“These outsiders saw the giant lie at the heart of the economy, and they saw it by doing something the rest of the suckers never thought to do: They looked.”
The above quote is from the 2015 movie titled The Big Short. The movie tells the parallel stories of a number of finance professionals in the mid to late 2000s who made a lot of money predicting the American housing market would collapse. Most people worked on the assumption the housing market was strong while the main players in the story did research and found those assumptions were faulty.
While nowhere near as significant, I think about how the quote applies to the way NFL teams value Draft picks in trades. Virtually the entire league works off the same chart that assigns a numeric value to each pick. When a trade is completed, people turn to the chart to see whether their general manager got good value.
Seldom do you ever see anybody test out whether the chart accurately reflects the true value of each pick, though.
This came to mind in the aftermath of the Jets’ pursuit of Tyreek Hill. The Jets reportedly offered Kansas City the 35th, 38th, and 69th picks of this year’s Draft. Collectively these picks add up to 1,315 points. (Kansas City would have sent the Jets a late third round pick in the deal for Hill, which would have reduced the total point cost of the trade.)
Some have questioned why the Jets did not offer the 10th pick. This pick alone is worth 1,300.
It jumped out at me that the Jets’ pair of second round picks and their third round pick are roughly equal to 10 overall based on the chart. Only 15 points separate them, which is the equivalent of a late sixth round pick according to the chart.
The Jets surely will be linked to other wide receivers on the trade market between now and the NFL Draft in four weeks. This led me to wonder.
If the Jets put together a package to try and land somebody like DK Metcalf or AJ Brown, would giving up the 10th pick really be the same as giving up 35, 38, and 69?
I decided to gather data on the last 25 NFL Drafts, specifically players selected 10th, 35th, 38th, and 69th overall.
I compared the total number of seasons these players were a primary starter for their team along with Pro Bowls and AP First Team All Pro selections. I also took a look at how many of the 25 players had at least one Pro Bowl selection in their career. Then I did the same with the AP All Pro First Team. (This was because one exceptional player could conceivably skew the number of Pro Bowls and All Pros in a way that would make the data unrepresentative like Tom Brady at pick 199.)
Here are the totals.
Of course picks 35, 38, and 69 would be part of a package so it makes sense to combine them.
This data presents a pretty clear picture that the two second round picks and the third rounder collectively are a better package to have.
I bet you are surprised. If one was going to be far more valuable, you might have bet it would be the 10th overall pick.
There are a few things to consider. Obviously you need to allocate three roster spots for 35, 38, and 69 as opposed to a single spot for 10. Is this really a big deal, though? Even if you miss on one or two of these picks, they would be taking the roster spots of players 54 and 55 on the roster. You wouldn’t likely be eliminating productive players from your team.
You might wonder about salaries. The 10th overall pick will receive a 4 year contract worth $23.5 million according to Over the Cap. The three picks on the second day will total around $25.5 million over four years in sum. So there isn’t a big difference in the money.
Of course you have to factor in the strengths and weaknesses of a Draft class along with your team’s goals. That said, in a neutral situation it appears clear that you’re going to get appreciably more production from picking 35th, 38th, and 69th than you will with the 10th pick alone.
This suggests that the Jets would be wise to try and deal 10 as their first choice if the two options are viewed as equal by the other team. The chart seems wrong. The values of these packages are not equal.
This should also serve as something of a reminder to the fanbase to temper expectations if the Jets do not make a trade. There is a tendency to expect the team to add a lot of impact with two top ten selections this year. Two top ten picks should equal two stars, right?
This examination tells a different story. Less than one out of three players picked 10 overall in the last two and a half decades have even made a single Pro Bowl team. I get the feeling this is one of the reasons perceptions on the value of picks are so off. Generally speaking NFL fans view top ten picks as can’t miss stars. In reality, you have to know what you are doing to hit even in the early stages of the Draft. A seven in twenty-five chance of landing a Pro Bowler is nothing to laugh about, but it shows a disconnect between that perception and reality. Trading down from the top ten is probably less costly than you realize.
On the same note, giving up pick 10 is probably better than giving up 35, 38, and 69.