The analysis of Matt Millen

September 5, 2012

Anyone who knows me well has come across my obsession with the Washington Redskins (and the Washington Bullets, Michigan Football and Basketball for that matter). I can remember as a little kid watching “the posse” of Art Monk, Ricky Sanders, and Gary Clark light up defenses as the Redskins went on to win their third Super Bowl in 9 seasons. I was 10 and I knew my allegiance to the Burgundy and Gold would last a lifetime.

Imagine my excitement when the Redskins managed to land the 4th overall pick in the subsequent 1992 draft (traded Stan Humphries for pick #6 from San Diego, packaged 6 & 28 to move to pick #4 from Cincinnati) to land the electrifying heisman winner WR from Michigan, Desmond Howard. We were adding a young game-changing WR to take the torch from the posse and their years of greatness. Turns out this draft pick didn’t work out too well for the Skins, Desmond ended up leaving DC after three very sub-par years as a WR. He eventually managed to find his way with the Packers as punt/kick returner and became a Super Bowl MVP. Desmond Howard is now considered one of the worst picks of all time for the Redskins.

But he is far from the worst, that title belongs to the Honorable Heath Shuler, the 3rd pick of the 1994 draft (we deserved this pick number based on our horrific record). The same GM who made the Desmond Howard selection also made this one. The notorious Charley Casserly, who is now an analyst for the NFL Network, continued his pedigree of 1st round busts in Washington for a couple of more years (Michael Westbrook, Andre Johnson, Kenard Lang) before being fired by new owner Dan Snyder.

The Dan Snyder era welcomed the entrance of another infamous GM, Vinny Cerrato, who as President of Football Operations, decided to trade all of our draft picks for past their prime veterans. A losing strategy that predictably fell flat on its face.

It was about this time that I moved to college in Michigan, started watching Michigan football and even a little bit of the Lions. I quickly realized that Charley Casserly and Vinny Cerrato had company. Matt Millen, as GM of the Lions, single handedly destroyed a franchise.

So which of these GMs is considered the worst drafter of all time? I decided to try rank every Owner, GM, and Coach of football teams over the past 30 years. Based on my past work with NFL drafts (e.g., here and here), I determined the expected value of each draft pick. To determine how a team performs in the draft, I compare the actual player value of all their draft picks with their expected value based on historical data. I’ve collected information from 1980 - 2010 (the most recent drafts do not have enough game data). Also, I've ignored all of the trades made by GMs during the draft in this analysis. Maybe in the next update, I can include a metric on how GMs compared during trades in the draft.

To display the information, I created a bar graph centered at zero with different color bars for positive and negative draft years. Exploring the selections, the user can quickly see how the team performs historically. The user can also select up to three different teams at once to see how they compare to each other. I’ve also included a dataTable to allow quick search and comparison of all the individual Owners, GMs, and Coaches.

Turns out that of the three (Casserly, Cerrato, and Millen), Matt Millen ranks the worst. Surprisingly, Matt Millen is not the worst drafting GM of all time, he is fourth. The top three (or I guess bottom three) are Stew Barber, Dwight Clark, and Jim Murray.

What about the best drafting GM by value? The honor goes to current GM of the Jaguars, Gene Smith, who with a small sample size, managed to land 5 starters in the 2009 draft. Number 2 on the list is the great Ron Wolf of the Green Bay Packers. From the mid-90s to early 2000s, Green Bay consistently put together amazing drafts and went on to make two consecutive Super Bowls in the late 90s. Third on the list goes to Carmen Policy of the San Francisco 49ers from his work in the 80s, although the credit may also belong to Bill Walsh. Without a doubt, the 49ers were the team of the 80s and a lot of that has to do with their success in the NFL draft (Including Joe Montana and Jerry Rice).

Exploring the infographic a little more, I wanted to see which draft class is the best ever. The 1987 Steelers which included Rod Woodson (round 1), Hardy Nickelson (round 5), and Greg Lloyd (round 6) came in at number 1. A close number 2 was the 1986 San Francisco 49ers that included a number of quality starters and capped with the great Charles Haley in the 4th round. Remember, all of these ratings are based on value. There may have been better draft classes, but these are the ones that exceeded their expected value the most.

Have fun exploring!

contributors to this post

headshot of Aaron Wolf
headshot of Mike Stringer
headshot of Dean Malmgren