Both Popular NFL Draft Pick Value Charts Are Flawed

By Akiva Goldenberg

Both the Jimmy Johnson and Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective’s (HSAC) NFL Draft pick value charts are incorrect when determining the value of selections. Both have significant flaws, which I will mention in this article, but in each case the individual who made the chart had a good idea.

According to Kevin Meers of HSAC, Jimmy Johnson invented his NFL Draft pick value chart in the 1980s. The idea was simply to create a standardized table that Johnson could use as a reference when determining the value of each selection if he wanted to trade for/away picks. It was a nice sentiment but as Meers pointed out in his article the problem with Johnson’s approach was that he used completely “arbitrary”, or as I would put it opinion based, values.

If one was to try to determine the value of a seventh round pick according to the Johnson chart, they would find that the value is close to zero. This may be the attitude of NFL teams but based on the success of late round picks and undrafted players I have to disagree with that mentality.

Meers is the individual who developed the HSAC chart and he also had a good idea. He wanted to use statistical data to determine the value of each draft selection and so he utilized the Approximate Value (AV) method data, from, for players from the 1980-2005 NFL Drafts. The first mistake he made was using the AV data because Doug Drinen, the developer of the data Meers used, admitted he used “lots of arbitrary” values when determining how many points each player earned.

This essentially means that all of Meers data was based on the opinion of another individual, so his statistical analysis was all for naught. Other problems with the HSAC chart include that it only provided values for 224 selections, this year’s NFL Draft had 253, and that it completely ignores the rookie wage scale introduced in 2011 since the data Meers used was from 1980-2005.

The value of all of the first round picks has increased substantially with the introduction of the rookie wage scale because the difference in salary cost for a first round rookie in 2011/2012 was far lower than that of one from 2010. For example in 2011 Cam Newton, the first overall pick that year, agreed to a four year contract worth $22 million with the Carolina Panthers but his predecessor from 2010, Sam Bradford, signed a $78 million contract for a duration of six year with the St.Louis Rams.

Fans should know that the difference in maximum cost per year between those two contracts is $7.5 million per year. Based on the amount saved by Carolina the value of the first overall pick that the team used to select Newton was far more valuable than the one the Rams used to select Bradford.

Personally I would not use either chart if I was a general manager in the NFL. To further elaborate I’d like to introduce some key terms. A team that is trading down will be identified as the seller and the team that is trading up will be called the buyer.

In this market, the NFL Draft, a seller should try to manipulate the perceived value of the pick he’s trading away. Since this market is extremely dynamic, and depends on what prospects are available, a seller needs to take advantage of the buyer as much as he possibly can.

Also since the market is dynamic the buyer may trade away a number of valuable picks for the opportunity to select a specific player. Yes, it is obvious that the buyer is taking a much greater risk in this case than the seller, but due to the value of specific positions, such as the quarterback, teams are willing to take huge risks for the potential of obtaining a premium talent.

The perspective of most general managers is that the chance of success involved with a major trade up in the draft often outweighs the risk.

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