Sports Illustrated recently published a piece about the uniqueness of the 2006 Saints draft class — the group that included longtime Saints starters Reggie Bush, Roman Harper, Jahri Evans, Zach Strief and Marques Colston. Current Patriots starter Rob Ninkovich was also part of that class (and on the field for the most memorable play in Mercedes-Benz Superdome history) but failed to stick with the Saints (are you back from watching Steve Gleason’s punt block yet?). That draft class was obviously great, but where does it rank compared to NFL draft classes of the last 10 years? Analyzing data from Pro Football Reference suggests that draft class was the best in the NFL since 2005.

Pro Football Reference has a statistic it uses called Approximate Value (AV). The formula is complex, but it’s basically football’s attempt to replicate baseball’s Wins Above Replacement statistic.

Each player is assigned an AV and that can be used to help evaluate a team’s draft class.

To begin with I counted up how much AV was produced by each pick in the NFL draft from 2005 through 2014 and divided that number by the total AV produced by all players in those drafts. The result is the below chart showing the percent of AV produced by draft pick from 2005 to 2014.

Percent of AV Produced by Draft Pick, 2005 - 2014.
Percent of AV Produced by Draft Pick, 2005 – 2014.

In a perfect world, the first pick would produce the greatest percent of AV while the last pick would produce the least. This chart shows that teams generally do well, but the NFL draft is inefficient and filled with booms and busts. The first pick has been good in the past 10 years, but the 11th pick (JJ Watt, Patrick Willis, DeMarcus Ware) and the 24th pick (Aaron Rodgers, Chris Johnson, Dez Bryant) have been better over that time. The 10th pick, by comparison, is a depressing group of mostly busts.

Each pick from 2005 to 2014 can be assigned an expected AV percentage (the percent of a year’s total AV that draft pick should produce). The difference between the expected and actual AV percentage determines whether a pick was a success or failure.

To rank drafts I compared each team’s actual AV to its expected AV for the team’s picks. I only used picks that were made, so to hone in on analyzing how a team evaluates the players it selects rather than how well it trades.

The 2006 Saints selected 2nd (Bush), 43rd (Harper), 108th (Evans), 135th (Ninkovich), 171st (Mike Hass), 174th (Josh Lay), 201th (Strief) and 252nd (Colston). Those picks would be expected to produce 3.95 percent of the 2006  draft’s AV, but it actually produced 7.64 percent of the draft’s AV. That’s nearly double the expected value. By this measure, Evans and Colston produced 1.41 percent and 1.22 percent above their expected AV, making them the 14th and 29th best draft picks of the last 10 years.

Applying this methodology to every draft class over the last 10 years produces a ranking of every team’s draft class from No. 1 to No. 320. At the top of that list is the 2006 Saints class.

NFL Draft Ranking, 2005 - 2014.
NFL Draft Ranking, 2005 – 2014.

It comes as no surprise that the 2011 and 2012 Seahawks draft classes are ranked so well as they produced the top two players in the last 10 years in Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson. Logan Mankins anchors the 2005 Patriots draft class as the sixth best player drafted relative to his expected value in the past 10 years. The 2006 Saints lead the way though.

Since 2006, subsequent Saints draft classes haven’t performed nearly as well.

Saints Draft Class Grades, 2005 - 2014.
Saints Draft Class Grades, 2005 – 2014.

This method likes the 2013 Saints draft class (Kenny Vaccaro, Terron Armstead, Kenny Stills) and the 2008 (Tracy Porter, Carl Nicks) class to a lesser degree. This method dislikes the Saints draft class from last year (Brandin Cooks and not much else) and 2011 (Cameron Jordan, Mark Ingram and not much else).

The full matrix with every team’s grade for every year is provided below. According to this, the Saints have been the third best drafting team in the last 10 years behind the Seahawks and Packers. According to this, the Seahawks have been better than every other NFL team at the draft since 2005, and the Rams have been far and away the NFL’s worst drafting team.

Unsurprisingly, many of the teams at the top of this list have had significant postseason success while the worst drafting teams of the past decade haven’t won a ton of games.

NFL Draft Grade by Team, 2005 - 2014.
NFL Draft Grade by Team, 2005 – 2014.

So there you have it. The next time you get into an argument about which NFL team has had the best draft of the last 10 years you can send them this article and proclaim it was the 2006 New Orleans Saints.

This post was originally published by The New Orleans Advocate.