Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Giants draft strategies

Giants were awarded the highest compensatory pick possible in this years draft - a pick at the end of the third round. This was compensation for the loss of Gibril Wilson as FA to the Oakland Raiders before the 2008 season. This 3rd round pick is slotted at number 100 overall in the draft. All compensatory picks come after that round has completed and all other teams have made their selections for the round. The Giants now have 10 draft picks this year: 7 of their own, 2 in the Shockey trade from new Orleans and this 3rd round compensatory pick. They have 5 picks in the top 100. As I said in a previous post back on March 4th, with a team coming off a 12 win season, having signed several big free agents and having very few personnel holes to fill, it seems almost certain that the Giants will not use all of those draft choices themselves. In fact, I think it would be a miscalculation to use all of those draft picks, because there is no way that 10 rookies are going to make this Giants team. Compiling draft choices, trading down to acquire more draft picks - those are strategies that teams like the Lions use. They have to rebuild their entire team, so they get a load of young fresh players in and try them out. They can't be any worse than the players they had before - may as well get some young guys in and see who can play. But a team like the Giants, that is coming off a successful year and has a strong team, is not looking for volume, they're looking for studs; they want quality not quantity. So, it seems like the best thing to do would be for the Giants to package some of these picks together, trade up and get a higher selection in the first round to grab someone that they think can be a real impact player for them.

Assuming the Giants want to move up in the first round - a reasonable question to ask is how high can they move up. How many additional draft choices will it cost them to move up from the 29th slot, where they currently sit, to the 10th or 15th slot, where they would no doubt be in a better position to get a high impact player. The moves, the trades, the jockeying for position that all teams try to do in the draft are not at all arbitrary, but rather are governed and guided by specific valuations for the draft slots that all the teams use. These valuations that I am referring to come from something called a Draft Value Chart. The chart gives a point value for every draft pick, from rounds 1 through 7 and slots 1 through 32. One simple example of how to use the points on this chart is as follows. As you can see, the first pick in the first round is worth 3000 points and the second pick is worth 2600 points. The 18th pick in the 2nd round is worth 400 points, so theoretically, if you had the 2nd pick in the first round and wanted to move up to the 1st overall pick, you would have to offer the team that held that first selection the 18th pick in the 2nd round (if you had it) in order to make the trade fair. The NFL tradition has it that this Draft Value Chart was made up by Jimmy Johnson back when he was running the Cowboys, to guide their front office in their draft selections. It became known, was published and has become the bible for making draft choice trades equitable. All the GMs of all the NFL teams use this to make sure that trades are fair.

Personally I think the chart is out of date and is not reflective of modern day NFL operations, specifically as influenced by the salary cap and the much larger contracts given to the higher draft picks. In the 5 year period when Jimmy Johnson coached the Cowboys 1989-1993, they greatly valued the very top draft choices, perhaps rightly so. Probably the need to create this draft value chart was created because of the Herschel Walker trade, when a bunch of players and about 12 draft picks changed teams. The Cowboys gave away Walker and 4 draft picks; and in return received 5 players (one of which they traded) and 8 draft choices spread out over 4 years. You needed some guidelines to evaluate whether the trade was fair or not, so a draft value chart was probably developed. Jimmy Johnson and the Cowboys front office of that period greatly valued the top draft choices as the best way to build a team. Today, they are still the best way to get star players, but the burden of paying them an enormous salary limits how many other players you can sign, therefore minimizing their value compared to the draft value chart circa 1990.

For example, the first slot in the first round is worth 3,000 points as I noted above. Each of the next 3 picks are worth 400 points less successively, 2=2,600; 3=2,200; 4=1,800. After that the value of the next several picks drop by only 100 points, so that the 6th slot and the 8th slot are worth 1600 and 1400 respectively. Theoretically, according to this chart, you could trade the 6th and 8th slot in round 1 for the number one overall pick. That does not seem like a good trade to me. Sometimes you can get a once-in-a-generation player with that first overall pick, but more often there is great value in most of those top 10 picks and you're likely to get a star player among them. I would much rather have 2 in the top 10 than just the top overall pick. I think this may be why it is so hard for the team holding those top few slots to trade down for additional picks. According to this draft chart, the value of the top picks is too high and it costs too much for the lower teams to trade up.

For you financial analysts out there, note that the draft value chart does not have a present value or future value component. In other words, it is certainly true that a trade where you acquire a pick in next year's draft is not as valuable as one in which you acquire a pick in this year's draft. For example in the 2004 Rivers-Manning trade, the Giants gave their 3rd round pick in that same 2004 draft and a 1st and 5th in the 2005 draft. This seems to be a lot, unless you discount the Giants 2005 draft picks somewhat, because they came a year later. So, even though there is no specific present/future value component in this chart, it is implied by the trades that are made that include future year draft picks at a lower point total.

Despite the flaw that the draft value chart has of overvaluing the higher draft choices, it is nevertheless still accepted as the bible for concocting draft choice trades. Using this as the basis for trades, what can / should the Giants do to optimize their draft? The total number of points that are represented by the Giants picks in those first 3 rounds are:
Round 1/29 (their own): 640 points
Round 2/13 (from Saints): 450 points
Round 2/28 (their own): 300 points
Round 3/27 (their own): 136 points
Round 3/36 (compensatory): 100 points

The Giants strategy in the draft should be to bundle some of their 10 draft choices and trade up, so that they get fewer, higher quality players coming into camp. The Giants could bundle some of their picks at the top of the draft and move up in the top 10 or 15 to get a star. Alternatively, we should realize that the Giants have 5 picks in the top 100 players in the draft and that is indeed an enviable position to be in. They could hold on to these 5 picks expecting to get impact players with them and instead make their moves to consolidate draft choices at the bottom of the draft. They could bundle the 5 lower round picks to come out with 2 or 3 higher 2nd day draft picks and still come to camp with 7 or 8 draftees. I have come up with a few scenarios/proposals below:

Scenario I
Giants take their own 1st round pick and package their two 2nd round picks, (1,390 draft value points) and trade up to get a top 10 player. They could get an 8 (1,400) or 9 (1,350) with that package.

Scenario II
In addition to the above package of draft picks, the Giants could include their own 3rd round pick (136) and could move up as high as 6 or 7 in the first round. Compensatory picks are not tradeable, so the Giants could not include that in any package.

Scenario III
Giants could package their own 1st round pick with their own 2nd and 3rd round pick, holding on to the 2nd rounder they got for Shockey. That would allow them to move up to a top 15 pick and nab the 14th or 15th pick in the first round.

Of course, all of these scenarios require a trading partner in the appropriate slot that wants to move down and get some additional players. Of all these specific scenarios I think I like scenario III the best. The Giants move up significantly and get a top 15 player, but maintain 3 picks in the top 100 and have a relatively high 2nd round pick from New Orleans. If there is a particular player that the Giants rate very highly and want specifically to draft, I would not mind if they took scenario I and moved into a top 10 in the draft. I like scenario II the least, because with the Giants record of drafting, having at least 3 picks in the top 100 can usually yield some good talent.

Comments please.

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