“Dead” Draft Value

The NFL is obsessed with value: Is this quarterback a good value? Does that linebacker provide good value for his contract? Which general manager gets the most value from their roster decisions? Dave Archibald looks at one area of value that is often overlooked as fans search for the next “value pick” – the results of past draft picks and what “dead” draft value actually means.

Dollars and cents rule the NFL offseason: new contracts, players earning extensions, free agent signings, bonuses, and “dead money” owed to former players in cut-down time. The salary cap provides a constraint on spending, and managing money within those limits is key to success in both the short- and long-term. But teams have another key resource they must manage to build their teams: draft picks. These allow teams to fill out their roster with players at discount salaries for their first four seasons, often some of the best of a player’s career. Success in the draft often translates to wins on the field, while busts or failed picks often lead to underperforming squads. Dead money makes managing the salary cap difficult, but “dead” draft value – draft picks expended on players subsequently cut – may have even more deleterious effects on a team’s outlook.

We can quantify draft value by assigning the draft trade value chart figure for all players that should theoretically be under a team’s control – that is every pick from the 2012 through 2015 drafts, as well as 2011 first-round picks (because of the fifth-year option for first-rounders). The draft value chart was developed by Jimmy Johnson in the 1990’s as a guideline to how much each draft pick is “worth” for purposes of trades; it has flaws but provides a reasonable heuristic. The chart below shows, through last Saturday’s final cutdowns, how much total draft value was invested in players no longer on the team, and how that related to the total amount of draft capital each team had to spend.

Team Total Value Value Rank % Draft Capital % Rank
49ers 2800 2 35% 1
Browns 4322 1 33% 2
Seahawks 1333 9 28% 3
Buccaneers 2497 3 24% 4
Packers 1347 8 23% 5
Lions 1830 4 21% 6
Titans 1581 5 15% 7
Eagles 1280 10 15% 8
Bears 1014 13 13% 9
Vikings 1354 7 13% 10
Chiefs 1022 12 11% 11
Texans 1107 11 11% 12
Jaguars 1468 6 11% 13
Bills 935 14 9% 14
Dolphins 867 15 9% 15
Giants 648 17 8% 16
Jets 735 16 7% 17
Ravens 437 23 7% 18
Broncos 512 20 7% 19
Saints 477 22 7% 20
Raiders 492 21 6% 21
Falcons 516 19 6% 22
Bengals 527 18 6% 23
Cardinals 334 24 4% 24
Steelers 269 25 4% 25
Patriots 244 26 4% 26
Chargers 242 27 3% 27
Washington 208 29 2% 28
Panthers 198 30 2% 29
Cowboys 160 31 2% 30
Colts 135 32 2% 31
Rams 217 28 2% 32


Unsurprisingly, we see moribund franchises like Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee with the most wasted draft capital, and 2014 playoff squads Arizona, Pittsburgh, New England, Carolina, and Dallas with the least. There are also some fascinating exceptions, like Seattle and Green Bay near the “top” and St. Louis and Washington near the “bottom”. Some of these cases require closer examination.

San Francisco 49ers – 2800 value (2nd), 35% of draft capital (1st)

Player Team Draft Year Value % of Value
Aldon Smith SFO 2011 1500 19%
A.J. Jenkins SFO 2012 620 8%
LaMichael James SFO 2012 292 4%
Chris Borland SFO 2014 205 3%
Joe Looney SFO 2012 60 1%
Marcus Lattimore SFO 2013 41 1%


The 49ers had a truly
disastrous offseason, as Borland retired after a fine rookie season and they had to cut Smith after the latest in a series of arrests. After releasing Looney last week, they no longer have any of their 2012 draft selections on the roster. The 49ers have gone 44-19-1 over the past four seasons, but their dead draft value suggests that the future outlook is bleak.

Cleveland Browns – 4322 value (1st), 33% of draft capital (2nd)

Player Team Draft Year Value % of Value
Trent Richardson CLE 2012 2200 17%
Phil Taylor CLE 2011 800 6%
Brandon Weeden CLE 2012 780 6%
Leon McFadden CLE 2013 250 2%
Terrance West CLE 2014 124 1%


This chart is a bit unfair to the Browns, who were able to recoup a first-round pick when they dealt Richardson to the Colts. Cleveland has had the third-most amount of total draft value in the study, trailing only Jacksonville and St. Louis, but has yet turn that into results.

Seattle Seahawks – 1333 value (9th), 28% of draft capital (3rd)

Player Team Draft Year Value % of Value
James Carpenter SEA 2011 720 15%
Christine Michael SEA 2013 284 6%
Jaye Howard SEA 2012 66 1%
Chris Harper SEA 2013 49 1%
Kevin Norwood SEA 2014 49 1%
Terry Poole SEA 2015 42 1%
Korey Toomer SEA 2012 30 1%


At first glance, Seattle’s ranking looks unfair: Carpenter didn’t deliver great value for his first-round selection, but he was a competent starter. A closer examination, however, suggests that their ranking is deserved. The Seahawks have not made a first-round pick since 2012, dealing away their first selection in three straight drafts, and those missing first-rounders aren’t reflected in this data. The jury’s still out on 2014 and 2015 trades, but the 2013 deal has already proved a disaster. The Seahawks dealt a first-round pick for wide receiver Percy Harvin, whose Seahawks career lasted just eight games before they jettisoned him for just a sixth-round pick. Adding insult to injury, the first player they did select in 2013, second-round running back Christine Michael, has now been traded after carrying the ball just 52 times in his two seasons in Seattle. The Seahawks have by far the least total draft value remaining on their roster, and they will need to continue to hit on late-round picks to continue their recent run of success.

Green Bay Packers – 1347 value (8th), 23% of draft capital (5th)

Player Team Draft Year Value % of Value
Derek Sherrod GNB 2011 590 10%
Jerel Worthy GNB 2012 390 7%
Khyri Thornton GNB 2014 165 3%
Carl Bradford GNB 2014 52 1%
Johnathan Franklin GNB 2013 47 1%
Jerron McMillian GNB 2012 40 1%


Green Bay rarely signs free agents, so they need to make the most of their draft picks to continue their run of success, which includes six consecutive playoff appearances. Sherrod was a big-time miss, starting just one game in four injury-plagued seasons with the Packers. It’s not a great sign that they’ve already parted ways with Thornton and Bradford, their third- and fourth- round picks a year ago. Neither ever played in a game for the Packers.

Not Dead Yet

Charts similar to those above are fairly uninteresting for the teams towards the bottom – their big-name, highly-regarded draft picks are all still with the team. The Rams, who have the least draft capital allocated to ex-players, have cut only one of their fourth-round picks since 2012, offensive lineman Barrett Jones, and none of their picks in the top three rounds. Not only that, they’ve had the second-most draft capital, due in part to the 2013 trade that netted them four high draft choices in exchange for the rights to Robert Griffin III. This draft capital hasn’t given them success, as they haven’t had a winning season since 2003. Perhaps St. Louis is on the verge of a breakout, perhaps they have a strong team held back by sub-par quarterback play, or perhaps being unwilling or unable to cut recent draft picks is a negative. Most likely, it is some combination of all three: the Rams do have some terrific young talent, such as defensive linemen Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald, and spotty quarterback play has held them back at times. However, St. Louis’ receiving corps provides a clear illustration of some of the hazards of hanging on to draftees:

Per Year Averages
Year Rnd Pick Player College/Univ G Rec Yds TD
2013 1 8 Tavon Austin West Virginia 14 36 330 2
2013 3 92 Stedman Bailey West Virginia 15 24 331 1
2012 2 33 Brian Quick Appalachian St. 13 18 278 2
2012 4 96 Chris Givens Wake Forest 15 29 475 1


The Rams continue to roster all four players, but none have been overly effective despite the draft capital expended. The only veteran of note St. Louis has brought in to compete with its stable of youngers is the troubled
Kenny Britt , who led the team with 748 receiving yards in 2014. If they brought in more veteran options, they would look worse in terms of dead draft value, but they might look better on the field.

Other notes:

  • Tampa Bay’s poor ranking is driven almost entirely by two players, Adrian Clayborn and Mark Barron, their first-round picks in 2011 and 2012.
  • Buffalo’s ranking is unfair as it is largely driven by the trade of Kiko Alonso, for whom the Bills received LeSean McCoy. Ignore Alonso, and the Bills are only 20th in dead draft capital.
  • Teams that added to their totals significantly in last week’s cutdowns include Atlanta (Peter Konz), Cincinnati (Devon Still), Cleveland (Phil Taylor), Denver (Montee Ball), Detroit (Ryan Broyles), and New Orleans (Stanley Jean-Baptiste).
  • The Colts’ ranking doesn’t include their disastrous trade for Richardson. If we count him as their first-round pick in 2014 (26th overall), it would vault them from 32nd to 16th in total dead draft value and from 31st to 13th in percentage of draft capital in ex-players.

Conclusions

Draft picks are some of the most important resources franchises have for building a team. Squander those picks, and a general manager will find himself behind the eight ball. On the other hand, teams need to be savvy about when to cut bait on draft picks or replace them with superior options through other avenues. Teams can overcome failed draft picks, as they can overcome bad contracts, but wasted draft capital is a deficiency that they will need to offset with excellence elsewhere. Examining dead draft value may clue us in as to which teams are quietly amassing talent and which have surprising depth problems that may haunt them later. Are there issues in Seattle and Green Bay behind the elite top-line talent? Are the Rams on the verge of a run of success? Time will tell, as the ramifications of dead draft value bears out over this season and in seasons beyond.

Follow Dave on Twitter @davearchie.

Dave Archibald knows pass defense, specifically how coverage, the pass rush, excellent cornerbacks, versatile safeties and in-game adjustments can make a big difference.

All draft data from pro-football-reference.com. Data on current roster status from overthecap.com and sportrac.com.

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