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Running the Numbers: Trading Back From No. 18 Overall

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At DallasCowboys.com, I took a look at why the Cowboys might want to consider moving back from the No. 18 overall pick.

One of the reasons that the Cowboys should generally be interested in trading down early in the draft stems from one of the team’s creations a couple of decades ago. Widely attributed to former coach Jimmy Johnson, the “Draft Trade Value Chart” assigns point values to each pick. Based off of analysis performed prior to the Cowboys’ early 1990s Super Bowl wins, “The Chart” is an attempt, albeit a primitive one, to use analytics in deciphering the value of each draft pick.

Surprisingly, teams still use the chart today to make trades. When the Cowboys moved up from No. 14 to No. 6 last year, for example, they acquired “1,600 points” with the sixth overall pick and yielded 1,550 points by giving up their first and second-rounders. Most draft trades fall neatly within the confines of the chart, suggesting teams still use it as a baseline for deals.

The problem is that the chart is antiquated, assigning too much value to certain picks and not enough to others. Specifically, the chart weighs the value of most first-round picks far too heavily. According to the chart, for example, the No. 1 overall pick is worth over three times as much as the Cowboys’ No. 18 overall selection. Actually, the chart assigns exactly as much value to the top pick as the No. 15, 16, and 17 selections combined. I don’t know about you, but I’ll go ahead and take the three first-round picks all day.

With most teams still using the chart as a basis for trades, there’s certainly an opportunity for shrewdorganizations to acquire value by exploiting the sub-optimal strategies of others. But how can they do that? Which picks are worth the most, relative to the cost? Below, I charted the worth of each pick according to both the draft value chart and actual draft results over the past decade.

The biggest inefficiencies arise at the top of the draft; the chart assigns value to the first overall pick as though that player will eat up five percent of the overall value of the entire draft class. In reality, it’s not even half of that.

The inflated value of the early selections on the chart extends until near the end of the first round. At that point, the actual value of draft picks has historically exceeded the value assigned by the chart, and the trend continues until the middle rounds, i.e. it’s generally a good idea to stockpile as many picks as possible in the late-first, second, and third rounds. At least one team, the New England Patriots, has found an amazing amount of success by continually trading out of the first round and grabbing talented players in the second and third rounds. There’s little doubt that mathematics has been the impetus behind their decisions to move back.

See the rest at the team site.

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