Monday, April 13, 2009

Drafting For Value, A Different Way of Evaluating The Draft

(Note this is a long one, I suggest you print it out and take it with you to the shitter, thanks goes out to Rupert, for reviewing the 1st draft of this and providing valuable feedback)

For the last couple years I have stressed that teams should not simply draft the Best Player Available (BPA) or to fill a need. I have stressed maximizing the value of a team’s picks, but quantifying this when trying to argue the point with others has been difficult.

Sure it is easy to debate if a RB should ever be taken in the top 10 by a team who isn’t drafting that high due to injuries or trade (the answer is no, and I will argue this until blue in the face, sorry McFadden fans). But to expand this across all positions as a starting point for any team looking at the draft, that is more difficult.

With that in mind, I have tried to come up with a system, one that assigns values to players based on a number of factors, and weighs that against a value chart for the draft and the team’s needs. The goal is to be able to look at the chart and come up with the best case for the Raiders to maximize their value in the 1st three rounds of the draft.

First thing first, I scrapped the traditional draft value chart. The NFL was a different monster when Jimmy Johnson and his brain trust came up with the chart in the 90’s. There was no salary cap, plan B free agency was a joke, and the players at the top of the draft got paid well, but not the absurd sums they do today.

What I came up with is a system where the #1 pick is worth 5000 points, and every subsequent pick is worth 97% of the previous picks value. Then I added some modifiers. IMO the 11th pick of the draft is more valuable than the 10th, since once you get out of the top 10, the salary demands become more reasonable. But the value goes down more after 15, since you then enter the realm of 5 year vs. 6 year deals. Further modifications were made at the 33 spot, as, IMO, 33 is more valuable than 31 & 32 since you get an equivalent player, at a 2nd round price tag.

(Yes I know there is no 8th round, but the NFL hands out about 32 compensatory picks on average, adding the equivalent of an 8th round to the draft, hence the 8 rounds on my chart).

Revised Pick Value Chart

There is no reason that a team wanting to jump from the 3rd pick to the 1st should have to give up a 2nd and 3rd rounder. Under my revised system the value is simply a 3rd rounder. There is a reason so many of the trades in recent drafts make no sense to the talking heads on ESPN as they consult their charts. Their charts are out of date.

So now I have, at least in my mind, my value chart for every pick in the draft. The next step is to stack the draft board regardless of team need. I don’t claim to watch every game, or be very good at evaluating players who are outside of the box. So I grabbed a ranking from a popular site. The Key was to find a ranking that was by grade, not by projected draft spot, or weighted by the value of the position (we’ll do that adjustment ourselves).

Then that ranking was combined with the value chart above, resulting in the following ranking with trade chart value and player grade.

Top 15 Prospects by Grade W/ Pick Value

Still with me? Because now it gets complicated.

Now 3 factors are taken into account to get the players value modifier:

1 – Grade. The most important factor of the rankings I found. The higher the player’s grade, the better the chance that they produce at the next level, in theory anyway. (Well, much better than the ranking by position I originally used).

2 – Number of player at your position in the next 32. This is important for determining the scarcity of players at your position in the draft. For example after Stafford, there are only 2 other QB’s with rankings in the next 32 overall, while Jason Smith gets hurt since there are 4 more tackles in the next 32.

3 – Positional Value Differential. This is used for determining the difference in value between the players at the same position. While there is only a 2 point differential between Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe, there is a 16 point difference between B.J. Raji and the next ranked DT.

Those 3 factors are put into a formula to obtain the player’s value modifier. With the depth of OT’s in the 1st round, Jason Smith only gets a modifier of +4, while Mark Sanchez, due to there being only one more QB with a 1st round grade, gets a huge 113 point boost.

After that the player gets an NFL position modifier. This is based on the scarcity and importance of the position in the NFL game. The highest value goes to QB, as is fitting for the most important position in the modern game. Then from there it hits the other key players on both sides of the passing game (offensive tackles, and the pass rushers who go against them) down to the plug and play positions (RB, FB, S). Look to the franchise numbers assigned to each position to get a good gauge of that position’s value to NFL teams.

The value modifier is added to the original value and the total is multiplied by the positional modifier to get the adjusted player value:

Top 15 Prospects by Adjusted Player Value

Feel like you are reading Pro Football Prospectus yet? I am guessing I have put half my readers to sleep by now. Leaving one of you who has gotten to this point.

As you can see, Jason Smith remains the top rated player in terms of value, but my personal favorite player in the draft, Aaron Curry, drops to 11th.

Curry’s drop should not be surprising. There are 5 other LB’s in the draft with 1st round rankings, and the linebacker position is not valued as much in the current NFL as evidenced by the franchise number for the position when compared to the franchise numbers for QB’s, OT’s and DE’s.

Then there is Josh Freeman, who jumps up to 13. This illustrates both the premium put on his position, and the scarcity of viable quarterbacks in this year’s draft.

All this is great, but we still have to get to the key point. How do you maximize the value of the draft pick for your team? You have determined the player’s value at this point with no consideration for team needs. Now is the time to add in that one final factor.

The team need modifier is based on the same sliding scale as the NFL positional modifier, but of course taking into account the team’s current depth chart and the remaining years of the contracts for the players at the position.

Since I claim to be a Raiders blog, I will obviously use the Raiders for my example. The Raiders low modifier is RB. With Fargas, McFadden, Bush and Rankin already on the depth chart, the Raiders have both depth and youth. The high modifier is WR where the Raiders have plenty of unproven youth, but no depth. WR is closely followed by DT, DE, S and OT. So now with the Raiders needs added in, the Raiders player value for the top 15 players in the draft looks like this:

Top 15 Players By Value to The Raiders

With a revised value chart rating of 4165, the Raiders have plenty of potential picks that represent great value in the 1st round. Not a bad position to be in. The Raiders can stand pat at 7 and easily expect to get no worse than the 6th player in terms of value for their team, and more likely should better that, as both QB’s and Curry could go before the Raiders select.

But the draft is not a one round animal. In order to maximize the value you get in the draft you have to project further than the 1st round. In order to keep this simple (HA, if you are still reading this I am impressed) I will just add in some information on 2nd and 3rd rounders.

With the Raiders drafting at 40, let’s stick to the players ranked from 35 to 50 in adjusted player value to get a realistic feel for who may potentially be there:

Potential 2nd Round Picks

The Value of the Raiders 2nd round pick is 1756 based on my revised value chart. There is far less value for the Raiders at positions of need in the 2nd than the 1st.

So what does that tell you, it indicates to me that this is a very tradable pick for the Raiders. The key is how do you react as the draft unfolds? Do you try to jump up to get a player like Ziggy Hood or Kenny Britt who fills a need and represents great value? Do you stand pat and hope that a value player drops to you and take that player or reach? Or do you wait, see that the value isn’t there for your team, and trade down?

Before we try to answer that, lets look at what may still be there in the 3rd round. And take the 1st three rounds in as a whole.

Potential 3rd Round Picks

With a pick value of 683 for the 71st pick, based on the revised chart, there once again is not allot of value for the Raiders at this position. But, you cannot look at the draft in terms of one round at a time when trying to maximize value. You have to look at your draft as a whole.

When you combine the Raiders 1st three picks this season, you get a total potential value of 6604 on the revised value chart. So lets look at some of the more popular 3 round series that Raider fans and draft experts have thrown out there, and see how they compare to the target value of 6604.

1)Crabtree, Brace, More – 7250 points
2)Raji, Delmas, Robiskie – 6396 points
3)Orakpo, Britt, Chung – 7397 points

Now I am not trying to argue against Raji or for Orakpo at this point, I am merely illustrating how one pick starts the dominos in motion and effects the potential overall value of the draft for the team. We still have two weeks until the draft to discuss potential trades, and who I feel the Raiders should draft 1st to maximize their potential value in this years draft.

That’s right, this column checks in at 7 pages, almost 2000 words and 6 charts, and we are just getting started.

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