Friday, February 28, 2014

Bracketology Primer

With under two weeks to go in the college basketball regular season, I took a look at putting a sample bracket together. Here's a quick look at how everyone shakes out and some of the logic I used.

The Top Seeds

There are currently only 5 teams in the nation with less than 3 losses. One of them is Stephen F Austin whose strength of schedule is in the 200s and doesn't have the resume for a tournament berth if they don't win their conference tournament. The other four teams are the #1 seeds in my bracket. The #1 overall seed, despite only having 4 wins against the Top 50, is the Florida Gators.

They haven't lost since December 2nd and haven't lost a game outside the Top 30. They do have 13 wins against the Top 100, which says more about the strength of the SEC than the quality of Florida.

The rest of the #1 seeds shouldn't be much of a surprise. Arizona is running away with the Pac-12 and has 10 Top 50 wins. Syracuse comes in as the #3 overall seed because despide having the most Top 100 wins of this group (15), they are also the only team with a loss outside the Top 50 (to #184 Boston College). Wichita State rounds out the group. The closest comparrison I could find was the St Joe's team that had an undefeated regular season and last year's Gonzaga team, both of which got the #4 overall seed in the tournament. Even though Wichita is undefeated, which lands them on the top line, I don't think they'll be seeded higher than 4th overall given their profile, which only features 2 Top 50 wins.

The Seeds

2 Seeds
Kansas, despite 6 losses, has the best profile in the country. 12 Top 50 wins and 17 Top 100 wins. All 6 of their losses are to Top 50 teams.
Villanova has just 3 losses on the season, none of them coming outside the Top 10. A lot has been made about the Wildcats being ranked higher than Creighton, who has slaughtered them twice, but they have a better profile. If the Jays beat Villanova in the Big East Championship, Creighton and Nova will swap spots.
Iowa State's 8 Top 50 wins (3rd most in the country) can't be ignored and lands them on the 2-seed line.
Cincinnati edges out the rest of the field for the last #2 seed as the AAC leader and because they have no losses outside the Top 50 - something Creighton and Duke can't say.

3 Seeds
Creighton has a great profile with double-digit wins over the Top 100, but their 2 losses outside the Top 50 are what is currently keeping them off the 2 line.
Wisconsin is currently my highest rated team from the Big 10, but it seems hard to believe that the Big 10 Conference Champion wouldn't get a top 2 seed. Wisky has the profile (8 Top 50 wins, 15 Top 100 wins) to move up, but their 2 losses outside the Top 50 are holding them back.
Duke has played much better over the last month, but I'm not buying the hype of them as a #2 seed just yet. They are just 5-4 against the Top 50 which pales in comparrison to a team like Wisconsin who is 8-3 and Creighton who is 6-2.
Michigan is currently atop the Big 10 standings and has 7 Top 50 wins, including a sweep of Michigan St.

4 Seeds
Michigan St has less Top 50 Wins, less Top 100 wins and was swept by Michigan, which is enough to drop them below the Wolverines.
Texas is 7-7 against the Top 50, which is great in terms of wins and great that they haven't lost to a bad team.
Virginia currently leads the ACC but has played a very easy conference slate. They have just 3 top 50 wins and two losses to teams ranked in the 50s.
Louisville hasn't lost outside the Top 40 and is undefeated in the month of February, but is just 4-4 against the Top 50.

5 seeds
St Louis is still leading the A-10 after their loss to Duquesne but only 3 of their 12 conference wins have been by double-digits.
San Diego State has impressive wins over Kansas and Creighton but is carrying a loss to Wyoming (RPI 107).
UCLA doesn't have a win over a Top 25 opponent but has an impressive 7-5 mark against the Top 50.
UConn is the first team to appear on this list with a losing record against the Top 50, but only has 1 loss outside the Top 40 and that was back in December.

6 seeds
Iowa dropped two games this week in which they scored 89 and 86 points. The Hawkeyes only have 1 loss outside the Top 50, but are just 4-8 against the Top 50.
UMass has built one of the best profiles in the country with a 5-1 record against the Top 50 and 13 Top 100 wins. The drawbacks are 4 losses outside the Top 50 - including one to George Mason (RPI 145).
North Carolina is probably the hottest team in the country and haven't lost in over a month. Like UMass, they have 5 Top 50 wins and double-digit Top 100 wins, but are being held back by 4 losses outside the Top 50 (including 2 outside the Top 100).
Oklahoma is 7-5 against the Top 50 but have two losses to teams ranked in the 70s and one to Texas Tech (RPI 121).

7 seeds
Ohio State has just a .500 record against the Top 50 and two losses (both to Penn State!) outside the Top 100.
Kansas State has 6 Top 50 wins, including wins over Kansas (RPI 1), Texas (RPI 23) and Oklahoma (RPI 25). However, they have 4 losses outside the Top 50, including two in November to teams ranked lower than 175.
Kentucky is a long way from the team that some thought would go 40-0. Their 13 Top 100 wins are impressive, but they have 3 losses outside the Top 50, including a sweep by Arkansas.
Memphis is just 3-6 against the Top 50 and just dropped a game to a Houston team ranked in the 150s. The Houston loss is their only loss outside the Top 50, though.

8 seeds
George Washington is the 3rd team from the A-10 in the bracket and has an impressive win over Creighton on a neutral court. They do have 3 losses outside the Top 50, making their profile very similar to Kentucky's.
New Mexico solidified their spot in the field last week with a win over San Diego State but are just 5-4 against the Top 100 and have 3 losses outside the Top 50.
VCU has a similar profile to George Washington in that they have 2 Top 50 wins (an impressive win over Virginia and a head-to-head win over the Colonials) but they also have 3 losses outside the Top 50. The A-10 Tournament is going to be nuts.
Arizona State is carrying a .500 mark against the Top 50, including an impressive victory over Arizona, but have been mediocre against the Top 100 with just a 7-7 record.

9 seeds
Southern Methodist is gunning for their first tournament appearance in 21 years and have an impressive 4-3 record against the Top 50, but are 4-4 against the Top 100 and have 2 losses to teams with triple-digit RPIs.
Stanford is just 5-7 against the Top 50 and 6-8 against the Top 100. The 5 Top 50 wins are more than anyone on the bubble has and should be enough to get them in, but there is nothing that jumps off the page about them either.
Baylor is still suffering from dropping a lot of games to open the Big XII slate, but their 5-8 mark against the Top 50 gives them a similar profile to Stanford and only 2 of their 10 losses have come outside the Top 50 (and only 1 outside the Top 100).
Pitt has one of the strangest profiles in the nation. They have just one Top 50 win (over #40 Stanford in November) but have lost only once to a team outside of the Top 20 (#56 Florida St). The Panthers are hanging on to their tournament position and won't get another chance for a quality win until the ACC Tournament and can't afford to add bad losses to this questionable slate, especially given their horrendouse non-conference schedule.

10 seeds
St Joseph's has a very similar resume to VCU (2 Top 50 wins, 7-6 against the Top 100, 3 losses outside the Top 50) but are seeded lower because of a poor non-conference slate. The Hawks can secure the #2 seed in the A-10 tournament if they win their final 3 games, which includes a trip to George Washington next Wednesday.
Gonzaga has been a perennial fixture in the tournament, but two recent losses have put their resume in question. Like Pitt they have just 1 Top 50 win, but are 7-4 against the Top 100. Unlike the Panthers, the Zags have 2 losses to teams with 100+ RPIs, which is cause for some to say they might be on the bubble if they don't win the WCC Tournament.
Colorado has lost just 1 game outside the Top 50, but have not been nearly as good since leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddle was lost to injury. Luckily, the Buffs have not dropped any games to bad teams during that time, but are just 1-5 against the Top 50 since losing Dinwiddle (after scoring 3 Top 50 victories with him in the lineup).
Oregon scored their best win of the season on the road in Pauley Pavillion this week and boosted their tournament profile. Their win over UCLA now gives them 2 Top 50 wins and a winning record (8-7) against the Top 100. Only 2 of the Ducks losses have come outside the Top 50 and only 1 outside the Top 100. With an RPI in the 30s, history is on their side as no Major Conference team in the last 6 years with a Top 40 RPI has missed the tournament.

The Bubble

With 21 Conference Champions projected to come from "One-Bid" leagues, this leaves 7 spots in the field to be occupied by Bubble teams. I'll run through the One-Bid leagues shortly, but here is a quick look at the 14 teams vying for the last 7 spots in the field.

Arkansas put themselves back in the conversation with a win at Rupp Arena, completing the sweep of Kentucky. The Razorbacks have 4 Top 50 wins and just 1 loss outside the Top 100 (though they have 3 losses to teams ranked between 50 and 100).

BYU is squarely on the bubble and can't afford any bad losses at this point. They have 3 Top 50 wins (including a neutral court win over Texas and a road win over Stanford) and are 7-6 against the Top 100. However, they have 4 losses to teams outside the Top 100, the most of the bubble group. The Cougars do have a Top-5 non-conference strength of schedule, which the Committee will swoon over.

California has a typical bubble resume - 3 Top 50 wins, 6 Top 100 wins, 3 losses outside the Top 50. Two of those losses are outside the Top 100, which is a cause for concern.

Dayton, like most other teams on the bubble, has 3 Top 50 wins and 7 Top 100 wins. They are 7-6 against the Top 100 but have 3 losses to teams with RPIs over 100.

Florida State is hanging around the conversation thanks to their 3 Top 50 wins but at 6-10 against the Top 100. They have lost 4 times outside the Top 50 but only 1 of those losses were outside the Top 100.

Minnesota has had a brutal February, but saved their bubble hopes with a win over Iowa, giving them 3 Top 50 wins. However, their resume is littered with bad losses, including 5 to teams outside the Top 50 (2 of those coming to teams with 100+ RPIs).

Missouri, a few weeks ago, looked to have the best chance to be the 3rd SEC team in the field, but the Tigers have just 1 win against the Top 50 and are 7-6 against teams ranked between 50th and 100. They have just 1 loss outside the Top 100, but those 6 losses to teams ranked between 50 and 100 are frightening.

Nebraska had worked their way into the bubble conversation, but like Minnesota have just 3 Top 50 wins and are 6-8 against the Top 100. The Huskers have lost 4 times outside the Top 50 with 3 of those coming to teams ranked in the 100s.

Oklahoma State dropped 3 games while Marcus Smart was suspended and the question is how the Committee will handle that. Their 10 losses are more than any team other than Baylor I have discussed so far, but only 1 of those losses has been outside the Top 50. The Pokes are just 3-9 against the Top 50 and will have to do some work in the Big XII tournament to ensure their spot in the field.

Richmond is currently in a fight with history. In the last 6 years, no Mid-Major with an RPI over 50 has made the Tournament. The Spiders currenty sit at 54th but will get chances to improve their profile with games against VCU and Dayton before the A-10 Tournament. The Spiders are being held back by their 4 losses outside the Top 50, though only 1 was outside the Top 100, but it was this week to George Mason. You don't want to take your worst loss of the season in late February.

Southern Miss is currently tied atop Conference USA, and they have a profile that might be good enough to squeeze them in if they don't win the C-USA tournament. The Eagles are 1-1 against the Top 50, 4-3 against the Top 100 and have just 2 losses t teams with 100+ RPIs. They played a bad non-conference slate, which could hurt their chances.

Tennessee has almost an identical profile to Richmond - 2 Top 50 wins, 7 Top 100 wins and a 7-9 record against the Top 100. The Vols also have 2 losses outside the Top 100. Tennessee did have a good non-conference schedule, so that will help their resume.

Toledo is currently in 2nd place in the MAC and has a Top-40 RPI, which seems to be a prerequisite for a mid-major to be considered for an At-Large bid. However, the Rockets have played just one game against a team ranked in the Top 75 (a loss to Kansas). Toledo is 3-3 against teams ranked between 75 and 100 and has just 1 loss outside the Top 100, but I'm not sure if that will be enough to get them in.

With 14 teams in consideration, I started by putting 3 in the tournament and taking 3 off the bottom. I put Oklahoma State in because they only have 1 bad loss, the fewest of the group. Similarly, Arkansas has the most Top 50 wins of the bubble teams so I put them in. California also earned a spot based on having the best win (over #2 Arizona) of any of the bubble teams with 3 Top 50 wins.

On the bottom, Dayton and Nebraska's 3 losses outside the Top 100 were too much for me to overcome, so I took them out of consideration. Similarly, Tennessee's 5 bad losses were enough to knock them out in my book.

It was literally a toss-up between the last 8 teams for which should be my last 4 in and first 4 out. Minnesota and BYU got in based on their non-conference strength of schedule and Southern Miss got in because of their similarity in profile to Middle Tennessee, who earned an At-Large spot last year. Missouri and Xavier simply did not have enough good wins to offset their bad losses. Toledo's lack of a win over a Top-75 opponent was enough to keep them out in my eyes. This left a literal coin flip between Richmond and Florida State. I gave the slightest of edges to the Seminoles based on better performance away from home - Florida State has 6 road/neutral court wins that are better than Richmond's best win away from home.

Work To Do

With a little over a week left in the regular season plus conference tournaments. The bottom of the field is still wide open. The following teams could work their way into the Bubble Conversation by Selection Sunday if they stack wins over the next few weeks.
- Boise State
- Clemson
- Georgetown
- NC State
- Ole Miss
- Providence
- St John's
- West Virginia

One-Bid Leagues

For purposes of putting this bracket together, I'm going to assume that the current conference leaders are going to get the automatic bid from their conference.

America East - Vermont will be the top seed in the conference tournament and the clear favorite after defeating Stony Brook this week. Current Leader: Vermont
Atlantic Sun - Florida Gulf Coast captured everyone's fandom last year in the NCAA Tournament and they are locked at the top of the A-Sun with Mercer, who they defeated in the conference championship last year. Mercer has been knocking at the door of the Big Dance for a while but hasn't made the trip to the Tournament since 1985. Current Leader: Mercer
Big Sky - The Big Sky always produces an exciting end to the regular season as only 7 of the 11 teams qualify for the Conference Tournament. Currently 4 teams are tied at 5th-9th in the standings and the 8 teams from 3rd to 10th are within 2 games of each other, jockeying for the last spots in the tournament. Weber State and Montana have played in 3 of the last 4 championship games. Current Leader: Weber State
Big South - Incredibly, there are 7 teams in the Big South that are within 2 games of first place High Point (11-4 in conference). This tournament is going to be insane. The Big South is one of the lowest ranked conferences in the nation, which pretty much guarantees a spot in the Play-In game for the tournament winner. Current Leader: High Point
Big West - UC Irvine just beat UC Santa Barbara this week to take over the top spot in the conference. The teams split their season series and we may get a rubber match in the tournament between the Anteaters and the Gauchos. Those are two of the best nicknames in the country. Current Leader: UC Irvine
Colonial - Delaware leads by a game over Townson, and the two have paced the field this season. Beware the Fightin' Blue Hens. Current Leader: Delaware
Conference USA - Four teams are currently tied atop the standings (Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and Tulsa) with UTEP a game behind. Only Southern Miss has a profile capable of getting an At-Large bid and Louisiana Tech currently holds the tiebreaker atop the standings, so C-USA falls as a "one-bid" league. Current Leader: Louisiana Tech
Horizon - Green Bay ran away from the field this season and the Phoenix might have an outside shot at an At-Large bid if they don't win the Horizon tournament. Current Leader: Green Bay
Ivy - The only conference without a tournament. Harvard holds a one-game lead over Yale but the Bulldogs already have a win over Harvard and could take the bid if they win out. Current Leader: Harvard
MAAC - The best small conference in the country, the MAAC has been a battle this season between the 4 teams atop the standings (Iona, Quinnipiac, Manhattan, Canisius). All of these teams can score a ton of points and this should be a great tournament. Current Leader: Iona
MAC - Western Michigan is the current leader but Toledo and Buffalo are only a game behind. If Toledo doesn't win the tournament, they have a chance to get an At-Large bid. Current Leader: Western Michigan
MEAC - North Carolina Central has run away with the MEAC this year and is 22-5 overall with just 1 conference loss. Unfortunately, the MEAC is the second-lowest ranked conference in the nation, so anything above a 15-seed seems unlikely for NCCU and an At-Large bid is pretty much out of the question if they don't win the MEAC tournament. Current Leader: NC Central
NEC - Robert Morris has a 3-game lead in the NEC standings which is incredible considering 4 players were suspended for the season in January. Current Leader: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley - Belmont and Murray St are locked in a battle atop the OVC with Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State lurking 3 games back. The last 5 OVC Tournaments have been won by one of those 4 schools so it looks like history will repeat itself. Current Leader: Belmont
Patriot - Boston U holds a slim lead over American who started conference play with 10 straight wins then dropped 4 of 5. Current Leader: Boston U
SoCon - After getting destroyed in a brutal non-conference schedule, 2-time defending champ Davidson has a 3-game lead atop the SoCon standings. The top 4 get byes in the conference tournament, and there are currently 3 teams (Wofford, Western Carolina, Chattanooga) tied for 3rd through 5th. Current Leader: Davidson
Southland - Stephen F Austin is on a 23-game winning streak and is 15-0 in the  Southland, holding a 4-game lead on the rest of the field. The Lumberjacks are 26-2 overall, one of just 5 teams in the nation with less than 3 losses, but don't have the profile to garner At-Large consideration. Current Leader: Stephen F Austin
SWAC - Southern currently leads the conference by 3 games but is fighting an NCAA ruling that they are academically inelligible for post-season play. Since the Jaguars are currently inelligible, I'm putting second-place Alabama State in the field. Current Leader: Alabama State
Summit - North Dakota State has an RPI in the 40s and could get At-Large consideration if they don't win the Summit League Tournament. The IPFW Mastadons (what a nickname!) are currently in second place and looking for their first ever trip to the Big Dance. Current Leader: North Dakota State
Sun Belt - Georgia State has a 3-game lead, but history is not on their side. The #1 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament has only won the tournament once in the last 6 years. Second place Western Kentucky has emerged from the Sun Belt in 4 of the last 6 years, so you have to like their chances. Current Leader: Georgia State
WAC - Utah Valley just took control of the conference by beating New Mexico State in a game that turned ugly when NMSU players started throwing punches at Utah Valley fans that stormed the court. Yikes. New Mexico State has won 3 of the last 4 WAC tournaments and never from the #1 seed. Current Leader: Utah Valley

The Bracket

Now that we have determined the 68 teams in the field comes the fun part, putting them in a bracket! The first round hosting sites are Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando and Spokane on Thursday-Saturday and Raleigh, San Antonio, San Diego and St Louis on Friday-Sunday. The South and West Regionals are on Thursday-Saturday and in Memphis and Anaheim. The East and Midwest Regionals are in New York and Indianapolis and are Friday-Sunday sites. Since BYU is in the field, they can not play a Sunday game, which means they must be placed in the South or West regions and must be in a first round site in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando or Spokane. Additionally, Memphis can not be in the South and San Diego State can not play in San Diego in the first round because they are the host schools.

South Region
1. Florida vs 16. High Point/Alabama St
8. Arizona St vs 9. Baylor
San Diego
4. Virginia vs 13. Belmont
5. St Louis vs 12. Harvard
3. Creighton vs 14. Western Michigan
6. Oklahoma vs 11. BYU/Florida St
2. Cincinnati vs 15. Boston U
7. Ohio St vs 10. Oregon

West Region
San Diego
1. Arizona vs 16. Utah Valley/Weber St
8. VCU vs 9. Pitt
4. Louisville vs 13. Stephen F Austin
5. San Diego St vs 12. Green Bay
3. Wisconsin vs 14. Mercer
6. North Carolina vs 11. Oklahoma St
2. Iowa St vs 15. Vermont
7. Kentucky vs 10. Colorado

East Region
1. Syracuse vs 16. Davidson
8. New Mexico vs 9. Southern Methodist
San Antonio
4. Texas vs 13. Iona
5. UCLA vs 12. Minnesota/Southern Miss
San Antonio
3. Michigan vs 14. Georgia St
6. UMass vs 11. Arkansas
2. Villanova vs 15. UC-Irvine
7. Kansas St vs 10. Gonzaga

Midwest Region
St Louis
1. Wichita St vs 16. Robert Morris
8. George Washington vs 9. Stanford
4. Michigan St vs 13. Louisiana Tech
5. UConn vs 12. North Dakota St
3. Duke vs 14. Delaware
6. Iowa vs 11. California
St Louis
2. Kansas vs 15. NC Central
7. Memphis vs 10. St Joseph's

First Four - Tuesday in Dayton
BYU vs Florida St
High Point vs Alabama St
First Four - Wednesday in Dayton
Minnesota vs Southern Miss
Utah Valley vs Weber St

Bids by conference: Big XII - 7, Pac-12 - 7, ACC - 6, Big 10 - 6, AAC - 5, A-10 - 5, SEC - 3, Big East - 2, MWC - 2, WCC - 2, C-USA - 2
Highest RPI in the field: Arkansas (RPI 57)
Lowest RPI left out: Toledo (RPI 38)

A note on bracketing - the only change I made of moving teams between seed lines was moving BYU and Florida State into the first play-in game on the 11-seed line and putting Minnesota-Southern Miss on the 12-seed line. In my rankings, Minnesota and Southern Miss were higher, but this was done so that BYU's scheduling requirements could be met. Hopefully you enjoyed this little exercise in putting together a bracket. I'll be updating my bracket prediction page a few times a week as we move closer to Selection Sunday.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Analyzing the Drafts of the Mike Tomlin Era

The Steelers finished their second consecutive 8-8 season and with the conclusion of the Scouting Combine, everyone is getting into NFL Draft mode. 2013 was somewhat of a bizarre season after an 0-4 start, everyone wanted to point the blame in one direction or another, from poor coaching to poor execution to poor draft picks. There were a variety of contributing factors from injuries to under-performing players to bad play-calling and being snakebit on the turnover front. The Steelers did turn things around with a strong second half of the season to finish 8-8 and just one game shy of the playoffs. One of the common refrains we have heard, and continue to hear, is that the Steelers have been a failure in the draft during the Kevin Colbert era (2000-present) or the Mike Tomlin era (2007-present). Usually this is voiced as "Mike Tomlin won with Cowher's players." This prompted me to take a look back at the draft data for the Tomlin era. Eventually I hope to go back and include a full analysis for the entire Colbert era as General Manager.

Determining the "value" of any player is a difficult metric because unlike sports like baseball or basketball where everyone has relatively equal abilities to produce points, over half of an NFL team is generally incapable of putting points on the board. Pro-Football-Reference has created one of the best metrics for comparison that I have found in their Approximate Value measure. All players are graded on this measure and it does a good job of weighting the contributions of non-scoring players like offensive linemen against high-stat players like quarterbacks. There is no top end to the scale, though in recent years the top single-season performers have scored in the low-to-mid 20s. Over a player's career, their Approximate Value (AV for short) numbers are added together to give a Career AV (CarAV). Due to the fact that CarAV is a cumulative number, players that have been in the league for a longer period of time have higher CarAV numbers. Pro-Football-Reference also has broken out the data into how much value players have provided to teams that drafted them. The Drafting Team Approximate Value (DrAV) includes all of the years the player suited up for the team that selected them in the draft. The Approximate Value is not a perfect measure of player performance, but it is one of the best ones out there so I am going to use it to frame this draft analysis.

Where Did We Pick?

Any time you analyze draft data, the most important factor to consider is where your team selected. Since 2000, the Steelers have consistently been behind the 8-ball in the NFL Draft. Of the 32 NFL teams, 28 have selected in the Top 10 more than once. Just the Steelers, Giants, Colts and Broncos have only made 1 selection in the Top 10. Here is a look at the last time each team made a pick in the Top 10:

In addition to only having one crack at a Top 10 pick, the Steelers have been picking outside of the Top 10 for a longer period of time than anyone else in the league. The last time the Steelers made a selection in the Top 10 was in 2000. Additionally, the Steelers have been so successful that they have not even owned a Top 10 pick since 2000.

Top 10 Picks 2000-2013
(click to enlarge)

Expanding our look to the first round as a whole, the Steelers have been one of the lowest-drafting teams for both the Tomlin era and the Kevin Colbert era. Since 2000, the Steelers average first round draft position - which includes trades up in 2003 for Troy Polamalu and 2006 for Santonio Holmes - is 21.7. The only team with a higher average draft position since 2000 is Indianapolis at 24.1. This has a ripple effect throughout the whole draft where picking at the back of the first round means picking at the back of all the later rounds as well. It is not just that elite talent is not available in the first round, but also players that are falling later in the draft might not reach you. The numbers are even worse when the scope is shortened to the Mike Tomlin era. Since 2007 the Steelers average draft position is 23.8, behind only the Giants and Ravens at 24.3.

From 2007 to 2012, the Steelers selected 50 players in the NFL Draft. For purposes of this analysis, I am excluding the 9 players selected in the 2013 draft because they have only had one season in the NFL which is not a large enough sample size.

Steelers Draft Picks By Round
(click to enlarge)

The Steelers have made first round picks in all 6 of these drafts but second round picks in only 5. This means that approximately 1/5 of the Steelers picks over this time have come in the top two rounds of the draft. On the other end, the Steelers have made 25 picks - a full half of their selections - in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds. Not only are the Steelers picking later in the early rounds, but the majority of their picks have been backloaded. In fact, over half of their picks (28 of 50) have come in the second half of the draft. Conversely, the Steelers have only had 19 Top 100 picks in the Tomlin era and only 7 Top 50 picks. The only time the Steelers have had a Top 50 pick that was not in the first round was 2007, Tomlin's first year as a coach, when they selected LaMarr Woodley.

Were They Any Good?

When we look at how the Steelers have drafted in comparison to the rest of the league, we see that despite selecting later than almost every other team, their results are actually not that far from average.

Looking at the Career Approximate Values for each round of the draft, summed across the Tomlin era, we see that the Steelers first round picks have actually out-performed the league average. Their second round picks are slightly below-average. The Steelers have drafted well in the 3rd, 5th and 6th rounds with their picks totaling out higher than average in CarAV. The Steelers have been below average in the 4th and 7th rounds, but on the whole have been an above-average drafting team during the Tomlin era. Considering they have been selecting in the later portions of every round during this time, this is a positive indicator of the Steelers drafting ability.

First Round - Lawrence Timmons
Career AV - 49

The Steelers had the 15th overall pick in the 2007 draft and selected Lawrence Timmons. Timmons was the second linebacker taken behind Patrick Willis (CarAV 89). Interestingly, by CarAV numbers, Willis has been the best player taken in the draft, even though an eye test would likely put Willis behind Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson and Darrelle Revis. Timmons is actually the 12th-highest rated player from the 2007 draft but is the 4th highest-rated linebacker (behind Willis, David Harris and Jon Beason). Interestingly, of the 11 players rated higher than Timmons, 5 of them were drafted after him, including the Steelers second round pick.

Second Round - LaMarr Woodley
Career AV - 52

By the Career AV standards, Woodley has been the 10th best player from the 2007 draft. For the Steelers to land him with the 46th overall pick was a steal. The only player selected after Woodley with a higher CarAV is David Harris (CarAV 59) who the Jets took with the very next pick. Woodley is the highest rated "defensive end" selected in 2007 (Woodley is categorized as a DE because he played DE in college, not because of his NFL position). Woodley has not only been the most successful second round pick of the Tomlin era, he has also been one of the best players on the defense when he has been healthy.

Third Round - Matt Spaeth
Career AV - 2

Spaeth was the third tight end selected in the draft, and another one was not taken for over 50 picks. Spaeth has been primarily used as a blocker and played in tandem with Heath Miller. This was a bit of a reach for a player that never really developed and he currently rates as only the 8th best tight end from this draft. He has been out-performed by several tight ends taken after him, including Scott Chandler (CarAV 12), Kevin Boss (CarAV 16), Dante Rosario (Car AV 10), Brent Celek (CarAV 30) and Ben Patrick (CarAV 4). The Steelers could have waited and selected a better-performing tight end as late as the 5th round when Boss, Rosario and Celek were taken. Nine of the ten players taken directly after Spaeth out-performed him, including James Jones (Packers WR), Charles Johnson (Panthers DE), Brandon Mebane (Seahawks DT) and Marshall Yanda (Ravens OT).

The Rest 
Daniel Sepulveda (CarAV - 7)
Ryan McBean (CarAV - 11*)
Cameron Stephenson (CarAV - 0)
William Gay (CarAV - 29*)
Dallas Baker (CarAV - 0)

* - Ryan McBean was cut by the Steelers and gave them no value. After spending a year out of football in 2008, McBean was picked up by the Denver Broncos where he started 21 games over a 3-year span and earned all of his Career Value for the Broncos. William Gay was cut by the Steelers and signed by the Arizona Cardinals in 2012 where he had one of his best statistical season with an Approximate Value of 7 then returned to the Steelers in 2013. His CarAV for the Steelers was 22.

On the whole, this was a mixed bag. The Gay selection in the 5th round was the only above average pick from the back half of the 2007 draft. There were some diamonds in the rough to be had in the later rounds of this draft, including Jermon Bushrod (Saints OT), Ahmad Bradshaw (Giants RB) and Dashon Goldson (49ers SS). Bushrod and Goldson were taken back-to-back in the 4th round between the Steelers selections of Sepulveda and McBean and Bradshaw was taken in the 7th, well after the Steelers last selection. The first two picks really carried this draft as the Steelers had a net 132 CarAV from the 2007 draft while the league average was 109.3.

If you want to use a Mike Tomlinism and talk about players being "below the line", this draft is the perfect depiction. None of the players the Steelers drafted were above the league average for the round they were taken in. To make matters worse, 3 of the Steelers 7 draft picks gave the team zero value and two others were below 3.

First Round - Rashard Mendenhall
Career AV - 29 (CarAV 26 with the Steelers, 3 with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013)

With Willie Parker coming off a broken ankle in late 2007, the Steelers used their first round pick on Mendenhall, a do-it-all back out of Illinois. Mendenhall was the 4th of 5 running backs taken in the first round and the Steelers took him with the 23rd overall pick. With Fast Willie Parker on the team, there was no way the Steelers were going to take Chris Johnson, who went to the Titans right after the Steelers took Mendenhall. Mendenhall is the 34th-ranked player from the 2008 draft and he out-performed 9 of the players that were taken ahead of him. One of the biggest complaints about the Steelers selection of Mendenhall is that more successful backs (Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Jamaal Charles) were all taken in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.

Second Round - Limas Sweed
Career AV - 1

I know what you're thinking, that a Career Value of 1 is a bit high for Sweed. For all the running backs that were taken in the first round, no Wide Receivers went off the board until the Rams took Donnie Avery at the top of the second round. That sparked a run of 10 WRs being taken in the next 25 selections, with Sweed being the next-to-last of the group. On the whole, the 2008 WR class has been underwhelming. Of those available when the Steelers took Sweed, the best ones (Pierre Garcon and Stevie Johnson) weren't taken until the 6th and 7th rounds respectively. Sweed was a clear miss

Third Round - Bruce Davis
Career AV - 0

Davis is another player in the litany of failed defensive ends that the Steelers have selected early with the hopes of converting them to outside linebacker. There weren't many quality linebackers available in this draft, but the name to remember here is Cliff Avril, who was selected 4 picks after the Steelers took Davis and has 47.5 career sacks and is the 35th-ranked player from 2008 and the 3rd best linebacker from the class (behind Jerod Mayo and Curtis Lofton). That said, Avril has had his success as a 4-3 Defensive End in Detroit and Seattle whereas the Steelers were looking for 3-4 OLBs.

The Rest
Tony Hills (CarAV - 1)
Dennis Dixon (CarAV - 2)
Mike Humpal (CarAV - 0)
Ryan Mundy (CarAV - 12*)

Mundy, a 6th round pick, was the best player the Steelers landed in the back half of the draft. He was a solid backup and special teams player though he never quite elevated his play to starter-level, even when given the opportunity with injuries to Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark. Mundy finally became a starter in 2013 with the Giants where his CarAV jumped from 7 to 12. As surprising as this may sound, Dennis Dixon actually has more career starts (3) than all but 4 of the 13 Quarterbacks selected in 2008. Outside of the two first-rounders (Ryan and Flacco), only Chad Henne has significantly out-performed Dixon. The Tony Hills pick leaves a bit of a sour taste because the Packers took Josh Sitton (who started all but 2 games from 2009 to 2012) 5 picks later. Sitton was the second biggest steal of this draft, behind the Saints taking Carl Nicks in the 5th round who they moved from tackle to guard and he became one of the top interior linemen in the league.

It has become commonly accepted fact that the 2009 draft sucked. Outside of Matthew Stafford, the rest of the top 10 was Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry, Mark Sanchez, Andre Smith, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eugene Monroe, BJ Raji and Michael Crabtree.

First Round - Ziggy Hood
Career AV - 26

When people start to name draft "busts" on the current Steelers team, Hood's name usually finds its way to the top of the list. However, in the context of the 2009 Draft, Hood should not be considered a bust. Coming off the Super Bowl XLIII victory over Arizona, the Steelers had the 32nd overall pick. Hood's CarAV of 26 actually makes him the 35th best player from 2009. Hood was the 6th defensive lineman taken but is the 3rd rated defensive lineman, out-performing all but 3 players - BJ Raji, Michael Johnson and Terrance Knighton (all with CarAV 28). Additionally, Ziggy's Career AV of 26 is right in line with the average for players drafted in the first round in 2009 (26.3) which is good return for the last pick of the first round.  Prior to 2013, Ziggy had been the highest rated defensive lineman from this draft, but his numbers suffered when he lost his starting job to Cam Heyward. Ziggy has also out-performed 13 players selected ahead of him. Has his play been inconsistent and below the expectations set by Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel? Absolutely. But in the scope of the 2009 Draft, Hood was not a bust and actually was selected about where his value indicates he should have been.

Second Round - no selection, trade with Denver

This trade worked out great for the Steelers. The Broncos gave the Steelers two 3rd round picks in exchange for the Steelers 2nd and 4th round selections. The Broncos took TE Richard Quinn here (CarAV 0) and used the Steelers 4th round pick to take OT Seth Olsen (CarAV 3, DrAv 0). The Steelers used the Broncos third rounders to take Kraig Urbik and Mike Wallace. Given the return they got for this pick, you could argue this was the second-best use of a second round pick in the Mike Tomlin era. During his time here, Wallace alone gave the Steelers more value than all of Mike Tomlin's second round picks not named "LaMarr Woodley" combined.

Third Round
Kraig Urbik (CarAV 20, DrAV 0)
Mike Wallace (CarAV 38, DrAv 32)
Keenan Lewis (CarAV 18, DrAV 10)

Urbik was actually a good selection and has been a very good player.....for the Buffalo Bills. Urbik lost the competition for backup guard to undrafted rookie Ramon Foster and was cut by the Steelers after training camp in 2010. The Bills scooped him up on waivers and he has become a constant in their starting lineup, starting 44 games between 2010 and 2013.

Setting aside Mike Wallace's ego and the case of drop-itis he came down with in 2012, Wallace was one of the best players from the 2009 draft. Wallace was one of the steals of the draft, rating as the 8th best player and 2nd best wide receiver, behind only Percy Harvin. This was a fantastic return on the 84th overall pick and the 11th receiver taken.

Keenan Lewis had one good season for the Steelers, which enabled him to land a big contract with his hometown New Orleans Saints in 2013. Lewis was a bit of a surprise in 2012 after having not shown much in his first 3 seasons, he was second in the league in passes defended and started to emerge as a starting-capable corner. Urbik, Wallace and Lewis were all above-average players in the scope of the rest of the 3rd round. Sadly, roster numbers and salary cap tightness did not enable the Steelers to retain any of these three to long-term deals and they are feeling the effects. That said, landing 3 players that became starters in the league makes this one of the best individual rounds of any draft.

The Rest
Joe Burnett (CarAV 1)
Frank Summers (CarAV 1, DrAV 0)
Ra'Shon Harris (CarAV 0)
A.Q. Shipley (CarAV 7, DrAV 0)
David Johnson (CarAV 2)

As has been the story of the Steelers 2009 draft, they just weren't able to retain the players they drafted. Joe Burnett played as a reserve corner for one season and dropped what would have been a game-winning interception against Oakland and was cut the next year. Frank "The Tank" Summers bounced around the league before finding a home in Buffalo this past season where he had 2 touchdowns from the fullback position. AQ Shipley was a journeyman reserve lineman before earning starting time in Philadelphia due to injuries in 2012 and started 9 games at guard for the Ravens in 2013. David Johnson was a serviceable H-Back for the Steelers that lost the last two seasons due to injuries.

In the grand scope of the 2010 Draft, the Steelers hit a home run. By Career AV numbers, the Steelers have landed one of the top 5 draft classes from 2010 and by far their best class of the Mike Tomlin era.

First Round - Maurkice Pouncey
Career AV - 35

Before his season-ending injury in Week 1 of 2013, Maurkice Pouncey was the highest rated player from the 2010 Draft. Currently, he still ranks 6th in this draft class. For the Steelers to land him with the 18th overall pick was not only a great success but a huge improvement for the team. Before Pouncey we were forced to suffer through the Sean Mahan disaster at Center. His status as "best player in the draft" declined after his injury this year, but the fact remains that the Steelers landed a big-time player in the middle of the first round. In fact, it took the whole extra season for Mike Iupati (who was taken right before Pouncey and was the first interior lineman taken) to catch him in Career AV.

Second Round - Jason Worlids
Career AV - 15

Worlids has spent most of his career with the Steelers as a backup and has seen limited game action when filling in for an injured Harrison or Woodley. Worlids is actually just slightly above average for a second round pick in this draft. He has had an up-and-down career and didn't really come on until the second half of the 2013 season. The general public did a complete 180 on Worlids, going from demanding to know why he was taken instead of Sean Lee to believing that Worlids should be retained at the expense of LaMarr Woodley. Part of the difficulty in the analysis comes from looking at the next few picks. The Bengals took DE Carlos Dunlap two picks later at 54th overall and the Cowboys took LB Sean Lee at #55 overall. Just 10 picks after the Steelers took Worlids, the Patriots took Brandon Spikes and the Colts took Pat Angerer, both of whom have become anchors of their linebacker units. It's funny how quickly opinions change.

Third Round - Emmanuel Sanders
Career AV - 16

Interestingly enough, the dropoff between the 2nd and 3rd round in this draft - at least according to the Career AV metric - is very minimal. The average Career AV of 2nd rounders is 14.4 and the average of 3rd rounders is 12.9. With a Career AV of 16, this makes Sanders an above-average player in the 2nd round, so getting him in the 3rd was huge. Sanders has struggled with injuries and was surpassed on the depth chart by 6th round pick Antonio Brown (who I'll get to shortly). Sanders was the 8th receiver chosen in a draft loaded with WR talent and has out-performed 2 of the players drafted ahead of him, but was surpassed by 3 players picked after him, including Mike Williams (Tampa), Eric Decker (Denver) and Brown. Decker was taken by Denver just 5 picks after the Steelers took Sanders.

The Rest
Thaddeus Gibson (CarAV 0)
Chris Scott (CarAV 4, DrAV 0)
Crezdon Butler (CarAV 1, DrAV 0)
Stevenson Sylvester (CarAV 5)
Jonathan Dwyer (CarAV 8)
Antonio Brown (CarAV 31)
Doug Worthington (CarAV 0)

The Steelers absolutely dominated the 6th round of this draft, landing Dwyer and Brown. Brown has become their #1 receiver and Dwyer, despite being in and out of Tomlin's doghouse, has been one of their more consistent running backs. Brown has been the 3rd best wide receiver from this draft class and landing him in the 6th round with the 195th overall pick was an absolute steal. Brown was the best player taken in the 6th round and Dwyer is actually the 6th-highest rated player from the round. As a footnote to the Brown pick, he was selected as the end result of the Santonio Holmes trade. The Steelers traded Holmes to the Jets (where he was subsequently suspended for 4 games) for a 5th round pick. The Steelers traded that 5th round pick to Arizona for Bryant McFadden and a 6th round pick which they used to take Brown. The end result? Holmes to the Jets, McFadden and Brown to the Steelers and John Skelton to the Cardinals.

The worst pick of this draft was Thaddeus Gibson, the second DE that the Steelers selected (after Worlids) and he didn't even make the team out of camp. What makes this pill hard to swallow is that the Bengals took Geno Atkins 4 picks later and he turned into one of the top 5 players from the draft while the Steelers got absolutely nothing from Gibson. The Steelers also got nothing from their 3 5th round picks (2 of which were non-tradeable compensatory picks). Sylvester was actually an average player in the scope of the 5th round. However in retrospect, the Chris Scott pick seems particularly puzzling as he was coming off an injury and had to sit out his rookie season. The best player taken in the 5th round was offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse, who the Packers took with the very last pick of the round.

The Steelers had the 31st selection of each round in the 2011 draft and did not make any moves to trade up or down. Because of this, gauging their picks against the "average" for each round doesn't necessarily tell the whole story of the caliber of players that were available for them to pick because they were picking at the end of each round.

First Round - Cameron Heyward
Career AV - 11

Assessing Heyward's career to date is difficult. He was just anointed with a starting role and has been stuck in the middle of the depth chart behind Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood. Heyward's production to date has been well below the average of 2011 first rounders, and but he has out-performed 5 of the players drafted in the 8 picks before he was selected.

Second Round - Marcus Gilbert
Career AV - 15

The Steelers went back to the well of Florida linemen at the end of the second round and selected Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert was the 13th offensive lineman taken in the 2011 draft and rates as the 39th best player from the draft to date. By Career AV numbers he has been marginally out-played by 2 players taken after him - Bengals OG Clint Boiling and Eagles C Jason Kelce. Gilbert has been mediocre at best as the Steelers RT and has battled injuries and inconsistent play. However, he appears to have been the best OT left on the board at this point.

Third Round - Curtis Brown
Career AV - 2

In what looked like a deep year for defensive backs, the results have been thoroughly unimpressive. Of the 48 defensive backs drafted in 2011, only three - 5th overall pick Patrick Peterson, Seahawks corner Richard Sherman and Bears S Chris Conte have Career AV ratings over 12. Sherman was the steal of the draft, falling all the way to the 154th overall pick after receiving bad reviews from Jim Harbaugh and the Stanford coaching staff. He has emerged as not only one of the top corners from this draft but as one of the best in the league. The Steelers used their 3rd and 4th round selections on corners Brown and Cortez Allen and you have to wonder what could have been with Sherman lining up opposite Ike Taylor.

The Rest
Cortez Allen (CarAV 8)
Chris Carter (CarAV 4)
Keith Williams (CarAV 0)
Baron Batch (CarAV 1)

Aside from 6th round pick Keith Williams who did not make the roster, these picks have been mostly average. Allen was set to crack the starting lineup this season but was hampered by an ankle injury. Carter has yet to actually record a sack and Batch was a marginally effective 3rd down back who was more of a camp phenom than an on-field star. Aside from Sherman, the players in the later half of this draft haven't been very productive in the NFL on the whole. Sherman is the only player picked outside of the Top 100 that is rated in the top 35 players from this draft. Allen still has a chance to emerge as a very good player but time is getting short for Chris Carter.

Given that players from the 2012 draft only have 2 NFL seasons under their belts, those that have been starters since their rookie campaign have a clear advantage in the Career AV metric. The analytical difficulty here comes from the fact that given the small sample size a player that lost a season to injury might be drastically under-rated.

First Round - David DeCastro
Career AV - 8

On the surface, this would look like a "miss" by the Steelers, but when we consider that DeCastro missed most of his rookie year with a knee injury and that he was one of the top-rated linemen in the division by Pro Football Focus last year, this is a pick that will pan out. Through two seasons, DeCastro has played in less games than all but 3 first round picks. In just 19 games, he already rates better or comparably to 5 players taken ahead of him, including Top 10 picks Morris Claiborne (CarAV 8) and Stephon Gilmore (CarAV 7). After starting 15 games last season, DeCastro appears to be emerging as the steal everyone thought he was when the Steelers took him at 24th overall.

Second Round - Mike Adams
Career AV - 8

This is where Career AV numbers do not tell the whole story. Based simply on this metric, DeCastro and Adams are equivalent players. However, one would be crazy to argue that after Mike Adams was benched after 4 weeks and the left tackle job was taken over by Kelvin Beachum. On the whole, Adams ranks right in the middle of the pack for second round picks as the 16th best player taken in the second round. He has out-performed 9 of the 23 players taken before him. What stings the most about this pick is that the Steelers used their 3rd round pick on Sean Spence, who looked like he was going to be a special player before his knee was shredded. The Steelers knew they needed linebacker help and opted to draft Adams rather than Lavonte David, who went two picks later. David has been the 5th best player in the draft and arguably had a better season this year than Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly.

Third Round - Sean Spence
Career AV - 0

This is more of a case of the dangers of the NFL than the Steelers making a bad pick. Spence was absolutely flying around training camp and in the preseason his rookie year before suffering a devastating knee injury in the preseason finale. Spence has not played since and spent the last two seasons on injured reserve. There is some hope that he will be able to return to the lineup this season, and the Steelers linebacker depth has been suffering ever since he was injured.

The Rest
Alameda Ta'amu (CarAV 2, DrAV 0)
Chris Rainey (CarAV 1)
Toney Clemons (CarAV 0)
David Paulson (CarAV 1)
Terrence Frederick (CarAV 0)
Kelvin Beachum (CarAV 9)

The back half of the Steelers 2012 draft reads like a litany of disappointments aside from Kelvin Beachum. Beachum, who stepped in and solidified the LT position this year, is actually the Steelers highest rated player from this draft. Ta'amu had a troubled rookie season that involved playing bumper cars on the South Side and he was released in training camp this year, but did earn a role out in Arizona. Chris Rainey never showed the potential the Steelers saw in him to be a Dexter McCluster-type scat back and couldn't keep his hands to himself. He was cut before the 2013 season. Toney Clemons and Terrence Frederick were both 7th round picks that didn't make it out of their rookie camps but have bounced around on practice squads around the league. David Paulson looked like he was primed to emerge as a flex TE option in the passing game after 2012, but seriously regressed in 2013. Beachum currently rates as the 50th best player from the 2012 draft, which makes him one of the biggest steals after being taken with the 248th pick. The Rainey pick does sting a little bit because the next running backs taken were Vic Ballard and Alfred Morris. Additionally, the Steelers traded away their 6th round pick to move up to take Ta'amu,


On the whole the Steelers have been an above-average drafting team during the Mike Tomlin era. While they have been just about in line with the league average in the first round (0.12 standard deviations above the league mean), they were below it in the second round (-0.18 standard deviations below league mean). However, this drop in the second round could be due to them trading away one of their second round picks during this time and the deviation is not enough to be statistically significant.

The rest of the draft does bring statistically significant findings in that the Steelers out-performed the rest of the league in the 3rd, 5th and 6th rounds. In the third round, the Steelers were nearly a full standard deviation better than the league mean, though this could also be impacted by their 8 third round picks in 6 years. The issue here is also that the Steelers have been unable to retain their best 3rd round picks (Wallace, Lewis, Urbik and likely Sanders) so they have not reaped the long-term rewards of those selections. In the 5th round, the Steelers are more than half of a standard deviation (+0.59) better than the league mean, but once again this is likely due to a plethora of selections, having selected 10 players in the 5th round in the last 6 years. Additionally, as we move deeper into the draft the cumulative expected values for picks goes down, so William Gay actually accounts for 82% of the value the Steelers have garnered from the 5th round. Similarly in the 6th round, the Career AV of the Steelers picks is +1.43 standard deviations above the league mean, but the Antonio Brown pick alone was enough to put the Steelers at the league average.

On the other side of the coin, we have the 4th and the 7th rounds. The Steelers were significantly below the league average in both of these rounds. In the 4th round, the Steelers have made 6 selections in 6 years but it has been their worst-performing round, -0.84 standard deviations below the league mean. Looking at the Steelers 4th round selections, this should not be much of a surprise. They have used 4th round picks on Daniel Sepulveda, Ryan McBean, Tony Hills, Thaddeus Gibson, Cortez Allen and Alameda Ta'amu during this time and added Shamarko Thomas and Landry Jones to that list in 2013. From 2007 to 2012, only the Panthers and Chiefs got less out of their 4th round picks than the Steelers did. Outside of the 7th round, the Steelers have gotten the least production out of their 4th round picks.

The 7th round of the draft as a whole is generally a mixed bag and the teams that have done the best are those that have found diamonds in the rough that were able to contribute over multiple years. The Steelers made 9 7th round picks between 2007 and 2012 (their second most of any round) but netted a value about half a standard deviation below the league average. The Steelers have been the 7th worst team at selecting players in the 7th round during this time, ahead of only San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City, New Orleans, Cleveland and Baltimore. Interestingly, all four AFC North teams are in the bottom 10 in the league in getting returns on their 7th round picks.

So what can we conclude about the Steelers scouting? They have done a good job assessing talent in the first round and have mostly avoided drafting "busts" with their top pick, which is an accomplishment considering how deep in the first round they have drafted during this time. Comparatively, the Colts (the only team to have a lower average selection than the Steelers) were -1.3 standard deviations below the league average for first round pick Career AV's. In light of this, the Steelers have done a very good job with the hand they have been dealt in the first round. Their biggest struggles have been between picks 100 and 169 (mostly the 4th and early 5th rounds). Their best area in the later rounds has been between picks 170 and 200 where they have selected 6 players and gotten above-average players 4 times (Gay, Mundy, Dwyer, Brown). As I have detailed, the biggest problem for the Steelers from a personnel perspective is not that they are not drafting good players, but that they have been unable to retain them. Even though the Steelers have been one of the best in the league at selecting in the 3rd round, only Matt Spaeth, Curtis Brown and Sean Spence are currently under contract for 2014 of this group and it seems unlikely that Emmanuel Sanders will be retained. Therefore, I think it is fair to place some of the blame for the Steelers lack of quality depth on Kevin Colbert, but not for failures in the draft. Rather, the blame should be focused on the contracts of existing players and the team's salary cap situation that made them unable to retain the high-quality players that they drafted.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Updated Olympic Hockey Scenarios

Only one game remains in the preliminary round of the Olympic hockey tournament, the Canada-Finland showdown for first place in Group B. With the standings in the other two groups sorted out, we have a  very clear picture of how the bracketed portion of the tournament will look.

Group A
Note: Record is displayed as W-OTW-OTL-L

Group B

Group C
Czech Rep

As a reminder, here is how the seeding for the knockout portion of the tournament is decided.
  • Teams are seeded based on order of finish in their groups. The 3 first place teams get the top 3 seeds, then the 2nd place teams, 3rd place teams and so forth. 
  • Teams receive 3 points for a regulation win, 2 for an OT/Shootout win and 1 for an OT/Shootout loss.
  • Amongst each set of teams that finished in the same place, they are seeded based on points.
  • Any ties on points are broken by Goal Differential, Goals Scored, then IIHF World Ranking.
The bottom of the bracket is already decided: 
7. Czech Republic
8. Slovenia
9. Austria
10. Slovakia
11. Latvia
12. Norway

The Czechs will play Slovakia and Austria will play Slovenia in the opening round. Latvia will play the #6 seed and Norway will play the #5 seed

Here are the two scenarios in play for the Canada-Finland game:

If Canada-Finland ends in regulation
  • The winner will be the #1 seed
  • Sweden will be the #2 seed
  • The USA will be the #3 seed
  • The loser will be the #4 seed unless:
    • If Canada wins by 7 or 8, Russia will be the #4 seed Finland the #5 seed and Switzerland the #6 seed
    • If Canada wins by 9 or more, Russia will be the #4 seed, Switzerland the #5 seed and Finland the #6 seed
    • If Finland wins by 5, 6 or 7, Russia will be the #4 seed, Canada the #5 seed and Switzerland the #6 seed
    • If Finland wins by 8 or more, Russia will be the #4 seed, Switzerland the #5 seed and Canada the #6 seed.
If Canada-Finland ends in Overtime
  • Sweden will be the #1 seed 
  • The USA will be the #2 seed 
  • The winner will be the #3 seed
  • The loser will be the #4 seed
  • Russia will be the #5 seed
  • Switzerland will be the #6 seed
What does this mean for the US? As the #2 or #3 seed, the US will not have to face Russia (the #4 or #5 seed) until the medal round. The US would likely perfer to see Canada on the other half of the bracket (either as the #1 or #4 seed) which is possible if the Canada-Finland game ends in regulation. Additionally, this gives the US a relatively easy path to the semi-finals.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Olympic Hockey Scenarios

For the second straight Winter Games, the United States has toppled the host nation in round robin play. With just one game left on the slate for Groups A and B, the bracketed portion of the tournament is starting to take shape. Before getting into the possible scenarios, here is how the seeding for the knockout portion of the tournament is decided.

  • Teams are seeded based on order of finish in their groups. The 3 first place teams get the top 3 seeds, then the 2nd place teams, 3rd place teams and so forth. 
  • Teams receive 3 points for a regulation win, 2 for an OT/Shootout win and 1 for an OT/Shootout loss.
  • Amongst each set of teams that finished in the same place, they are seeded based on points.
  • Any ties on points are broken by Goal Differential, Goals Scored, then IIHF World Ranking.
Here's a look at the current standings as we head into the last day of Round Robin play.

Group A
Note: Record is displayed as W-OTW-OTL-L

Remaining Games:
Slovakia vs Russia (7am EST)
USA vs Slovenia (7am EST)

Group B

Remaining Games:
Norway vs Austria (3am EST)
Canada vs Finland (noon EST)

Group C
Czech Rep

No Remaining Games


The four positions in Group C have been decided. Group B has the easier scenarios. The Canada-Finland game will decide 1st and 2nd place while the Norway-Austria game will decide 3rd and 4th place. The USA currently leads Group A, but the scenarios in Group A are more wide open. For the United States, having the game against Russia was tremendously important for their long-term outlook in the tournament. In all likelihood (except for some very unlikely scenario where the US would lose to Slovenia and Russia would lose to Slovakia), the US and Russia will find themselves on opposite halves of the bracket. The winner of Group A will be either the #2 or #3 seed while the second place team will probably be the #4 or #5 seed. This means that the US would not have to face Russia again until the final round. The best case scenario for the US would be for America, Canada and Russia to all win in regulation so that Canada was the #1 overall seed, Sweden #2, the US #3, Russia #4, and Finland #5. This would mean that the US wouldn't have to face Canada, Russia or Finland until the medal round.

Group A Scenarios

The US will win Group A with...
  • A win over Slovenia (either in regulation or OT)
  • An overtime loss to Slovenia if Russia-Slovakia also goes to OT
Russia will win Group A with...
  • A win over Slovakia in regulation and a US loss (either in regulation or OT)
  • A win over Slovakia in OT and a US loss in regulation
Slovenia will win Group A with...
  • A win in regulation over the US and a Russia loss (either in regulation or OT)
The Four Byes

The three group winners plus the top 2nd place team receive byes through the first round of the tournament. Sweden has already clinched one of the byes and the winner of Canada-Finland will receive another. The US can clinch first place in Group A by beating Slovenia, regardless of if it is in regulation or in overtime. If Russia beats Slovakia in regulation and the Canada-Finland game ends in regulation, Russia will be the #4 seed in the tournament as the top-ranked 2nd place team with 7 points to 6 for Switzerland and the Canada-Finland loser. Things could get complicated if games go to overtime, because the Canada-Finland loser could get an extra point which would put them also at 7 points with Russia. Russia winning in overtime would mean they would only finish with 6 points, which would put them in a 3-way tie with Switzerland and the Canada-Finland loser (or put Russia in 5th place if Canada-Finland also goes to OT). 

Since the Norway-Austria game will really only decide the #9 and #11 or #12 seeds, it has no bearing on the Group winners and the 4 teams that get byes.

If Canada-Finland ends in regulation...

Canada-Finland ending in regulation makes Group B relatively simple. The winner will have 9 points and the loser will have 6. 
  • The winner of Canada-Finland will be the #1 overall seed in the tournament and Sweden will be #2 based on Goal Differential (Finland is currently +9, Canada is +8 and Sweden is +5). 
  • The winner of Group A will be the #3 overall seed. Sweden and the Canada-Finland winner will have 9 points while the most the Group A winner could have would be 8.
    • The US will win Group A and get the #3 seed if they beat Slovenia (either in regulation or in OT). Any US win over Slovenia automatically makes Russia the 2nd place team in Group A.
    • Russia will win Group A if they beat Slovakia in regulation and the US loses to Slovenia (either in regulation or OT) OR if they beat Slovakia in overtime and the US loses to Slovenia in regulation. 
    • Slovenia can win Group A if they beat the US in regulation and Russia loses, either in regulation or OT).
  • Unless the margin of victory in the Canada-Finland game is 8 or more goals, Switzerland can not be the #4 seed. If the margin of victory in the Canada-Finland game is less than 8, the #4 seed will be either the loser of Canada-Finland or the 2nd place team from Group A. 
    • If the US beats Slovenia and Russia wins in regulation, Russia will be the #4 seed.
    • If the US beats Slovenia and Russia wins in OT, the Canada-Finland loser will be the #4 seed.
    • If Slovenia wins in regulation and Russia wins, Russia will win Group A and Slovenia will be in 2nd. The Canada-Finland loser will be the #4 seed.
    • If Slovenia wins in regulation and Russia loses, Slovenia will win Group A and the Canada-Finland loser will be the #4 seed.
    • If Slovenia wins in OT and Russia wins in regulation, Russia will win Group A and Team USA will finish 2nd. The US will be the #4 seed if Canada wins by 4+ or if Finland wins by 3+. Any lesser goal differential would result in the Canada-Finland loser being the #4 seed.
    • If Slovenia wins in OT and Russia-Slovakia goes to overtime, the US will win Group A and the Canada-Finland loser will be the #4 seed. 
    • If Slovenia wins in OT and Russia loses regulation, the US will win Group A and the Canada-Finland loser will be the #4 seed.
If Canada-Finland ends in overtime....

The scenarios actually simplify themselves a bit if the Canada-Finland game goes to OT. In this case, the winner of Canada-Finland would only have 8 points while the loser would have 7. 
  • Sweden will be the #1 overall seed in the tournament as the only team with 9 points. The Canada-Finland winner and the Group A winner will be the #2 and #3 seeds.
  • The Canada-Finland loser will be the #4 seed unless:
    • Canada loses in OT, the US wins, and Russia wins by 5+
    • Finland loses in OT, the US wins, and Russia wins by 7+
  • The Canada-Finland winner will be the #2 seed unless:
    • Canada wins in OT and the US wins by 3+
    • Finland wins in OT and the US wins by 4+
When we will know things

Given that Group C has already concluded play, we know that Sweden will be in the top 3 seeds, Switzerland somewhere between 4th and 6th, the Czechs between 7th and 9th, and Latvia in between 10th and 12th. Additionally, due to their head-to-head loss, Slovakia can not pass Slovenia for 3rd in Group A so the Slovaks will be seeded between 10th and 12th. The first game tomorrow is at 3am EST between Norway and Austria, who are both winless in the tournament. The loser will join Slovakia and Latvia in the 10th-12th seeds. The winner will join the Czechs in the 7-9 seeds.

Group A concludes play tomorrow morning with the two games starting at 7am EST. Once Group A gets sorted out, everything else should fall into place for the Group B First Place Game at noon. The best case scenario for the United States lies in winning in regulation and getting the #3 seed and hoping that the Canada-Finland game is decided in regulation so that they don't have to face either team until the medal round (or for Finland to win so that Canada and Russia find themselves on the same half of the bracket).

I should not that after the opening round the advancing teams are re-seeded based on which teams advance, but it is bracketologically impossible for the #3 seed to face the #5 seed in the second round, so should the US be the #3 seed, they would not face the #4 seed (who would also get a bye) or the #5 seed (presumably Russia and the Canada-Finland loser) until the medal round.

For reference, if the bracketed portion of the tournament began right now, the seeds would be: 1. Sweden, 2. Finland, 3. USA, 4. Canada, 5. Switzerland, 6. Russia, 7. Czech Rep, 8. Slovenia, 9. Norway, 10. Latvia, 11. Slovakia, 12. Austria. The top 4 (Sweden, Finland, USA, Canada) would get byes to the second round. The first round matchups would be 5. Switzerland vs 12. Austria, 6. Russia vs 11. Slovakia, 7. Czech Rep vs 10. Latvia, 8. Slovenia vs 9. Norway. With re-seeding, the lowest advancing seed from those 4 games would play the #1 seed (Sweden), the second lowest advancing seed the #2 seed (Finland), and so forth.