2019 NFL Draft

This post is based on an article by Sally Jenkins titled, “Smart teams trade down, but most teams just aren’t smart,” in the 27 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. There have been previous posts on this topic. Behavioral economics which grew from Prospect Theory by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, for which Kahneman won a Nobel Prize (unfortunately Amos Tversky had passed on and was ineligible for the prize when it was awarded) can be used to guide NFL Draft Picks. The basic strategy is to trade down rather than trade up. Cade Massey of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton school and Nobel Prize winner produced papers in 2005 and 2012 that showed that teams profoundly overvalue first-round picks and simply don’t have the ability they think they do to discern between a great player and a good one.

Jenkins writes, “How often is a team right in picking a high-first rounder” What will be the quantifiable difference between the top choice at a position in the 2019 draft and the next available player, or even the third or fourth, in terms of games started and potential Pro Bowl success? The difference would need to be large given the amount of their investments. But their expenditures prove right only 52% of the time, which is effectively a coin toss.

Massey who does consulting for NFL teams says, “History suggests you do better by trading down from the top, using multiple lesser picks than one high pick.” The Patriots have done this with obvious success. From the article, “As of 2018, Bill Belichick had traded down fully 21 times on draft day to acquire more picks. Over the past 15 years, the Patriots have chosen 39 players in the second and third rounds, the highest number of any team in the AFC. And they won Super Bowls with them.”

Massey says, “If you recognize the uncertainty rather than throwing up your hands, you say, ‘We want as many draws as possible from the lottery. We can’t influence one ticket, but we can get as many tickets as possible.”

Andrew Brandt, a sports business analyst and former vice-president of the Green Bay Packers says, “It take a lot of willpower to trade out of that first-round pick, because there’s a lot of pressure. A lot of gravitas goes with that.”

Teams often do the dead opposite of what they should: give away fistfuls of picks to move up and grab a single star prospect. According to Massey overconfidence in their own judgment clouds their thinking. Brandt says, “Or sometimes it’s just a simple case of seeing a player ‘you lust after.’”

There is also extreme pressure coming from fans. There are many males who might not be about to tell you who their representatives to Congress or their senators are, who have definite strong picks for the NFL draft.

Massey says, “The quants are wrong to think you can quantify every single player. But you also can’t be right without the quantifications.”

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