Exactly How Much Is An NFL Draft Pick Worth?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The parallel universe of the NFL Draft is a strange place, especially when looking for value. We look at mock drafts, big boards, and the trade value chart and know that they all have some meaning, but what do they mean together? Let's take a look.

The Indianapolis Colts invested 3,000 draft points last year into the acquisition of Andrew Luck, according to the 'Jimmy Johnson' draft pick trade value chart. The Kansas City Chiefs, this year, are expected to do the same with Luke Joeckel.

Looking only at the JJ chart, we might say that Andrew Luck and Luke Joeckel have equivalent values. I'll go ahead and say that that's absurd. Clearly, if the two were in the same draft, Luck would still have been taken over Joeckel; Luck was the better prospect.

2,600 points went into Robert Griffin III (and that's not even considering the wild the Redskins executed to secure those 2,600 points), and I'd be reluctant to say that Joeckel is a better prospect than RGIII, post-draft injuries notwithstanding. And still, 3,000 points will be invested in Joeckel. There's an obvious problem here.

Let's start with what we can comfortably state as fact (in this case, 'fact' means exactly 'my opinion,' but I'll try to be fair). Andrew Luck was a legitimate number 1 pick, just like Cam Newton before him (reminder: post-draft production is not being considered here). Andrew Luck is worth 3,000 points; write it in stone. May as well add Cam Newton, too.

Pick Value Player(s)
1, 1 3,000 Andrew Luck, Cam Newton

How about Robert Griffin III? Personally, I think it's fair to say he's a legitimate number one pick, as well. No one would be complaining if he headlined this year's draft class (certainly not the quarterback-starved Chiefs). So, let's add RGIII as another 3,000-point player.

Pick Value Player(s)
1, 1 3,000

Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III

We still don't have anything to do with Luke Joeckel, though. What's the next reasonable category? Where do the Mario Williams, Reggie Bush and Jake Long-type players belong? For me, a fair place is pick number five. This establishes the player as a clear top-five prospect, but doesn't give them the benefit of over-inflated value that happens in particularly weak draft classes such as this one. The fifth overall pick is worth 1,700 points. Let's add all of those players there, now.

Pick Value Player(s)
1, 1 3,000

Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III

1, 5 1,700

Luke Joeckel, Jake Long, Mario Williams, Reggie Bush

So far, this passes my eye test. I would give up any of the three top-row players for two of the bottom-row players. 1,700 x 2 = 3,400 points, which is a fair amount higher (the 50th overall pick is worth 400 points) than the 3,000 points of the first overall picks.

Conceivably, the next universal category would encompass picks 6-10. These are the difference makers at the second-tier positions, and the runners-up at the premium positions. These are still potentially very good players, but they don't have all of the benefits of their top-5 predecessors, be that playing at a premium position or being the absolute best at their position for the past several years.

To keep with my value system, we'll ascribe these players all the value of the tenth overall pick: 1,300 points.

Pick Value Player(s)
1, 1 3,000

Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III

1, 5 1,700

Luke Joeckel, Jake Long, Mario Williams, Reggie Bush


1, 10 1,300

Second-tier players at premium positions; premium players at second-tier positions


It's at this point that we're on shaky ground, and I don't feel comfortable delegating players to slots (I feel I may be too swayed by hindsight). The table can continue to grow in this fashion, as this is a general iteration of it. We're intending this table to be appropriate for all drafts in the modern age.

In a given draft, (say, for example, this one) there may be different categories. We might see Luke Joeckel occupy a spot of his own at, say, number 3. It would be neither a power ranking nor a mock draft, but rather a more realistic look at how objectively valuable Luke Joeckel is.

Much more importantly, beyond the consensus first pick, the players form clumps. They become groups of players that all have seemingly equivalent values within their groups. These groups should be assigned the lowest value that appears reasonable for them as a whole.

This value is the target point for teams taking a pure Best Player Available strategy. Unfortunately, very few teams take a pure BPA approach, instead targeting perceived 'needs.'This leads us to the next topic...

Value within a group! Clearly, if there is one player you want in a group of five, it doesn't make sense to trade for that bottom pick of the group and hope that he falls. Rather, value can be added quite intuitively using the trade value chart. If there are two players in the 6-10 group, out of five, that you would be happy drafting, you simply look at the second-from-the-beginning pick for that group, and use that value. In this case, that yields a value of 1,500 points.

Looking at the first pick overall example, let's imagine we have Luck, RGIII, and Newton all in the same draft. Because there are three of them, one might be able to secure one of those players for only the 2,200-point cost of the third overall pick. However, if there was one particular quarterback you did not want, you would have to pay the second-overall price tag of 2,600, and, if you want to pick your choice from the three, you're back to full retail at 3,000.

These situations that we've discussed more accurately reflect the decisions teams must make, and the way teams view prospects, than the current system of 'universal big board' coupled with 'mock draft' and a trade chart sitting somewhere independent of the players.

Where do you see the clumps in this year's draft class? Where (and how) do you think the Cowboys can get the best value from this phenomenon?

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