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Simplifying the NFL Draft trade value chart

You were told that the first-overall pick was worth 3,000 points. But why? This should help make things a little bit easier to understand.


For many years now, the fans, pundits and NFL general managers have been using a "Draft Value Chart" that helps them determine how to trade draft picks. It makes some sense, considering that it is completely arbitrary and meaningless to simply say that "I will give you pick 45 and 60 for pick 25!"

Why? How did you come to that conclusion? Can I trade you my string cheese and pudding for your entire ham sandwich? "No, obviously that is only worth half of a ham sandwich. Not unless you also throw in your Capri Sun." Ridiculous.

We should all be well aware that a Capri Sun Pacific Cooler is worth half of a ham sandwich on it's own.

Now imagine that one day, Little Jimmy Johnson strolls into the lunchroom with some sort of chart that places value upon every food item, lunch box, Trapper Keeper and eraser on the free market. There's no real explanation of why a turkey sandwich is worth 3,000 points, a ham sandwich is 2,600 points and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos is 1,600 points. That's just the way it is and every outsider accepts it because, for the love of God, we need a chart! Except that we don't need a chart because the market, much like free agency, is consistently set by what somebody is willing to pay.

This week, the Seahawks, Raiders, and Cardinals traded players for picks. Matt Flynn was worth a fifth-round pick in 2014 and a conditional pick in 2015. Carson Palmer was worth a conditional seventh-round pick in 2014. Why those numbers? Some people would scoff at starting quarterbacks being traded for relative draft peanuts, instead of the trail mix with knockoff M&M's, like what the Raiders gave for Palmer just a year and a half ago. Oakland once overpaid for a player that they shipped off for something that will likely turn into nothing other than cap relief. So at what point did the Raiders follow any chart? Better yet, let's look at 2012.

Last season, the St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins traded numbers. That's basically all they did. "I'll give you a two, which is really good and you give me, umm, a six! And a 38! And a one! And another one!" Which overall is 63,811? Or maybe its 46? All I know is that it's a lot of numbers on one side and only one number on the other, even if the most important number in the trade was the three at the end of RGIII.

According to "Jimmy Johnson's" chart, the value of the No. 2 pick is 2,600 points (why?) and the value of the No. 6 pick is 1,600 (because?) and the value of the 38th pick is 520 (obviously). Meaning that Washington was lacking 480 points to trade up. Remember when Hurricane Ditka traded a draft for Ricky Williams? According to the chart, he may have been right.

So as it stands today, after the Redskins made the playoffs with Robert Griffin III, the Rams will be getting the 22nd pick in the draft from Washington, which carries a value of 780. It's hard to say exactly what the value of a future arbitrary first-round pick is exactly, but we at least know that according to Jimmy Johnson, it's no less than 590 turkey sandwiches, or apple chips, or dingaling pills, or whatever that number is supposed to be. So while the Redskins had 480 "points" to make up in 2012, they ended up sending over 780 this year and no less than 590 (the value of the 32nd pick) next year, for a total of no less than 1,370 points. That's 890 points more than they apparently had to send over to move up four spots, which is approximately the value of the 18th overall pick.

Does the chart really exist anymore? Does it matter? If it does, then why did Mike Shanahan and Jeff Fisher and all their cohorts completely ignore it? Because Shanahan wanted a certain player and Fisher wanted more picks. If supply and demand is what determines the value of a pick, then the chart is worthless. Blogging the Boys recently examined the notion that the demise of draft value chart was exaggerated. While it's true that the point totals are close, they are also not perfect. You know what is perfect? Numbers and how they interact with one another.

The Vikings and Browns made a deal and were off by 300 points, the "equivalent" of the 60th overall pick. Cleveland could have sent their third-round pick (whether it's the one they shipped to Denver or the one they received from Denver) but they didn't. Why? Because one team wanted it more.

The Buccaneers were off by a little over 100 points in their dealings with the Jaguars, and 100 points is conveniently the same value as the 100th pick in the draft. Not even talk of Tampa shipping off a couple of extra picks in the later rounds or a 2013 pick? Nothing? BUT THE CHART!!!!

There was another study by someone from Harvard (which is the "Stansbury of the East" according to "Saved by the Bell") that also dismissed the Jimmy's chart and used Pro Football Reference's Career Approximated Value to estimate the proper draft pick compensation when wheeling and/or dealing. The good: It isn't based off of the numbers that I picked out of thin air. "Well now, let's put the 100 and make it 100 and go from there. The No. 1 pick is 3,000 because that's how many hits gets you into the Hall of Fame in baseball and the 129th pick will be worth 43 points because it's like my mama always said, 'Jimmy, the 129th pick is worth 43 points!'"

The problem with Kevin Meers' (Harvard guy) chart? It's still not predictive of anything, even as Meers himself pointed out after the Griffin trade, noting the massive difference in point compensation sent from the Redskins to the Rams. Here is what every chart that assigns points to picks misses out on:

You don't trade picks for picks, you trade picks for players or players for other players. At no point did Mike Shanahan trade up with the Rams and think, "Now, please keep in mind that we might draft Bruce Irvin!"

Teams trade up when they want a specific player, a person they do not think will be available when they are picking next. Meers' chart notes that the odds are against Griffin meeting the same career AV as the four picks that Washington could have used on other players. Meers' chart does not account for the fact that the Redskins, winners of three Super Bowls, have toiled in anonymity for 20 years and shuffled through the likes of Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, pre-relevance Trent Green, Brad Johnson, Tony Banks, Patrick Ramsey, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, the oldest Donovan McNabb you will ever see. They even had a quarterback "battle" between Rex Grossman and John Beck. Two young billy goats looked over and said, "Aww, isn't that cute!"

Washington made the playoffs just three times since 1993. They have made the playoffs once since 2012. And if they can rebuild RGIII's knee, while replacing the Thunderdome with a football field, the Redskins are poised to be relevant for at least the next decade. Meanwhile, the Rams bypassed that opportunity because they have Sam Bradford, but they also bypassed the opportunity to draft Matt Kalil, who has already made the Pro Bowl, Trent Richardson, and Justin Blackmon when they moved down to the sixth pick. What do they get in return?

Teams do not trade for draft picks, they trade for players.

The first thing that St. Louis did was trade down with the Cowboys and received the 14th and 45th overall pick. Near equal value according to Jimmy's chart, it's so lucky that Dallas had nearly the exact right amount of Johnson golden rings to give up in return. The Rams picked Micheal Brockers with the 14th pick. With the Redskins' second-round pick, they selected cornerback Janoris Jenkins. With the Cowboys' pick they received in the Brockers deal, they traded down five spots with the Bears (Chicago underpaid by 19 points) and selected running back Isaiah Pead. St. Louis could select any number of players with the 22nd pick this year and the other first-round pick from Washington next year. But on average, the 2014 first-rounder could be a pick worth about 1,000 "points" or tickets that can be exchanged for one of those sticky hands that you can throw against the wall and grab lint and dirt with.

Redskins get: Robert Griffin III

Rams get: Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead, OT Rokevious Watkins (fifth-round pick from Bears), TBD first, TBD first.

St. Louis was a surprising 7-8-1 last year in the NFL's toughest division with a good pass defense. Jenkins was one of the most surprising rookies in the league, Brockers is promising, Pead fell behind seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson on the depth chart, Watkins didn't play. They'll be adding an extra first-round pick to their team from this year, and one next year, and he may be good or he might be not good.

The Redskins have one of the biggest stars in the NFL and a playoff appearance.

Which is better? One thing I know for sure is that one of them was easier to write. Even if the Redskins are hampered from adding help to one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, there could be a reasonable debate that they wouldn't have found any immediate (or long-term) relief with the defensive backs that might be available with the 22nd pick this year. But they have Griffin, a quarterback. So where does that fall on a draft value chart, and what's the point of a draft value chart if it loses all meaning thanks to countless exceptions?

The answer to the latter question, is that it calms you, much like meaningless draft grades and wildly inaccurate mock drafts. You're looking to judge a trade immediately, even though we couldn't possibly judge it in the short term and possibly not in the long term either. What if nobody that the Rams drafted thanks to that deal contributes from here on out, but they win the Super Bowl next season and the Redskins never win a Super Bowl with Robert Griffin even though he's a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback?

It's easier to judge now, but remember when Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding seemed like a hell of a better haul than Eli Manning? And yet, one of them has two Super Bowl championships.

And about that Hurricane Ditka trade. The Saints sent the Redskins two first-round picks, two third-round picks, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth and a seventh just so they could move up from No. 12 to 5 and take a running back. The Redskins (who only had the pick because of compensation for the Panthers signing Sean Gilbert) had Stephen Davis, so they had no need for Williams, and they ended up (after more deals) with players like Champ Bailey and LaVar Arrington. The Saints could be classified as "dumb" and the Redskins as "lucky" if you only looked at the players each team ended up with.

New Orleans won a Super Bowl in 2009, Washington hasn't done that since 1991, so who cares who got fleeced on draft day in 1999? The Saints sent over a point value of 4,444 (their future first happened to be the second overall pick that turned into Arrington) and received Ricky Williams at the fifth overall pick, a value of 1,700 golden tickets and free entrance into Wonka's factory. But I care less about point values, I could not care more about championships. Maybe Arrington and Bailey are better than Williams, but the only "trade value chart" is how ballin' you think a prospect is and what the team with the chips was asking for.

This is the actual and accurate trade value chart that I present to you, without commentary. You be the judge.

A real trade value chart

The player "Dawson's Creek because he's 'bawling' outta control." = You must give up "so much that it makes your stomach feel like you've hit all-you-can-eat-day at Del Taco."

Example: Robert Griffin III to the Redskins, 2012

Does the player have a thermometer in his mouth and an ice pack on his head because he's "pretty sick, dude?" = You must roll your eyes no less than one time, but no more than thrice, while saying, "Ughhh ... OK then, fair enough."

Example: Percy Harvin to the Seahawks for a first, seventh and conditional pick in 2014.

Is the player your first day of school outfit because he's going to "fit really well?" = You gotta gimme that thing that you wanted, but are willing to trade because this guy basically fills the need that you were going to draft anyway.

Example: Matt Flynn to the Raiders for a fifth-rounder and a conditional. Fun size bag of Frito's for a Jeff Kent rookie card.

Is the player a bicyclist that won't use the bike lane because he's "needlessly getting in the way?" = Take it, for the love of God, take it, just give me something to satisfy that we are supposed to get something.

Example: Carson Palmer to the Cardinals.

So, just remember that when you have a chart that assigns arbitrary point values (and noting that a "point" is not a real thing, especially if you're a Chiefs or Cardinals fan of last year) to draft picks, you might as well just have a piece of paper that says, "I hate trees and this is just another excuse to screw them over by being wasteful."

Teams do not trade for draft picks, they trade for players. The teams trading away players sometimes are acquiring simply "draft picks," but their reasoning behind what draft picks they are willing to accept is no more arbitrary than a chart with point totals, a Harvard study with unqualified values assigned to picks or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich getting sent off for your other Twix.

Not all fifth-overall picks are created equal, not all fifth-round picks are created equal. There are simply too many variables to make any point system worthy of what you are trying to quantify. But equating the type of player you're acquiring to the feeling that it creates?

Now that makes some sense.

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