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03 Apr 2017

The Julio Jones Trade: Six Years Later

by Tom Gower

From Cleveland, To Atlanta:

  • 2011 first-round pick, No. 6 overall (WR Julio Jones).

From Atlanta, To Cleveland:

  • 2011 first-round pick, No. 26 overall (subsequently traded, used on WR Jonathan Baldwin);
  • 2011 second-round pick, No. 59 overall (used on WR Greg Little);
  • 2011 fourth-round pick, No. 124 overall (used on FB Owen Marecic);
  • 2012 first-round pick (ended up being No. 22 overall, used on QB Brandon Weeden); and
  • 2012 fourth-round pick (ended up being No. 118 overall, subsequently traded, used on WR Jarius Wright).

Those were the terms of what is commonly called the Julio Jones trade, when Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff moved way up in the first round to snag the potential superstar wideout from Alabama. The deal has been a subject of enduring fascination to many, yours truly among them, and provoked a new round of articles when Jones' league-leading (by receiving DYAR, at least) performance helped power the Falcons to the Super Bowl. Since we just examined that 2011 draft in great detail, it is time to come to some sort of conclusion concerning the trade that was.

1. The trade is still interesting because it is unique.

The Falcons moved up 20 spots to get into the top ten picks of the draft. Since then, the biggest move a team has made to get a top-ten pick was when the Rams moved up from No. 15 to No. 1 to select Jared Goff last year. The second-biggest move was when Miami moved up nine spots in 2013 to go from No. 12 to No. 3, and the top of the 2013 draft was so lightly regarded that all that move cost them was a second-round pick.

A couple years before 2011, we had seen big moves into the top ten. The Jets moved up from No. 16 to No. 5 in 2009 to acquire quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Jaguars paid a very high price in 2008 to move up from No. 26 to No. 8 to acquire defensive end Derrick Harvey. Those were the first such trades since the Saints gave up two first-round picks, plus a second-round pick (No. 17, No. 18, No. 54) to move up to No. 6 to take defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan in 2003. The Sanchez pick can be defended on the merits of "Well, 2009 was a terrible draft, and he may well have been the second-best quarterback available and we had no way of getting the only good QB in the draft," but the other two trades were abject failures. A more cautious general manager would have heeded the apparent lesson and not made the move. But Dimitroff did not, and gave us something interesting to talk about. For that, as an analyst, I am thankful.

2. For this trade to work out for Atlanta, Jones had to be a great player. He has been.

Had Jones been a bust like Harvey or Sullivan, there would be no defense of the trade and it probably would have ended up a footnote or made Dimitroff a punching bag in the big draft column. But Jones has been a great player, arguably as good as or better than A.J. Green, taken before him, and undoubtedly better than any receiver taken after him. (Yes, even Jonathan Baldwin.) Despite the skeptics, Dimitroff absolutely nailed his evaluation of Jones.

3. Philosophically, your model could argue either for or against this trade.

One of the reasons we analytical types generally dislike trading up in the draft is that we believe there is relatively little evidence that general managers and/or teams are systematically good at picking players. Teams have good runs of draft picks, thanks to coaching or schematic inefficiencies in the market, and there are some evaluators who seem to be better than others. Yet even general managers with great runs also have really bad runs of their own. (Bill Polian may be the greatest general manager in modern NFL history, with successful team-building runs in Buffalo, Carolina, and Indianapolis, but his end with the Colts was not pretty.)

The pro-Cleveland side of the argument is obvious. For just one pick, they got five in return, all of them in the first four rounds of the draft. Even if the 2012 picks were likely to be later in the first round -- which ended up being the case -- many players through the fourth round end up as contributors to their teams, if not starters. Instead of one potentially great player, the Browns could get two pretty good chances at star players, one good chance at one, and a couple shots at contributors (roughly characterizing the two first-round picks, the second-round pick, and the two fourth-rounders). Especially for a bad team needing to build the overall depth of talent on the roster, that makes a lot of sense.

For Atlanta, this argument is more sophisticated. More picks are better, of course, but you still have to hit on those picks (on which more later). Jones was more of a known quantity -- easier to identify as potentially available at the No. 6 pick than the wider range of players who may or may not actually have been available when No. 26 rolled around, and Dimitroff could be more detailed in his evaluation and more confident that Jones in fact would be a great player.

But at the same time, by robbing the Falcons of potentially four more contributors, the trade put additional pressure on Dimitroff as an evaluator. He had to build better teams using lower-round picks. That made it harder to find contributors for a defense that had given up over 40 points to the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs the year before. And, in fact, the Falcons have ranked No. 22 or lower by defensive DVOA in each of the past four seasons, when defenders chosen in 2011 and 2012 would be emerging into their primes.

4. The trade looks better for Atlanta because Cleveland drafted badly.

The Browns used Atlanta's first-round pick to trade up and acquire Phil Taylor, the draft's most disappointing defensive lineman. As noted in the main 2011 draft column on Friday, Greg Little was suspended for his final season at North Carolina, and proved quite drop-prone in the NFL. Marecic was a disappointment. No analytics-savvy team would ever have taken Brandon Weeden anywhere close to the first round. The 2012 fourth-rounder was used in the trade up for Trent Richardson.

This part of the analysis of the trade could have proceeded a lot differently. Almost everybody drafted around where the Browns picked would have been a better alternative, and generally a lot better. When Danny Tuccitto introduced his VAE metric four years ago, he calculated yhat the picks the Falcons gave up were worth 13.1 CarAV/year. To date, Jones has 67 CarAV in six seasons -- 11.2 AV per year. So, as good as he has been to date, Jones has still been less valuable than the expected average worth of the draft capital the Falcons gave up to get him. That suggests just how much of a super-duper-star Jones needed to be to justify what Dimitroff gave up.

From Atlanta's perspective, how much should this matter? Obviously it matters a great deal in the court of public opinion. Just as obviously, the fact that the Browns chose a particular player with a given pick has fundamentally nothing to do with what the Falcons would have done with that pick had they not made the trade. Notwithstanding Bill Belichick's recommendation of Baldwin as a good potential alternative to Jones, the player Dimitroff would have taken with the 26th pick could have been a successful defensive lineman such as Muhammad Wilkerson (30th, Jets) or Cameron Heyward (31st, Steelers). Or perhaps it would have been Gabe Carimi (29th, Bears), a disappointment on par with Baldwin and Danny Watkins (23rd, Eagles).

5. Whether the trade could be worth it depends on the secondary effects of adding a great player such as Jones.

By Tuccitto's numbers, or pretty much any other metric you want to use, Jones needed to be a great player to justify the bounty Atlanta gave up to get him. And Jones has in fact been a great player. But that calculation involves a very tricky exercise in judging the worth of superstar players versus the value of non-superstar players of the sort the Falcons could have reasonably expected to select with those picks.

Obviously, Seattle found Richard Sherman in the fifth round in 2011, plus I have to make the ritualistic invocation of Tom Brady going in the sixth round, but one of the reasons Dimitroff would make the Jones trade is that he knew late-round finds like this are essentially flukes of luck and cannot be predicted. After all, both Seattle and New England drafted busts in earlier rounds before they found their late-round gems. But Cleveland sure didn't find any stars with the picks they got from Atlanta. And while there were successful players taken around the picks that Atlanta gave up -- the four picks after Brandon Weeden in 2012 were Riley Reiff, David DeCastro, Donta' Hightower, and Whitney Mercilus -- they still were not Jones-level superstars. Just how much is that worth?

The only answer I can realistically give is: we don't know. It is obviously something. It is easy to oversell that answer. Players who are significant matchup threats and who can tilt coverages and/or who can win in many different ways or especially dangerous ways make other players better and more useful. I was among the many who wondered about paying significant money to Mohamed Sanu last offseason, but it is a lot easier to get value out of a player of Sanu's skill level with Julio as the top dog, the big cheese, the head honcho, and potential role players such as Taylor Gabriel become more valuable as well. It is therefore reasonable to believe that Jones' statistics, conventional or advanced, understate his real value.

In the end, I see the merits of this argument, but I am skeptical of it. I want the better players, the more well-rounded team. I think that gives me a better chance of winning. And I really do not want to have to rely on singular great players -- unless they are quarterbacks, but the quarterback discussion is a whole separate one. I do not think I would make this trade if given the chance, even given what we know now. But I am still glad Dimitroff did.

Posted by: Tom Gower on 03 Apr 2017

50 comments, Last at 10 Apr 2017, 12:00pm by Bright Blue Shorts

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 12:48pm

The reason why trading multiple draft picks for one is generally a bad idea is because nobody has ever drafted enough players to have strong statistical confidence that they are significantly better at evaluating college talent than the norm. Lemme know when some GM has a couple thousand draft picks to evaluate. Or even several hundred.

3
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 2:28pm

The Sanchez trade can't really be compared to this because the Jets did not give up enough, a first and a second from that year, and 3 players Mangini liked: Kenyon Coleman, Abram Elam and Brett Ratliff. It was a foolish trade from Cleveland's side.

Julio Jones probably added value to their earlier pick of Matt Ryan. I think this is one of those rare trades up that was worth it.

2
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 2:14pm

I liked the trade at the time because I thought Jones looked like Terrell Owens with better hands and route running (i.e. a HoFer), it's a little odd that it's still a theoretically loss for them.

4
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 2:41pm

We really need to judge this trade without knowing the results because the whole point is - would you make this kind of trade again?

The real issue is one of risk. Jones had to be a great player. Think about that as a standard. That's a huge huge gamble that almost never pays off. I hated the trade when it happened and i think its pretty indefensible no matter what analytics you use. That jones is great and that Cleveland got a Pu Pu platter of suck in return is completely beside the point. You might as well start criticizing all the morons who passed on Tom Brady.

7
by Steve in WI :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 4:03pm

I always wonder when this trade is brought up what Cleveland could have reasonably done with those picks instead of drafting who they drafted. Not cherry-picking the best players available, but looking at their positions of need and picking players who had careers that were something like average to good. I have no idea what a fair way to quantify it would be, but I suspect that it wouldn't look like such a lopsided trade if the Browns hadn't drafted so abysmally. I mean, Brandon frickin' Weeden.

I do tend to agree with you that the risk was very high because of the level of player that Jones had to be for it to work out. If he wasn't the dominant player that he is but was still a very good receiver (like, say, Randall Cobb from the same draft), I think the consensus would be that Atlanta gave up way too much.

10
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 4:33pm

The more interesting question to me is is it worth trading the farm to get a qb at the top of the draft? I guess we can wait till next year when the Rg3 trade comes up, but I can take a stab at it.

If the price is your current first rounder, two future first rounders, and your current second rounder(let's say) - is that too much?

This is much harder because even a good qb is worth so much and it can take eons before you find one(just ask the browns). I'm inclined to say yes.

Which also makes me wonder why more nfl teams don't do nba style tanking.

11
by Will Allen :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 6:11pm

I may be wrong, but my impression is that the hit hate on the 1st guy taken in the NBA draft is better than the hit rate on qbs taken number one overall.

12
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 6:14pm

Yeah but its a lottery. Your best odds are 25 percent which is pretty horrible. At least in the nfl, you get a guarantee of the first pick.

One argument at the time might have been that one player doesn't change your team the way one does in the nba, but then this is now a qb driven league where qbs are going at the top every year.

17
by Will Allen :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 9:23pm

I really think the effect of great qb play in the NFL is overstated, relative to the impact that a great NBA player has. There will never be a LeBron James in the NFL, who gets to the Super Bowl every year, even when half the years he is surrounded by depleted talent.

18
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 9:32pm

I agree to the extent that a qb cannot win you a sb by himself and that sb winners are usually on teams w lots of other good players.

I do think that not having a qb is a death sentence so in that sense, its not overstated. You can be a good team w out lebron. In todays nfl, you cannot be a good team over multiple years without at least average qb play.

19
by Will Allen :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 11:01pm

Yeah, I really don't consider a team good if they don't have much of a chance to win a championship, and a NBA team that doesn't have one of the top three or four players in the league only wins a championship about once every 25-30 years. In the NFl, teams with average or worse qbs win the title not infrequently. Just in the past 20 years, I'd say 4-6 teams had that experience.

Yes, qb is by far the most important position, but there are 44 starters, plus special teams, and very important nonstarters. These GMs are reaching for qbs way, way, too often.

41
by ChrisS :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 1:35pm

If you have a top 3-4 player you should be competing for the championship, but I don't think it is a requiremnt. Since 2000 I count 4 championship teams that did not have a top-10 player on their roster. 2004 Pistons best player Ben Wallace, 2011 Mavericks best player Dirk Nowitzki, 2013 & 2014 Spurs best player Tim Duncan (13) & Kawhi Leonard (14). But maybe Popovich being the best coach (by far) is a proxy.

25
by t.d. :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 10:53am

while it's true that Lebron has been to six straight Finals, sometimes surrounded by mediocre talent, he's only able to get to the Finals so repeatedly because he plays in the inferior conference (which clearly affected his thinking when he was a free agent). Neither the Bills nor the Broncos quite managed six straight trips in the late '80s/early '90s, but, when the conferences are drastically imbalanced, a long run at the top is certainly do-able, even though, through usage rates, I'd agree that an NBA star is more dominant than any stars in any other sport

26
by Will Allen :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 11:59am

Well, the goalie in the NHL can absolutely control the game, like a MLB starting pitcher who can go every day. People still don't fully appreciate the degree of interdependence in football, which results in people, even very smart football people, overstating the importance of qb play.

34
by theslothook :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 2:57pm

Will, a thought experiment. If you gutted the packers roster or you threw Rodgers onto the Browns or 49ers, how many more games do they win? What about PM in his prime?

Now conversely - if I threw Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder on the Falcons or Steelers or the Packers. How many games do those teams now win?

36
by Will Allen :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 3:36pm

The Vikings won 10 games with Christian Ponder, mediocre offensive line play, and a bad pass defense. Now, they had a HOF runninng back, but Julio Jones is a Hall of Fame receiver. The Falons could win at least 10 with Ponder.

I really don't think Rodgers would have helped the gutted Browns roster that much last year. Maybe a 4 or 5 win team. Rodgers would have been hurt, in all likelihood. Peyton Manning behind crap blocking and bad defense, in 2010, is the outlier of all outliers.

13
by MarkV :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 7:35pm

I think it's mostly the players. Careers are so short that deliberately sabotaging your team is too big a sacrifice, especially when most contracts aren't guaranteed. Players can't risk injury and their entire careers for someone else's strategic gain years down the line.

14
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 7:51pm

A coach can still start a third stringer at most of the positions which is sort of what the nba teams do now. They can even go with the bs excuse that they are playing the young guys to see what they have.

It makes even more sense when you are headed for a top pick late in the year. If the colts had truly gone 0-16 in 2011, I might have believed it to be a true tank job. I'm pretty surprised they didn't.

40
by turbohappy :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 4:16am

I watched every single game. That team was trying their ass off. They just really sucked.

15
by langsty :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 8:12pm

"i think its pretty indefensible no matter what analytics you use."

So... it's bad and you don't need any fancy numbers telling you otherwise.

"We really need to judge this trade without knowing the results"

Really? I'm not sure who you expect will agree - on this website of all places - that having LESS information will give us a more improved evaluation.

Look, if you think of draft capital as a resource like money & the salary cap, then suddenly giving up 13.1 CarAV/year to get 11.2 AV looks less appalling. I'm a big believer that cost is subordinate to the quality of the evaluation. Meaning, if you get the RIGHT player for your team, you can overpay some. That's how I think of the widely-derided "reaches" we see every year, like when the Falcons reached for Keanu Neal in the 1st. If you get a player who you value at a price you like and they work out, then you're doing fine even if he was a 2nd rounder to everyone else.

21
by JimZipCode :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 3:41am

Look, if you think of draft capital as a resource like money & the salary cap, then suddenly giving up 13.1 CarAV/year to get 11.2 AV looks less appalling. I'm a big believer that cost is subordinate to the quality of the evaluation. Meaning, if you get the RIGHT player for your team, you can overpay some.

In fact, you have to. You have to pay a little bit of a premium to move up to snag a special prospect. 13.1 CarAV/yr vs 11.2 sounds about right.

33
by theslothook :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 2:51pm

Edit - basically what RickD said.

30
by RickD :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 2:34pm

"i think its pretty indefensible no matter what analytics you use."
'So... it's bad and you don't need any fancy numbers telling you otherwise.'

Those aren't similar statements. The first implies that a variety of analytics would tell you that the the trade was indefensible. Not the opposite.

"We really need to judge this trade without knowing the results"
'Really? I'm not sure who you expect will agree - on this website of all places - that having LESS information will give us a more improved evaluation.'

People want to judge the wisdom of a trade from the perspective of the people making the decisions, not based on all the information that wasn't available at the time. "Too many teams passed on Tom Brady". That's not exactly interesting analysis.

44
by langsty :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 6:57pm

"The first implies that a variety of analytics would tell you that the the trade was indefensible."

Well that's a bad thing to imply if you're not going to cite any analytics.

"I hate this trade, it's too risky" isn't much more interesting. I think Tom came up with some novel ways to examine this trade.

45
by theslothook :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 7:21pm

Heres an easy one. Economist david Roemer wrote a whole paper showing teams routinely overvalue their draft prowess in trading up.

Theres also tons of evidence, including my own, that has shown no one has any ability to successfully outpick other teams on the draft.

In fact, i used a statistical study similar to the one Eugene Fama used to show theres no compelling evidence to suggest that mutual fund performance is anything besides luck. Its on my github page.

46
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 3:57am

Which team do you draft for then?

48
by theslothook :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 1:13pm

There are caveats as well. It incorporates things like reaches. Once you control for that,, The implication being - what kind of player you take is heavily dependent on where you pick.

The draft is complicated. You have to balance best available with perceived positional value and need. Do you draft the best guard with the 2nd pick overall if hes the best player? I dont think so. How do you balance a weak qb and a strong full back? etc etc

47
by Will Allen :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 10:21am

I don't think this can be emphasized enough; that the consistent performance difference we see among teams is not due to being able to consistently do better with any one draft pick, but rather being able to manage total resources better (cap managaement, signing veterans at agreeable prices, etc.) , and most of all, developing players, and using them more efficiently, once they are on the roster. Belichik whiffs on plenty of draft picks, but his non-whiffs do more to help the Patriots win games than is the norm.

20
by JimZipCode :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 3:39am

The real issue is one of risk. Jones had to be a great player. Think about that as a standard. That's a huge huge gamble that almost never pays off.

Yeah, but I'm struck by the point that mehllageman made above (in #3). The Julio Jones acquisition reinforced the prior pick of Matt Ryan. It built on strength. Jones had to be a GREAT player for the trade to "work out" mathematically for the Falcons, in terms of getting back value to compensate for what they gave up. But he only had to be a GOOD player to help Matt Ryan become more effective and make the Falcons offense hum dangerously. That's a much lower bar.

Obviously Dimitroff had a strong opinion on the player, and that's to his credit. But as an exercise in team building, I think this trade is somewhat less risky than theslothook's argument makes it seem. If Jones turns out to be a good (not great) WR, then the Falcons still have established a cornerstone for their offense, a bread-&-butter QB/WR tandem. That's of great value for game-planning and team identity and winning.

Jones didn't have to hit the "ceiling" of possible outcomes, to still pay off for the Falcons.
(Obviously he did, basically, and that's to his and Dimitroff's and Matt Ryan's credit.)

27
by theslothook :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 1:01pm

Matt Ryan had Roddy White before - a pretty good receiver. If Jones was Roddy White, I highly doubt most people would be accepting that as worthy compensation.

35
by dryheat :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 3:20pm

They had Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner too. I think the reason, or at least part of the reason, the Atlanta overpaid was that Dimitroff felt that he was the missing piece for an unstoppable offense. And if you're offense is unstoppable, you're not going to lose very many games. I think that over-paying to fill what you perceive to be the missing piece is a defensible, if not recommended, time to deviate from your value matrix.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, line play still matters.

37
by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 5:31pm

I thought this was a crazy trade at the time, and, as a Bucs fan, I was glad the Falcons burned that many picks. In retrospect? I'd say it's a good trade; you want the opportunity to win, and no team has ever had (and squandered) as good an opportunity to win like the Falcons did. They win the title in large part due to Julio Jones making one of the all-time great catches if Kyle Shanahan isn't a moron.

5
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 2:41pm

/

6
by Denaina :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 3:40pm

It's hard to trade multiple picks for one in most cases. It might be somewhat favorable if the team is loaded with extra picks, and maybe if the depth of the draft is weak (and even then, a big move is so expensive). I guess the one thing is, this is the first draft under the slotted rookie contract structure, so Dimitroff likely felt empowered to take a shot given what he felt was a solid eval.

8
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 4:18pm

I don't follow Atlanta but I think this article may be missing the context of the Falcons situation.

2010 - 13-3 and #1 seed
2011 - 10-6
2012 - 13-3 and #1 seed

Usually #1 seeds in a conference don't have many weaknesses and it's hard to find draft picks that will improve an already talented roster.

Doesn't that give some extra validation to trading away some high draft picks in the hope of finding one gamebreaker?

9
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 4:29pm

I have a few problems with this argument.

For starters, I don't think Atlanta was a great team with few weaknesses back in 2010. They were 7th in dvoa, 9th in offense, 14th on defense and 2 on special teams. They were a good team, but hardly the kind of juggernaut that afford to trade away assets because the roster was so stacked.

Furthermore - in the nfl, churn happens pretty rapidly. Great players leave in free agency or get injured and depth goes away fast too. Look at the 49ers. In 2011-2013 they were the toast of the league with all that talent on both sides of the ball. The decay was pretty rapid.

16
by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 8:32pm

I think this is basically right.

But the 49ers are an awful example. The 49ers were a talented team, but most of the decline was due to their losing an asset that wasn't even a player; the (indefensible) cashiering of Jim Harbaugh.

When he left, 2 or 3 talented players immediately retired. In their 20s. Others chose new teams when they did not have to. Moreover, players who had been very decent (the secondary) or at least whose limitations had been masked (Kaepernick) suddenly weren't able to perform.

Of course, Harbaugh deserves some blame for letting go of the team's best quarterback and betting on Kaapernick in the first place, but at least while he was there he protected Kaepernick from anything dangerous, like decisions.

The new administration hasn't obviously covered itself in glory (how many Bears free agents are a good idea?), but it hasn't obviously ruined anything yet.

22
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 4:53am

slothook - it's why I put the question there. Note I wasn't saying it jutsified the Jones trade, I was raising question that this should have been part of the discussion. You've done a good job of providing what I think was missing from the article.

Your comments then lead me to think further that back in 2011 when the trade happened, no-one knew how the new CBA was going to pan out. The introduction of the rookie wage scale since seems to have led to high round draft picks being a good way to get talent cheap but then you're going to have to pay them on their 2nd contract but not everybody can get paid. The Seahawks and Patriots have got to that decision stage over the past couple of years of who to keep/who to let go.

So keeping high draft capital seems very important now but pre-2011, high draft picks got paid big money and that wasn't so desirable to your team's salary cap.

I'm not into Atlanta or salary caps enough to be able to factor this into the Jones trade. Does the historical context change anything for you?

28
by theslothook :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 1:07pm

I think its a second order consideration. In the end, its about balancing risk and return and I think the risks were much higher for Atlanta than it was worth. Sorry if I came off so negatively.

I'm also amazed by some of the revisionist history from the comments here(not you) - Jones was considered a raw talent at receiver, not some cant miss like Calvin Johnson. Furthermore, I feel like i need to remind people that highly regarded receivers in the draft bust out all the time. As in 0 value. Do i really need to recite the long and sorry list of receivers that failed spectacularly?

39
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 2:33am

As a Raiders fan in 2005 you don't need to remind me that the Vikings gave Oakland Randy Moss in return for the #7 overall pick which they used on some guy I can't even remember the name of (but just looked up to see was Troy Williamson) plus a 7th round pick. 87 career receptions. As bad as Randy Moss was in Oakland he still accumulated 102 recs in two years with them and quite a few more in the years thereafter.

23
by jwsinclair :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 8:49am

I'm a Falcons fan, and I'd argue the single biggest reason for their collapse in 2013 is that they had built a top-heavy roster without much depth and it finally caught up to them. I wouldn't undo the Julio trade, given what's happened since, but I don't think it was defensible at the time. They needed depth more than they needed another star.

24
by jwsinclair :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 8:57am

Not that this really changes the analysis, but the Falcons traded the 27th pick, not the 26th. It turned into the 26th because the Ravens didn't get their pick in on time and the Chiefs (who had gotten #27 in a trade with Cleveland) jumped ahead of them.

29
by jtr :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 2:05pm

Regarding the last point in the article, I think there's another beneficial effect from adding a superstar, based on the limited number of spots for players to make a big contribution. For instance, one WR worth 12 AV is worth more than four WR's worth 3 AV each, simply because you're generally not going to get all four of them on the field at the same time. It's also easier to make marginal upgrades for the team with the superstar; if you have one guy worth 12AV and then a depth chart of replacement level guys, a cheap 4 AV player is a pretty substantial upgrade at WR2, while that same player would hardly make a difference in a more balanced team.

It's a little bit of a subtle thing, and I don't know how clearly I'm communicating my point. But this is why I get a little wary of stats like AV, that suggest the value of a team comes from linearly adding the value of each player. Sports just don't work like that.

31
by RickD :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 2:40pm

Yes, summing AV over several players doesn't quite make sense.

32
by theslothook :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 2:50pm

Without a solid theory, you have to rely on abstractions like AV to paint a picture. Yes, its unlikely 4 wr with worth 3 av add up to Julio Jones - just as Julio Jones is not nearly as valuable as Von Miller without Matty Ryan on the team. We are not even close to understanding the complete interactions of various positions and their true intrinsic value.

38
by Alternator :: Tue, 04/04/2017 - 11:37pm

For the sake of argument, assume that AV is a pretty good approximation of value.

Is Julio Jones plus two undrafted scrubs, each worth 0 AV, equal to three solid receivers each worth 4 AV, if the salary came out even? The balanced team obviously doesn't benefit much by adding another solid 4 AV player, but they also aren't nearly as vulnerable to being crippled by a single injury, and have a much easier time against teams with one star cornerback.

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by jtr :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 1:51pm

The Steelers pretty much had a superstar-and-scrubs depth chart at WR this year, and it was good for the #8 passing DVOA in the league. I think the lots-of-attention-on-the-top-receiver effect gets exaggerated sometimes, mostly because defensive coordinators don't do a good job of actually implementing such a strategy. The Patriots were really the only Steelers opponent this year to instruct their free safety ignore the non-Brown receivers. I think this is because most defensive coaches are too risk-averse to take the chance of having to explain to the press how they let Sammy Coates beat them with a 60 yard TD. Plus, a lot of top corners are fairly easy to dodge because of CB-by-sides schemes, or top CB's who don't slide down into the slot.

You're definitely right about the injury risk issues, but I think that ultimately successful NFL teams have to roll the dice on injury luck. For instance, the Bengals have generally fielded very deep and balanced roster through the Andy Dalton era, and the best they've managed to do with that strategy is a bunch of wildcard round losses. I don't think you can build an injury-proof Super Bowl team; you just have to build the strongest team you can and get lucky with injuries.

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by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 3:18pm

For a good look at a one-star-and-a-bunch-of-scrubs lineup, just look at what Atlanta did the year before their Super Bowl run. In 2015, Julio Jones led the league with 136 catches and 1871 yards. But the next-highest Falcons wideout, 34-year-old Roddy White, had only 43 catches for 506 yards (in 16 starts, mind you). The Falcons added solid complementary receivers in Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu (and upgraded with Alex Mack at center, of course) and their offensive DVOA jumped from minus-7.3% to 25.3%.

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by Theo :: Mon, 04/10/2017 - 5:40am

But given you're the Browns (and need an upgrade at every position other than Left Tackle, let's say everyone's a 1); would you rather have 1 receiver worth 12 AV or a receiver of 4, a linebacker of 4 and a safety of 4?

I think the Browns did the smart thing and acquired some extra picks.
They were also just dumb by trading away some picks and then use it on a halfback high in the draft (Richardson) and a 28 year old pitcher with 1 good college football season under his belt.

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by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 04/10/2017 - 12:00pm

Noting that the Browns (and their newfound analytics department) now have 9 picks in the Top 65 of the 2017 & 2018 drafts!