Jeff Ireland has been among the most polarizing in a long list of polarizing figures for the Dolphins over the years – Wannstedt, Cameron, Saban, Henne, Ginn, Fiedler, etc. He is quite literally hated by many Dolphin fans and their contempt for him may make it impossible for those people to consider the job he has done in an objective way. But I love a challenge, so I will tilt at that windmill in a quixotic attempt to show that, objectively speaking, Jeff Ireland has done a pretty good job. The problem has been that finding objective measures of GM performance is not easy and, even more importantly, the critics seem wholly unwilling to even try to compare his performance with other GMs. It is like baseball fans who would complain that Ted Williams was a lousy hitter because he got out almost two-thirds of the time and then use individual at bats or strikeouts to point out how bad he was. Now, I am not suggesting that Jeff Ireland is anywhere near as good a GM as Ted Williams was a hitter, just that both Ireland and Williams work(ed) in a field in which failure is the norm and where one can only be considered a failure if one fails more than ones peers.
I started this in another thread but have finished the basic research in an attempt to objectively evaluate the job Jeff Ireland has done since he has been in Miami. While he has not had final say his entire time here and there are varying reports as to which picks were his or Parcells, I’m not sure which or how much of those reports I believe. For purposes of this evaluation, I am looking at the Dolphins’ draft history from 2008 through 2011. Because the 2012 draftees have not yet played a down, there is no objective or empirical data for them, so the 2012 draft is not really a part of this.
Pro-football-reference.com has a summary stat called Approximate Value, which they show on their site as CarAV (Career Approximate Value). The stat is described in excruciating detail here: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?page_id=518. This stat attempts to put a value on every player, regardless of position. While one can argue the merits of the methodology, it is at least objective in the sense that in no way can it be argued that PFR has tweaked this stat in order to either paint Ireland in a positive light or a more negative one.
Since Ireland has been here (2008 to the present), his drafts have produced players with a total CarAV of 198. Here is how Ireland's drafts stack up against the other 31 teams over that same time period:
1. Falcons -- 243
2. Eagles -- 227
3. Packers – 226
4. KC – 224
5. Denver – 222
6. Detroit – 219
7. Titans -- 217
8. Patriots -- 205
9. Dolphins/Ireland -- 198
10. Ravens – 198
11. Houston -- 188
12. Carolina -- 185
13. Arizona – 184
14. Seattle – 181
15. Cincy – 179
16. Indy – 178
17. Oakland -- 171
18. Rams – 165
19. TB -- 164
20. Bills – 160
21. Chicago – 155
22. Jax -- 153
23. Dallas – 151
24. SF – 151
25. NO – 224
26. Giants -- 140
27. Steelers – 138
28. Vikings – 134
29. Washington -- 129
30. Cleveland -- 126
31. NYJ – 119
32. SD -- 102
As indicated, the Dolphins under Ireland have the 9th highest total CarAV (tied with Baltimore) since 2008, which puts them in the top third of the league. These figures are only for drafted players so undrafted acquisitions like Cameron Wake (CarAV of 22) and Davone Bess (CarAV of 22) are not included, nor are players acquired via trade.
Not every team has the same amount of draft “currency” to deal with. It is easier to hit on players if you have more picks or higher picks. So I wanted to compare draft results by taking into account how much draft currency the teams had to work with. For this, I used the draft trade value charts to give an indication of the value of each pick in terms of this currency. There are different versions of the trade value chart around and for this exercise I used this one: http://www.draftcountdown.com/features/Value-Chart.php. The usefulness or accuracy of this chart is questionable in my opinion, as it tends to overvalue the very top picks, but it has nonetheless become a pretty well accepted tool for valuing draft picks.
Due to time limitations and some degree of laziness, I only did the draft currency analysis for the top 10 teams on the list above, plus the Giants and Steelers, two teams that did not do that well in the CarAV analysis but which are often discussed as among the top personnel departments in the NFL. Mostly, I just wanted to see if Ireland’s pretty solid showing in the CarAV analysis was due to having much more draft currency than the other teams.
Adding up the draft trade chart value for all of the Dolphins picks from 2008-2011 gives a total of 8319.5 units/points. Since I am referring to it as currency, I will use the $ as the symbol and to make the math easier, I will look at CarAV per 1000 units of draft currency, or CarAV/$1000 to see which teams got the highest return on their draft currency investment. $1000 is equivalent to the 16th pick in the first round.
1. Eagles – 36.48 CarAV per $1000 (227 CarAV/$6222.6)
2. Packers – 36.3 CarAV per $1000 (226 CarAV/$6226.9)
3. Ravens – 34.8 CarAV per $1000 (198 CarAV/$5675.6)
4. Titans – 33.38 CarAV per $1000 (217 CarAV/6499.7)
5. Falcons – 28.19 CarAV per $1000 (243 CarAV/$8623.4)
6. Steelers – 26.40 CarAV per $1000 (138 CarAV/$5226.4)
7. Dolphins/Ireland – 23.79 CarAV per $1000 (198 CarAV/$8319.5)
8. Patriots – 23.51 CarAV per $1000 (205 CarAv/$8719)
9. Giants – 22.63 CarAV per $1000 (140 CarAV/$6186.4)
10. Chiefs – 19.67 CarAV per $1000 (224 CarAV/$11386.5)
11. Broncos – 19.05 CarAV per $1000 (222 CarAV/$11654.9)
12. Lions – 17.59 CarAV per $1000 (219 CarAV/$12446.4)
Accounting for the amount of draft currency used does have a significant impact on the analysis for some teams, but not so much for Ireland. The $8319.50 in draft currency (as defined herein) is about average. Some teams that had a hgiher CarAV over the 2008-2011 time period did so because they had a lot more draft currency to work with, e.g., Chiefs, Broncos and Lions. Others that had less CarAv than Ireland overtook him when their relatively low amounts of draft currency are taken into account. Nonetheless, Ireland’s draft performance remains in the top tier among NFL teams. The teams that come out ahead in the CarAV per $1000 of draft currency pretty well match the teams considered to have top front offices – Eagles, Packers, Ravens, Falcons and Steelers. The Titans may be a surprise to some, but their high CarAV is boosted significantly by Chris Johnson. Of course, several of these teams’ draft performance is boosted significantly by one or two picks over this 4 year period, e.g., Rice and Flacco for the Ravens, Ryan for the Falcons, McCoy and Jackson for the Eagles, etc.
The results of this “macro-economic” analysis are borne out by a closer examination of the top teams’ draft performance. Every team has its busts, including first and second round busts. For example:
Derek Sherrod (OT, 2011) -- 1st round pick who didn't start a game and played in only 5.
Randall Cobb (WR, 2011) -- 2nd round pick who didn't start a game and caught only 25 passes.
Alex Green (RB, 2011) -- 3rd round pick who rushed for 11 yards on a team looking for a running game.
Mike Neal (DE, 2010) -- 2nd round pick with 5 tackles and 1 sack in 2 seasons.
Brian Brohm (QB, 2008) -- 2nd round pick cut in camp.
Cameron Heyward (DE, 2011) -- 1st round pick who didn't start a game as a rookie. 11 total tackles.
Curtis Brown (DB, 2011) -- 3rd round pick with no starts and virtually no contribution.
Jason Worilds (LB, 2010) -- 2nd round pick with 27 tackles and 5 sacks in 2 seasons.
Kraig Urbik (OT, 2009) -- 3rd round pick who was inactive as a rookie and waived in camp the next season.
Limas Sweed (WR, 2008) -- 2nd round pick with 7 career receptions. Out of football for a few years already.
Sergio Kindle (DE/LB, 2010) -- 2nd round pick who has generally been inactive, with no stats in 2 seasons.
Paul Kruger (DE, 2009) -- 2nd round pick with 19 tackles in 3 seasons.
Prince Amukamara (CB, 2011) -- 1st round pick who played just 144 stats and gave up a 122.8 passer rating when thrown at.
Marvin Austin (DT, 2011) -- 2nd round pick who spent 2011 on IR and appears to be hurt again this year.
Jerrel Jernigan (WR, 2011) -- 3rd round pick with no catches as a rookie.
Chad Jones (DB, 2010) -- 3rd round pick with no NFL stats. No longer on team.
Clint Sintim (LB, 2009) -- 2nd round pick with 11 tackles and 1 sack in 3 seasons.
Akeem Dent (LB, 2011) – 3rd round pick who had 1 solo tackle as a rookie.
Mike Johnson (G, 2010) – 3rd round pick who hasn’t started a game in 2 seasons.
Peria Jerry (DT, 2009) – 1st round pick who has just 6 starts and 20 tackles in 3 seasons.
Christopher Owens (DB, 2009) – 3rd round pick with just 10 starts and 10 passes defensed in 3 seasons.
Chevis Jackson (DB, 2008) – 3rd round pick with just 3 starts and 7 passes defensed in 4 seasons.
People often seem to fail to put Ireland’s busts into perspective as compared to other GMs, including the most highly-reputed ones. Henne wasn't a huge success, but he was waayyyy better than Brian Brohm who GB took a pick before Henne and he was much better then Kevin O'Connell, who the Pats took a round later.
Pat White didn't do anything for us, but Clint Sintim and Paul Kruger, who the Giants and Ravens took in the 2nd that year, haven't done much more.
Patrick Turner was a bust, but not really any moreso than Rameses Barden (who the Giants took 2 picks earlier) or Brandon Tate (who the Pats took 4 picks earlier) or Derrick Williams (who the Lions took 5 picks earlier). And Limas Sweed, Malcolm Kelly and James Hardy were picked a round earlier the year before and were no better.
Shawn Murphy was a bust but not really any more of one than Marcus Smith (taken 4 picks earlier by Baltimore) or Jeremy Thompson (taken 8 picks earlier by GB) or Bruce Davis (taken 22 picks earlier by Pitt).
In recent years, one of the knocks has been that Ireland couldn’t find a QB or that he somehow didn’t value the position. It’s still early, but there are encouraging signs that he has now found a potential franchise QB. It took 4 years, but let’s take a closer look at the QB decisions that were made since Ireland got here. He inherited a team with John Beck as the apparent QB of the future. Some may chuckle at that, but there were plenty of people here who thought Beck would be that and that they shouldn’t take a QB in the 2008 draft. In retrospect, it is hard to say Ireland/Parcells erred in concluding that Beck would not be the guy. In the draft, they took the best player at No. 1 and that guy has gone to 4 consecutive Pro Bowls. In the second round, they chose Henne. Say what you will about Henne, but he has been much better than GB’s second round QB selection in that draft (Brohm) and better than the guy the Pats took a round later. Ireland ended up picking up Chad Pennington, who had a near MVP season and helped the team go from 1-15 to 11-5. Pennington got hurt 3 games into the 2009 season and Henne came in. He played reasonably well for a guy getting his first NFL action and nobody was suggesting the Dolphins take a QB early in the 2010 draft. And, of course, there wasn’t a QB worth taking – the options were Tim Tebow, Jimmy Claussen and Colt McCoy. Is anyone going to seriously argue that the Dolphins should have used a high pick on one of those guys? Henne plateaued in 2010 and taking a QB in early in the 2011 draft was a definite option. Indeed, by all accounts the Dolphins had serious interest in several of the top QBs in that draft. But they were taken before the Dolphins pick and the Dolphins had no second round pick to move up with. There was a hue and cry around these parts (but nowhere else as far as I can tell) over the Dolphins passing on Ryan Mallett in the 1st round, but he lasted till the 3rd round. He was 3rd string behind UDFA Brian Hoyer last year and narrowly beat out Hoyer for the backup job this preseason (with a preseason completion percentage of 49.2 and a ypa of just 4.47, with no completions beyond 10 yards past the LOS). Andy Dalton was an option, but most around here scoffed at the notion that he was even a 2nd or 3rd round talent. He had a nice rookie year, but is he a franchise QB? So the Dolphins passed on the QBs in the draft, brought in Pat Devlin as a UDFA (who has looked better than Mallett in his preseason playing time) and signed Matt Moore, who ended up as the Dolphins’ 2011 MVP. If Tannehill realizes the promise he has shown so far, it could be fairly said that Ireland made the best QB decision in 4 of the last 5 seasons.
The team Ireland inherited in 2008 was coming off a 1-15 season. It has been 31-33 since, averaging just under 8 wins a game. It has done that with some highly questionable coaching and mediocre (at best) play at QB (despite Henne still probably being the best choice of a poor group at the time). Ireland’s critics often point to the team’s record as compared to the top teams with the supposedly top front offices. But those top teams have had elite QBs and top head coaches. Does anyone seriously contend that the combo of Brady and Belichick isn’t worth 4-5 more wins per year than Henne and Sparano? Does anyone really believe that the combo of Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy isn’t worth 4 more wins per year than Henne and Sparano? Or Brees and Payton? Or Roethlisberger and Tomlin?
And if Ireland should be replaced, who should he be replaced with? Virtually all of the names bandied about are guys with no track record at all of making draft decisions. And that is the job (at least with regard to the draft). The young up-and-comers seem bright and shiny because they have no track record. If they did, or if they were held accountable for their teams’ draft, they would seem a lot less shiny. Of course, we don’t know what role, if any, they had in those teams’ good picks or their bad picks. Over a four year period, the difference between a good draft record and a bad one may come down to just one or two players. Unless we know that these assistant GMs or VPs of player personnel would have taken the same guys in the same spots if they were in charge, their presence in the room when those picks were made means virtually nothing.