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The Value of Things: Relitigating the Rick Smith Experience

How bad was he really at drafting in the middle rounds?

Oakland Raiders v Houston Texans

There are things in life you just know. You don’t need to study it. You don’t need to calculate it. You don’t have to watch a YouTube video. After all, we lived it. One of those things is that Rick Smith was not a good general manager. Oh sure, he was good at picking first rounders, but after that he was virtually worthless. If you can imagine this, there was a time when all Texans fans were happy that Bill O’Brien won the power struggle.

So, when we endeavor to answer the question of how good he was at drafting (along with one Brian Gaine draft) we have to be very careful. Bill James once said that any evaluation system (or statistic) that doesn’t have Babe Ruth as the best player of all-time is a bad one. That’s putting the cart before the horse. I could certainly cherry pick a stat that would make Rick Smith look bad, but we are actually seeking the truth.

So, I do two things before starting any project like this. The first thing is to clear my mind of any result I might think should come. That allows me to do the second thing which is to simply draft a method that will give us the answer, whatever that answer may be. So, that’s what we are doing here. The method was pretty simple. I took the weighted average value (WAV) for each player and compared that with the other players in that particular round. The first player in a round should have the highest WAV in that round and so forth. We averaged these results from 2007 to 2019 when Smith and Gaine did their drafts. I’m sure the results will surprise you.

The Results

1st Round: 17.33 Pick, 12.41 Rank

2nd Round: 18.64 Pick, 13.09 Rank

3rd Round: 16.29 Pick, 22.94 Rank

4th Round: 20.26 Pick, 17.33 Rank

5th Round: 20.15 Pick, 17.08 Rank

6th Round: 22.00 Pick, 15.47 Rank

7th Round: 17.92 Pick, 17.42 Rank

The idea that Smith was incompetent after the first round is obviously false. The Texans had a rough time in the third round, but that could be explained through a series of drafts at the end of the Kubiak era and beginning of the O’Brien era. Starting with DeVier Posey and ending with Louis Nix, the Texans picked a total of four players in two seasons that ended up producing virtually nothing. It included Nix, Sam Montgomery, and Brennan Williams.

It doesn’t mean that Smith was a genius in the draft room. His first rounders averaged a pro bowl level because he hit on J.J. Watt, Deandre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson, and Duane Brown. Yet, those are a lot of home runs hit for even the first round. The key is you have to acknowledge what everyone else in the industry was doing. Smith was slightly ahead of the curve in most rounds.

A lot of this comes into focus when we compare him with Caserio. Caserio became the draft guy (more or less) in New England in 2008 and kept that title through the 2020 draft. If we compare his drafts with the Texans drafts then we see what we might be able to expect moving forward.

Comparing Smith and Caserio WAV Scores

1st Round: 52.0 Texans, 41.4 Patriots

2nd Round: 25.4 Texans, 20.3 Patriots

3rd Round: 9.70 Texans, 10.5 Patriots

4th Round: 12.8 Texans. 16.2 Patriots

5th Round: 7.3 Texans, 9.4 Patriots

6th Round: 6.7 Texans, 8.8 Patriots

7th Round: 5.2 Texans, 5,4 Patriots

The advantage that the Patriots had was not quite as clear as you would possibly think. In fact, you could claim that Smith was a better drafter than Caserio/Belichick. His players had a higher average weighted average value overall and he was certainly better in the first and second rounds. Defenders of the evil empire would likely point out that New England picked later in the first round regularly. That certainly plays into it.

Beginning in the third round, Caserio was slightly better across the board, but not overwhelmingly though. The one area where the Patriots were better was in maneuvering around the draft to secure more selections. They selected a total of 116 players between 2008 and 2020. The Texans selected 97 players in that same time period. Not all of that can be blamed on the Laremy Tunsil trade or Deshaun Watson deal (the first one).

Nineteen players is equal to two drafts worth of players. Obviously, if you calculate the points each pick was worth that wouldn’t be true. Most of those were second and third rounders. Over a long period of time, the Patriots traded veteran players and allowed others to leave in free agency so they could get the draft pick compensation. Caserio was also willing to move up and down on draft day more often than Smith.

In other words, Caserio and Belichick weren’t better at picking players. They selected 26 players with a WAV of 25 or higher (the definition of a hit) while the Texans selected 21 such players. However, they had nearly 20 more opportunities to select those hits. That’s what Caserio knows going in and probably the science behind his Silicon Valley mumbo jumbo. The more opportunities you have the better your chances.

Can We Get Smith Back?

The general idea here is that Rick Smith was a lot better than people gave him credit for. If you could criticize him and Brian Gaine you would say they were generally too timid to move around to get more picks or move up when they needed to. Smith did it once and it was arguably the best selection he made. They just weren’t all that aggressive in getting extra draft capital. However, in terms of pure scouting they were just as adept at finding players as most other teams. As they often say, you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. Smith had his warts, but he was a solid general manager. It just took a few years in the abyss to realize it.