There’s supposition, and then there’s fact. Mel Kiper is supposition; Tony Villiotti is fact.
Everybody knows who Kiper is. He’s the star of ESPN’s draft coverage. He’s the father of it. In some ways, Kiper is the very identity of the NFL draft.
So who is Villiotti?
Well, once upon a time, he tried to be Kiper, which is to say another draftnik offering another value board and another mock draft in a sea of meaningless opinion. Villiotti quickly discovered the draft hype had enough Kipper wannabes, so Villiotti, a former corporate bean counter and numbers cruncher, came up with a new idea: Instead of looking forward, he’d turn his attention backward.
Villiotti is the creator of Draftmetrics.com, and NFL teams are far more interested in what Villiotti has to say than they are in what Kiper says because Villiotti, you see, provides teams with information they can trust.
For example, Villiotti crunched the numbers and came up with an intriguing flow chart on what draft positions in the first round have produced the most success between 2002-2011. He ranked the picks according to career starts, draftees in the Pro Bowl at least once, total Pro Bowl appearances and rookie starters.
The Kansas City Chiefs are no doubt happy to know that draft position No. 11, the position the Chiefs hold in this draft, is No. 1 on Villiotti’s flow chart: 707 career starts, six draftees in the Pro Bowl at least once, 21 total Pro Bowl appearances and seven rookie starters.
Draft position 24 (Steelers) is No. 2, position three (Vikings) is No. 3, position eight (Dolphins) is No. 4 and position two (Redskins) is No. 5. The Packers hold the 28th overall pick, which is No. 22 in the success rankings. Alas, the poor Browns, who hold the 22nd overall pick, which is the worst position in the first round at producing success.
Another piece of Villiotti research: The Panthers lead the league over the last 10 years in retention of first-round picks, 88.9 percent of them still being with the team. The Packers are at 60 percent.
Here’s some information on quarterbacks: Of the starters on the 19 teams Villiotti judges to be set at quarterback, the Packers being one of those teams, 14 of the quarterbacks were first-round picks, two were second-round picks, one was taken in each of the third and sixth rounds, and one was undrafted. Quarterbacks selected in the first five picks of the draft account for more than 30 percent of the overall starts at the position leaguewide.
So what good is that kind of information? Well, it might help a team shape its value board. It might help “weight” certain positions, such as quarterback, so that the need to find that player at a certain point in the order is reflected in the process’ scoring system.
Villiotti showed his work to an old-time personnel boss who’s long been in retirement, and the old guy quickly replied that he wished Villiotti’s information had been available to the personnel man when he was making the picks.
The look-ahead game is certainly more fun because it introduces debate, but Villiotti’s research is unimpeachable. It truly is what it is.
Here’s one that would interest any GM: Villiotti’s research led him to create eight picks value groups. Leading the way is picks 1-13. Then comes 14-28, 29-44, 45-66, 67-100, 101-141, 142-181, and 182 and later.
It’s a fact.