5.02.2013

Finding Value in the NFL Draft

NFL fans will know that the annual draft occurred this past weekend. For those who aren't fans, the draft is the annual event during which pro-teams attempt to revamp their rosters (and their fortunes) by selecting eligible new players from the college ranks. If the stories are to be believed, more strategy seems to go into the draft than goes into some military invasions - and indeed the locations where teams assemble to make their selections are called, fondly if perhaps inappropriately, 'war rooms'.

Therefore, any information on ways teams could get ahead, including information on which round's picks were the most valuable, would itself be very valuable. A recent study by some folks at WPI attempted to provide just that. From ESPN:

"A study conducted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute says there's more value for second-round draft picks than first-rounders.

The analysis of the past 13 seasons shows that second-rounders provide 70 percent of the production of first-round picks but at just 40 percent of the salary.

"That's a significant value and it tells me that general managers should give more value to second- and third-round picks," said Craig Wills, the head of WPI's Department of Computer Science.

The study by WPI students Casey Barney, Anthony Caravella, Michael Cullen and Gary Jackson also concluded that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been the most cost-effective team in the draft since 2000. The Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers are next, while the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns ranked as least efficient.

As part of the study, WPI researchers developed a football metric called Appearance Score, a weighted combination of games played, games started and recognition as a top player. Highlighting the value of non-first-round picks, two of the top three players in Appearance Score last season were sixth-round draft picks in 2012: Washington running back Alfred Morris and Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh.

Third in the Appearance Score was Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year after being selected second overall in the draft.

In addition to team rankings, researchers focused on positions, and found that safeties provide the greatest value to teams."

Of course, some teams will always go for the big splash, big name which can most often be found in the first round. But, in a great example of a causation and/or correlation situation, those teams are often in a position to make splashy picks because of their poor records (the draft order is in reverse order of final standing the year before). Other other hand, teams like the Steelers, Colts and Packers have records which speak for themselves...

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