they want in my opinion. Because IF they are doing it right, in 2011 about the time Matt Stafford should be hitting his stride, the Lions should be eyeing the playoffs.

But for 2009? The coaches and front office are basically saying without saying -- the wins will be what they will be; every attempt will be made to win games - don't get me wrong - but only so long as those attempts don't sacrifice the future, or deviate from the plan.

Lots of IF's to this success or failure -- but isn't that why this is the IF season, after all?


Mark said...

Spot on. I love the references to the Steelers and Patriots. This is how we need to draft and that's why were improving. Go Lions


Anonymous said...

"The coaches and front office are basically saying without saying -- the wins will be what they will be; every attempt will be made to win games - don't get me wrong - but only so long as those attempts don't sacrifice the future, or deviate from the plan."

In other words, If you build it right the wins will come.

Got to love a decent front office that sticks to the plan.


Anonymous said...

Larry Foote was just released. I hope we sign him.


RIP said...

Foote I believe would be a good signing. With so many teams switching to a 3-4, he should be in high demand. He maybe out of our price range.

nubs said...

Here's the thing. The Lions had a lot of holes to fill, and some fans assumed they were correct about what the holes were. Then, they are pissed off when they are wrong, and who? yes, the GM sucks.

Maybe people should've had their ear to the ground. The top DT's available (outside of Raji) were in the 300 lb range. "Want to get bigger" is 330 pounds of no one ever heard of him. But it's a better selection, than a 300 pounder who will never be able to achieve the run stuffing abilities of a bigger man.

The draft speaks to other issues like injuries the coaches knew of and we didn't.

It also spoke to other issues.
The trade at #65. The free agents that are coming into town that weren't drafted. The possible vets that are coming (Larry Foote). Most "fans" forget what happens year-to-year.

I'll say it again, it's an exciting week to be a Lions fan.

Isphet said...

This is your best post yet, Detfan. period.

Keep it up; glad to see some logic still exists in the world.

millersco said...

Great explanation, makes perfect sense, and shows the right way to draft. And explains why the Pats kept trading down, and why they and the Steelers always seem to have good players on the roster to replace those that retire or move on. Its clear as Honolulu Blue now. Much better discussion than ranting and raving. Thanks.

millersco said...

The other fun thing understanding this does, is allow you to put a so what factor on the "experts draft grades" that they give teams. So if the Lions picked the top rated players in three positions with their first three picks, that sounds like an A. But the graders say (like us fans) did it address needs or not. If the "expert" doesn't understand how to draft, then they can't really give you a valid grade.

CHIEFGER139 said...

my long blog I just posted on this was nothin compared to what you just posted-I hate long blogs and long articles-but I respect what you said and read the entire thing. I was on the m-live live blog on the draft pretty much through the entire time-cancelled my good cable of 60 bucks to get the limited basic of 21 bucks-tough times for chief.you all knew i signed on to stafford a few weeks ok so very happy with that but real upset no linebacker or pedigrew-and posted my disgust-even said can anyone justify this-click was on there and told me flat out he was good and may actually be there best pick-the draft went further-still ignored my guys and im sayin this guy is millen 2-bottom line-I bought into the guys who said must draft defense 1st-must get a ot-must get guards, must get a mlb etc- and then by doing this ignored all other positions. I know this is a closed minded approach now-you cant do this-and looking at each guy by possition we actually did very well-once again detfan79-your nit your average blow hard radio guy who follows the crowd-you nailed it on the head- yes we by passed many needs-but by doing so we got some of the best players at many positions-I was sick of campbell you never can count on him-best te in the draft petigrew we got. the safety from wmu-i have to love im wmu alumni-best and brite est come from there rite-chief is the pruf!! (by the way 2 mich guys got the ax today-2 wmu players on our team now) the lb from wisconsin can play the middle but yet hopefully larry foote we get tonite-crossed fingers!! hill is big and huge-can contribute on size alone-the wr hopefully can return kicks-not that bad
chiefs closed mind made him predijudice against skill positions and other positions-hope i learn from this and dont make the same mistakes next year-im learnin-and watch out fantasy football guys I will be better this year. lions on the march to greatness-the saviour has arrived-stafford to cj=TD!!!

DetFan1979 said...

The NYG beat writer, speaking on NFL Network, said the Giants had a deal in place to trade for Detroit's 20th pick in the 1st round to grab Maclin. But when Philly jumped Detroit and took the kid, the deal fell through.
The Lions, of course, picked Pettigrew at 20. He would have never been there at 29, where the Giants picked.

saw this, thought you guys would like the info. Eagles must have caught a hint NYG were looking to move up, so that is why they jumped DET to get Macklin.

Also shows Lions were attempting to pick up extra picks early (most likely NYG #2, or the one they got from the Saints in the Shockey Trade) and hit a different target at #29...

DetFan1979 said...

UDFA signed by Lions so far. I like Gill, Holtzclaw, and Wiley. All could have been 5th rounders.

DT John Gill (Northwestern)
LB Andrew Downey (Maine)

LB Daniel Holtzclaw (E. Michigan)

C Dan Gerberry (Ball State)

S Otis Wiley (Mich State)

PK Swayze Walters (UAB)

WR DJ Boldin (Wake Forest)

DB Mark Parson (Ohio)

Anonymous said...

The only problem with taking BPAFN is that it ignores the relative scarcity of players at different positions. Say you grade each position on a 10 point scale - 10.0 is perfection, a 1 should see a doctor before they hurt themselves. If one position - say LG - has 10 guys every year that grade out at 9+, and another position - say QB - only has one 9+ guy every 10 years, then the BPAFN system screws you when you pass on the 9.1 QB by taking the 9.2 LG.

Very plausible explanation of the reasoning the Lions might have been using though. You've got a great site. Go Lions!


DetFan1979 said...

Dsacks --

Good comment, and one of the misconceptions I forgot to address.

They rate each player by position group, then arrange them into an overall order. Rarity/scarcity of a position is taken into consideration along with all of the other factors invloved when they are stacking the positions together -- horizontal stacking (this is when they take each position stack, and move them horizontally over into other position stacks to see how they rate against each other.)

Using your example, if both players ability, irregardless of position, was 9.1 and 9.2 respectively, the QB would get a flat bump depending on the importance the Lions place on his position, say a flat .5 -- which approximates the importance. A Kicker might have a -3 put on his score.

The "final" rating takes all of this into account.

What BPAFN Does NOT do is rank need. It just ranks players -- and what position they play, and what type of player they are at that position plays a huge role in the rankings.

For instance, Sanchez and Stafford. Even if the Lions had rated them equal as players, and position equal (QB -- this is why Stafford trumped Curry -- QB is more rare than ILB) -- they would have taken Stafford.

Stafford is a long-ball, play action style QB whereas Sanchez is a quick hit short accurate throw type of QB. Two different skill sets. It doesn't mean Stafford can't make short throws, or that Sanchez can't throw deep outs -- it just means their natural skill set fits with two different styles of QB play. Stafford's natural set better fits Linehan's offense, and thus it will be easier for Stafford to adjust to that Sanchez. For a WCO team, it will/would be easier for Sanchez to adjust than Stafford.

Garcia is also a WCO type of QB, but wouldn't do as well in say a Patriots play-action role.

thanks for the compliment! Does this answer your question? I tend to take longer to explain things, which is why I refernced NetRat's piece, as it is more concise.

essentially, position rarity is part of ranking, and essentially adds points, or subtracts points baed on how common/rare that skill set and position set is.

Common sense also comes into play when they are setting the board. Your argument is tough because do you take Jon Ogden or Peyton Manning? (assuming you needed both) Peyton Manning, of course. Because you can protect his blindside fine with Tony Ugoh.

hope that helps!! Keeping commenting with your input -- it's a big part of what makes this site what it is!

DetFan1979 said...

Dsacks --

Just like any method, it has its ups and downs. It is the method I prefer, and am glad to see them not only using it, but sticking to it.

millersco said...

SO I guess its really thank goodness for ownwers like Al Davis and GM's like Millen who don't follow the plan, so other teams can be more successful. If everyone followed this BPA religiously, we would truely have parity in the league.

RIP said...

There are two other areas that could bring parity to the league.

The first is the Supplemental Picks given each year, which are 32. So basically the draft is an eight round draft. The supplementals are based on quality of free lost and gained. If a team has good depth at a certain position, they can let good quality players go to become starters for someone else. In short, those losses are gain with supplemental picks. Compare who received the highest quality picks this year to others. Picks that are affordable and can be developed. You could say the rich get richer.

The second is the cost of the players in the first round. Compare the cost of a 1-7 pick to the 25-32. The 25-32 teams can balance their payroll better than teams at the bottom of the league. If there is a special talent that a team wants, NE trading up for Mayo last year, the get budgeted teams can afford it. Mayo may have replaced a starter cut who became a supplemental pick this year. The good teams can play the free agent market and be rewarded the following year in the draft.

RIP said...

Meant to say if the new collective bargaining agreement could bring more parity if those two areas wear cleaned up.

CHIEFGER139 said...

keep into account two we are more handicapped.Were known as the worst franshise ever,most good free agents in the twilight of there career will take less money to be on a team that has a chance to make the playoffs and better yet have a very good chance of winning it all,they know if they can latch onto a up and coming team or a proven franshise like the steelers or patriots they can accomplish possibly that last thing they missed a championship ring. many will take less money to stay on the team there still on if that hope is there. many will stay on a team to just have the opportunity to become a starter finally work there way up the latter to have a real and final chance they belong in this league we always dump them and take away that hope!! millen has killed all these chances-and has handicapped swartz or anyone else on this criteria-until we break the ice and at least show were up and coming etc- only the home boys like a larry foot or someone who belives in the existing coach would come here willingly. thats why becoming a 7-9 team with coach rod was so huge-so close to breaking the ice but misread and fell 3 steps backwards!! we have a huge-huge handicap-thats why they took stafford-we show the league we have a very special great qb to build on some may come here and join in-why new orleans despite it missing the playofs defensive free agents will go there maybe at less pay they have hope,-we have to prove we have it here too--tough task for you,media and coaches and staff to prove!! signed the wize chief!! sorry its like being sent to siberia here now-1 step above the extinct arena league-or nfl europe,semi pro etc but thats it!!

RIP said...

Hey Chief,

Be hopeful this season. It does not take great talent to win a game in a regular season, if you prepare for the opponent.

Three quarters of the reason going 0-16 was the coaching staff.

Half of the problem was Coach Marinelli. His good traits were his down fall. He was a family man first, and also very loyal to players that were veterans and came to work every day. It not matter if they had talent or out of position. If you really think about it, he was out of position as a head coach. He spent more time coaching the d-line then coaching his coordinators on any type of game strategies. During the games he was consistently out coached. He left it up to his coordinators, mostly offense, to make adjustments. In his three years here, He asked his OC to run the ball more. He mostly wanted effort and some points scored on offense. Another words, he was pretty much hands off on offense.

The other quarter for us being 0-16 was the offensive and defensive coordinators.

In 2008 we went 7-9 with fairly close to the same personnel and the worst defense in the NFL. After we lost Mike Martz and Shuan Rogers was our inefficiency's as a team was exposed.

With the new coaching staff in place, it would not surprise me to see the Lions in the playoffs this year. It is a very good staff from the head coach, to the coordinators, down to the assistants.

So Chief, do not loose hope for this upcome year.

RIP said...

Also Backus, Riola, and the rest of the offensive line should do better if the Lions do not have to play from behind by a large margin all the time. Look at what Jared Allen did against both our tackles last year in a close fought battle. Very little if I recall correctly. It will also help by not having Jon Kitna as quarterback. Look at Backus' stats since Kitna, Martz, and Marrinelli came to Detroit.

spacecataz said...

Thanks for your comments on my blog! FYI, I added a new solar image with a better description. One of my goals is to make space weather issues more accessible to the general public. I hope I can do that!

Great article; great addition to NetRat's discussion on the draft. During the Millen Era *shudders* there seemed to be a lot of contention among fans as to if Millen was ignoring the scouts or if the scouts just made bad calls. While I feel it was the former, the new regime's willingness to trust the scouts will certainly allow us to evaluate the scouting department and better understand what the heck was happening when Millen was around...

DetFan1979 said...

space - I totally agree on being able to finally evaluate the scouting department. Imagine how much harder they worked this year with the premise they would actually have a voice.

Now think how motivated and energetic they will be for this upcoming year knowing the entire draft strategy, and the future of the team rests on their information and scouting. Here's guessing it is one heck of a motivator to know their voice is being heard, and followed.

Lots of responsibility...but that comes with the territory. There is no more Millen whim to blame...

Also, love your blog as well. Will keep following -- I've always found space fascinating, just haven't ever had the time to learn much about it.