With all the talk of MVP candidates, valuable and non-valuable positions, where to go cheap and where to go expensive I thought I could use our valuation models to take a look at just where teams are deriving the most value over what would be a “replacement level” player. You can read about our valuations here but in general they are based on participation, statistical achievements and PFF grades and the market value in which the player plays.
So how did I define a replacement level talent as that can be tricky. I’m a contract guy so I went into the pool of players to try to best identify the kind of players, who actually participate, that are actually available. What is available talent? Available talent in my mind is anyone who signed as an undrafted free agent, anyone who was available as a street free agent who signed for no more than the league minimum plus a minor bonus, and any unrestricted free agent who signed a contract that qualified for the minimum salary benefit. Why these players? Because they are the only players who were freely available to the entire league. Here is the breakdown of all players that fit that criteria who are on pace to play at least 75 snaps this year.
|Position||Players||Total OTC Value||Snaps||Value/Snap||Value/Player|
While we are dealing with a small sample especially for many positions (in particular right tackle as well as quarterback and left tackle) this at least gives us an idea of what is truly available to NFL teams that is the alternative to simply letting a player walk in free agency and replacing him with the cheapest options available. Of course even hitting a replacement level requires some skill as there are dozens of players who make it that don’t play many, if any, snaps in a given year.
To calculate value above replacement I looked at the current OTC Value for each player and calculated what the value for the average 2019 replacement level player would be if the replacement player played the same amount of snaps as the “name” player. Here is the top ranked player at each position:
|Position||Player||Value Above Replacement|
|Wide Receiver||Mike Evans||$15,746,498|
|Int. D-Line||Aaron Donald||$13,351,399|
|Linebacker||Kyle Van Noy||$9,586,608|
|Left Tackle||Ronnie Stanley||$8,935,411|
|Running Back||Christian McCaffery||$8,841,316|
|Tight End||Travis Kelce||$5,912,556|
|Right Tackle||Ryan Ramczyk||$3,389,942|
Looking further I wanted to break down the groupings into players that provide the most percentage of value above replacement just to get an idea of what positions are the ones where perhaps the top end talent makes the most different. I was actually surprised, but perhaps should not have been, that among players with 150 snaps on the year it’s the edge rushers, receivers, and interior defensive linemen that dominate the lists. Top players here would be Nick Bosa, Amari Cooper, and Donald. This should have been apparent to me since those positions are often so draft heavy and there is usually a big gap in athleticism between those draft picks and the UDFA types but for whatever reason I was just assuming it would be QB. QB does jump to the top if we consider the amount of players that provide at least 25% value per snap.
Here is the breakdown of each position for players with at least 150 snaps on the year and the amount who provide at least 50% value above and 25% value above a replacement player.
|Position||Players||50% VAR||25% VAR|
Finally I looked at every player who has played at least 10 snaps this year to determine the total level of players who perform under the replacement level.
Again since that right tackle sample is so small I’d throw out that number entirely and while all of these really require a few years of data that one in particular I think needs far more as it doesn’t really pass the smell test. The others are not surprising. There are a large number of replaceable running backs and that’s been something most have argued for some time. Cornerback may surprise some but probably should not. Teams have to employ a lot of secondary players many of whom carry more special teams value than value as a corner. While they are in on some defensive plays that is not their primary role. Guard is a position I would like to look at more. My feeling I’ve had on guard is that teams have overvalued the position in recent years. This happened back in the late 2000’s before teams realized that there really wasn’t much of a thing as high end play and that it’s more interchangeable. As salaries rise I wonder if that happens again.
Overall I think an early takeways are that quarterback, edge rusher, wide receiver, and interior defensive line are the positions you should aim to keep each year and mainly look in the draft for cheaper talent because the market isn’t there to find viable alternatives. Safety, tight end and linebacker are also positions to likely keep in house but there is limited reason to buy a high end player if there are other options open to the team in free agency. Left tackle is probably in the same category. I think at corner there is logic to having a top talent whether through the draft or free agency but from a depth perspective there is talent available and teams should be wary of overpaying. Guard, running back and perhaps right tackle are the spots where teams can probably think most of going cheap if an existing option becomes too expensive or they need to cut back somewhere to cover positions like receiver.
As I said above this is a pretty small sample but I think a fun topic to discuss and a different way to look at things and maybe better assess the way teams build their lineups. None of this means that it’s a given you can just drop a guy and find someone on the street better as well. Even though we are giving a baseline to replacement talent remember that the NFL signs hundreds of players off the street every year who don’t even make a team. There is also no guarantee that the replacement pool would play at the same level if they were given more responsibility the way many starters are. After the season is over I think Ill go back and retroactively look at 2016 through 2018 and see how the numbers change with a better sample of players to work with.
Here are the top 100 players on the season and as I do some more work on this after the season well probably add something along these lines to our premium OTC Valuation tool.
|PLAYER||Position||OTC Positional Value||Position||VAR|
|Dante Fowler Jr.||Edge||$16,039,000||Edge||$11,894,820|
|D.J. Chark Jr.||WR||$13,336,000||WR||$9,868,008|
|Marvin Jones Jr.||WR||$13,826,000||WR||$9,790,647|
|Kyle Van Noy||LB||$12,603,000||LB||$9,586,608|
|Casey Hayward Jr.||CB||$14,136,000||CB||$8,901,424|
|Allen Robinson II||WR||$12,716,000||WR||$8,893,407|
|Jamie Collins Sr.||LB||$11,710,000||LB||$8,535,212|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||$11,563,000||WR||$7,336,163|
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.