Are Mike Shanahan and Company Good at Getting the Most Out of the NFL Draft?

NFL Washington Commanders

One of the best days for a Redskins fan since they last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy on Jan. 26th, 1992, was the day they fired Vinny Cerrato resigned and Bruce Allen became G.M. Though Allen has the title of G.M. it is Mike Shanahan that is fully in control of player personnel decisions, and it is he that should be ultimately judged for his decisions. Since the start of the Shanahan/Allen regime they have gotten a lot of credit for their drafting strategy, despite mixed results. Now it is without question that Shanahan’s approach has been better than Cerrato, but that wasn’t exactly a high-water mark that was surpassed. The true question becomes: Is Mike Shanahan Good at Getting the Most Out of the NFL Draft?

Retention of Picks:

Now we only have three completed drafts, but we also already know some picks that are changing hands over the next two years, so we will look at the period between the 2010-2014 drafts.  Each year the NFL gives each team seven draft picks to rebuild their roster with, and those picks are then ordered to favor the teams with the worst record. The Redskins were also eligible for a compensation pick, bringing their given picks during this time frame up to 36. Now before MIke Shanahan was ever hired the Redskins had given up two of these picks. Their 2010 6th round pick remained as compensation for Jason Taylor, while their 3rd round pick that year was used in the Supplemental Round the previous summer. Of the 34 remaining picks here is the breakdown per year of picks that were either used or traded back (no net loss of picks):

2010: Used 4 out of 5 picks (2nd round pick for McNabb).

2011: Used 6 out of 8 picks (4th round pick for McNabb, 3rd round pick for Jammal Brown…while the Redskins did gain a 5th round pick in the deal, a two and a half round drop in draft value is more than enough to say it wasn’t ‘used’)

2012: Used 5 out of 7 picks (2nd round pick for Griffin trade, 6th round pick for Tim Hightower)

2013: Projected to use 6 out of 7 (1st round pick for Griffin trade)

2014: Projected to use 6 out of 7 (1st round pick for Griffin trade)

Assuming that the Redskins won’t make any more net loss trades in the next two years, they will have given up 7 of their 34 picks, or 20.5% of their free draft picks.

Retention of Premium Picks:

Wow the loss of 20% of their picks is troubling enough, a bigger issue for the Redskins has been what picks have they been trading away. Though of course you always hope to find quality NFL players in the later rounds (5th-7th), the majority of starters and significant contributors in the NFL come from the top four rounds. And in the first two rounds is where you will find your top starters and elite players (typically). The Redskins have been really bad about retaining these draft picks. Now again the loss of the 3rd rounder in 2010, isn’t on Shanahan. But the fact that team was already missing that pick, makes it even more questionable to trade for McNabb and Brown. Here is how their retention of these picks project to be over this 5 year window:

1st round: 3 out of 5 picks

2nd round: 3 out of 5 picks

3rd round: 3 out of 4 picks

4th round: 4 out of 5 picks

During this period, the Redskins will have kept/traded back just 13 of their 19 picks in the top 4 rounds, and just 6 of 10 in the top 2 rounds. That is a really bad rate, one that puts a lot of pressure on the team to find more late round successes. Also, it has likely forced the Redskins hand other trade decisions.

Trade Gains?:

Now my guess is the top criticism of people reading this so far is the focus on the natural picks and ignoring the picks acquired via trading players or moving back in the draft. It is absolutely a valid comment, but it ignores the fact that those are all extra picks. Had the Redskins wanted to, they could have had those extra picks they received, in addition to the seven picks they gave up. Also, while it is good that they have added some additional picks, the extra picks they’ve acquired don’t come close to what they’ve given up: (note: when there was no loss of round in trade backs they aren’t included in either the “Gave up” or “Added” categories)

2010: Gave up 2nd, 5th  Added: 6th, 2 7th’s

2011: Gave up 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 2 5th’s, Added: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 2 7th’s

2012: Gave up 2nd and 6th, Added 4th, 6th, 7th

2013 (incomplete): Gave up 1st, Added 5th

2014 (incomplete): Gave up 1st,

Even if we ignore 2013 and 2014 here the Redskins are looking at a pretty sizable deficit from what they gave up to what they got.

The Case of the 2011 Draft:

In the above group 2011 stands out as a very volatile trade year and I thought it was a great example to explore more, and to show that even when making good moves, they might not always be the best moves.

Heading into the 2011 draft, the Redskins should have had 8 natural picks (extra 7th round compensatory pick), plus the Colts 7th rounder for Justin Tryon. The year before though they had given up their 4th rounder for McNabb, and swapped their 3rd rounder for a late 5th round pick. During the first round the Redskins swapped the 10th pick for the Jaguars 16th and 49th picks. After taking Ryan Kerrigan with their top selection, the Redskins proceeded to trade the 49th pick to the Colts for 53rd and 152nd (5th rounder). Next they swapped the 53rd pick to the Bears for the 62nd pick and the 127th pick (4th rounder). The Skins then moved out of the 2nd round trading with the Dolphins for the 79th (3rd), 146th (5th), 217th (7th) picks. The Redskins ended their trading frenzy, by moving up in the 4th round, swapping the 127th pick along with 5th rounders, 144th and 152nd, to the Texans for the 105th pick and 178th pick (6th).

While it is very commendable that the Redskins essentially turned their first round pick into Ryan Kerrigan, Leonard Hankerson, Roy Helu, Aldrick Robinson and Maurice Hurt, the Redskins could have accomplished much more if they hadn’t wasted their picks on trades. Had the Redskins had their natural 3rd and 4th round picks they could have taken Hankerson and Helu on their own (they would have lost that late 5th rounder, but well worth it). That would have meant the Redskins could have gone a different way with their trade back strategy. They could have just used the 49th pick on any number of offensive linemen, receivers, or running backs (or other positions), who appear to be up-and-coming prospects. They could have traded back once or twice (the same Colts and Bears trades they made) adding a 5th (to make up for the one they didn’t get in the Jammal Brown trade) and late 4th. Or they could have made the exact same trades they made adding a 3rd, 4th, two 5th’s and a 7th. Any way you cut it the Redskins would have been in a far stronger position, had they retained their own picks.

Lack of ROI:

Not only have the Redskins traded away valuable draft picks during a time of rebuilding, but the concerning factor is who they have been trading them away for. Of the three trades for veteran players (McNA.B. Brown, Hightower) where the Redskins surrendered a loss of picks (or major pick value as in the Brown deal), each time they traded for a player in the final year of their contract. Even if we ignore the actual performances for a minute, that is an awful strategy for a rebuilding team.

Trading draft picks for guys with one year remaining on their deal really only ever makes sense if you are a contending team, to maximize the limited time you have that player. Even though the Redskins ended up re-signing all three players, the only value that they can account for is what the players did in that one season. Both Brown and Hightower reached unrestricted free agency and any team could have signed them. The Redskins gained no real advantage in having those players the year before. In fact the Redskins show that any ‘underlying’ advantages that people claim are unfounded.

Despite having Brown for a year, and having full access to medicals and seeing him in practice, the Redskins re-signed him and he flopped big time. Any advantage of the Redskins having more insider knowledge on him is a joke. And the idea that his extra year in the system would make him more valuable was also invalid. Another prevailing thought is that by having that player with the team could give an advantage in contract negotiations. That hasn’t been the case for the Redskins as Brown is one of the higher paid RT’s in the league. Also, the Redskins without a doubt paid more than market value for McNabb’s extension. When the Vikings traded for McNabb, their restructured deal with him essentially paid him half of what he would have made with the Redskins had they retained him (yes the Redskins gained a 6th round pick for extending McNabb, but it cost them millions, def. not a fair trade off).

On top of the one year of value, is the fact that it’s hard to really say that any of these players provided any value to the Redskins. McNabb put up awful numbers for the Redskins, numbers that were essentially matched by Rex Grossman last season for about 1/17th the price. Instead of spending that money on a young free agent or free agents (guys like Karlos Dansby, Julius Peppers, etc.), the Redskins wasted it on McNabb. Jammal Brown was quickly shown to be damaged goods, as he couldn’t handle his former Pro Bowl LT position, forcing Trent Williams to be thrown into the fire as a rookie. Brown didn’t fare much better at RT, and his performance was negligible compared to the Stephon Heyer‘s of the world. Players who might not be any better, but would have cost a few million less, and of course not require a draft pick. Hightower wasn’t as much at fault as McNabb or Brown, as an injury is what really took away his value this past year. Obviously the 6th round pick plus Vonnie Holliday was a modest price, but Hightower is basically a situational back  which makes acquiring him an odd decision.


Now obviously the big question going forward will be the return on the investment that Robert Griffin gives Washington in the mega-deal that cost the Redskins three additional premium picks. His development and performance in the next couple of years will be key to determining whether the deal was worth it or not. Obviously unlike the other players acquired, Griffin is under control for longer, and has big time upside. On the flip side, Griffin cost the Redskins far more than those other players combined, meaning the “break even point” is far higher. The loss of the premium picks these past few years (and into the future) will make Griffin’s job tougher, but if it is a problem then the fault will lie with Shanahan. He’s the one that made these moves, and set the deck for his rookie signal caller. Overall I think you can see both positives and negatives in Shanahan’s draft resource allocation. He’s made some shrewd trade backs, which has helped stockpile a quantity of picks. On the other hand his quick fix approach in year one, blew up in his face and the team is still dealing with the consequences.

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