Friday, March 22, 2013
About that old NFL draft-pick value chart
By Mike Sando
In late 2011, Harvard economics student Kevin Meers produced a chart assigning point values to each pick in the seven-round NFL draft.
Meers' chart sought to improve upon the one that has for two decades set general parameters for pre-draft trades involving picks.
The old chart was the one I used upon request Thursday when taking an "imprecise but fun" look at how much capital each team possessed heading into the 2013 draft.
Those results, reproduced below in the second chart, showed the San Francisco 49ers ranking only 17th in draft-pick points despite holding a league-high 14 selections. The old chart placed premium value on the highest choices, none of which belong to the 49ers this year.
@Tangeuray sized up the totals and asked via Twitter whether I could replace the old chart's values for each selection with the ones Meers produced using different methodology.
This seemed like a fun idea, and Meers was accommodating when I reached out to him. He provided updated pick-by-pick values, allowing for the chart at right. That chart ranks the 49ers first in draft capital by Meers' methods despite holding no pick higher than No. 31 overall. Meers' methods also moved up the Seattle Seahawks from last using the old chart to 26th.
The rankings for the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams changed by fewer spots.
We assigned points to every pick in the draft even though compensatory ones cannot be traded. Assessing draft capital for acquiring players seemed more relevant than for trading picks. For the curious, San Francisco would rank second without compensatory choices. The Rams would be fifth, the Cardinals ninth and the Seahawks 29th.
Meers used the Career Approximate Value figures from Pro Football Reference to settle upon the historical value for each pick. The CAV figures for drafted players from 1980 through 2005 set the values based on the picks associated with each player.
Meers determined, for example, that the first overall pick had returned nearly five times the NFL career value of the standard pick, which fell toward the bottom of the third round using the current 32-team format.
"This non-arbitrary statistic is a massive improvement over the old draft chart," Meers wrote in 2011. "The old system massively over-values the earliest picks and significantly undervalues mid-to-late round picks."
Seattle was the only team with a higher point total using Meers' chart compared to the old one. Washington lost the fewest points among the other teams. Those changes make sense; the Seahawks and Redskins are the only teams without first-round choices -- the types of picks Meers found the old chart to value too much.
The Seahawks and three other teams, including the 49ers, have four seventh-rounders apiece. Those would be the picks the old chart undervalued the most, according to Meers' findings.
"This study is the tip of the iceberg of analysis that is now possible to do," Meers wrote. "There is a ton of work to be done now that we have an accurate representation the value of every draft pick. ... One can use these data to evaluate any trade involving draft picks, come up with a draft strategy that maximizes total expected Career Approximate Value, and much more."
One can also produce esoteric blog posts on Friday afternoons in March. That is the best part from my perspective.
Note: Several have noted that the current rookie wage scale should influence pick values. That is true for trading picks in particular. In this item, I'm defining draft capital in relation to the players a team might select with the choices.
See also: Chase Stuart's work.