Discounting Of Future NFL Draft Picks

We had a little discussion over the last few days about discounting of future draft picks. The consensus is that in the NFL when a team trades up and includes a future pick that pick should be discounted by a full round (i.e a 2nd round pick in 2025 would be valued as a 3rd round pick) due to the uncertainty of the future. I personally have never subscribed to that belief since a 2nd round pick regardless of when you get it is always going to be more valuable than a 3rd rounder. Normally I “discount” by giving the pick one of three values- pick 16, pick 25 or pick 32- regardless of what the team’s current record is. Maybe that is the wrong approach but I thought I would look at some of the data to see if there are dramatic changes that should force us to discount the pick more.

Draft to Draft Changes

This is the main reason that I hear about discounting the draft pick. We know exactly who is in this years draft and we know how good the player is. We do not know how good the rest of the draft is. To examine that a little further I looked at the 2nd contract value of every player drafted from 2011 to 2019 and broke down by round the annual value of the contracts. To account for salary cap changes each was valued by the leaguewide cap total four years down the line (i.e. the 2011 draft class percent would equal the total 2nd contract APY divided by 32 x the 2015 cap of $143.28 million). Due to Covid the 2021 cap that I am using is $198.2 million, the same value as 2020. While there are better ways to do this to take position out of the equation I think for the draft it is probably important to take positional availability into account. Here are the results by round.

YearRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Round 5Round 6Round 7

The quality of the draft year by year is pretty consistent especially in the later rounds. We see more variance in the early rounds but most of that is driven by two drafts. In the case of 2013 it was just a bad draft which is pretty rare since almost every other draft has had good results ranging from 5.6 to 6.8 percent of the future cap. This was a no QB draft and really had no great defensive prosects either. It was heavy on offensive tackles. That all drives the numbers down. It was a clear outlier draft. 2015 was way lower than I expected. This was due to a few factors. The two QBs at the top both flopped. You had two running backs taken top 15 and a bunch of players who did not do great near the end of the round. I never considered this as bad as the 2013 draft and I think if we valued this with contracts as a percentage of positional value at the time it would be better but when trading picks that to me is less important.

Overall, I think I would look at this as indicating no reason to really discount picks in the 4th through 7th rounds as those values have very low variance. I think I would look at rounds 2 and 3 the same as well as you would have a pretty steady forecast and at no time did that fall below the average for the next round. For the first round you have two drafts where the 1st round score was essentially equal to a 2nd round pick. Depending on what baseline you use I think that would indicate dropping the value of a 1st round pick from 16 (if using the middle of the round) to 23 or 24. If basing, strictly on a current year pick maybe a 20% drop.

Where Will a Future Pick Land?

This is a great question as we have no idea. Chicago got super lucky this year when the Panthers completely imploded in 2023. The Cardinals on the other hand did not since the Texans qualified for the playoffs in 2023. Here are the results of the teams change in wins based on four win ranges for teams.

Prior Year WinsNext Years ChangeStDevBetterWorseSame

We have a lot more variance here than we have with the draft quality year to year and the variance is pretty consistent no matter where you started from the prior year. Bad teams generally improve the most and it is fair to assume that their pick a year from now will be lower than where they pick this year as almost all of the bad teams had a better record the next year. Most of the variance there is in the positive direction for change.

The teams in the middle, on average remain in the middle. It may be fair to say that their pick will be in the same range. If the team is good they are likely to see their record change for the worse. All things equal you should expect a better pick the next year.

I think I would still rather just lean toward discounting a pick by sticking it in the middle of the round, but if you wanted to use the current year’s record to set your baseline for a future pick it would probably be best to see where +4 or +5 wins would put the team in a draft (likely between 7 and 16). For the next two groups you will probably have an expectation of the middle of the round. For the playoff teams maybe around 20.

This is probably more useful to look at if the option on the table was a 1 this year vs a 1 the following year.  The one is probably more valuable in the future from a current playoff team. It is less valuable for almost everyone else.

The Benefit of a Rookie Now?

There is always a lot of feedback that says how important it is to a “win now” team to draft now and that its better to have the player you want on the roster in 2024 rather than in a pick in 2025. The issue I would have with this is how much value does a rookie provide now?  While there are exceptions such as CJ Stroud in 2023 most rookies take a year to develop and impact the game. While a good rookie may certainly benefit the team in some manner the major impact comes the following season.

So if, for instance, Joe Douglas, who is a clear hot seat GM, said I need another wide receiver in round 2 and will do whatever I can to get him to save my job you have to go back and look at the results of these players as rookies. Here are the summary stats of that position of all rookies from 2018 to 2023:

RecYdsOver 1,000 YdsOver 800 YdsOver 500 yds

That isn’t a life save for any GM and it includes a good group of players such as DK Metcalf, Tee Higgins, AJ Brown, Deebo Samuel, Courtland Sutton, Michael Pittman, Christian Kirksey, and so on. Many of those players did account for the high end numbers but other than Brown they probably will not be productive enough as a rookie to even remotely come close to saving a job.

While every position is different the positions that often have the fastest results are linebacker and running back which tend to be the positions least likely to impact the outcome of a season.

My argument would be that the overly aggressive trade for a rookie to “win now” is one that a GM who anticipates being on the hot seat a year from now would be more justified to make since he may at least have an impact player on the roster in 2025 when his seat is burning hot.


I won’t get into the soft factors related to budget or anything like that but I can’t see the evidence of dropping a pick a full round based on the evidence. Drafts are more less equal in talent from year to year. We should never be drafting solely on position if the concern is positional variance unless we are talking QB or ultra high end EDGE rushers. Records year by year are pretty random but we at least have some rule of thumb guidance to evaluate the normal outcomes. It is rare a rookie impacts the game that much to save a job. In my opinion, a mid to late round valuation makes the most sense when looking at the picks from one year to the next but the general data is here for you to make your own conclusions as to why the NFL team should drop the value of a future pick by a full round the way they currently do.