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The Top of the Draft Value Chart Was Based on Only Three Top Ten Trades, Including Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy

Cortez Kennedy was just selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a move that was questioned in some quarters (not by me, I thought he was a clear choice) because of his name value or that historical significance to the game argument. However, his historical impact on the game has been much, much bigger than people realize. You see, the scramble for Cortez Kennedy at the top of the 1990 draft led to the draft value numbers that now routinely overvalue top picks–that Draft Value Chart that has defined and controlled the league on draft day.

Two days ago, I wrote about the difference between the Draft Value Chart developed by the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990’s, and the actual performance of top picks. That discussion got me thinking about the origins of the Chart, particularly comments I received that the market will set the price. So I decided to dig into the origins of the Draft Value Chart, play Dorothy, and pull the curtain back.

In that earlier piece, I referenced Mike McCoy, the Dallas minority owner, who looked at four years worth of drafts to come up with the Chart’s values. Now, that’s not how I would have done it from the outset. I would have looked at actual performance. Setting that aside, though, four years worth of draft trade data struck me as something subject to extremely small sample sizes, especially at the high end. A few outliers could really skew the view of what the market really was. Now, back in 1991 information was not as readily available and easily compiled as it is today. McCoy, as the owner of a team, probably didn’t have the data as easily available as I do today. So maybe the choice of looking at only four years was time commitment based.

From what I can gather, the Chart was first implemented for the 1991 Draft, and was based on the previous four years. That would leave us the 1987 to 1990 drafts as the basis for the chart. So how many trades took place at the top of those drafts, where the chart puts a value of 3,000 for the top pick, 2,600 for the 2nd pick, and 2,200 for the 3rd pick?

Using the website prosportstransactions.com as a resource, a total of seven trades in those four years involved at least one top ten pick in the draft. However, four of those seven also involved at least one star veteran player going the other way, making it almost impossible to judge the value placed on those players. For example, Jeff George (1st overall in 1990) was traded to the Colts in exchange for only 1100 in draft value from picks, but the deal included veteran tackle Chris Hinton, and second year receiver Andre Rison. The Jim Everett deal was even more complicated, because it came at the start of the season after a holdout. It involved future picks and players.

How did Mike McCoy handle those trades? I have no idea, but I’m not sure how you could have included them. That leaves a grand total of THREE trades at the top of the draft during those years. Here they are:

  • 1988, Houston trades up to #3 to take Spencer Tillman, in exchange for the #8 and #36 overall picks in the same draft. According to the chart, Houston got 2200 in value while Buffalo only got 1940 in value.
  • 1988, Kansas City trades a 2nd round pick (29th overall) in order to move up one spot from #3 to #2, and probably to prevent someone else from jumping in front of them. They take Neil Smith, and the Lions get Bennie Blades and Chris Spielman. The chart would say KC overpaid (2840 to 2600) to prevent someone else from jumping in front of them.
  • 1990, Seattle trades up to #3 overall to get Cortez Kennedy. The trade involves two other top ten picks (8th and 10th overall) going to the Patriots, along with the 64th overall and a future fourth round pick, in exchange for the #3 and #29 picks. The chart would now say that Seattle got 2840 in value to New England’s approximately 3070 (depending on how that future fourth was valued).

So, yes, two of the three trades during the years used for the Draft Value Chart exceeded the value for the team trading up. The average result from those three trades was that the team trading up gave up 2617 “value points” while getting 2547, so we can see where the resulting chart could be based on these.

Notice how much difference there is, though, because of the specific players involved. One of those involved a Hall of Famer (Kennedy) and another great player (Neil Smith). The Smith trade involved a trade up one spot to hold off a perceived threat–a specific event that will drive value.

The Spencer Tillman and Cortez Kennedy trades both involved the 3rd overall pick, and a trade up from the #8 spot. However, those two trades involved almost a 500 point difference in trade value surrendered by the team moving up. You wouldn’t see that kind of heterogeneity today, where teams seem duty-bound to get close to the chart on picks. Amazingly, those trades showed that teams let the specifics of the market actually set the price. Seattle was willing to give up a lot for an elite talent in Cortez Kennedy, while two years earlier, Buffalo was willing to settle for a lot less to move back in a draft with no clear cut choice at the third pick.

My perception: this was not representative of the value assigned to top picks prior to the Draft Value Chart exploding to prominence and artificially telling teams what to think. One out of every three top picks are not Hall of Fame caliber difference makers, and one out of every three draft trades are not a one spot exchange, involving paying a premium to hold off a trade from someone else.

That’s for tomorrow, though, where we look at what how the Chart might have been different if McCoy had used a larger number of years and included all of the 1980’s, rather than just relying on Cortez Kennedy, Neil Smith, and Spencer Tillman.

[photo via US Presswire]

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