The 2017 NFL Draft will begin this Thursday, April 27th and it’s time for an updated NFL Draft Value chart. There is an old chart floating around that is attributed to former Cowboys and Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson and teams consult some variation of the end result when conducting trades involving draft picks.
The chart predates the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and it’s time to update the numbers based on actual trades that have taken place.
Since the 2012 NFL Draft- the first one after the new CBA- there have been 124 trades that involve only draft picks. Trades that involve a player- like the New England Patriots trading a sixth round pick to the Tennessee Titans for EDGE Akeem Ayers and a seventh round pick- are not factored into my calculations, but can be evaluated to understand the perceived value of the player.
Based on these pick-for-pick trades, I’ve created the following draft value chart to show how teams actually value draft picks.
Here are some takeaways.
Trades at the top of the draft are all ad hoc
Trying to create a table that includes picks at the top of the draft (ie: top five) doesn’t make sense because the value of the pick changes on a year-to-year basis. For example, the #1 pick when Andrew Luck was a prospect is worth a lot more than the #1 pick this year, with Myles Garrett as the top prospect.
Teams love their quarterbacks and drafts with good quarterback prospects see an increased value in picks at the top. So take the value of the top five picks on the chart as a baseline, and adjust the value accordingly when top prospects come out of college.
Future draft picks are valued one round earlier than the current year
In other words, a team could trade a fourth round pick in 2017 and reasonably expect to receive a 2018 third round pick on the market. A current fifth is worth a future fourth. No one really wants future seventh round picks because they hold almost no value.
This valuation of future picks is a representation of time value of money, which means that a draft pick now is worth more than the same draft pick in a future year.
Patriots have the second-worst trade under this new value chart
In the 2012 NFL Draft, the first year of this table, the Patriots sent the 62nd overall pick to the Green Bay Packers for the 90th and 163rd overall picks. The Patriots were desperate for more picks after trading up to acquire Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. Per the value chart, the Patriots lost the equivalent of the 108th overall pick in draft value with this trade.
The Packers selected CB Casey Hayward, who was named to the All Pro team in 2016 for the San Diego Chargers. The Patriots drafted EDGE Jake Bequette, and traded down from 163rd (again with the Packers) to select ST Nate Ebner, CB Alfonzo Dennard, and WR Jeremy Ebert. Colts WR T.Y. Hilton was selected two picks after Bequette. Lions WR Marvin Jones was selected three picks after the 163rd overall the Patriots traded down from.
The only trade worse was the Cowboys sending the 18th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft to the San Francisco 49ers for the 31st and 74th overall picks. The Cowboys gave up the equivalent of the 103rd overall pick- but they left with All Pro center Travis Frederick and WR Terrance Williams, while the 49ers selected S Eric Reid, so the Cowboys won the scouting aspect.
Patriots also have the fifth-best trade under this value chart
In 2012, the Patriots sent the 31st and 126th overall picks to the Denver Broncos for the 25th overall pick in order to select LB Dont’a Hightower. The trade created value for the Patriots with the equivalence of the 127th overall pick. Hightower is one of the best linebackers in the league just signed an extension with New England.
There is a premium to trade back into the first round
The round of a draft pick in the second-through-seventh rounds doesn’t impact the value, unless dealing with future picks, because the difference between the 64th and 65th overall picks is negligible. There is more value in the 64th pick because it’s earlier, not because it comes in the second round.
First round picks, however, have a special fifth-year option that is not included in the contracts of second round picks, creating an actual difference in value. For this reason, teams can match equivalent values in a trade, but the outside team will have to pay an additional premium of roughly a 5th-6th round pick to get back into the first round.
This premium is not baked into the table because teams that trade within the first round don’t require this premium.
Trading down on day three and picking up veterans is the smart move
The Patriots have a habit of trading fifth or sixth round picks for proven veterans and a later draft pick. For example, they acquired LB Kyle Van Noy and a seventh round pick in exchange for a sixth round pick.
Why? Well, it’s a perfect arbitrage opportunity.
Despite the difference in valuation of a pick in rounds five-through-seven, there is no real difference in projected success of a player selected in the fifth, sixth, or seventh rounds; each pick is a lottery ticket. It is important to maintain the volume of lottery tickets, but a sixth round pick and a seventh round pick has roughly the same odds of success.
So the Patriots capitalize on a team’s perception that a sixth round pick is more valuable than a seventh round pick to acquire a veteran on a rookie contract and maintain their volume of lottery tickets.
Remember, the draft value chart does not care about how players perform once they’re in the NFL. The chart only cares about what teams are willing to pay for picks- and there’s a reward for teams smart enough to maneuver the draft board.