December 10, 2008

Breaking Down the Lines (Pt. 1)

I have been beating the drum recently about the woeful state of the Washington Redskins offensive and defensive lines.

More specifically, I have taken the front office to task over what I believe is the complete and ultimately disastrous failure to establish a functional pipeline of qualified young linemen to replace their rapidly aging (and based on the evidence in 2008, no longer adequate) starting corps.

Rather than basing that criticism solely on what I see with my own two eyes on game days, I have begun to research the nuts and bolts of how the Redskins have gone about constructing their lines over the past decade, and how they arrived where they are today.

Over the coming days and weeks I will be posting the results of that research for reference, discussion and, depending on what we find, perhaps drawing supported conclusions as to whether the Redskins' current struggles to compete with solid opponents at the line of scrimmage are the result of a fundamentally flawed approach, or simply the vagaries of trying to stay competitive in the 21st century NFL.

Let's get to it.

To begin, I broke down the Redskins' college drafts over the past ten years. I limited it to ten years on the premise that beyond that period of time, the data has increasingly little practical relevance to the present, given the number of major external factors (ownership changes, front office changes, coaching changes, player aging and injury, etc.) that come into play.

Here are the raw numbers, broken down by year, total picks, number of linemen selected, player and round selected:

1999 – 6 overall picks, 2 linemen
OT Jon Jansen (2), OG Derek Smith (5)

2000 – 8 picks, 3 linemen
OT C. Samuels (1), OG M. Moore (4), DT D. Cowsette (7)

2001 – 5 picks, 1 lineman
DT Mario Monds (6)

2002 – 10 picks, 2 linemen
OT Reggie Coleman (6), DE Greg Scott (7)

2003 – 3 picks, 1 lineman
OG Derrick Dockery (3)

2004 – 4 picks, 2 linemen
OT Mark Wilson (5), OT Jim Molinaro (6)

2005 – 6 picks, 0 linemen

2006 – 6 picks, 3 linemen
DT A. Montgomery (5), DT K. Golston (6), OG K. Lefotu (7)

2007 – 5 picks, 0 linemen

2008 – 10 picks, 2 linemen
OG Chad Rinehart (3), DE Rob Jackson (7)

Total Picks 63, linemen 16 (25%)

... and broken down by round:

1st Round: 1 (’00)
2nd Round: 1 (’99)
3rd Round: 2 (’03, ’08)
4th Round: 1 (’00)
5th Round: 3 (’99, ’04, ’06)
6th Round: 4 (‘01, ’02, ’04, ’06)
7th Round: 4 (’00, ’02, ’07, ’08)

Of note:

- Over their past five drafts Washington selected 7 linemen (1 third, 2 fifths, 2 sixths, 2 sevenths).

- Dating back to 1992, when the NFL reduced the number of draft rounds from 12 to 7, in those six additional drafts the Redskins selected 12 linemen out of 45 total picks (1 first, 2 seconds, 3 thirds, 1 fourth, 4 fifths and 3 sixths).

Moving on …

Recognizing that numbers in a vacuum are of little practical use, I went on to compare and contrast the Redskins’ last ten drafts against those of their primary opponents, the three other NFC East teams.

I chose to start with that comparison because,

1) the six games (37.5% of each regular season) the Redskins play against those three teams every year have such a significant impact on their success or failure, and

2) the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants have provided a baseline of consistently solid programs over that time against which to measure the Redskins’ success.

This is where it starts to get interesting.

Here are the past ten drafts for the NFCE by total picks, rounds in which linemen were selected and year:

Dallas Cowboys
76 total picks; 28 linemen (37%)
1st round: 3 - '99, ‘05 (2)
2nd round: 4 - '99, '02, '03, '04
3rd round: 4 - '01, '04, '06, '07
4th round: 3 - '99, '05, '07
5th round: 1 - '01
6th round: 5 - '01, '02, '05, '06, '08
7th round: 8 - '99, '01, '03, '05, '06 (2)

Philadelphia Eagles
84 picks, 33 linemen (39%)
1st round: 5 – '00, '03, '04, '05, '06
2nd round: 4 – '00, '06, '07, '08
3rd round: 2 – '99, '01
4th round: 7 – '99, '02, '03, '04, '05, '06, '08
5th round: 2 – '05(2)
6th round: 6 – '00(2), '03, '05, '06, '08
7th round: 7 – '99(2), '02, '04(2), '05, '08

New York Giants
72 total picks, 24 linemen (33%)
1st round: 3 – '99, '03, '06
2nd round: 2 – '02, '03, '04
3rd round: 3 – '02, '05, '07
4th round: 4 – '01, '04, '06(2)
5th round: 2 – '99, '03
6th round: 3 – '05, '07, '08
7th round: 6 – '99, '00, '01, '03, '04(2)

Washington Redskins
63 total picks, 16 linemen (25%)
1st round: 1 – '00
2nd round: 1 – '99
3rd round: 2 – '03, '08
4th round: 1 – '00
5th round: 3 – '99, '04, '06
6th round: 4 - '01, '02, '04
7th round: 4 – '00, '02, '07, '08

For side-by-side tables breaking down linemen drafted by NFCE teams, by round and year, click here. I will also be posting a list identifying each of the players referenced.

The Redskins have had 63 total draft picks over the past ten years. The other three teams have had 84 (Eagles), 76 (Cowboys) and 72 (Giants). The disparity speaks loudly to the Redskins philosophy under owner Dan Snyder of using draft picks as currency in the free agency market.

For the record, I have supported the use of free agency, but always as a complement to the draft, not a replacement, which it became overall for several seasons early in Mr. Snyder's tenure and has largely continued to date insofar as the acquisition of linemen.

Which leads to the next obvious element.

Any meaningful analysis of the Redskins overall personnel strategy has to include those players acquired through free agency as well as the draft. To that end, I am currently researching the free agent linemen acquisitions of each of the four NFCE teams over the past ten years. Those results will be published separately in the coming days.

So what does all this mean?

One thing is obvious—compared to their division rivals, the Redskins are far less active drafting linemen—both in terms of total number of picks used (25% versus an average of 36%), and in terms of how high in each draft they select linemen (see tables).

Another obvious thing is that given the lack of quality young depth ready to step in and take over for aging and/or ineffective starters, the Redskins have been unable to bridge the gap between the number of linemen drafted and those acquired through free agency. Given my intial look at the free agency names and numbers, I suspect that message will be driven home convincingly.

For me at least, though, the case for that statement has already been made. It begins and ends with the fact that this past Sunday night in Baltimore, the Redskins top two reserve offensive tackles were,

1) a second-year undrafted free agent with nine so-so (that’s a technical term) career starts, who lost his starting job at the beginning of the season, and

2) a 2005 6th-round draft pick C/G, already on his third team, who has never started an NFL game.

To be clear—that is not an indictment of the players. It is instead your humble scribe experiencing something bordering on shock after watching a wealthy team, with serious playoff ambitions, find itself in a defining December game with so precious little in the cupboard that it simply had no better pedigreed, qualified or prepared options.

But we'll let the facts to the talking.

Up next, a breakdown of the current lineman depth charts for the Redskins and rest of the NFC East, broken down in terms of how acquired, when, and whatever else of interest springs from the research.

After that, time and interest permitting, we'll move on to look at a representative sample of other NFL teams, focusing on the perennial contenders, to see how the Redskins approach to building the foundation of any football team stacks up.

Until then, I leave you to contemplate the numbers and their significance.

*

Note: edited to include previously omitted NYG '04 2nd-round pick OG Chris Snee.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

damn

foward this to vinny

Mark "Om" Steven said...

I'd like to think there's nothing in there he doesn't already know. Or better, that he's too busy out scouting big uglies to have time to read what some dude on the web has to say about it.

We'll see.

Samir said...

I've been trying to convince my friends about this for years. The Skins front office is fundamentally flawed in their management psyche. I almost came to the point of starting an online petition of Skins fans to convince the Skins of their management flaws. They balked after my first draft.

AstonJay32 said...

Does this mean it's no longer about the quarterback? :)

Great research. Can't wait to see side-by-side division comparisons. I'm sure it'll be as shocking and painfully truthful as this.

It's been a sick, twisted cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Trade draft picks to acquire cap-heavy free agent stars to fill a need/generate excitement today, but when the star gets hurt, and the backup is some undrafted camp fodder from St. Louis State Tech, you're forced to go shopping to fill in an immediate need.

And on and on it goes...

Less picks, less money, less continuity.

Matt D said...

Thanks Mark, this is a great breakdown. Depressing, but substantive nonetheless.

If we hadn't traded for Jason Taylor I say we'd be in pretty decent shape - able to use a first and second on either of the two lines and try to find two starters.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great research, Mark.

I wonder how a similar study would go - comparing the Redskins championship era to the Redskins mediocre era starting in 1993 - comparing Redskins to Redskins.

Nice work.

-Mark The Homer

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Aston,

No, QB remains the single most important player at any one position in team sports. And a great QB can still lift a team from bad to good, good to great, great to historic.

If Jason was that guy right now, we'd not be talking in these terms about the OL because the QB to a great extent would mask their deficiencies--think Dan Marino behind some pretty pedestrian lines in Miami.

But right now we have an average-at-best QB (who may still grow into the role) behind a substandard OL. That's bad.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

As a general comment, you guys might be surprised when you see the Redskins' free agency OL numbers. It took about 5 minutes to realize how the team has tried to make up for the lack of draft picks with under-the-radar FA pickups.

Problem is, they have hit on so few of those sorties there's just no meat on the bones.

Kinda bummed, to be honest.

WildBill1952 said...

Welcome to the club of people who have been wondering for years why the Skins never draft linemen. I was never sure if I should just chalk it up to stupidity, the desire to make a bg splash on Draft Day, or just ignorance of the importance of 0ffensive line in the game of football. Face, it until it became glaringly obvious, most ExtremSkins fans would have us draft WR every year, just like Detroit.

When you look at just the people drafted in the top 100 (first three rounds generally), you begin to see how other teams seem to concentrate on drafting OL just before they "suddenly" get an offense. (See Baltimore, Atlanta, the McNabb "good years", the Giants, Cowboys, and NE).

Looking at only the first three rounds and only the last 8 years (the Vinny & Snyder era), we've drafted as many QB's as we have OL. Of our 18 picks in the first 3 rounds over the last 8 years we have 5 WR, 5 DB, 2 TE, 2 QB, 2 third round OL), 1 LB and 1 RB.

While doing your research, you might also note the number of Olinemen drafted past the thrid round by the Skins that ever played a down for us. I believe that number would be 0.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Good info, Bill. Thanks.

I'm not new to this party, by the way. I've championed the drafting of big men and bemoaned the lack of attention to pass-rushing DL for a while now. I just assumed (even knowing the ramifications) that at *some* point the FO would whip out The Plan and get the thing fixed.

Yet here we are.

Figured it was time to get proactive. No illusions about any direct impact on what they do this April, but anything I can do just to get people talking ...

BluCollar Redskin said...

WildBill, your comment "wondering for years why the Skins never draft linemen" is an interesting one considering the reality that while this article presents inarguable evidence that the Skins have seriously failed in managing the "future" of the team, it does IN NO WAY explain why. To be honest Mark, I think you should put together this data in a more streamlined format, and send it Vinny, or Snyder, or whoever you want to address it to, and see if you don't get a response.

Most of us have known for years that this was coming, but what difference does that make? Those who have refused to see it for themselves, shame on them, and that includes Cerrato and Snyder.

But, I will also add that Vinny has not been "the guy in charge" on his own before now. It seems to me that there is the real possibility that Cerrato has simply bowed to the head coach each year, especially in the case one Mr Gibbs. This team could well be in the midst of change now, Zorn could well lead the team into "fixing" these types of issues with the franchise for the long haul, this will be his first full offseason, with his vision of how to run an NFL team.

Just a few thoughts, and excellent work with the research Mark.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Bill,

As to the format, when I finish the project (not sure how deep I'm going to go yet) and have all the data a hand, I do plan to put it all together in some form for easy reference. Right now I'm just gathering and presenting as I go and offering some thoughts along the way.

Not sure I'll waste time (mine or theirs) sending it to Redskins Park, however. I'd really like to think they have better things to do (i.e., scouting big uglies) than sit around studying data forwarded by some fanboy that they damn well better have at hand already.

As to Vinny, I do want it to be clear I never named any one individual in the piece. I'm simply looking at the team and the moves they have and have not made. I understand there has been a lot of transition that's played a role in all this, but at some point I think they lost the brake handle and are riding a runaway train when it comes to the big people inside. Someone needs to take charge and find it, and soon. Word is the bridge is out up ahead.

Anonymous said...

Let's not play "I thought of it before you did." We all want the same thing.

Data tells a sad story all around this issue. 1) We have had fewer total draft picks than any division opponent. 2) Of that smaller pool of picks, we devote the smallest % to the line. 3) And of those few picks we devote to the lines, the majority are in rounds 5-7. Disastrous.

Add to that Bugel apparently can't develop anybody.

The flaw we can't change is Danny's belief that he needs to have a hand in personnel decisions. Flaw #2 is that he picks a weak personnel guy in Vinny; weak means he is happy to be there and willing to live with owner as the shadow GM. No other team would hire Vinny if we fired him. None. When Saint Marty fired him in 2001, he was a 3rd string chat room guy for Espn.com. Marty was fired, puppet was brought back.

The organization is fatally flawed, and each year will have to be special to overcome the personnel mistakes to ever win playoff games.

Ibdiesel44 said...

This is what I got most from those stats, And it opened my eyes big time ... Thanks OM

Number of OL drafted 4th rd or better past 10 drafts....

Dallas 14
Philly 18
Giants 12
Redskins 5

Mark "Om" Steven said...

"Let's not play 'I thought of it before you did.' We all want the same thing." - Anonymous

First, I make no claim to an original notion in the piece.

Second, no "we" don't. If you check out any message board, listen to any call-in show or talk to any group of fans, you'll find plenty who think the problem is solely at QB, or the WR's, or the playcalling or any number of other things.

The truth of course is that all of those things and more contribute to the problems--it's just a matter of degree.

The point of the research project is to put the longstanding accusation of neglect on the lines to the numbers test. Hadn't seen it done before. If you have, by all means please point me to it--it'll save us all a lot of time.

Anonymous said...

You completely overlook the *terrible* trade Vinny / Danny made to move up to get Lavar in 2000. We were sitting on 3 first round picks in 2000. #2, #12 and #24.

We traded #12, #24, a 4th and a 6th (I not 100% on the 6th) to move up from #12 to #3. Talk about a mistake of epic proportions considering who was available at those picks in 2000 and where our needs were.

Anonymous said...

Mark,

What I meant by "we all want the same thing" is Redskin success. And although I was not very clear, I was calling out the posters that accused you of being late to the topic - not saying you were taking that tack.

I appreciate that you put up data that clearly points to neglect of the most fundamental of football strategies - keeping picks and using them on the lines. Keep it up.

Anon 9:59am

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Anon 1,

You're correct that I haven't broken down what the Redskins did with their draft picks in lieu of using them to draft linemen. That research is still ongoing and will be presented as soon as its compiled and organized into something hopefully coherent.

Obviously it's a big factor in the larger picture here.

Anon 2 (sorry, couldn't figure a better way),

Ah. Now I understand. Apologies for my terse-sounding reply. I've just added "Thicker Skin" to my X-mas list. :)

WildBill1952 said...

I consider any draft pick past the top 100 picks to be purely speculation. It's sort of a "I wonder what's left?" type of pick. The picks that are made and succeed are few and far between. Even if they make the team, only a rare few ever make a meaningful contribution.

Following that logic, while researching, a couple of other things to look up in your research. (Just something I thought would be interesting, I'm not anybody's boss. After all, you're doing all the work.)
1. For each Super Bowl team in the past x years, how many OL were drafted by that team in the 5 years before the SB that came from the top 100?
2. Of the top scoring 2 or 3 offenses in the same timeframe, how many OL were drafted by that team in the 5 years before their offense took off?
3. Of the leading rushers, how how many OL were drafted by that team in the 5 years before the back won the rushing title?
4. Of the number one rated passers, how many OL were drafted by that team in the 5 years before the QB was rated number one?

I have not looked at the data. But I am curious. Because, just like your preliminary data will show the Redskins that they are doing it wrong, I think answering the 4 questions above will show how to do it right.

And I hear of one more reason why we don't draft linemen: they don't sell jerseys.

Anonymous said...

Given that the season is done, how do we evoke change moving forward (short of giving up season tickets and or booing your home team the entire final game)?

What change am I talking about? Personally, I think we need to limit the owner's influence on the team (to the extent possible) this includes getting him out of the draft room, and removing his pal Vinny Cerrato. We also need a GM. We also need better scouting (or to listen to the ones we have).

I know others agree, but how can we get the powers that be to notice? Again, I'm not suggesting booing, but there should certainly be a COORDINATED EFFORT to voice our displeasure. Maybe everyone should wear black (signifying both the death of the season and hopefully the figurative death of cerrato- chanting fire vinny wouldn't be bad either). Ideas?

We've been watching this same show since 1999, the ending sucks.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

I'm not an activist, Anon. Can't really imagine becoming one over a football team. But if you feel strongly enough about it, I'll certainly follow *your* efforts--even write about them if you'd like.

Not trying to be flip here. I'm just not a believer that fans have any real influence over their teams. The NFL provides an entertainment service we can either consume or not. And we decide if and when we've had enough. Maybe I've got a masochistic side, but I'm not ready to turn away just yet.

These last few years ain't been easy though.