The NFL Draft’s opening round had a little bit of everything, from a team (Baltimore) failing to get its pick in on time and falling back a slot, to Prince Amukamara’s family’s hats, to that unexpected and curious guard run in the latter half of the first round (I’m not saying a guard shouldn’t go in the first, because you can often get great value by taking the clearly best player at a position like guard, I’m just questioning whether 20 of them should have gone).
But the stories for me of last night’s draft were the early quarterback craziness, and the two big trades to move up to take offensive skill players by the two division rivals from the NFC South.
First, the quarterback mayhem at the top of the draft: Cam Newton went first overall, then Tennessee surprised, well, everyone by taking Jake Locker with the #8 pick, then Jacksonville traded up with Washington to take Blaine Gabbert at #10, and Minnesota stunned us by taking Christian Ponder at #12. It settled down after that and no other quarterbacks went, though I suspect several will go to the remaining quarterback-hungry teams selecting near the top of round two.
Back in February, I talked about the effects of so many new coaches plus the labor issues halting free agency, and what effect it would have on the draft at the quarterback position. We saw some of that bear out, as Locker went earlier than his accuracy issues justify (when they say he’s the anti-Young, they must not mean by playing style and accuracy), and Christian Ponder went earlier than was expected when Minnesota felt it needed a quarterback.
Of course, there are two types of teams that can overreach in the draft. The first is those quarterback-needy teams that are affected by demand; the second are the contenders that convince themselves that they are “just one player away” and must pay a steep price to get what they want.
On the trades, I’m sure you will read plenty about how the Saints and Falcons had great first rounds. Most will just look at the players and not the price, and the immediate grades will be positive. They both overpaid greatly–the Falcons to jump up and take Julio Jones, and the Saints to move back into the first round to take Mark Ingram. So I’m not giving them as good of a grade.
I’m using the career data that Chase Stuart put together on the average career value by draft slot to try to estimate what the average expectation should be, which then allows us to see how Julio Jones and Mark Ingram have to be to justify the price paid. Atlanta jumped way up in the draft to #6, and had to give up a lot to do so, sending the Browns the 1st round pick this year (27th overall), along with their 2nd and 4th rounder this year, plus next year’s 1st round pick and 4th round pick. If we look at the value of those slots’ combined career value, we get 51 for the Atlanta pick, and 116 for the Browns’ haul of picks. Now, we can’t look at just straight value, because it is five players versus one, and Atlanta can fill those slots that would have gone to those picks with street free agents, which I can approximate with 7th rounder value as being “replacement level”. Doing that, Cleveland still doubles Atlanta. Even if we consider the marginal value of getting the likely best player in the deal, it is a huge difference.
This is why I said teams shouldn’t deal with future picks because the interest rate is too high. Next year’s first is not the same as this year’s second, even though teams who are willing to trade treat it that way because that is the option they have–to borrow against the future. How good does Julio Jones have to be make this a favorable trade, if Cleveland is just average with their use of those picks given historical averages? Probably close to a Hall of Famer, maybe it’s even if he’s as good as Keyshawn Johnson and Herman Moore. So, not only does he have to be a good solid #6 pick, but in the top 20% of all picks in that range.
Speaking of that post I wrote above where I compared Bill Belichick to a pawn shop broker, he is at it again. I’m sure he will catch some guff from local media types in Boston (gasp! he could have had Mark Ingram). But the Patriots got another first rounder, which could be higher next year unless the Saints get to a championship game, plus a 2nd rounder this year for letting the Saints get Ingram out of pawn. That’s a tremendous haul for New England, not the Saints. Running the same analysis using draft values as earlier for Jones, the Patriots doubled up the Saints in expected marginal value. Mark Ingram, who even the Saints didn’t think was a top 10 talent (I mean, they did let him go past and took Cameron Jordan instead at #24), has to play like an above average Top 10 pick at running back to justify this deal for the Saints and make the Patriots actually regret it.
Those are some steep prices. So, I expect pretty much everyone else to praise the Saints and Falcons today. It’s flashy and splashy. But drafts aren’t won the day after. They are won by making solid moves at the right cost. These players better be really, really good to make these moves even average, let alone worth a top grade.
[photo via Getty]