HOW VALUABLE ARE HIGH DRAFT
PICKS IN THE NFL?
The NFL is generally thought to exhibit more parity than other leagues. This means that it appears easier for a bad NFL team to improve from season to season than for a bad NBA or MLB team to improve from one season to the next. We will investigate the truth of this matter in chapter 41.
Most NFL fans believe that the major equalizer from year to year is the structure of the NFL draft. Teams draft in each round in inverse order of performance with the worst team getting the first pick and the best team getting the last pick. Common sense tells us that an earlier draft pick should, on average, be a more valuable player to a team than a later pick. According to Thaler and Massey (TM), common sense may be wrong.1
Position Value Curve
TM began by trying to estimate the relative value NFL teams associate with different picks. They collected data on all draft day trades from recent years in which draft picks were dealt. For example, perhaps one team traded their ninth and twenty- fifth picks for a third pick. Letting v(n) be the relative value (v(1) = 1) of the nth pick in the draft, this trade would indicate that NFL teams believe v(9) + v(25) = v(3). TM found that the function
1 Thaler and Massey, “The Loser's Curse.”