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2017 NFL Draft: The Real Value of Draft Picks

NFL Draft Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The 2017 NFL Draft saw 36 trades that did not include players (note that here I am excluding trades initiated during prior drafts). Obviously, the Bears made the biggest splash, and they had a part of 3 of these trades overall, but 29 different teams made at least one such trade.

Traditionally, these trades have been assessed using one of two charts. The first is the famed Jimmy Johnson chart that informs draft value calculators like this one, here. The second is the Chase Stuart chart based on the earned Career Average Value system used by Pro Football Reference. However, word is out that the different teams in the NFL have updated the Johnson chart in order to reflect the new value of players and picks under the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement. Rich Hill, over at our sibling site Pats Pulpit, has done a fantastic job of trying to recreate this new chart.

First, I want to establish what happened in the draft. Then, I want to assess how the Bears did on all three charts. Finally, I hope to make an observation going forward. However, before going forward it is only fair to point out that Stuart never claimed that organizations do follow his chart. Rather, he tried to describe the actual value that might be expected to be gained through each pick.

So, of the 36 trades, 14 were more or less matches for the traditional Johnson chart (the closest matches were the Bears’ trade for #2, the Bears’ trade back from #36, and the Falcons’ move back from 63); each of these 14 trades were within 5% of the trade value of the original chart, and some were even closer than that. Additionally, fully two-thirds of the trades were within 10% of the value of the Johnson chart. However, Hill’s chart is even more accurate.

Hits and Misses

Chart Withn 5% Within 10% Off By 20+%
Chart Withn 5% Within 10% Off By 20+%
Hill 15 25 8
Johnson 14 23 4
Stuart 5 10 21
Hill’s chart was more accurate than the Johnson chart it seeks to replace.

Hill’s work predicted the value of 15 trades within 5% and when the margin of error is broadened to 10%, Hill’s chart is matches 25 of the trades. Additionally, for the 18 times that both charts were within 10%, Hill’s chart was closer in value 11 times. Overall, across all 36 trades, the Hill chart was the most accurate 16 times, the Johnson chart was the most accurate 15 times, and the Stuart chart was the closest 5 times.

Stuart’s chart does have a few close matches, and these trades involved the Eagles, Jets, Packers, and Vikings as the “sellers” of the higher pick, with the 49ers, Broncos, Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Titans as the buyers. Unfortunately for devotees of this chart, the Jets, Packers, and Vikings also had sales that were more than 20% outside of the chart’s range (the Eagles also had sales that closely matched the value of other charts, too). Moreover, the 49ers, Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Titans also had picks that were more than 20% outside of the chart’s range as buyers. In other words, there’s no clear sign that anyone (except maybe the Broncos, who only made one trade to study) is using Stuart’s advice.

Vikings’ transactions

Vikings Picks Sold Picks Bought
Vikings Picks Sold Picks Bought
At Hill value 3 2
At Stuart value 2 0
Even the Vikings, who come closest to matching Stuart’s values, favor Hill more.

The closest I can find to a team that uses the Stuart chart is the Vikings, who at least “sold” two picks for Stuart-level rates. However, they also paid Hill-level prices when they bought picks, and they sold at Hill rates when they could.

Simply put, if you want to predict what a traded pick is going to go for and you only want to consult one source, ask Rich Hill (or at least stick to his chart—I don’t know how busy he is). In fact, the overwhelming majority of his “big misses” came from the end of the chart (7 of 8 dealt with at least one pick after #199), when picks were largely being traded on a more haphazard basis.

Okay, with that out of the way, how did the Bears do in terms of their trades? I already explained why the Bears actually received a “fair” deal in terms of their trade with the 49ers for the #2 pick, but they were a part of other trades as well. Well, according to Hill the buyer overpaid on both of the other two draft trades the Bears were a part of. The Cardinals overpaid to move up (but not by a lot) to #36, even with the 7th rounder to create a discount, and the Bears overpaid by just a bit more to be sure they got Eddie Jackson. However, the Bears came out so massively ahead in the trade with the 49ers that Hill’s chart has them ahead for the weekend.

The Johnson chart agrees. The Bears underpaid by the slimmest of margins for #2, while they also got a little bit extra from the Cardinals. Thus, the slight overpay for Jackson is offset and the different between these trades and the traditional value of draft picks is basically a rounding error.

Stuart’s evaluation is much harsher. Because the AV model values mid-range picks so much more than general managers, and because the Bears gave up so much to move a single spot to snag Trubisky, the Bears were never going to catch up unless another team just handed over a draft pick or something.

Pace’s Moves

2017 Bears Trades Bears Gave Bears Received Value
2017 Bears Trades Bears Gave Bears Received Value
Johnson 3214.6 3223.6 100.28%
Stuart 61.9 53.4 86.27%
Hill 842.01 917.19 108.93%
By NFL Market standards, Pace did okay.

Finally, I have an observation to make about draft trades that is important for casual fans to consider. By and large, draft trade values are what they are. There is some variation, but time after time when real trades are measured against trade charts, the charts are found to be remarkably predictive. This holds for when a potential All-Pro is available or when there’s an injured safety who might be worth a risk. The quality of the players on the board does not typically dictate the price of a particular as much as fans think it should. Instead, the quality of the players available is what motivates franchises to pay that price.

Consider the report from Peter King about how the 49ers went back to the Bears when another bidder was interested in #2. The fact that Trubisky was there motivated Ryan Pace to add #111 as what amounted to his “last, best, and final” offer. That offer had him paying full “Johnson-era” chart value. That means that the prior offer was already 97% of the final price. The basic confines were set by the chart, and there was wiggle room. What motivated the transaction? The quality of the players available. Likewise, this is why not every set of picks is equal just because its list value is the same.

As a Bears fan, I will be unsure of Pace’s evaluation until such time as he proves himself. However, as a football fan, I will be consulting Rich Hill’s work at least as readily as the Jimmy Johnson chart when it comes to making predictions. I thank him for his work.