Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Building a Super Bowl Team: How the Giants and Patriots Constructed their Rosters

by John Huffstetler

An NFL GM might have the most difficult job in sports. So many intricate details interweave to form the structure of an NFL franchise. Each position on the field from Offense to Defense to Special Teams must be at least passable to avoid the opposing coach exposing minuscule cracks in the roster. To put together a playoff-caliber team, an NFL GM must succeed in drafting players, signing free agents, and making occasional trades to fill any voids in the roster. To analyze the question of how the best teams in the league become the best, I examined the roster breakdown of both the New England Patriots and the New York Giants to determine how their acquisitions led them to the Super Bowl this year. Both teams had two major elements in common: 1) the majority of their rosters developed through the draft, and 2) most of their free agents signings were undervalued players added to fill needs on the roster.

Player Acquisition

Here is a complete breakdown of how every impact player (starters and key reserves) joined the team for both the Giants and the Patriots by position. Undrafted Free agents and draft day trades count towards the Draft tally for the purposes of this analysis.

NY Giants


QB- Manning- Draft day trade- 1st rd 2004

RB- Jacobs- Draft- 4th rd 2005

Bradshaw- Draft- 7th rd 2007

Ware- FA from NYJ

WR- Nicks- Draft- 1st rd 2009

Manningham- Draft- 3rd rd 2008

Cruz- Undrafted FA 2011

TE- Ballard- Undrafted FA 2010

FB- Hynoski- Undrafted FA 2011

OL- Diehl- Draft- 5th rd 2003

Boothe- FA from Oak

Baas- FA from SF

Snee- Draft- 2nd rd 2004

McKenzie- FA from NYJ

Offensive Breakdown- Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 10/14 (71%)

Free Agents- 4/14 (29%)

The Giants offense developed by hitting on early round selections (Manning, Nicks, Snee, and Manningham), and landing several great steals in late round picks and undrafted free agents, notably Victor Cruz, Ahmad Bradshaw, and David Diehl. They did not apportion many high draft picks to selecting Offensive lineman (only Snee in 2nd rd 04 and Beatty in 3rd rd 09), opting instead to build their line through moderately priced free agents.

Defense/Special Teams

DL- Tuck- Draft- 3rd rd 2005

Pierre-Paul- Draft- 1st rd 2010

Umenyiora- Draft- 2nd rd 2003

Joseph- Draft- 2nd rd 2010

Canty- FA from Dallas

Bernard- FA from Sea

Tollefson- FA from Oak

LB- Boley- FA from ATL

Blackburn- Undrafted FA 2005

Williams- Draft- 6th 2011

Kiwanuka- Draft- 1st rd 2006

Jones- Draft- 6th rd. 2011

DB- Webster- Draft- 2nd rd 2005

Ross- Draft- 1st rd 2007

Amukamara- Draft- 1st rd 2011

Phillips- Draft- 1st rd 2008

Grant- FA from Sea

Rolle- FA from Ariz

Blackmon- FA from GB

K- Tynes- Trade from KC

P- Weatherford- FA from NYJ

Defensive Breakdown- Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 12/21 (57%)

Free Agents- 8/21 (38%)

Trades- 1/21 (5%)

The Giants allocated both more high draft picks and more money in free agency on Defense than on Offense. 9 of their 19 defensive contributors were selected in the first 3 rounds of the NFL draft compared to just 4 offensively. Further, the Giants also spent heavily in free agency on Defense, signing Michael Boley, Antrel Rolle, and Chris Canty to contracts in excess of $5 million/year. General Manager Jerry Reese and Head Coach Tom Coughlin clearly emphasized the development of a strong defensive unit through their recent moves, and this philosophy worked as their defense keyed their turnaround late in the season after early season injury-related struggles.

New England


QB- Brady- Draft- 6th rd 2000

RB- Green-Ellis- Undrafted FA 2008

Woodhead- FA from NYJ

Faulk- Draft- 2nd rd 1999

Ridley- Draft- 4th rd. 2011

WR- Welker- Trade from Miami

Branch- Draft 2nd rd 2002 (Left in Free Agency and then rejoined the team)

Ochocinco- Trade from Cincy

Edelman- Draft- 7th rd. 2009

TE- Gronkowski- Draft- 2nd rd 2010

Hernandez- Draft- 4th rd 2010

OL- Light- Draft- 2nd rd. 2001

Mankins- Draft- 1st rd 2005

Connolly- FA from Jax

Waters- FA from KC

Solder- Draft- 1st rd 2011

Offensive Breakdown- Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 11/16 (69%)

Free Agents- 3/16 (19%)

Trades- 2/16 (13%)

The Pats developed more of their roster offensively through high draft picks than the Giants with 6 players drafted in the first 3 rounds, including 3 offensive lineman. Like the Giants, the Patriots hit on some late round picks and undrafted players, including the greatest draft pick and greatest player in NFL history, Tom Brady. They also used a rare NFL trade with success when they acquired Wes Welker from Miami for 2nd and 7th rd picks.

Defense/Special Teams

DL-Wilfork- Draft 1st rd 2004

Anderson- FA from Hou

Carter- FA from Wash

Love- Undrafted FA 2010

LB- White- Trade from Philly

Mayo- Draft- 1st rd 2008

Fletcher- Undrafted FA 2010

Ninkovich- FA from NO

Guyton- Undrafted FA 2008

Spikes- Draft- 2nd rd 2010

DB- McCourty- Draft- 1st rd. 2010

Ihedigbo- FA from NYJ

Chung- Draft- 2nd rd 2009

Arrington- FA from TB

Brown- Undrafted FA 2010

Molden- Waivers from Hou

Slater- Draft- 5th rd 2008

Bodden- FA from Det

K- Gostkowski- Draft- 4th rd. 2006

P- Mesko- Draft- 5th rd. 2010

Defensive Breakdown- Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 12/20 (60%)

Free Agents- 7/20 (35%)

Trades- 1/20 (5%)

Unlike the Giants, the Pats developed less of their roster defensively through high picks and higher priced free agents. Only 4 of their 18 defensive contributors were selected in the first 3 rounds, and the Pats highest paid free agent on defense makes less than $3 million/year. The Patriots defense, however, is not as strong a unit as the Giants D either.

Overall Analysis

Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 45/71 (63%)

Free Agents- 22/71 (31%)

Trades- 4/71 (6%)

The Giants and Pats clearly used different acquisition strategies to form their current rosters, but both teams still acquired roughly 2/3rds of their players through the draft. The Giants allotted the majority of their resources to developing their defense, while the Patriots spent more draft picks on their offensive line and tight ends. Surprisingly, the Patriots have hit on only 12 of 29 (41%) high draft picks (1st- 3rd rounds) so far between 2003 and 2010, but they’ve managed to survive based on their ability to obtain extra draft picks by trading back, and their ability to find undervalued free agents from other rosters. Conversely, the Giants hit on 14 of their 22 (64%) selections during that same period, but only experienced slightly more success because of the Pats additional picks. Both teams found several key players late in the draft and as undervalued free agents, which coupled with their high draft selections propelled them to the Super Bowl this year.

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  1. what's very interesting is the lack of emphasis that both teams put on the running back position, yet they both have very serviceable running backs. not a single one was picked before the 4th round, besides faulk who was picked almost 15 years ago. i think it's the sign of a new age in the nfl, where teams realize that the offensive line does most of the work. only if a guy like peterson comes along who can really run through a whole defense should you use a high draft pick on an rb

  2. montana > elway > unitas > manning > brady....who might no longer be better than Eli Manning. When all is said and done, it is very possible that both Manning brother's will be recognized at superior to Brady. Remember....Brady wasn't dominant during the first 2 SB runs, and his team had been cheating for god knows how long.

    1. First of all, this was an article dissecting the playoff rosters of both teams and you chose to single out one completely unrelated comment. Great analysis here by using the greater than signs like a 6th grade math class. You just said Tom Brady might not be better than Eli Manning, showing your complete bias and making everything you said irrelevant. Brady has more super bowls than both Manning's combined.

    2. Great article and this moron makes us NY fans look like idiots. Jets fans always talking about the cheating stuff and Giants idiots like the one above making idiotic Eli Manning comments

    3. Hahaha thanks, appreciate the positive feedback. We're going to be breaking down other rosters similarly in the next few weeks, so come back and check them out. We will be examining the Jets, Skins, Colts, Packers, and Rams, to name a few.

  3. I think I agree with the first guy....Manning might be establishing himself as the best clutch QB of his generation, superior to Brady, Rodgers, and even his brother.

    As for the building of a contending team, my Steelers team has set the standard for building through the draft and intelligent but non-glamorous FA's. That's why we're always competitive.

    The opposite of the idiots in Philly and NYJ.....

    1. The Steelers are definitely a model for the intelligent way to build a team. They will look to rebuild the Offensive line intelligently in the draft and may even look for a younger option at Defensive End as well.

      As for the QB's, I don't put Eli in the same class as a Brady, Rodgers, Peyton, or even a Roethlisberger, and credit more of the defensive line for the success of the Giants in both of their Super Bowl runs.

    2. My Steelers are going to need to address speed in their linebackers and secondary as well. As much as I hate to admit it, Eli is better than Ben...I'd swap them in a heart beat. The guy is winning games for the Giants, playing near mistake-free football down the run, and making all the right decisions with the ball. But his lights out receivers are a big part of it. That said, its Eli play and leadership that have me expecting him to get his 2nd SB MVP award next week. F the Pats!!!

    3. You're right about the secondary and they always load up on linebackers in the draft. I think this is an important draft in general for the Steelers with several core defensive players aging and their offensive line in need of more consistent play. Their recent drafts (under Tomlin) have indicated a trend towards overdrafting skill position players and it will be interesting to see if that continues.