Last week, the NFL player draft took place over 3 days in New York City, and now the annual exercise of “grading” each team based on their draft haul commences. It’s a fun debate, with grades often based more on feel or perceived value, rather than any real analysis.
There are many ways to evaluate draft results, but from a purely mathematical standpoint, I like to look at value. Which teams got the best “bargains”, and which teams went out on a limb? If you had the 20th pick in the draft, did you get the 20th best player? Or did you draft a lower-ranked player.
I took all of this year’s 254 players drafted in the NFL draft, and compared them to their draft ranking, according to CBS Sports. The only real reason I have for using CBS as opposed to the many other draft rankings out there, is that it was easy to pull their data out into a spreadsheet. From there, I computed the “value” of each pick. If a team drafted a player above his rank, this is negative value. If a team drafted a player after his rank, this is a positive value. Some examples:
Geno Smith was drafted with the 39th pick, but was ranked 21st by CBS Sports, so his value was +18
Meanwhile, E.J. Manuel was drafted with the 16th pick, but was ranked 40th, for a value of -24.
Some players represented great values for the teams which picked them:
Cornelius Washington, Chicago Bears (pick 188, ranked 82, +106)
Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals (187, 88, +99)
Jordan Poyer, Philadelphia Eagles (218, 119, +99)
While other players could be considered “reaches”:
B.J. Daniels, SF 49ers (pick 237, ranked 818, -581)
Jon Meeks, Buffalo Bills (143, 834, -691)
Ryan Seymour, Seattle Seahawks (220, “1000”, -780). Ryan is the only drafted player who did not appear in CBS’s top 1000, so I just assigned him #1000.
There is a bit of un-fairness here, as many teams will use later picks on “projects”, players who have little expectation of making the team, but who seem to have a particular upside, so there was much volatility in the later round values.
From there, I simply added up the value scores for the players drafted by each team, and found an overall value score. So, which teams earn the best grades? Only 3 teams earned overall positive scores. This is understandable, as it is much easier to earn negative scores than positives, especially in the later rounds.
THE TOP 3:
Minnesota Vikings (+187)
Chicago Bears (+51)
Philadelphia Eagles (+25)
THE BOTTOM 3:
Buffalo Bills (-836)
SF 49ers (-1097)
Seattle Seahawks (-1571)
For math class, have your students think of other ways to measure draft success. Is the value measure here valid? How can the method be adjusted? How do some of the huge negative numbers in this data influence results? Feel free to download and toy around with the data in my draft value tracker, and let me know what you come up with!