I found the research paper linked below thanks to an article in my local paper. Two college professors, trying to measure decision-making success, chose the NFL draft for their study. They update their research paper every year with every draft.
NFL draft research paper
What the paper most strongly supports is a problem with the current rookie pay scales. While players drafted earlier tend to be better than players drafted later, the difference in skill level was found to be very slight. However, the difference in compensation based upon draft slot is greater. When you add to those results the fact that the highest drafted players have the most variability in performance and the finding that the chance a player is better than the next player drafted at their position is only 52%, they make a strong argument for trading down in the draft. The authors' calculations show that the picks that return the best value for the dollar are late 1st and early 2nd round picks.
An interesting statistic that they found is that after 5 years in the league, there are more 1st round picks with zero NFL starts than Pro Bowl appearances. That is scary.
The study also raises some doubts about the accuracy of the trade value chart. They track its beginning to a minority owner of the Cowboys, who based it on actual trades over four years. Not a great sample size. This study places less value on higher picks than the chart. They also found that over time draft pick trades have been more closely following the chart. This was not seen as an indication of its accuracy, but of the pressure to follow something that is accepted as the standard.
My only criticism would be that they measure results by classifying players as out of football, on roster, starter, and Pro Bowler. It would be nice to have another classification in there such as quality starter. Pro Bowl can be a popularity contest. But that would also require some football judgement to be used. All of the measurements they use are unquestioned facts. They eliminate emotions and team prejudices.
The authors find that having high draft picks is an obstacle to losing teams getting better. The money you have to spend on the picks prevents you from keeping existing players or signing free agents. So when you are comparing Alulalu vs. Dan Williams or Price, and Spiller vs. Best, or Graham vs. Hughes, you not only have to compare the two players but what the difference between their salaries buys you.