March 23, 2012

NFL Draft Series: The Guide To Understanding The Value Of A Draft Pick

     As a fan, it's very hard to grasp how valuable a draft pick really is.  So when Brandon Marshall gets traded for two 3rd round picks and Tim Tebow + 7th rounder = 4th rounder + 6th rounder, it's hard to know how happy each team should be.

     Because I like understanding things, I did a little research and came up with this chart translating draft pick numbers into player-based numbers.


     What does a draft pick actually stand for?  For this chart, I defined a draft pick as the rights to some player for 4 years for the price of his rookie contract.  Any contract restructuring, extensions, and the like are considered separate transactions.

     The AV column is based on pro-football-reference.com's Approximate Value statistic, which attempts to quantify how good a player was in a given year.  The column itself is the total career AV (sort of) for the average player in each round of the 2008 NFL Draft (4 seasons have passed since then).  For context, a single year with an AV of 7 is a solid starter like Cedric Benson, an AV of 4 is a key backup or semi-starter like Devin Aromashodu, and an AV of 1 is a decent return man or backup like Julian Edelman.

     The Salary column is roughly the value, in millions, of the 4-year contract paid to the average player in each round of the 2011 NFL draft.  For context, the average NFL player would receive about 8.7 million dollars over 4 years.

     The AV/Mill denotes the contributions of each player per million dollars they receive.  Strangely enough, the worst picks in this regard are the expensive ones at the beginning of the first round.  Again, because I like providing context, the average NFL player would have an AV of about 14.5 over 4 years, and therefore an AV/Mill value of 1.67.

     Let's use these numbers to evaluate the Brandon Marshall trade.  Brandon Marshall has 3 more years on his contract worth $27.5 million, during which his AV should be around 27.  The two draft picks are worth $5.5 million and a 21.8 combined AV over 4 years.  While the Dolphins lost some production through the trade, they did gain a lot of cap room, so as long as they use that room wisely, it was a good trade.

     How about the Tebow trade?  Tebow plus the 7th round pick are worth $16.38 million over 3 and 4 years, respectively.  The two picks received by the Broncos are worth a combined $4.6 million over 4 years and a combined AV of 11.6.  The 7th rounder is worth an AV of 5.2, leaving a gap of 6.4 for Tebow to fill.  However, with the extra salary, he'll have to get somewhere around 15 or 20 to justify the trade.  Last year, Tebow's AV was 8; as a 3-game starter in 2010, he earned an AV of 3.

     I hope this helped you a little bit, because as I wrote it, I felt like it was confusing.

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