Previously, Bucs Nation looked at the largest average deals per year to give some idea of what positions the NFL values most. Now that the dust of the mega-deals in free agency has settled, the list largely looks the same. Of the top 61 contracts in the NFL, 60 belong to a player playing one of the following positions: QB, Edge, DT, CB, WR, and LT. That’s from $28m/yr Kirk Cousins to $13.5m/yr A.J. Bouye. The lone exception is Le’Veon Bell.
As the excellent Bill Connelly wrote for SBNation, how teams manage the salary cap is one key to success. Teams not only have to stay under the cap, they also have to balance it; it seems the best teams generally pay their top ten players up to but not over 60 percent of the cap. And the percentage teams pay their top 10 players seems to indicate a likely amount of wins, though of course correlation is not causation. Connelly notes that last season the Bucs spent 49.8 percent of their cap on their top 10 players. From 2011-2017 teams that spent 48-51 percent won an average of 8.3 games. Teams that spent 56-59 percent won an average of 9.2 games.
Right now, the Bucs’ top 10 highest-paid players are Mike Evans (11.69 percent of the cap), Gerald McCoy (8.16 percent), Desean Jackson (7.04 percent), Lavonte David (5.60 percent), Jameis Winston (5.16 percent), J.R. Sweezy (4.56 percent), Brent Grimes (4.48 percent), Cameron Brate (4.48 percent), William Gholston (4.16 percent), and Beau Allen (3.2 percent). That adds up to 58.53 percent of Tampa Bay’s cap space for 2018. Obviously, this is before the signing of Ryan Jensen, who the Bucs made the NFL’s highest-paid center, and pass-rusher Vinny Curry. They are likely to knock Gholston and Allen off the list. Also, whoever they draft in the 1st Round of April’s draft might make it, or come close to it.
Regardless of how this list ends up for the Bucs this season, this article tells us several things:
First, teams should invest heavily in 10 elite players and hope good injury luck keeps them healthy for the duration of the season.
Second, teams must be frugal with the cap, especially in free agency, to fill out the roster’s other 43 players (plus in-season signings and practice squad players) with the remaining 40 percent cap space. When teams spend more than 60 percent of their cap on their top 10 players, that hurts the rest of the team’s depth. Those teams have averaged 5.5 wins.
Third, and the focus of this piece, is the more very good players you draft that are on cheap rookie contracts the more money you have to spend on other elite players, which can give a significant competitive advantage.
Draft capital is the other finite resource teams have to build a Super Bowl contender. The Draft is a lottery - you never really know if a player will make it in the NFL or not, but ideally you want to find two starters per year. That leads to the question: how many elite or very good players has Licht drafted since he was hired as Tampa’s general manager in 2014? How many just went on to be starters? How do we even qualitatively measure a good or elite player, or even a starter?
To try to solve this question, lets use Pro Football Reference’s weighted career approximate value (CAV); it’s not perfect but it’s the best way to value players over different positions and allows us to tackle this question from several different angles. Thanks to Forbes’ Patrick Rishe who also used Pro Football Reference, we know about on average how efficient the draft is. That is, the round a player is drafted can roughly tell us how likely they are to be a starter...
Starters By Round
And the median number of games they are likely to start...
Median Number of Games Started
|Percentage of Total Games Started||Median|
|Percentage of Total Games Started||Median|
|(Since 2010...80 games max)|
And how likely they are to be an all-pro. For our purposes we will just focus on the first two. It seems the Draft is really just four rounds long as undrafted players are nearly equally likely to be starters as players drafted in the 5th, 6th, and 7th Rounds combined.
First, Licht’s four 1st Round picks:
|1||2014||1||7||Mike Evans||WR||21||2014||2017||0||1||4||33||61||60||309||4579||32||Texas A&M||College Stats|
|2||2015||1||1||Jameis Winston||QB||21||2015||2017||0||1||3||33||45||45||18-27-0||939||1544||11636||69||44||140||513||8||Florida St.||College Stats|
|3||2016||1||11||Vernon Hargreaves||CB||21||2016||2017||0||0||1||8||25||23||1||Florida||College Stats|
|4||2017||1||19||O.J. Howard||TE||22||2017||2017||0||0||1||3||14||14||26||432||6||Alabama||College Stats|
All four 1st Round players are starters and exceed the benchmark of percentage of games started. Mike Evans was the 7th player drafted in his class, and currently ranks 10th in CAV for that class, and is the 3rd WR behind Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham, Jr. Still, it’s impossible to be upset with Evans’ production. In the 2015 class, Jameis Winston was obviously taken first overall and he’s currently tied with Marcus Mariota with 33 CAV each, the highest in the class. Can’t really do any better than that. Vernon Hargreaves III was the third cornerback drafted in 2016 at 11th overall and has a CAV of 8, tied for 20th but still third among CBs. In a few years Hargreaves’ value could look much worse relative to the rest of his class. O.J. Howard was the 19th pick in last year’s Draft and despite being a lower-valued position he had a promising rookie season and is tied for 19th with 3 CAV so far in his young career. I’m not into comparing his picks to the best players in every class because how can anyone possibly measure up to that?
Licht’s 2nd Round picks:
|1||2015||2||34||Donovan Smith||T||22||2015||2017||0||0||3||23||48||48||Penn St.||College Stats|
|3||2014||2||38||Austin Seferian-Jenkins||TE||21||2014||2017||0||0||2||9||38||24||105||1070||10||Washington||College Stats|
|4||2016||2||39||Noah Spence||DE||22||2016||2017||0||0||0||4||22||6||6.5||East. Kentucky||College Stats|
|5||2017||2||50||Justin Evans||S||22||2017||2017||0||0||1||3||14||9||3||Texas A&M||College Stats|
|6||2016||2||59||Roberto Aguayo||K||22||2016||2016||0||0||1||0||16||0||Florida St.||College Stats|
17.5 percent of 2nd Rounders become starters and start about a median 33 percent of games. Austin Seferian-Jenkins was Licht’s uber-talented 2nd Rd pick back in 2014. He played in just 18 of a possible 48 games in his three seasons in Tampa Bay, starting 12 before being cut for substance abuse issues. Seferian-Jenkins has by all accounts gotten right and played for the Jets before recently signing a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. His CAV for his time with the Bucs is 5, and his overall CAV of 9 ranks 22nd for that 2nd Rd despite being taken 6th.
In 2015 Licht had two 2nd Rd picks in 2015 with offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet, taken 2nd and 29th in the round, respectively. Their CAV of 23 and 18 rank 3rd and 6th for that year/round! Despite Marpet being the better player, CAV is weighted to value left tackle more.
In 2016 Licht pulled a twofer in the 2nd Round again, drafting Noah Spence 8th and infamously packaging a 3rd and 4th Rd pick to trade up for kicker Roberto Aguayo at 28th in the Round and 59th overall. Despite Noah Spence’s flashes, injuries have to this point derailed his career and doesn’t meet the starter benchmark. Their CAVs rank 23rd and 31st (Aguayo’s zero beat out Christian Hackenberg not having a number by never seeing the field).
Justin Evans was selected 18th in last year’s 2nd Round and he flashed too, recording a CAV of 3 that ties for 14th. Overall, how do you grade Licht’s 2nd Round picks? Three of his six 2nd Rd picks are good to decent starters and a fourth would likely be a good starter if not for injuries. Seferian-Jenkins was a bust for Tampa and Aguayo is likely the worst 2nd Rd pick of all time.
Licht’s 3rd Round picks:
|1||2014||3||69||Charles Sims||RB||23||2014||2017||0||0||0||13||47||2||245||958||2||129||1190||6||West Virginia||College Stats|
|2||2017||3||107||Kendell Beckwith||ILB||22||2017||2017||0||0||0||5||16||11||1.0||LSU||College Stats|
|3||2017||3||84||Chris Godwin||WR||21||2017||2017||0||0||0||4||16||2||34||525||1||Penn St.||College Stats|
Only 12.5 percent of 3rd Round players become starters and only one meets the benchmark here. Sims, who is not expected to be with the Bucs in 2018, was the 5th player taken in the 3rd Round in 2014 and his CAV ranks 13th behind fellow running back Jerick McKinnon. Was Sims a bad pick or is he simply a perfectly average 3rd Round pick? Licht didn’t have another 3rd Rounder until 2017, where he picked up two; Kendell Beckwith and Chris Godwin, both of whom are promising. Taken 20th and 43rd in the 3rd Round, their CAVs rank 8th and 9th! The only real regret is Kareem Hunt, who went two spots after Godwin. But Desean Jackson probably won’t be with the Bucs past 2018 and Godwin should assume a starting role.
Licht’s 4th-7th Round picks:
|1||2015||4||124||Kwon Alexander||OLB||21||2015||2017||0||1||3||21||40||40||6||6.0||LSU||College Stats|
|3||2016||5||148||Caleb Benenoch||T||22||2016||2017||0||0||0||4||18||6||UCLA||College Stats|
|4||2016||4||108||Ryan Smith||CB||23||2016||2017||0||0||1||4||29||10||North Carolina Central|
|5||2015||6||184||Kaelin Clay||WR||23||2015||2017||0||0||0||3||20||2||3||27||0||6||85||0||Utah||College Stats|
|6||2016||6||183||Devante Bond||OLB||23||2017||2017||0||0||0||1||14||2||Oklahoma||College Stats|
|7||2014||5||143||Kadeem Edwards||OL||23||2014||2014||0||0||0||0||0||Tennessee St.|
|8||2014||6||185||Robert Herron||WR||22||2014||2014||0||0||0||0||8||0||1||0||0||6||58||1||Wyoming||College Stats|
|9||2015||7||231||Joey Iosefa||FB||24||2015||2015||0||0||0||0||2||0||15||51||0||Hawaii||College Stats|
|10||2017||5||162||Jeremy McNichols||RB||21||2017||2017||0||0||0||0||2||0||Boise St.||College Stats|
|11||2016||6||197||Dan Vitale||FB||22||2016||2017||0||0||0||0||24||9||7||46||0||Northwestern||College Stats|
|12||2015||5||162||Kenny Bell||WR||23||0||0||0||Nebraska||College Stats|
|13||2017||7||223||Stevie Tu'ikolovatu||NT||26||0||0||0||USC||College Stats|
Based on the low-probability of low-round picks they’ve been grouped together. Licht has had two 4th Round picks (11 percent become starters), five 5th Round picks (6 percent), four 6th Round picks (5 percent) and two 7th Round picks (4 percent) for a total of thirteen picks. One became a starter in Kwon Alexander and Kevin Pamphile has been a part-time starter and valuable swing backup on the OL. Pamphile likely won’t be re-signed because of interest from other teams around the league. Of the 614 players drafted in the 4th-7th Rounds since 2014, Kwon Alexander and Kevin Pamphile rank 12th and 25th in CAV. The next-highest are Caleb Benenoch at 149th and Ryan Smith at 181.
Let’s look at it another way. We know QB, Edge, DT, WR, CB, and LT are the most important positions in the game. Top 100 picks is an arbitrary but widely accepted standard of valuable picks. Of Licht’s twelve top-100 picks he has drafted one QB, one Edge, two WR, one CB, one LT, one Center, one S, one RB, two TEs, and one K for a total CAV of 147 and an average of 12.25 per player. Just half have been spent on premium positions. Licht has had 26 total picks for a total CAV of 199, and fifteen are still with the team, or just about half. In my opinion, eleven are starters. How do you think Licht has done, based on these benchmarks?
Here’s how Licht’s total CAV stacks up to the rest of the NFC South over that span:
NFC South Draft CAV 2014-2017
|Teams||Top 100 CAV||Total CAV||Premium Total CAV|
|Teams||Top 100 CAV||Total CAV||Premium Total CAV|
|Atlanta||130 (11)||228 (20/28)||78 (34%)|
|Carolina||129 (12)||185 (19/23)||99 (53%)|
|New Orleans||158 (15)||181 (19/27)||133 (73%)|
|Tampa Bay||147 (12)||199 (18/26)||133 (66%)|
Numbers in parenthesis are the number of players corresponding to that group. So for example, Tampa’s Total CAV for all of Licht’s draft picks are 199 - 18 contributed to the 199 and the other 8 have a score of zero. For Premium Total Cav, I added up the career value for all picks at premium positions and the percentage number is the Premium Total CAV divided by the Total CAV. In other words, it is the percentage of Total CAV that is made up of players at the positions that matter the most. This is of course a little bit skewed by Winston being included in this group as he was drafted in 2015 while Tampa’s division opponents’ quarterbacks were all drafted before 2014. If we subtract out his 33, Tampa’s Premium percentage falls to 50 percent. In addition, I did not include undrafted players. This is one area where I think Licht has done rather well, most notably because of Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries.
How do you think Licht has done? Where do you think he has struggled?