ESPN “Broke News” yesterday that St. Louis would trade their second overall pick, even flashing it on their crawl. (On a similar note, I’m breaking news that Kansas City will draft Andrew Luck at 11th overall if he were to somehow slip that far.) The details–things like to whom, and for how much–actual newsworthy items, were of course unannounced. Obviously, the Rams want to trade that second pick. RG III is hot, they have Bradford, and would like to rack up.
Of course, the issue is what the pick might be worth. Andrew Brandt said, “Draft trade chart flawed with new CBA. Top picks are same quality player at half the price, lesser cost brings higher value.” The Rams front office now loves Andrew Brandt. The second sentence is true. The problem with that statement, though, is that the draft trade chart was already terminally flawed. It was never based on actual results and analysis. It’s real creator was Dallas minority owner Mike McCoy, and what he did was look at four years worth of draft day trades, then create a chart based on the trades that happened so Dallas would have a quick reference of perceived value. Thus, a circular argument was created, draft pick trades are worth what specific teams decided to do between 1987 to 1990, and since then has become a self-fulfilling cycle.
No one bothered to actually check whether it matched reality of true asset worth. It was also created prior to the free agency era and escalating rookie costs for top picks (though no doubt the fact that teams placed so much “value” on those picks contributed to the rise). So when Andrew Brandt says it is flawed, it was always flawed. In recent years, the “value chart” has significantly overvalued the worth of the top 5 picks in trades, considering the costs.
As it turns out, even setting aside costs, it overvalues those top picks based only on relative performance difference. The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective (HSAC) has this chart, based on Approximate Value work done at pro-football-reference. Approximate Value is just that, an approximate number assigned to careers based on things like number of starting seasons, pro bowl selections, all pro selections, and the quality of the team on which the player was a starter. You can find exception with particular “Approximate Values” for a player, but over time, it provides a pretty good look at large groups of players, like draft picks. What we see is what we expect, the career values steadily decrease as draft position goes down.
However, the shape of that curve is not as steep as the Draft Value Chart used by most teams, meaning that the top picks are overvalued. The HSAC has a chart that illustrates this. They also a measure they call CAVOA (Career Approximate Value Over Average) that assigns a percentage to how valuable a pick is worth relative to the average pick. For example, the first pick is worth 494.6% of the average pick (or almost 5 times as much career value). However, I’m not sure how that helps me figure out how to combine picks, knowing that the second pick is worth 435% the average, and the fourth overall pick is worth 377% of the average pick. What picks do I then need to add?
So, I converted it back to the average Career Value by position based on the percentages in that chart. The next step is understanding the role of replacement value. Roster spots are finite, so a team can’t just draft 30 sixth round picks knowing they will get a few gems. If a team doesn’t have a draft pick, they sign an extra undrafted free agent for the same spot. So, 7th round picks have very low value anyway, but they have a minuscule amount of replacement value over just signing a UDFA. I set replacement value at a Career Approximate Value of 5, and subtracted that from all pick values.
So, let’s take a look at how the “Draft Value Chart” and looking at historical performance data differs in what the pick is worth. Also, because Robert Griffin III is a quarterback, and could be considered worthy of the first overall pick in other years, we can look at it from the value of the first overall pick. The Rams might do so in negotiations, and we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here. Thus, we are viewing him through the prism of the chances of turning out like David Carr or Tim Couch, or Peyton Manning or John Elway, and all points in between.
Here are four teams that could be interested, and how the Chart versus the Actual Results differ [Note: I did not go through each team’s picks to see what had been traded all ready, but just used the picks they would have if they had one in each round]:
CLEVELAND BROWNS (4th overall pick)
Using Draft Value Chart, Rams would want: EVERY PICK IN THIS YEAR’S DRAFT PLUS 2013 2ND ROUND
Using Career Value, Rams should get: THE 4TH OVERALL PICK (1st ROUND) AND THE 36TH OVERALL PICK (2nd ROUND)
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (6th overall pick)
Using Draft Value Chart, Rams would want: EVERY PICK IN THIS YEAR’S DRAFT PLUS 2013 1ST ROUND
Using Career Value, Rams should get: THE 6TH OVERALL PICK (1st ROUND) THE 38TH OVERALL PICK (2nd ROUND), AND 6TH ROUND PICK
MIAMI DOLPHINS (8th overall pick)
Using Draft Value Chart, Rams would want: EVERY PICK IN THIS YEAR’S DRAFT PLUS 2013 1ST AND 2ND ROUND
Using Career Value, Rams should get: THE 8TH OVERALL PICK (1st ROUND) THE 40TH OVERALL PICK (2nd ROUND), AND 4TH ROUND PICK [WITH ST. LOUIS GIVING UP ITS 7TH ROUND PICK ALSO]
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11th overall pick)
Using Draft Value Chart, Rams would want: EVERY PICK IN THIS YEAR’S DRAFT PLUS 2013 1ST AND 2ND ROUND PLUS 2014 1ST ROUND
Using Career Value, Rams should get: THE 11TH OVERALL PICK (1st ROUND) AND THE 43RD OVERALL PICK (2nd ROUND) AND THE 75TH OVERALL PICK (3RD ROUND)
As we see, there is quite a bit of difference between the trade value chart and reality of historical performance dropoff. Cleveland and Washington would be overpaying by almost an entire draft class if both sides choose to follow the chart. Miami would be overpaying by more than an entire draft class. Kansas City would overpay by two future firsts, a future second, and every pick between rounds 4 and 7 by following that darned chart.
The Draft Value Chart has created a currency crisis. No one actually believes those values, yet they are paralyzed to act outside it. The Rams will feel taken if they don’t get this insane haul, when in actuality, there alternative to a trade with Cleveland is to take the player they want (at least one of which will be there at #4) while getting no extra picks. The others will feel the price is too steep.
If I were the others, I would make the Rams come down. This isn’t 1991, and those trade values never reflected true worth anyway. If the Rams are too strict, they will find that their demand goes down when trade partners go elsewhere.
[photo via US Presswire]