Counting the ways to build Super team

INDIANAPOLIS -- Super Bowls provide validation for players, coaches and organizations.

There are more ways than one to get there, however.

2011 Starts by Own Draft Picks

Top-notch quarterback play can cover lots of blemishes, as the AFC champion New England Patriots proved. They went 13-3 with a defense that ranked 31st in yards allowed and 26th in Total QBR allowed.

General patterns trump black-and-white rules when it comes to building a championship team.

Recent work from draftmetrics.com shows how team composition correlated with 2011 success. I've broken out charts showing where NFC West teams ranked in games started by homegrown draft choices (first chart) and veterans acquired through free agency (second one).

The draftmetrics.com research shows teams succeeding, in general, when their own draft choices started more games. Teams ranking closer to the middle of the pack in starts by veteran free agents also fared better than those on the margins.

2011 Starts by Veteran FA

The St. Louis Rams jump out right away. They led the NFL in most starts by veterans signed from other teams. They ranked last in starts by their own draft choices. That combination, exaggerated by an unusual number of injuries, helped explain why the Rams finished with a 2-14 record.

The top 10 teams in starts by homegrown draft choices went 89-71 last season, including 13-3 by the San Francisco 49ers. The middle 12 teams went 95-97. The bottom 10 teams went 72-88. Seattle ranked fifth from the bottom, in part because the Seahawks have cut ties with so many draft choices from previous regimes (think Aaron Curry, Kelly Jennings, etc.).

The top 10 teams in starts by veteran free agents went 67-93. Teams in the bottom 10 went 80-80. The middle 12 teams were most successful on the whole, going 109-83. But two teams barely falling into that middle group, New England and San Francisco, pumped up the overall record.

Note: I'm heading over to Radio Row here shortly and hope to run across some NFC West types.