This is the second in a series on how a team can use long term strategies to upgrade the team. The first of the series discussed how a team should fill holes on teams by adding mid-range mid-dollar role model FA’s and then upgrade the team talent in the draft. A team with this strategy can use BPA as both BPA and drafting for need is the same when a team has no holes.
This article will focus on the draft and how to minimize risks.
Every draft pick has risk. Some hit and some miss, even the earliest picks. When they miss, it is an epic failure. Yet the probability of success is higher, the earlier one drafts. The trade for an earlier pick is based on the ability to get that highest probability valued player.
Talent is distributed along a power curve, or one side of a normal distribution bell curve. There are about 100 NFL ready players in each draft. These are typically found in the first three rounds but not always as a few late picks and UDFA hit and a few early picks miss. There a few players that everyone wants and these are consensus early picks. Then there are more and more of players with lessor talent or more flaws or both. Eventually there are lots of JAGS.
The draft charts reflect this probability. The difference between the earliest first round pick and later first round picks is much greater than the difference in the end of the first round and the start of the second round. A typical draft chart calculator can be found here
We have taken advantage of several players who have dropped due to injury concerns. Character issues can come into play. Lack of prototypical height/weight can come into play. Sometimes teams get too locked into the measureables and forget that these are football players. Wilson was drafted by Seattle much later as he was not the prototypical sized QB. Often it is the other away around, we want ______ because he is huge, fast, whatever, but can he play? After the first handful of players that everyone wants, teams have to project what a player can do, not just see what they have done to date.
By the time the 4th round comes along. These players are hit or miss as they have some sort of flaw. They can be stars or just bad but probably not in-between. These are not the ordinary stars otherwise they would have been selected earlier, but they have something that makes them standout along with a major flaw.
Teams that can identify those flaws and mitigate them can find good talent. Typical flaws include small school bias. Arkin is a good example. He had played against lower levels of competition. Dallas recognized that he was a project and he would take some time to develop.
Later round picks are even riskier and the odds of success are much lower. The draft charts show this quite well. In fact, later 6th and 7th round draft picks succeed at a rate lower than UDFA. The major advantage to later picks is that the team controls the contract.
UDFA can sign with any team that will have them. They will seek out teams that match their skills and team needs. A classic example is that Romo chose Dallas over Denver because of the QB depth at the time.
Individual risk and multiple picks
Every pick has risk. One way for a team to minimize the risk is to draft multiple players for the same position. Dallas did this several years ago with a #1 pick with Jenkins and a #5 pick with Scandrick. It was hoped that one would be able to play but both made the roster.
Scandrick actually played earlier as he was more NFL ready. He was the player with the high floor, while Jenkins was the high ceiling player. Jenkins was the #1 pick based on his higher potential.
It is notable that we resigned Scandrick last year, as he was on a 4 year contract for his later round. As a first round pick, Jenkins had a 5 year contract. His contract is up this year. For all the hoopla of his health and productivity, we were not going to trade him this year as he was still on his rookie contract. Whether we can resign him this year is another question.
Yet a team only has about 7 picks each year. Using multiple picks on a single position has its own cost. Opportunity cost is what you give up when you take a given course of action. A team that uses two or more picks at a single position gives up the opportunity to improve somewhere else.
Draft chart mismatches.
The draft chart made trades easier. This is similar to the amount of world trade if there is an easy conversion of two different currencies. One can guess what a Botswanan Pula is worth to the Guatemalan Quetzal. I have no clue off the top of my head. Raise your hand if you had even heard of either currency. [I did not use the Yap currency because OCC WOULD know it off the top of his head.]
Yet while any chart is beneficial, there are some flaws. NE was one of the first to take advantage of relative mismatches.
Note the major difference in early and later first round picks was overvalued. Thus NE used a strategy of trading their earliest picks for more later picks. This is best done trading an early # 1 gaining for a later pick and adding another 2nd or 3rd round pick. With multiple picks, each individual pick is still risky, but as long as you are in the first three rounds, the odds of success are still fairly good. Even if a single pick is a bust, there are still several others that add to the depth/quality of the team.
This overvaluing of earliest picks may be minimized by the introduction of the rookie salary schedule. In the past the salary cap hit of failing with earliest picks made the risk much higher.
The NFL is a star system with the best get much more money than even above average players. That eventually worked its way into the earliest picks.
Another mismatch is known in future picks. Just as the earliest picks are relatively overvalued, future picks are undervalued. A future pick is normally one round earlier to make up for the cost of waiting, similar to interest on loans.
Yet the odds of success for a late pick are fairly low. So giving up pick in a late round this year is not that big of a cost. The next year, the receiving team can harvest the pick with a higher probability of success. Yet a better strategy is to trade that additional pick for another future pick and eventually get one in the sweet zone of the 2nd or 3rd rounds where one can find starter quality.
Additionally one should not focus too much on any single pick. Teams have several picks each year and try to maximize their full portfolio of picks.
Dallas had brought in all the big name tackles to a pre-draft visit for evaluation. They considered all scenarios including trading down for more picks. It is reported that Smith and Solder were the two best tackles and that they wanted one of them and to get them would require a first round pick.
Yet they also considered the possibility of getting a pass rusher. They thought that they could not wait on OT, but that another pass rusher would be available in the second round due to the depth of the class.
It turns out they were mistaken as there was a run on pass rushers. That happens with all teams acting in their own best interests and not always predictably.
One can do everything right and still come up wrong in the short term. Value and opportunity costs theory can maximize one’s probabilities in the long term but in the end the only true value is in the players selected. Think of the following 2x2 matrix with process and results
Good process gets good results – you deserved it and in the long run this provides the maximum probable outcomes
Good process gets bad results - ___it happens
Bad process gets good results – hit the lottery, but not the way to plan for your retirement
Bad process gets bad results – you get what you deserve