While it may not be a perfect science, Steelers fan Tony Villiotti writes DraftMetrics.com, a web site that looks to draw conclusions on all things related to the NFL Draft.
Everything about the NFL Draft is subjective. The selection of one player over another is little more than an educated guess, and even teams that have drafted the best players of all time are victim of taking some of the worst.
How do you measure it over the course of time?
His piece on the last five and 10 years of the NFL Draft looks to put some science behind the art of player selection.
Weighting four categories, Villiotti ranks each team's overall draft success from 2003 to present and 2008 to present.
Amount of Pro Bowl selections a player receives. Simple enough, except the issue in recent years vs. the earlier part of the 2000s, before the Pro Bowl was played the week before the Super Bowl. Roughly the same time, star players, particularly those who lost in the conference championship game (read: most Patriots players) simply chose not to play in the game.
Total number of games started
Seems simple enough. A starter is a starter, even if more value is given to players from the earlier part of the metric. Do kickers and punters count as starters?
Number of players active for the 2012 season
Sort of like games started, but casts a wider net to help bracket the starters with role players.
Average share of annual starts
For example, the Bears 2003 draft class started 520 games, representing 5.8% of the 9040 total starts by the 2003 draft. This calculation was repeated for each team in each draft year and the results were then averaged for each team
With those factors in mind, the Steelers rank 27th in the NFL over the last five years, and 29th over the last 10.
By itself, that number seems pretty far off for a team that is only just now getting rid of a core group of players who started and won three AFC championships and two Super Bowls in that time.
But looking at it closer, it makes sense. It really is a scientific way of saying teams stacked with talent won't fare well, necessarily. The issue is it doesn't speak to the talent, but if it's viewed simply as a team's ability to find players they are willing to put on the field, it works.
The 2006 draft is a perfect example of this. The team trades its first round pick as well as a third and a fourth round pick to move up and take WR Santonio Holmes. They would later trade their second round pick for another third round pick with Minnesota, leaving them with a first round pick and two third round picks. The result of that was Holmes, safety Anthony Smith and wide receiver/kick returner Willie Reid.
The Steelers, theoretically, could afford the trade, considering they were coming off a Super Bowl championship with a young roster. Dealing for a game-breaking receiver was a move they could afford to make. The Vikings, for whatever reason, wanted to draft Tavaris Jackson so badly they were willing to give up a third and a fourth round pick for the right to do so.
The Steelers were losing starting free safety Chris Hope (a decent but soon-to-be-too-expensive) to free agency, and they found a guy they felt would be their starter in Smith.
Clearly, neither the Vikings and Steelers won in that deal, but the Steelers needed two players from that draft, and they took the guys they needed, and could take chances with the rest of their picks - i.e. Willie Reid, an exciting returns prospect who could be considered among the worst third round draft picks of all time; Willie Colon, an aggressive offensive linemen from a small school who didn't have a position; Orien Harris, a talented but dumb defensive lineman; Omar Jacobs, another big, athletic MAC quarterback in the mold of Ben Roethlisberger (strictly a back-up), TE Charles Davis, C Marvin Phillip and RB Cedric Humes.
Very low risk picks, all with a specific characteristic or containing upside but enough downside to not be a high pick.
This measurement is going to penalize a team for that when taken at face value.
What's interesting, though, is looking at where some other teams are. Most notably, the Arizona Cardinals are first in 10-year and third in 5-year. Perhaps that suggests the notion of relying on the draft is overrated, especially considering a team like New Orleans (28th and 30th) have had far more success in that time.
There's no one way to determine such a subjective topic as who drafted the best over a 10 year period. But however you'd slice it, the amount of games players from each draft class played for your team (with a bonus given to starts those players made for that team) would have to be factored in.
Pro Bowls are a bit more subjective, and while top to bottom, there are more players who truly belong in the Pro Bowl (i.e. it's rare when a player is named All Pro but not to a Pro Bowl roster), numbers may get a little skewed here and there.
Over five years, though, it is likely to even out through the constant addition of players, the ebb and flow of roster turnover and eventual opportunity some players may get over others.
It's a good conversation piece, though. I enjoy Villiotti's site, it's a refreshing look at arguably the most importantly subjective aspect of the NFL. I may not be 100 percent on board with this, but it can't be dismissed, either.