NFL Draft: Trades From the Last Two Years Show Some Flexibility, But Teams Still Rely on "The Chart"

Two years ago, we had our first draft under the new rookie wage scale. There was also much talk about teams adopting a new chart, rather than relying on the old “Jimmy Johnson” draft value chart. I’ve done plenty of work on the history of the draft value chart, including pointing out that the years upon which it was based featured only three trades of top 10 picks.

The chart never really followed history, either before or after, in terms of actual results of those draft positions. Chase Stuart has done plenty of work on the Draft Value based on actual results, and also has a nifty calculator to calculate a trade based on both the historical value of the pick, and the Jimmy Johnson chart value.

[NFL Draft Analysis: Do Teams Trading Up Get Better Players?]

The top picks have been overvalued by the chart, and I think most people realize this. Still, we get an inertia when it comes to trades because teams do tend to operate within that language. If you are in a time-intensive environment like the NFL Draft, you need a language and currency that can translate quickly. Imagine if you were given a couple of minutes to buy groceries. How would you know how much to pay, versus just leave the item on the shelf? You would draw on past wisdom and information.

To see how much the chart plays a role, I reviewed every trade that did not also involve a veteran player in the last two drafts (since we don’t know what value a team assigned to the player). There have been 49 trades.

The result: The team trading up is giving up 95% of the Jimmy Johnson chart value on average to move up.

There is some variability in that. There is not, though, any indication that it matters what part of the draft you are in. For those that care about such things, the correlation coefficient between the best pick number involved in the trade, and the percentage of Jimmy Johnson value surrendered is +-0.009. That means, if teams are deviating from the chart one way or the other, they are no more likely to do it early in the draft than late.

Some evidence exists that certain teams are willing to deviate wildly from the “Jimmy Johnson” chart to get a deal done, though the more common trade simply involves numbers similar to the Johnson chart, with a slight discount. Here’s a breakdown of the trades:

The draft pick trades have been similar to the old chart over 60% of the time in 2012 and 2013, with the team trading up giving slightly more or less value than the chart dictates. In another 30% of cases, the trades fall right in between a hybrid of the old chart and a chart like the one found at Football Perspective. Only 4 of them fell far outside the old “Jimmy Johnson” draft value chart at an extreme. Take away the 4 most extreme trades from the last two years, and teams are giving up 97.2% of Jimmy Johnson value to move up.

When Ed Werder mentioned a potential trade between the Falcons and Texans to move up the first overall pick, Evan Silva expressed some doubt about the price.

I will say this, assuming that a next year’s first is valued like this year’s second (which teams do, even though it is dumb, because future trades often bite them), then Houston would only be getting 84% of the value of the Jimmy Johnson chart, which would be below only 4 of 49 trades. If you value next year’s first as a mid-first now, it would be almost an even swap per the chart. That Oakland-Miami trade was one of the most extreme deviations from the old chart, and I’m not sure it represents the consensus view.

Here’s a summary of every trade in the last two drafts where the team trading up gave less than 90% of the value according to the Jimmy Johnson chart. (Team 1 is the team that traded up and got the best pick).

You might notice that there are a couple of trade partners that have emerged. The Packers and Patriots, and Packers and 49ers, were able to pull off trades that did not adhere to the chart on multiple occasions. Those three organizations seem the most willing to deviate.

An article earlier this week talked about how the 49ers are using their own chart.

Still, Johnson’s not-so-mathematical chart is sticking around.

“It’s the standard,” Baalke said. “Everybody uses it, so you have to understand it and take a look at it.

“You’re always trying to win, right? We’re in a competitive business, so you’re always trying to win the point battle.”

As Baalke added, however, the chart isn’t exactly carved into a stone tablet in his office.

Baalke is doing his due diligence. He knows the “language” of the old chart and knows how he must communicate with other teams, but also knows what value he may be separately placing on the picks. This is borne out in the results. San Francisco is the only team to both trade up and trade down at least 4 times in the last two drafts. When they have traded up, they have paid only 93% of chart value, less than even the average discount rate of the last two years. When they have traded down, they have remained firm, used the old language, and got 101% of the Jimmy Johnson chart value.

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