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Pittsburgh Steelers ranked the 4th best drafting team of the decade

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Despite a less-than-stellar return on several drafts, the Steelers still rank as one of the top drafting teams in the NFL.

NFL: NFL Draft Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Football Outsiders are all about statistics, metrics and data-based analysis. Recently they turned their analysis to the last decade of drafts, from 2010-2019.

They started by valuing the draft capital for each team, and each draft class. I doubt anyone will be surprised to find the Steelers rank toward the bottom in draft capital. The Steelers are not a team that trades away players to stack draft capital, and they haven’t had a losing season in 16 years. For these reasons, the Steelers had the fifth lowest draft capital of the decade.

The article measures return on draft picks by PFR’s Absolute Value (AV), an attempt to create a single number which allows comparisons of players from different positions and eras to each other. Obviously, with something this ambitious it has flaws, but it is a “pretty good” tool, and better when measuring groups of players at different positions like draft classes.

The Steelers rank 10th in total return on their draft picks, a pretty good result considering they rank 28th in draft capital. The Cleveland Browns rank third in draft return, but also rank 1st in draft capital, with a good lead over 2nd place.

This leads to the number we’re all looking for: Return on investment. Pittsburgh’s return on investment ranks 4th for the decade, behind Seattle (boosted heavily by their incredible 2011 and 2012 drafts), Green Bay and Dallas.

Baltimore ranks 6th, and Cleveland ranks 31st in return on draft capital.

The writer also did some good work on the randomness (luck) of drafting, and found only a 1 in 13,000 chance the results of the last decade of drafting could be explained by luck.

As the writer states:

A reasonable interpretation of all this is that while there is a good amount of randomness in how well teams draft, over the course of a decade, the skill of the drafting GM is fairly important in how well a team does. Of course, one could also make the case that the dominant factor here is the coaching staff’s ability to get the most out of the players who are drafted. It’s likely to be a combination of the two.

So were the Steelers lucky to get Antonio Brown? Yes. But they also were the team that helped him become a great wide receiver. So while they clearly didn’t think he was a future All-Pro WR, they were the team who valued his traits the most, and the team which helped him turn those traits into one of the most productive five-year runs of all time.

The full article on drafting efficiency and return on investment can be seen HERE.