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How do the Denver Broncos compare to the rest of the league in terms of returns on invested draft capital?
Approximate Value is a tool used to compare the performance of NFL players across positions. It is an imperfect tool, but is still the best way to gauge the relative contributions of, say, the starting offensive right guard and the backup ILB in terms of team success. The folks at pro-football-reference.com are the ones who developed it.
It can also be used to evaluate the draft. The careers of players drafted in a given spot have been averaged to give an expected career AV from that given draft spot. For example, the expected career AV from the second overall pick is 30.2 – for his entire career.
Von Miller, drafted No. 2 overall in 2011, has a career AV of 118 so far – meaning that he has done about three times better than the average No. 2 overall pick.
There have been some really good (Hall-of-Fame level) second overall picks this century. Miller and Julius Peppers come to mind, but there have also been some really terrible No. 2 overall picks this century as well. Charles Rogers, Jason Smith and Luke Joeckel are all good examples.
With this in mind, we can use expected career AV to figure out how much “draft capital” each franchise has had to invest over the last nine drafts. I’m using the last nine, 2011-2019, because that is the time frame I used in my recent article examining which team has done well with career AV. That is also the nominal timeframe during which John Elway has been the GM of the Broncos.
Over the past nine drafts, the Broncos have had 406.6 AV units of draft capital to invest. Those have been spread over 70 total draft picks. Those 70 draft picks have returned 746 AV units with about one-seventh of that coming from Miller alone. If you divide what Denver’s draft picks “earned” the team (actual total career AV) by what they were expected to ”earn,” you find Denver’s return on investment.
The Broncos had an ROI of 1.83 over this time period, which was 19th in the league.
The table below gives a look at how the rest of the league’s teams did with their draft capital:
Because of getting huge successes from a few mid-round picks, Seattle was a step change above the rest of the league in ROI. Most of this came from their 2011 and 2012 drafts. Malcolm Smith, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, J.R. Sweezy and Russell Wilson were all drafted in the third round or later. For example, Wilson was taken with the 75th overall pick. The expected career AV for that slot is 7.1. Wilson has a career AV of 129.
The team that has had the most capital to invest has been the Browns, by a large margin. They have also been very poor at getting returns from their draft capital. The Jaguars have had 22 fewer picks, so from an average expected AV per pick, they have actually been the highest in the league at 7.2. Cleveland is a close second at 7.17. On the flip side, Seattle has had the lowest expected AV per pick at 4.18, which is a step below Minnesota at 4.6.
The range on ROI is fairly striking when you look at it graphically.
The Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants are mild outliers on the low end, while the Seattle Seahawks are large outliers on the high end.