Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

27 Mar 2008

Drafting High More a Curse than a Blessing

By this time, it's become pretty clear to most people that the NFL draft is no longer functioning the way it was intended. Even so, CNNSI's Don Banks does a nice job of laying out the case again, arguing that the exorbitant salaries that come along with top selections and the high rate of draft misses condemns teams to perpetual bottom dwelling. See, it's only partly Matt Millen's fault.

Posted by: Sean McCormick on 27 Mar 2008

57 comments, Last at 03 Apr 2008, 2:05am by Alex


by ian (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 8:38pm

i hate to agree with peter king, but why don't teams just pass until they see a player they like for the amount of money it will cost to sign him? i could definitely see the pats doing that at number 7, waiting for a CB.

by John (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 8:51pm

It's easy to pass on people who might be franchise players when you already have a solid franchise, like the Patriots.

Teams drafting at the top are typically desperate, and presumably feel like they can't risk losing out on someone who might be a world-class talent. Or they should be able to draft down to take multiple picks in later rounds.

It's an absurd situation, and I was really disappointed to not see it on the list of topics to be discussed at the upcoming league meeting. I'm glad I'm a fan of a team that isn't stuck with a high draft pick every year.

by Quentin (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 8:51pm

I wouldn't just drop down for no reason. If you're up so high that you're worried about the cap implications, you could always just trade down to the point where you feel comfortable. I'm sure you'd find a willing partner even 3-4 spots down if you don't ask for much. Maybe a 4th or 5th round pick. If you're gonna drop, at least get something out of it, even if it's below the going rate.

by Roscoe (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 8:58pm

This problem won't be corrected until enough teams are willing to let their top draft choices sit for a year, instead of paying too much to get them into camp.

by mrh (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 9:03pm

I don't know why the owners didn't press hard for a rookie salary cap in the last negotiation - or why they wouldn't if they end the contract early. It seems like a winning negotiating strategy - more money for the veterans is good for the current union members and the owners can spend their money on proven players instead of bigger gambles. I guess some agents opposed the idea but do they really have the power to block the owners on this?

by Quentin (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 9:05pm

Also, what's Carson Palmer's name doing on the list? Is he not a franchise quarterback? Are we now defining busts or misses as guys who have yet to lead their team to a Super Bowl?

by Tom D (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 9:08pm

From the article, "Polian has come out in favor of a more defined slotting system for the salaries of draft picks that would reduce the dollars being paid the highest selections, but the NFL Players Association says a consensus of their members are against such a wage scale."

by DZ (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 11:24pm

Of course those teams could just draft better and they wouldn't have such huge problems. Polian drafted in the top 5 a couple of times and did great. His three highest picks with the Colts turned into Peyton Manning, Edge, and Freeney (who was not a 'popular' pick at the time) It's only a problem if you blow the pick. Teams should stop whining and start taking advantage. You don't see Cleveland complaining they had to draft Joe Thomas third.

by Spencer (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 11:52pm

This is dumb. The fact that the bottom teams don't always benefit from the draft doesn't prove that the draft is the cause of their problems. Teams that consistently pick in the top 10 have problems all over the field, not at a single position, so the high draft picks just don't benefit those teams - but that doesn't mean its causing their problems.
This article never addresses the solution of trading down with picks. That's what most teams should do if they want to take a low-risk approach.

by Nate Dogg (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 12:26am

This feels like the saying "Guns don't kill people, people kill people". Mike Williams didn't kill the Lions, Matt Millan did by taking a player with a bad work ethic who hadn't played football in a year. If teams used their draft picks better than this wouldn't be an issue.

It's not surprising to me that the Colts have gotten far and away better talent with picks 24-32 the past 5 years than the Lions have with top 10 picks. Bill Polian is a better GM than Matt Millan is. This is just a matter of bad decision making by bad teams.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 12:33am

#5 - what about a fixed pay scale for first round picks, but all contracts are 4-years (meaning they go straight to free agency after their rookie contracts), and are 100% guaranteed for those 4 years.

#6 - I was thinking the exact same thing.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 12:35am

#10 - actually, I think you've got it backwards; Banks is placing blame on the tool, whereas you are placing blame on the person controlling the tool.

by Craig (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 5:45am

I have to think that "player" resistance to a rookie cap is somewhat agent driven. Existing NFLPA members don't suffer if a first round rookie only gets 2 million a season; they'll probably get more money (teams'll spend that money elsewhere), and they may hae a higher chance to keep their starting job (because "I'm paying the rookie too much to sit him" disappears).

This does seem a perfect instance for the classic 'union and management agree to screw over newcomers to the benefit of management and existing workers both' compromise....

by Alex (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 7:42am

An easy solution to this problem would be, instead of giving Miami the 1st overall pick, allowing them first choice of which draft slot they want. So, if Miami wanted to choose 14th overall, they'd get that pick instead of the more costly 1st overall pick. And it would go on down the list, allowing teams with poor records to choose a draft slot with less guaranteed money associated with it if they really wanted to.

Now, I don't think this would really change a whole lot, since the salary paid to high draft picks isn't usually the problem for teams picking in the top 10. The problem is that teams picking in the top 10 repeatedly are usually doing that because they have been drafting poorly in all rounds, and so the players they choose in the top 10 aren't very good. When teams pick a good player in the top 10, they usually do just fine. And really, the difference in salary between the rookie contract of a top 10 pick and that of another first round pick isn't really that much. Maybe $1 million/year. That isn't such a big deal, and since top 10 picks usually are better players than other first rounders, I don't think it's a net loss for teams picking in the top 10. And it certainly isn't enough to keep a team from becoming good if they draft well in other rounds.

I mean, yeah, a handful of teams do end up making a disproportionately large percentage of top 10 overall picks, but the only way the NFL can stop that is by instituting a rule preventing Matt Millen from taking another WR in the first round. At some point, you have to let teams make their own choices. When you do that, it shouldn't be surprising that teams that often make bad choices continue to make even more bad choices, despite your best efforts to help them.

by Steve (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 9:21am

The whole point is that the worst teams are FORCED to pay out exorbitant contracts that hamstrings their salary cap. Now would you rather have the overall number 1 pick or 3 of the top free agents on the market? Most people would say top 3 FA's, but that's not a choice these teams get because:

1) They can't pass for fear of looking bad.
2) They can't trade out because nobody else wants to be hit by the cap impact.
3) Trade values on the draft scale don't tie in cap impact.

If you make a good pick, then you get "fair value" for the pay. If you make a bad pick, you are doomed. Nowhere in this scenario can you get "lucky" and get a guy that EXCEEDS his expect performance at the salary.

Once you get out of the top 10, you risk/reward scenerios get much more favorable. Once you get out of the first round, you've got a MUCH better chance of outperforming your contract, but the chances of actually being good also decrease. But the risk past the first round is minimal. The impact of first round contracts and specifically top 10 are just too damaging to miss.

It's easy to see if you ask those three questions:
1) How many top 10 picks have underperformed their contract?
2) How many top 10 picks have performed at the level of their contract (+/- 10%)?
3) How many top 10 picks have OUTPERFORMED their contract?

In the top 10, it's near impossible to get players in the 3rd category because of the size of the contract. However players in the UNDERPERFORM category are very common and this article gives loads of examples of that.

by RickD (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 10:30am

I understand what Banks is saying, but he's verging on gibberish at points.

"The bad teams get more top 10 picks, which means they're statistically likely to have more top 10 misses, which are more costly than ever, resulting in the same bottom-feeding teams showing up again in the top 10 of the draft."

It doesn't quite work like that, unless the team in question is throwing darts to make their picks.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 10:30am

The best top ten picks outperform their contracts by a gigantic margin. Peyton Manning was under 2 million dollars against the Colts' 1999 salary cap.

Draft picks easily outperform their contracts relative to free agents. There is a legitimate question of whether the later half of the first round offers better value most of the time with the current salary, but there's no way you can get an equivalent talent to a top ten draft pick at a less exorbitant price.

by Tracy (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 10:34am

Isn't there already a rookie salary cap? I've been under the impression that the problem with the high picks isn't the rookie year cap it hit that's the problem, it's the cap hit in years 2-5 that makes the pick such a risky proposition. Huge signing bonuses and roster bonuses and buyout clauses designed to guarantee $20mm - $50mm to top picks while keeping their cap number in year one below the rookie cap number. That's where teams that pick poorly hose themselves.

It also bears noting that the Texans deserve high praise for passing on Reggie Bush and Vince Young 2 years ago. They took a lot of flack from the media and their fans for making what looked at the time to be a boneheaded decision (I thought they made the wrong choice), but it looks now like they got the better player, and for less guaranteed money than they would have had to pay Young or Bush. Talk about getting value out of the first pick...

by mrh (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 11:20am

One of the problems with the current system is that a team basically has to pay more for the #1 pick (and #2, #3, etc.) every year whether or not the player available at that pick is worth more. Sure, some of this is due to an expanding salary cap, so free agents get more each year too whether or not they are worth it. The difference is that a team has much more choice in whether or not to pursue a free aagent; they basically have to pick at their draft slot. Trading down or passing on a pick are options in theory but in reality it's not that easy to do.

Re #7 and #13: I've heard those points elsewhere too. I've also heard that agent(s) have heavy influence with Upshaw. But I don't know for sure that any of it is true. But it seems to me that a concerted owner effort to cap rookie salaries (yes there is a rookie salary pool but it could - should IMO - be lower) while increasing veterans' salaries that focused on selling this message to the players would succeed. Of couurse, if you're Irsay or Kraft, maybe it's in your interest to let Ford waste his money.

by Herm? (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 11:27am

Simplistic layered look at the root of the 2 issues:

1. poor drafting - teams that end up with high draft picks have bad records. They have bad records because they are poorly managed. One part of management is personnel decision-making. Perpetually bad decision making puts bad players on your team. They cycle is in place.

2. Bad personnel decision-makers give players who have never played a game in the NFL an idiotic contract

3. said player with 0 experience lacks NFL level talent or motivation (or both) yet still gets paid.

4. The bad personnel decisionmaker is too proud to admit bad mistakes and allows bad NFL player to remain on roster to avoid embarrassment for bad decision or embarrassment from cap-hit due to idiotic contract.

I haven't read the article yet, did I miss anything?

by JKL (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 11:31am

Just to follow up on Yaguar's comments.

Top picks are not overpaid relative to what they would get on the free agent market if there was no draft to restrict movement.

Sure, Reggie Bush had the 5th highest cap number. Aha! you say, clearly that number is the cause of any problems for the Saints. Oh, but then we see he is sandwiched right between Jason David (3rd) and Fred Thomas (7th) (hole in zone is 10th in 2007 cap charge). Yikes! Yeah, letting the Saints spend their money in free agency rather than the draft is the way to go.

Or take the Browns. Edwards, Winslow and Thomas are all top picks that contributed this year. In terms of cap value, Edwards is 7th, Thomas 12th, and Winslow 13th. They rank behind the high paid players truly responsible for the Browns turnaround, like LeCharles Bentley, Orpheus Roye, Gary Baxter, and Willie McGinest.

by cjfarls (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 11:44am

My proposal is that all Rookie contracts are limited to 3 years. #11 mentions guarunteeing the contract, which I think is a nice addition.

What does this do?
a) It prevents the huge bonuses, etc. because the team can't spread the cap hit out over a long-period.
b) After 3 years, they become RFA's. Teams can either resign the player to what they're worth (keep the good, ditch the bad), or get some value if they are let go. Fans are happy because they're more likely to have continuity (vs. likely losing the player after 4 years).
c) Another reason for 3 vs. 4 years... less risk for the player... although the contracts are guarunteed, a good player still gets a new contract sooner than later. They still can become a FA after 4 years if they so desire.

by blacksuit (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 11:58am

I agree with the comments above about draft incompetence.

I think Banks was trying to say that the top picks really aren't that much better than the bottom half of the first round. The teams that pick lower get good talent, with less pressure, for less money.

Football's a team game. It's not like the NBA where you draft one guy and he can almost single-handedly get you to the finals.

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 1:06pm

The real problem with the draft is that its not TV-friendly. To correct this I propose the following:

1) Bob Saget as celebrity MC.
2) In the 4th round, GMs communicate their picks to Roger Goodell by pantomiming their player of choice.
3) A musical appearance after the 2nd round by some flavor-of-the-month American Idol contestant.
4) After every round all the GMs vote one team out of the next round.
5) Every 15 picks, randomly draw the next team to pick out of a hat, and allow 5 minutes for the teams to negotiate trades.
6) Matt Millen gets three lifelines, including "Phone a Friend."
7) First Overall Pick has to eat bugs.

by dbt (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 1:07pm

blacksuit -- I don't want to get offtopic here, but I don't think that's true about the NBA. What is true is that lack of that guy will prevent you from getting to the finals...

by Giovanni Carmazzi (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 2:51pm

The answer is to have most of the salary based on performance incentives in rookie contracts.

by Giovanni Carmazzi (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 3:15pm

2005 Draft Top Ten = 80% underperform
Alex Smith = underperform
Ronnie Brown = perform
Braylon Edwards = outperform
Cedric Benson = underperform
Cadillac Williams = underperform
Pacman Jones = underperform
Troy Williamson = underperform
Antrel Rolle = underperform
Carlos Rogers = underperform
Mike Williams = underperform

Others available later in the draft:
Shawne Merriman
Jammal Brown
Logan Mankins
Lofa Tatupu
Frank Gore
Justin Tuck
Ellis Hobbs
Bradon Jacobs

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 4:59pm

#27: Pacman Jones = underperform

That's not right. Jones is worth his draft position in performance. The league wasn't the same regarding off-the-field behavior then as it is now: you can't say "they should've seen that he'd be a problem" then, because then, it wasn't a problem to act like Jones is. Now it is.

I think Banks was trying to say that the top picks really aren’t that much better than the bottom half of the first round. The teams that pick lower get good talent, with less pressure, for less money.

It's position-dependent. The best QBs are almost always found at the top of the draft. You find bad ones there, too, sure, but Denver picking Jay Cutler's a good example. They knew he wouldn't last until the bottom of the first round, they had him graded highly, and they're a competent front office. You don't wait and settle on a guy you have ranked lower at a position that important when your scouts have already proven themselves.

Ditto with tackles and pass rushers. Linemen, pass rushers and corners are all "low risk" high first round picks, and competent teams tend to pick exactly those players when they find themselves with a high pick.

They're "low risk" not because they don't bust often, but because if they end up just average, they're still a "push" from a money position, and a "win" from a talent position since they're hard to find positions.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 5:09pm

There is a legitimate question of whether the later half of the first round offers better value most of the time with the current salary

Honestly, the difference is so marginal it's doubtful that it's worth it.

Too many people who think about the draft think about it in an "abstract, ideal" way. "Well, I can get a player who'll perform at 150% the league average at 80% the price at the top of the round, or 140% the league average at 50% the price at the bottom of the round" kind of thing.

The draft isn't ideal. You can't "guarantee" that a player that you have ranked nearly equal will be available at the bottom of the round. If the best guy you have ranked at the position you need is available, you don't trade down, hoping he'll still be available later. You pick him. The cost is immaterial. Why would you trade down if all of the other players you have are graded poorly? Sure, maybe one of them will turn out, but you had them graded poorly for a reason.

The teams who perennially pick at the top of the draft aren't doing so because of the draft. They're doing so because they can't evaluate draft picks.

The draft is usually the least of their worries. They usually have plenty of other money problems far more pressing related to free agency disasters.

by JKL (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 5:29pm

Linemen, pass rushers and corners are all “low risk” high first round picks, and competent teams tend to pick exactly those players when they find themselves with a high pick. They’re “low risk” not because they don’t bust often, but because if they end up just average, they’re still a “push” from a money position, and a “win” from a talent position since they’re hard to find positions.

To follow up on Pat's point, here is a comparison of DT/NT drafted in the top 10, versus picks 20-40, for the 25 year period 1978-2002

Top 10- 14 of 17 (82%) were primary starters for 6 or more seasons. Only Ryan Sims, Darrell Russell, and Jerome Brown (may he rest in peace) started fewer, and Sims is the only true bust. 9 of 17 played in at least 2 pro bowls. Cortez Kennedy, Bryant Young, Sam Adams and Ray Childress are the class of the group. There are some "disappointments", but they kept starting because they could not be easily replaced by players drafted later. Wilkinson started for 12 years without making a pro bowl for example.

Picks 20-40: 11 of 36 started 6 or more seasons (31%). 6 of 36 appeared in 2 or more pro bowls.

by Herm? (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 6:05pm

Oh, sorry Joe T., you did not win the grand prize, but thanks for playing. The answer we were looking for was Tom Bergeron, not Bob Saget...might be showing a little age there. But we will send you off with the new home version of "NFL Draft Survivor" and a copy of "NFL General Management for Dummies" signed by Matt Millen.
This is Herm here to remind you to help control the idiot population. Have Al Davis spayed or neutered. Goodbye everyone!

by Jake_Plummers_Beard (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 6:15pm

I think that the teams with the high draft picks tend to create problems for themselves by fanning the expectations that this high draft pick will yield "The Savior". So when draft day rolls around, the team's options are limited because the only pllayer worthy of being a Savior is a skill position guy whether they need one or not.

by Alex (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 12:19am

So when draft day rolls around, the team’s options are limited because the only pllayer worthy of being a Savior is a skill position guy whether they need one or not.

Well, the Texans did draft Mario Williams, despite vehement criticism for passing on Reggie Bush. That seems to have worked out fairly well for them, especially since the Texans were able to acquire their own Heisman winner at RB, who has had a better DVOA/DPAR than Bush in both of the last two years.

That's right, Ron Dayne. Now, raise your hand if you thought Ron Dayne would outperform Reggie Bush for two straight years.

by NF (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 1:45am

The big problem with drafting high is that even if you get a good player, you are devoting a lot of cap space player to a player who you are unlikely to see a return on your value for until several years into the contract, and that their is an opportunity cost involved. If you spend a lot of cap space on a high draft pick, that is less money for free agents and re-signing your players. Draft high in multiple years and the problem is compounded.

What I really wonder about is why a team that is particularly cash-strapped just refuse to pay a draft pick at the going rate on the basis that the player's potential does not automatically qualify for such a high cost, and if the player refuses to sign, trade his rights to another team for useful players who are experienced.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 4:30am

What I really wonder about is why a team that is particularly cash-strapped just refuse to pay a draft pick at the going rate on the basis that the player’s potential does not automatically qualify for such a high cost, and if the player refuses to sign, trade his rights to another team for useful players who are experienced.

Because rookies are especially cheap their first year, and the amount of money that must be spent on rookies that year is dictated by the CBA. Trading that player will only help them in future years, and teams aren't generally worried about future cap situations.

by Jason (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 5:30am

I still haven't heard a valid explanation for why rookie contracts are so high. Here are reasons I have heard:

AGENTS-NFL teams will spend the same amount no matter how high or low the rookie cap is. The only thing that changes is how the money is istributed among the players. Since the same amount of money is being spent the Agents would lose nothing.

PLAYERS ASSOCIATION-This one makes 0 sense to me. Having a high rookie pay scale hurts active player salaries in that it reduces the amount of money teams have left to spend on them. It is illogical that those in the league willingly reduce their own salaries so that a rookie entering the league can make large amounts.

*In most real life applications the person without a voice in the matter (the entering draft class) gets screwed over by those currently in position to benefit. Yet somehow in the NFL this isn;t the case

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 8:24am

"The teams who perennially pick at the top of the draft aren’t doing so because of the draft. They’re doing so because they can’t evaluate draft picks.

The draft is usually the least of their worries. They usually have plenty of other money problems far more pressing related to free agency disasters.

I think that's basically right, with the exception that drafting a bad quarterback really high will tend to be a genuinely substantial cause of a team being bad, because they will feel obliged to carry on playing him, and a really bad quarterback can sink a team single handedly.

But yeah - to take the example I know best, Carr's contract was nothing like such a drain on the franchise (even after the idiotic decision to extend it which appears to be the only serious mistake of the Kubiak-Smith regime to date) as those doled out to ageing mediocrities like Gary Walker, Robaire Smith and Todd Wade. The Texans were bad not because they kept picking in the top ten (where they hit big on two out of three even under Casserly in Andre Johnson and Dunta Robinson) but because they drafted poorly in subsequent rounds, and made lousy free agency and trade decisions (see Buchanon, Philip).

by Hummingbird Cyborg (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 11:31am

I think that the view that certain teams are better at drafting is flawed. I mean, it seems reasonable to assume that some teams are better at drafting than others, but the reality is that the draft is a crapshoot.

Players that most GMs would have expected to excel in the pros routinely faulter and every years GMs miss a few good players later on in the draft.

I agree with Pat about positions. Certain positions are more easy to evaluate and seem to be hit on in the first round more often than others. I remember reading an article on FO about which rounds yielded better success at different positions.

It said things like running backs being easily obtainable in later rounds and that elite DTs are almost always picked in the first round.

QBs are also almost always picked early.

Anyway, the 80% failure rate of 2005 in the top ten shows how much of a crap shoot the draft can be.

Those top ten picks were not considered terrific picks by those teams, but by most teams.

Of course, in the end, I consider it incompetent to not realize exactly how much of a crapshoot the draft is. Teams overvalue the ability to choose and they are reluctant to trade down for lower value because of it.

The draft value chart shows a difference of a second round pick between the first and second overall picks. Sure, this may be true on rare drafts in which one player appears way better than any other, but to a team with many needs (A top ten team), if they can trade down one spot and get say a fourth round pick, they will get about an equal chance to fill a roster spot with a star player for less money and actually get another pick.

Or why not move back several spots for a second round pick instead of a first.

In most drafts, the draft value chart overrates the top picks. But a saavy team would realize this and trade down for less value than the chart asks for. And they would be smart for doing so.

by Fergasun (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 11:45am

Why not let teams decide where they want to pick the night or week before the draft? That way you can at least avoid the mess of a team not making a draft pick and having to deal with an agent saying, "Well you chose him with the X pick in the draft, even if you slipped to X+2".

So if the Dolphins think the best pick in the draft in terms of being able to make a trade is #3, they can choose to get the #3 pick in the draft instead of being at #1.

by RCH (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 12:14pm

One major problem is that teams are not able to discuss contracts with prospects until they are "on the clock". If teams were able to have contract discussions with players prior to the draft the process would be more efficient. The top dozen or so consensus picks might lose...but there would be a number of players who would make more. For example, the guy would normally go 20th might agree to 15th slot money if the team selecting 10th takes him. Both the team and the player make out.

by Eric G (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 1:09pm

Now that the NFL has a salary cap system, the NFL draft has outlived its usefulness. The draft should be abolished.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 4:06pm

Re 38:

"the reality is that the draft is a crapshoot."

Do you have any proof to back this up? Because, I see Millen taking bust after bust every draft, and I can't remember the last first round bust the Colts had. I can think of a lot more anecdotal evidence to back up that certain teams draft well.

by Hummingbird Cyborg (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 4:58pm

#42: Proof?

Of course I don't have "proof". I mean, I have bugs planted in 28 of the 32 front offices of the league, but I have been struggling to get through all of the tapes on time to make meaningful conclusions.

No. Of course I don't have proof, but I have evidence. A couple of front offices like Baltimore's and Indy's seem to have more success than other teams, but 80% of failures of top ten draft picks in a draft pretty much shows that it is a crapshoot.

Sure, there is some strategy in that teams can choose to pick positions that tend to be found more easily in the first round or they may be somewhat better at scouting.

But, when a large percentage of top draft picks from early in the draft fail, it seems like this is good evidence for a crap shoot to me.

Or perhaps the teams that pick early tend to overvalue potential and tend to take the greater risk who can have a huge reward to get their money's worth.

But, I still think that the draft is a crapshoot that some GMs tend to have somewhat better ods at succeeding at.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 5:13pm

Re #40:

The biggest advantage to the league is that there's no competition for draft-quality rookie talent, so teams don't have to bid against each other. If the team with the fifteenth pick promises to offer a top prospect more than any of the teams drafting before them, the team drafting third has to either pass on this player or negotiate against #15's offer, either of which works against management in the larger sense.

by J. Kitna (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 6:21pm

Bad GM's cause bad picks, not high draft slots.

As long as Matt Millen is drafting players Detroit will always have high draft picks for him to blow.

Unfortunately as long as the games sell out the Fords are not going to replace him. It's the same as their other company why fix a crappy product if people still buy it.

For the good of humanity lets lock them all in a Ford Focus with Joe Kennedy at the wheel.

by Alex (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 6:42pm

The big problem with drafting high is that even if you get a good player, you are devoting a lot of cap space player to a player who you are unlikely to see a return on your value for until several years into the contract, and that their is an opportunity cost involved.

Mario Williams, the 1st overall pick from 2006, counted for about $3.4 million against Houston's salary cap. Mathias Kiwanuka, the 32nd overall pick from 2006, counted for about $1.3 million against the Giants' salary cap. $2 million isn't a huge difference in the salary cap, and getting a player with a higher chance of being great is well worth it. And 1st overall picks do have a higher chance of being great than 32nd overall picks do.

Anyway, the 80% failure rate of 2005 in the top ten shows how much of a crap shoot the draft can be.

First, it's only 70%. Pacman Jones was not underperforming his draft status, as explained in #28.

Second, a sample size of 10 isn't even close to enough to show that the draft is a crap shoot. Especially considering that the top 10 picks in 2004 were almost all successful.

Those top ten picks were not considered terrific picks by those teams, but by most teams.

What evidence do you have of this? How could you possibly know that?

What if Joe Thomas hadn't been available when the Browns picked him, and they'd drafted Brady Quinn instead? Would you have said that most teams considered Quinn worthy of a high 1st round pick, even though most of them would've passed on Quinn?

by Hummingbird Cyborg (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 7:24pm

I say bah to your sample size. If you take into account small sample size, you can say that any judgement of comparing first round selections is suspect. I mean, each team has only made ten selections in the last decade.

Anyhow, if you examine it, usually the top ten selections are pretty well predicted by draftniks. Which suggests that the players considered very good are often the same players. Sure, sometimes a team will surprise by picking somebody earlier than expected or later than expected, but the draft isn't completely surprising. Scouts seem to come to some consensus. So, if it was easy to predict, we'd be utterly shocked to see any single season with 70% failures in the top ten.

To me, a huge difference can be the difference in schemes that one team runs. The fact that they can pick up players that other teams would find useless gives them a competitive advantage. Like how Denver had a great run blocking team with undrafted free agents and late round draft picks for years because they could pick up players too light for other systems that worked terifically in theirs.

Of course everything that I say is somewhat speculative. I don't know enough to know if say Polian's staff is way better at scouting than the rest of the NFL or not.

But for most teams, the draft seems to be a crapshoot.

by Sean McCormick :: Sun, 03/30/2008 - 5:38pm

Re 45: I wouldn't argue against the notion that Millen is a bad GM, but that manifests itself in other ways more so than his use of first round picks, where he has very much been a victim of the circumstances Banks is describing. If you look at his improbable four receiver run, he went two for four- Charles Rogers and Mike Williams busted, while Roy Williams is a stud and Calvin Johnson looks to become one. In that same period of time, Jacksonville has gone zero for two on wide receivers, and they missed on a tight end for good measure, but they're still in much better shape than Detroit cap-wise because the players they missed on were generally lower first rounders. When you bomb on the #2 pick- and in fairness to Millen, Charles Rogers was on just about everyone's list of top 3-4 players- it's a disaster that is almost certainly going to push you right back into that top ten/top five range, and even if you pick a good player, as Millen did with Calvin Johnson, you're still paying heavily for the privilege and likely not getting a good return on your money.

The rookie salary scale is set up as if there are guys like Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson readily available year-in and year-out, but the talent just doesn't consistently keep up with the salaries. It's a losing proposition for teams picking high, regardless of the relative competence of their front offices.

by Alex (not verified) :: Sun, 03/30/2008 - 7:26pm

I say bah to your sample size. If you take into account small sample size, you can say that any judgement of comparing first round selections is suspect. I mean, each team has only made ten selections in the last decade.

What are you talking about? A sample size of 10 is not enough to provide solid evidence, period. If you can get a sample size of 100, for instance by considering all the top 10 picks of the last decade, then you should.

If the 2005 draft is enough to prove that top 10 picks are a crapshoot, then the 2004 draft is enough to prove that the top 10 picks are a goldmine. Truth is, it's somewhere in between. But you can't just say, "Oh, look, one year, lots of people made bad picks! Therefore it's a total crapshoot every year." Sorry, but 2005 was a bad year. That happens. The draft isn't perfectly predictable, no matter how good you are at scouting. But if the draft were a crapshoot, teams wouldn't get better players in the first round than they do in the second. But they do, even Matt Millen gets better players in the first round than he does in the second.

Look, there is uncertainty in every pick. But top 10 picks are more likely to be good than any other picks, so it's worth it to have a top 10 pick when you need an elite player, especially at QB, LT, or DE. And most teams that get top 10 picks have needs in those areas, otherwise they probably wouldn't be picking in the top 10 in the first place. That doesn't mean there's no risk, but when you need an elite QB, the risk of spending a high pick to get one is a necessary risk; otherwise, you don't get your QB, and you don't get any better.

even if you pick a good player, as Millen did with Calvin Johnson, you’re still paying heavily for the privilege and likely not getting a good return on your money.

No, you're not overpaying. Not in any sense of the term. Calvin Johnson's cap hit was $3.4 million last year, making him the 43rd highest paid WR in the league. He was 37th in DPAR and 35th in DVOA, and that's in the Lions' offense, so he's already outperforming his contract as a rookie! Ronnie Brown (#2 overall from 2005) is the 17th highest paid RB in the NFL. He's 17th in DPAR and 3rd in DVOA, and that's without considering receiving, which would push him into the top 10 in DPAR. Considering the crappy O-line blocking for him, he's way outperforming his contract. Julius Peppers (#2 overall from 2002), is the highest paid DE in the NFL. He's also the best DE in the NFL, so it's not like the Panthers are overpaying for him (and if you think they are, I can find about 25 teams that wish they could overpay Julius Peppers).

The only problem with picking #2 overall is if you pick a bad player and put him on a terrible team. Then, it's not exactly surprising that your team continues to suck.

by BDC (not verified) :: Sun, 03/30/2008 - 10:07pm

43: No, it doesn't show that at all. It shows us what we intuitively know, that more often then not, teams drafting in the top 10 suck at evaluating talent. Take Miami for instance, as they have the first pick in the draft this year. Over the past 10 years, their first selection has ranged from the number two pick to the number 90 pick (thanks, Dave). They picked one competent player with their first pick. It didn't matter what position in the draft their first pick was, almost all of them sucked.

Take a team like the Colts.
Over that same 10 year period, their first selection in the draft has ranged from number 1, to number 44. And almost all of them are hits. Either good, quality players or outright stars. And the higher their first pick was, the better the player.

Having a high first round pick is a certainly a good thing. But you have to actually be competent to take advantage of that. And more often then not, the teams with high first round picks have high first round picks because they are NOT competent.

In any case, there is no need to "fix" the draft. Seriously, you're telling me that if Miami, dismayed at having to pay number one money for their first pick couldn't get out of it if they wanted to? Worst case scenario, they could just give the thing away, to a competent team like the Pats in a straight of swap of first rounders with no additional compensation.

by BDC (not verified) :: Sun, 03/30/2008 - 10:11pm

Let me add another point too. The reason you don't see too many teams trading up into top slots is because the picks have different value to different teams.

To use the two examples from before. Take the Colts for instance. They don't have a tremendous need for what the first overall pick in the draft brings (a stud QB, DE, etc.). Always nice to have more, but it isn't that important to them so they don't place too much value on it. I.E., they aren't willing to give up much to get the first pick.

Take Miami. Miami has a HUGE need for the things a first overall pick can get. And so for them, it would take a LOT for them to pass that up.

So it isn't that the pick is overvalued or undervalued, it is that it has different value to different teams.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 03/31/2008 - 10:46am

"And really, the difference in salary between the rookie contract of a top 10 pick and that of another first round pick isn’t really that much. Maybe $1 million/year"

No, its much bigger than that.

Joseph Addai and Lawrence Maroney are both making in the range of $10M over 5 years. (Addai makes a little more than Maroney)

Reggie Bush makes in the range of $50M over 6 years. Its certainly NOT $1M a year difference.

by mrparker (not verified) :: Mon, 03/31/2008 - 4:28pm

Bush makes that much including his signing bonus but thats not how much he counts towards the cap

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 04/01/2008 - 1:51pm


Bush got (6 years) $51M, $26M guaranteed, thats $4.3M guaranteed a year..

Addai got (5 years) 11.7M, w/ 4.5M in guaranteed, thats $850K guaranteed a year.

Maroney got (5 years) 8.7M, w/ 6.5M guaranteed. Thats $1.3M guaranteed a year.

Bush's cap number escalates drastically, whereas Maroney's peaks at 2.01M in
2010, and Addai's peaks at 2.3M in 2010. I can't find a saint's salary cap page, but it looks like he'll max out around 9M in 2011.

by Tim (not verified) :: Tue, 04/01/2008 - 4:22pm

It's a huge and deeply misleading oversimplification to compare the rookie salaries of draftees to evaluate the costliness of each. The way the NFL's rookie salary cap works, the amount of money that a team can count toward its cap for rookies is capped, and at a shockingly low number - under $10 million per team, I'm almost sure. But that doesn't mean that there's any sort of limitation on the compensation in the subsequent years of a rookie contract.

Highly drafted rookies have huge option bonuses - basically signing bonuses beginning in year two - that make their cap values explode in subsequent years but have no effect on the rookie cap value. So it's true that Reggie Bush and Joseph Addai made roughly the same amount in their rookie years. But Bush will make immensely more over the course of his rookie contract.

by Usernaim (not verified) :: Tue, 04/01/2008 - 10:56pm

That Economics study of the NFL draft a few years ago proved pretty definitively that the draft is a crapshoot. When breaking down the draft by position, to look at first RB taken, second RB taken, third RB taken, the finding was that the higher pick had just barely better than 50% chance of starting more games and earning more Pro Bowls. When you consider the fact that higher picks get more PT and pub anyway, it's a wash.

But, there is a solution to the woes of a team with a high pick that doesn't want it--TRADE IT. Now all the time teams are saying that there were no viable offers for their high pick, but even if those picks are so disadvantageous, I'm sure they are worth something to some teams. If a team starts accepting the 26th and 100th pick for the 3rd pick--or the eighteenth pick and a fifth rounder, or a veteran player, for the first pick, they will surely find takers. Whatever the price is, there IS a market clearing price that will be advantageous to the seller of high picks, so long as there is no rookie cap and so long as some teams continue to irrationally covet high picks.

It's just that no one has been willing to make such "lopsided" trades. But no rule needs to be changed to make it happen.

That said, I favor a rookie slotting system like the NBA because it is unfair to the veterans for players to come in, half of whom will be mediocre or worse, and get paid $30m bonuses that could be going to veterans whose productivity in the NFL can be much more accurately predicted.

by Alex (not verified) :: Thu, 04/03/2008 - 2:05am

That Economics study of the NFL draft a few years ago proved pretty definitively that the draft is a crapshoot.

Actually, it proved the opposite. The Massey Thaler study showed that the average performance of the nth overall draft pick was greater than the average performance of the (n+1)th overall pick, for all n. So players drafted 1st overall outperformed the players drafted at any other position. Higher picks do get you better players, on average.

Massey and Thaler's claim was not that you didn't get better players with higher picks, it was that the surplus value (value - compensation) of a player taken 1st overall was less than that of one taken 32nd overall, for instance. The implication is that, since the NFL has a salary cap, teams are best off maximizing their surplus value with every player, since they can't change the amount of money they spend on players. And while it's true that 1st overall picks have less surplus value than other first round picks, that doesn't mean that teams are better off with the 32nd overall pick than with the 1st overall. Team's want more value, period, from their starters. They can get plenty of surplus value from their backups, and that's how they can stay under the salary cap, even if they have many highly paid starters.

To put it this way, if the Colts had to choose between these two options, which would you think they'd take:

1) Replace all their backups on defense with players who are paid twice as much, and would perform like average/slightly below average starters at their positions, but then replace Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne with Jon Kitna and Reggie Brown to make up for the cap room the new defenders would require.

2) Keep Manning and Wayne, and leave the defense unchanged.

I'm thinking most people would go with option 2). Now, obviously, option 1) would make their defense unbelievably deep, but their offense would suffer considerably, and I doubt it'd be worth it to give up Manning and Wayne in the end. Depth is important, but it only does so much. Even though Manning and Wayne combine to make up about 14% of the Colts' cap, they're well worth it.