The numbers show that keeping George Paton in charge of Broncos drafting is a good idea
Apr 17, 2023, 4:35 PM
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
In the next fortnight, we’ll likely receive some indication as to whether Payton or Paton has more sway this year.
Both have enjoyed success — albeit with different means. Sean Payton’s Saints had fewer picks than anyone else during his time as New Orleans head coach. Yet they had a knack for nailing the process. The quality-over-quantity process worked for New Orleans, never better than in the 2017 draft that set the stage for four-straight division titles and five-consecutive winning seasons before Payton stepped away after the 2021 season.
George Paton, meanwhile, has often espoused the merits of the “more darts” philosophy. It’s why numerous recent Broncos trades include a mid-to-late-round pick coming back to the team. A sixth- or seventh-round dart has value to the third-year general manager.
At the NFL league meeting three weeks ago, Paton said the Broncos would be “more inclined” to trade down rather than move up in the draft. However, some players in whom the Broncos have reported interest — Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave and SMU WR Rashee Rice — are likely to be off the board when the Broncos go on the clock in Round 3.
Paton has enjoyed success going in both directions. A trade up netted Javonte Williams in 2021. Later in that draft, a trade down in Round 3 allowed the Broncos to turn one third-round pick into both Baron Browning and Quinn Meinerz. And both are reasons why Paton has been one of the NFL’s most efficient drafters in the last two seasons.
A look at the Broncos’ draft picks — as measured by Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value metric — reveals this.
In two years, the Broncos have received 74 points of AV from their 19 draft picks. That raw average of 3.89 points per choice ranks 13th. Relative to seasons — two seasons for 2021 picks, one for 2022 choices — the Broncos rank 12th.
But when incorporating the value of each draft slot into play, the Broncos under Paton fare better.
Using the Jimmy Johnson draft-pick value model, The Broncos got one point of approximate value for every 38.3 points of draft-pick value. That rate is the league’s sixth-best over the last two seasons, trailing only the Rams and Chiefs.
A significant chunk of that comes from Pat Surtain, of course. The 2021 first-round pick and 2022 first-team All-Pro has 21 points of approximate value. But the Broncos reaped rewards from Browning (11 points), Williams (9 points), seventh-round pick Jonathon Cooper (9 points) and Meinerz (8 points).
In the 2021 draft, the Broncos’ draft class was second in total AV, trailing only Dallas. But the Broncos ranked 25th in 2021 in total draft-pick value, with 2,831 points of pick value.
It didn’t work out as well last year, although the Broncos did punch slightly above their weight.
With the 27th-most draft capital, the Broncos’ collective pick AV ranked 23rd. But relative to draft capital, the Broncos’ draft was sixth-best. Denver got one point of AV for every 52.0 points of draft capital.
Thanks to the Russell Wilson trade, Paton must do more with less. The Wilson trade can’t be ignored in assessing Paton’s ledger, of course. And if Wilson had come close to playing at his Seahawks level, Payton may not be the Broncos’ coach right now.
But after years of less-efficient drafting — noted in the last two weeks in this space — Paton has maximized his capital better than most general managers.
And with just five picks in next week’s draft, the Broncos’ best play is to let Paton do what he’s shown he can do well: wring the most value out of what the team has.