In the 1980s, Jimmy Johnson created a draft pick value chart as a reference for trading draft picks. The theory was, if the first pick of the draft was worth 3,000 points, another team would have to offer a combination of draft picks worth at least 3,000 points in order to trade for the first pick.
Even though Johnson’s chart is still referenced by many in the media, it is almost certainly no longer used by teams in the NFL. The values appeared to be arbitrary and most believe Johnson greatly over-priced picks early in the first round and undervalued picks later in the draft.
Below is a look at the true draft pick values as calculated by FootballPerspective.com*. They looked at the average career of a player drafted at each spot in the draft and compared those careers to players picked at other spots (e.g. how does the average career of the fifth pick compare to the tenth pick?).
What we see is that the first pick (1,464) is worth less than half of what Johnson believed it was worth. And Johnson’s system most greatly undervalued picks in the middle rounds. Under Johnson’s system, if you wanted to move from #15 to #1 in the first round, it would probably cost you two first round picks and two second round picks. But in reality, the top pick is only worth the 15th pick plus maybe a second and a fourth rounder.
And we have seen this shift in valuation in recent years as third and fourth round picks have become hot commodities. With those picks, you can get a player nearly as good as a second-rounder, but at a cheaper salary that better fits the NFL salary cap…
Data via FootballPersepctive.com* We have scaled the data up so that the total value of the 224 picks is equal to the total value of the 224 picks in the Jimmy Johnson data.
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