Charts provide nothing more than a rough estimate of trade value

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A quarter of a century after Jimmy Johnson went to work building the Dallas Cowboys dynasty through a series of trades that brought forth a bounty of talent in the draft, NFL teams are still aware of the draft chart the Cowboys used to assess what constitutes a fair trade. But while the chart is still used for quick back-of-the-envelope calculations when teams are on the clock and trying to pull off fast trades, the value of the chart itself shouldn’t be overstated.

Some teams have moved on to more sophisticated charts that they believe better approximate the true value of draft picks. Newer charts take into consideration things like the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which makes high first-round picks much more affordable than they were under the old CBA. (When Johnson first put the chart together, the NFL didn’t even have a salary cap, which meant the Cowboys were free to consider football skill alone without also worrying about whether they could squeeze in the salaries of all their picks.)

It’s the standard,” 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke said of Johnson’s old Cowboys trade chart. “Everybody uses it, so you have to understand it and take a look at it.”

The 49ers, however, have developed their own chart, which hasn’t been made public like the old Jimmy Johnson chart has. There have been some indications that the 49ers’ chart looks more like the chart published in 2011 by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, but the reality is that charts don’t dictate trades. For proof of that, just look at the trade last year between the 49ers and the Cowboys, whose owner and General Manager Jerry Jones was standing side by side with Johnson in the Dallas draft room back in the 1990s. If teams closely followed their own draft charts, you’d expect Jones to make a trade only when it looked beneficial according to the old draft chart, and you’d expect Baalke to make a trade only when it looked beneficial according to the Harvard draft chart.

In reality, it was the opposite: When the Cowboys gave up the 18th pick in last year’s first round and acquired the 31st overall pick and the 74th overall pick from the 49ers, it was a “bad” trade for the Cowboys from the perspective of the old Jimmy Johnson chart: The 18th pick was worth 900 points, and the 49ers’ two picks were worth a total of only 820 points. But it was also a “bad” trade for the 49ers from the perspective of the new Harvard chart: The 18th pick was worth 249.2 points on the new chart, while the 31st and 74th picks were worth a total of 322.4 points on the new chart.

Why would both the Cowboys and the 49ers do a deal that went against both of their charts? Because the charts are nothing more than a rough estimate. The 49ers weren’t trading up for Pick 18, they were trading up for the player they took at Pick 18, safety Eric Reid. And the Cowboys weren’t trading down for Pick 31 and Pick 74, they were trading down into a couple of spots in the draft where they had players identified they thought would be available. (They chose center Travis Frederick at 31 and receiver Terrance Williams at 74.)

“There’s flexibility in it,” Baalke said of his draft trade chart. “But identifying the player is the critical thing. And finding a way to get them is the next stop.”

Using a newer chart published by Football Perspective, Bill Barnwell of Grantland calculates that the Browns are in the best shape of any team heading into the draft, with all of their own picks and extra first-, third- and fourth-round picks acquired in trades. That looks about right. But as Baalke noted, all that will matter a week from now is identifying the right players.

22 responses to “Charts provide nothing more than a rough estimate of trade value

  1. It would be ridiculous to blindly follow a chart in making a trade. Theoretically, if a team had enough sixth- and seventh-round picks to trade, they could trade them all for a first-round pick because the points would match up. But who would rather have a bunch of low picks than one high pick, other than Ted Thompson?

  2. Do the Browns have a Bizarro Chart that made them take Barkeverious Mingo, Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson all with 1st round picks?

  3. Fine analysis. The value of Johnson’s old chart has transformed in overall terms because of factors like the salary cap and rookie wage scale, but there’s another wrinkle too: the actual composition of players available to be drafted changes from year to year! I guess it would be possible to construct a draft chart with values set in stone if the exact same players with the exact same qualities were available every year, but that’s not the case. Johnon’s chart was meant to provide his staff with a rough, general idea of what they should receive in return for different potential trades, it was never meant to be inflexible or absolute.

  4. What doesnt seem to be addressed very well is that you can create a chart that says the number 1 pick is worth “X” – But if theres a once in a generation QB coming out that year – Your chart is JUNK…

    Even if its Clowney, everyone will value you him differently, so these charts really only work well after about the 15th pick IMO

  5. I would love to see a story that takes the value chart back to the Hershel Walker trade and exposes those numbers.

    In hindsight, the Cowboys built a Superbowl team and the Vikings did what the Vikings usually do and that’s suck but I wonder just how lopsided the trade in value chart numbers?

    Even more insightful would be to divide the value numbers by the number of Superbowl rings. I’m not a math major but I seem to recall anything divided by zero equals zero so that formula is easy to calculate for the Vikings.

  6. As it is any trade, it’s what you want it to be. While the ole JJ chart is useful, remember, he also got the Vikes to give up a lot for Herschel Walker. Who got the better end of that deal?

    If I have the 18th pick in the first round and want to trade down to say, 27th, is it an extra third rd or second? Depends. If my trading partner has three second round picks, then that’s probably an easier deal for both sides to make.

    Trades are whatever you can haggle.

  7. I nay not know much, but I do know this- some team will use this chart to fleece the inept Falcons once again.

  8. It’s interesting to see point values given to each specific draft slot and I can see it being useful, as stated, as a very rough approximation of a specific picks value. However, I agree with Baalke’s philosophy regarding the charts, that you’re not exactly trying to put value on a picks actual position in the draft, but rather on the PLAYER you intend to draft with that pick. It makes all of these charts almost useless because you’re not picking robots, you’re picking human beings and the unpredictability that comes with them. If you have a player that you REALLY want in say the second round, who gives a damn if you use the 36th pick or the 56th pick? After all is said and done, each team has to decide for themselves what a player is worth to THEM, and then do everything they can to get that player regardless of which pick he’s “projected” to be taken with. The NFL draft is the perfect occasion for the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

  9. JJs chart was a bad joke about 5 years after he made it. It placed ludicrous value on 1st round picks without taking into account the salary ramifications or bust potentials. Take QBs for example.

  10. Let’s wait and see how the 2013 Draft pans out before we dump on Baalke. 2012 draft was horrible, but 2011 and 2010 before it were pretty good.

    Eric Reid – All Pro
    “Tank” Carradine – IR all last season
    Vance McDonald – Solid traditional TE
    Cory Lemonier – Filled in nicely during Aldon’s rehab
    Quinton Patton – Ok rookie season, needs to stay healthy.
    Marcus Lattimore – The second coming of Frank Gore? IR all last season

  11. Does it really matter? JJ will screw up the Cowbabies picks just like he usually does.

  12. That chart is so dumb. So if the Bills wanted to trade up for #9 to the Texans #1, they would have to trade all of their picks and still be about 800-900 points short. Right… the points fall way too fast in the first round.

  13. For y’all who are saying Jerry Jones can actually hang with the big dogs when trading, because of the Hershel Walker deal, I give you one name:

    Roy Williams.

  14. Makes sense that if you have a player, say ranked #10 on your board and he’s there at the #20 spot, then you would be willing to give up more than what the chart is telling you the #20 spot is worth.

    It obviously depends on the other team as well and how they value a player available at that pick.

    Can’t wait for this thing to get kicked off already. Maybe that is what the NFL wanted all along….we’re all biting at the bit here.

  15. Amazing job on all the comments here. Haven’t laughed that hard in a while. I look for John Idzik to trade down several times because he is a hoarder and 12 picks can’t possibly be enough to create competition.

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