2015 NFL Draft Efficiency: A Good Sign of Things to Come for Gator fans?

The first three rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft concluded last night. While there was no Twitter-breaking Manziel event like last year, the event was once again a marketing success for the NFL.

For the past two years, we have examined the NFL draft from a unique perspective.  We analyze the process of taking high school talent and converting it into NFL draft picks.  In other words, we want to understand how efficient are colleges at transforming their available high school human capital into NFL draft picks?

Our approach is fairly simple. Each year, every FBS football program has an incoming class. The players in the class have been evaluated by several national recruiting/ranking companies (e.g. Rivals, Scout, etc.). In theory, these evaluations provide a measure of the player’s talent or quality. Each year, we also observe which players get drafted by the NFL. Thus, we can measure conversion rates over time for each college. Conversion rates may be indicative of the school’s ability to coach-up talent, to identify talent, or to invest in players. These rates may also depend on the talent composition of all of the players on the team. This last factor is particularly important from a recruiting standpoint. Should players flock to places that other highly ranked players have selected?

How did you compute the conversion rate?

The conversion rate for each school is defined as (Sum of draft picks for the first three rounds of 2015 Draft)/(Weighted Recruiting Talent). Weighted Recruiting Talent is determined by summing the recruiting “points” for the relevant eligible class for the 2015 NFL Draft for each program (this can include eligible juniors as well as fifth year seniors). These “points” are computed by weighting each recruit by the overall population average probability of being drafted in the first three rounds for recruits at that corresponding talent level over the last three years. For example, a five-star recruit is much more likely to get drafted than a four or three-star recruit. We are using ratings data from Rivals.com.

The table above shows the results of our analysis of the first three rounds of the draft.  Colorado State had two draft picks in the first three rounds that were both 3-stars or below coming out of high school.  It will intersting to see how Jim McElwain will be able to shape the higher level of talent he will most likely attract at the University of Florida.  Please note that we did not include schools that only had one player drafted in the first three rounds, as that could be considered an aberration. Of course, a similar argument could be made that one draft is too small of a sample to rate the efficiency of a college. Thus, the table below represents results from the last 4 years of drafts (2012-2015).

The school that really stands out over the last four years with respect to the development of talent is Stanford University.  While Connecticut and Boise State may be rated higher, Stanford has produced more than double the number of draft picks of the other two schools.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University, 2015.

2014 NFL Draft Efficiency Rankings

The 2014 NFL concluded on Saturday evening.  The three-day event featured Johnny Manziel taking over the Twitterverse on Thursday night, and the St Louis Rams selecting Michael Sam near the end of the draft on Saturday.  A lot of the post-draft analysis was either based on total number of draft picks from a college or draft picks from a college adjusted for when they were picked in the draft.  Of course, there are also a plethora of inane draft grades where clairvoyant “experts” project how well the draft picks will perform on the team.

Our take on the draft is a bit different, as we will examine the process of taking high school talent and converting it into NFL draft picks. In other words, we want to understand how efficient are colleges at transforming their available high school human capital into NFL draft picks?

Our approach is fairly simple.  Each year, every FBS football program has an incoming class.  The players in the class have been evaluated by several national recruiting/ranking companies (e.g. Rivals, Scout, etc…).  In theory, these evaluations provide a measure of the player’s talent or quality*.  Each year, we also observe which players get drafted by the NFL.  Thus, we can measure conversion rates over time for each college.  Conversion rates may be indicative of the school’s ability to coach-up talent, to identify talent, or to invest in players.  These rates may also depend on the talent composition of all of the players on the team.  This last factor is particularly important from a recruiting standpoint.  Should players flock to places that other highly ranked players have selected?

How did you compute the conversion rate?

The conversion rate for each school is defined as (Sum of draft picks for the 2014 Draft)/(Weighted Recruiting Talent).  Weighted Recruiting Talent is determined by summing the recruiting “points” for the relevant eligible class for the 2014 NFL Draft for each program (this can include eligible juniors as well as fifth year seniors).  These “points” are computed by weighting each recruit by the overall population average probability of being drafted for recruits at that corresponding talent level over the last three years.  For example, a five-star recruit is much more likely to get drafted than a four or three-star recruit.  We are using ratings data from Rivals.com.

The figure above shows the top ten schools in the FBS for converting high school talent into draft picks for the 2014 draft.  We have indexed the efficiency rating based on the leader, Boise State.  It is interesting to note that the team with the most draft picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, LSU, finished 11th in our rankings.

Do the results of one draft really matter?

A fair criticism of this ranking is that it only represents one draft year; what if this draft was an anomaly for Boise State and Wisconsin?  The rankings below consider the 2012, 2013, and 2014 NFL Drafts.  While Boise State and Wisconsin are still on top, schools such as Connecticut, Iowa, and Nevada are now also in the top ten.

How can you treat a first-round draft pick the same as a seventh rounder?

Our study is primarily considered with schools that give high school talent the opportunity to play in the NFL.  Thus, the rankings above do not discern between rounds of the draft.  Ostensibly, a player’s initial contract and status in the NFL seems tied to draft order (although Richard Sherman has done real well for a 5th round pick).  Let’s assume that being picked in the first three rounds of the draft is of importance to players.  We can conduct a similar type of analysis, but only consider picks in the first three rounds of the draft, and adjust the weighting to reflect population averages for being picked in the first three rounds.  The rankings below are based on an analysis of only the first three rounds over the last three years.  Boise State is still on top, but schools like LSU, Cincinnati, & North Carolina have moved up the list.

Of course, there are many other ways for trying to understand or rate draft efficiency.  In the past we have also conducted regression-based analyses with additional data such as program investment to better understand the phenomenon of human capital development in both football & basketball.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

*We can already hear our friends at places like Alabama & USC explaining how players are rated more highly by services just because these schools are recruiting them.  We acknowledge that it is very difficult to get a true measure of a high school player’s ability.  However, we also believe that over the last few years, given all of the media exposure for high school athletes, this problem has attenuated.