It’s April once more, meaning that the major sports networks around the United States have turned their full attention to the grandeur that is the upcoming NFL draft. The fact that both the NBA and NHL are preparing for their postseasons while MLB is just starting its regular season is, as usual, largely ignored as a handful of pundits rack up the majority of their airtime for the year discussing which fresh 20-something is going to what part of the country to play professional football.
Of all the discussions, the one that seems to gain the most attention would be the ever-popular mock draft. Almost anyone can put one of these together; simply copy the list of draft picks, and then mix and match 32 of the 40 or so probable first-round selections as you see fit. You’ll likely spend more time coming up with justifications for your choices than you will actively scouring the list to see who you think each team should select. (Not that it’ll do you any good; regardless of justification the mere fact that you have an opinion is enough to send fans into a frothing fit of rage.)
However, the introduction of a rookie salary cap to the NFL draft system have made…well, a mockery, of the draft mocking system. Draft picks have always had intrinsic value, but thanks to the new cap their financial value is relatively locked in. Teams can afford to gamble more at the top of the draft, knowing they won’t be entering salary cap hell should their selection bust. While there has only been one draft thus far under the new rule, looking at the selections it doesn’t appear that this new ability to gamble has come to fruition; the top 10 selections in the 2012 draft all seemed to be top-10 choices coming into the draft process as well as coming out of the 2012 season.
The major change is the addition of trades to the top of the draft. Teams could always trade their selections, that’s not new, but the addition of a rookie cap allows a team to trade up without sacrificing massive chunks of cap space as well as players & picks.
Let’s take the most recent available example for the financial cost, in comparing the 2010 and 2011 first overall selections, Sam Bradford of the Rams and Cam Newton of the Panthers.
Bradford signed a contract worth a guaranteed $50 million on an overall $78 million over five years. Newton, one year later but post-lockout, signed a four-year $22 million contract with all of it guaranteed. A trade for Newton in 2011 would’ve cost a team $28 million less than a trade for Bradford one year earlier.
From a draft pick perspective, we have to go a little further back.
In 2004, San Diego traded the #1 pick to the Giants for #5 and #65 that year and what would turn out to be #12 and #144 the following year.
Using the oft-quoted NFL Draft Pick Value Chart (thanks to Walter Football), San Diego gave up 3,000 points in exchange for 1700 + 265 + 1200 + 34 = 3199 points.From a points perspective, San Diego gave up 3,000 in exchange for 1700 + 265 + 1200 + 34 = 3199 points. They come out slightly ahead, except for that whole “not having Eli Manning” thing.
In last year’s draft, the Rams gave up #2 overall in exchange for #6 and#39 in ’12, #22 in ’13 and an as-yet-undetermined first-round selection in ’14.
St. Louis gave up 2600 in exchange for 1600 + 510 + 780; with this year’s selection they have acquired nearly 2900 points so according to the chart they’re already ahead with one first round pick to go. They will end up between 3480 points if the Redskins win the Super Bowl and 5890 points if the Redskins end up with the worst record in 2013.
A significantly higher price was charged to the Redskins in 2012 than to the Giants eight years prior. Granted there were other variables involved (namely the Redskins bidding against the Browns for the selection while Eli Manning had no such bidding war for his services) but the numbers don’t lie.
Six of the first seven selections (and nine of the first sixteen) changed hands at least once in last year’s draft. The first round had 19 trades in 2012, far more than any draft prior. If that becomes a trend, then over half of the selections in this year’s first round will end up with someone other than who they were originally slotted to at the end of the NFL season. The draft is two weeks away and we’ve already seen two selections change hands: one thanks to last year’s RG3 trade, and the other as a result of the Percy Harvin to Seattle trade.
What does all this have to do with mock drafts? Very simple: most mocks don’t account for the potential for trades. They almost always assume that who has the pick at the time of writing will have that same pick on draft day. With trades having become such a real possibility, it feels as though most mock drafts are now just a waste of time. Without taking trades into account, of what value are they?
To give an example, I pose this question: “What will the Eagles do with the #4 pick?”
Prior to last year, simply picking a big-name lineman out of a hat & scrawling a few sentences using such key words as “potential”, “pro-ready”, and “offensive fit” would have been more than sufficient. Thanks to the possibility of yet another trade-happy draft, I want to know if the Eagles will select at #4. I want to know if there’s someone they should trade up to get, or if there’s someone they’re hoping to get later after trading down. Same for the other 31 selections in the draft; who they “should” take with that pick is only part of the equation. Mock drafts could grow exponentially as potential future considerations are finally, well, considered. One could look at a team’s whole draft for guidance regarding the possibilities for their first round selection, rather than just where they finished the season and who they predict will be around at that time in the draft. Unfortunately these variables are largely ignored in favor of the status quo: name, school, position, cliche.
Image courtesy Marianne O’Leary