Looking at Value Above Replacement Level Talent

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
Quarterback 8 $22,424,000 1,175 $19,084 $2,803,000
Right Tackle 4 $9,525,000 653 $14,587 $2,381,250
Running Back 28 $39,609,000 3,078 $12,868 $1,414,607
Left Tackle 9 $26,743,000 2,402 $11,134 $2,971,444
Guard 15 $36,045,000 3,879 $9,292 $2,403,000
Cornerback 39 $65,947,000 7,622 $8,652 $1,690,949
Tight End 23 $30,680,000 3,812 $8,048 $1,333,913
Edge 19 $24,378,000 3,053 $7,985 $1,283,053
Wide Receiver 48 $47,481,000 6,695 $7,092 $989,188
Linebacker 27 $37,760,000 5,483 $6,887 $1,398,519
Safety 15 $15,619,000 2,389 $6,538 $1,041,267
Int. D-Line 40 $38,996,000 6,042 $6,454 $974,900

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
Quarterback Lamar Jackson $19,154,436
Edge TJ Watt $17,063,498
Wide Receiver Mike Evans $15,746,498
Int. D-Line Aaron Donald $13,351,399
Cornerback Marcus Peters $9,925,903
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy $9,586,608
Left Tackle Ronnie Stanley $8,935,411
Safety Marcus Williams $9,138,263
Running Back Christian McCaffery $8,841,316
Guard Brandon Brooks $7,146,824
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
Quarterback 36 27.8% 69.4%
Int. D-Line 111 39.6% 62.2%
Tight End 72 19.4% 61.1%
Wide Receiver 127 39.4% 59.1%
Edge 110 39.1% 58.2%
Linebacker 92 21.7% 43.5%
Safety 88 22.7% 39.8%
Left Tackle 41 12.2% 36.6%
Running Back 62 9.7% 30.6%
Cornerback 163 11.7% 27.0%
Guard 78 2.6% 19.2%
Right Tackle 37 0.0% 5.4%

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.

Position Players Neg. VAR
Quarterback 55 25.5%
Tight End 110 26.4%
Edge 148 35.1%
Safety 129 35.7%
Linebacker 150 37.3%
Left Tackle 59 40.7%
Wide Receiver 192 47.4%
Int. D-Line 170 50.6%
Guard 97 51.5%
Cornerback 222 55.9%
Running Back 119 60.5%
Right Tackle 49 65.3%

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
Lamar Jackson QB $30,834,000 QB $19,154,436
Russell Wilson QB $32,070,000 QB $18,367,505
Dak Prescott QB $29,734,000 QB $17,691,835
Deshaun Watson QB $29,771,000 QB $17,461,655
T.J. Watt Edge $21,567,000 Edge $17,063,498
Mike Evans WR $20,009,000 WR $15,746,703
Michael Thomas WR $19,638,000 WR $15,531,727
Joey Bosa Edge $19,752,000 Edge $15,488,046
Chris Godwin WR $19,963,000 WR $15,431,206
Danielle Hunter Edge $19,799,000 Edge $15,207,664
Aaron Rodgers QB $27,867,000 QB $15,137,802
Tom Brady QB $27,264,000 QB $14,916,487
Myles Garrett Edge $18,539,000 Edge $14,546,534
Everson Griffen Edge $19,195,000 Edge $14,499,859
Brandon Graham Edge $17,854,000 Edge $14,324,660
Khalil Mack Edge $18,834,000 Edge $14,322,513
Matthew Stafford QB $24,933,000 QB $14,264,901
Za’Darius Smith Edge $18,449,000 Edge $14,089,227
J.J. Watt Edge $17,755,000 EDGE $13,906,262
Carson Wentz QB $25,933,000 QB $13,814,498
Amari Cooper WR $16,901,000 WR $13,503,928
Chandler Jones Edge $18,978,000 Edge $13,476,381
Aaron Donald IDL $16,927,000 IDL $13,351,399
Nick Bosa Edge $16,134,000 Edge $13,123,680
Shaquil Barrett Edge $17,298,000 Edge $12,922,257
Cameron Jordan Edge $16,868,000 Edge $12,723,820
Justin Houston Edge $15,338,000 Edge $11,912,464
Dante Fowler Jr. Edge $16,039,000 Edge $11,894,820
Kyler Murray QB $24,457,000 QB $11,708,717
Derek Carr QB $22,380,000 QB $11,559,227
Calais Campbell Edge $15,401,000 Edge $11,512,338
Tyler Lockett WR $16,130,000 WR $11,470,550
DeAndre Hopkins WR $15,906,000 WR $11,445,126
Cameron Heyward IDL $14,625,000 IDL $11,423,739
Kirk Cousins QB $24,134,000 QB $11,252,128
Julio Jones WR $14,529,000 WR $11,089,376
Von Miller Edge $15,349,000 Edge $11,045,121
Gardner Minshew QB $22,871,000 QB $11,019,677
Courtland Sutton WR $14,658,000 WR $10,828,315
Cooper Kupp WR $14,743,000 WR $10,750,199
Grady Jarrett IDL $13,673,000 IDL $10,549,189
Jameis Winston QB $23,331,000 QB $10,544,549
Patrick Mahomes QB $20,008,000 QB $10,542,209
Kenny Golladay WR $14,272,000 WR $10,307,567
Matt Ryan QB $20,642,000 QB $10,088,407
Marcus Peters CB $15,247,000 CB $9,925,903
Fletcher Cox IDL $12,695,000 IDL $9,887,443
D.J. Chark Jr. WR $13,336,000 WR $9,868,008
Philip Rivers QB $22,347,000 QB $9,865,897
Marvin Jones Jr. WR $13,826,000 WR $9,790,647
Kyle Van Noy LB $12,603,000 LB $9,586,608
John Brown WR $13,407,000 WR $9,527,671
Jared Goff QB $21,793,000 QB $9,464,571
D.J. Moore WR $13,475,000 WR $9,425,463
Jadeveon Clowney Edge $13,296,000 Edge $9,247,639
Arik Armstead Edge $12,340,000 Edge $9,209,906
Preston Smith Edge $13,645,000 Edge $9,189,407
Luke Kuechly LB $13,656,000 LB $9,145,185
Marcus Williams S $12,976,000 S $9,138,263
Richard Sherman CB $13,421,000 CB $9,034,339
Ronnie Stanley LT $15,816,000 LT $8,935,411
Casey Hayward Jr. CB $14,136,000 CB $8,901,424
Allen Robinson II WR $12,716,000 WR $8,893,407
Christian McCaffrey RB $16,305,000 RB $8,841,316
Laremy Tunsil LT $15,075,000 LT $8,840,162
Brian Poole CB $13,391,000 CB $8,822,643
Demario Davis LB $12,663,000 LB $8,806,425
Bud Dupree Edge $13,324,000 Edge $8,620,875
Emmanuel Sanders WR $12,217,000 WR $8,607,167
Jamie Collins Sr. LB $11,710,000 LB $8,535,212
Jarvis Landry WR $12,549,000 WR $8,456,911
Terron Armstead LT $15,184,000 LT $8,414,748
Cory Littleton LB $12,681,000 LB $8,321,693
Keenan Allen WR $12,432,000 WR $8,290,267
Demarcus Lawrence Edge $11,229,000 Edge $8,058,982
Jimmy Garoppolo QB $20,538,000 QB $7,961,476
Justin Simmons S $11,844,000 S $7,914,733
Benardrick McKinney LB $11,560,000 LB $7,896,254
Matt Ioannidis IDL $11,054,000 IDL $7,891,464
Dalvin Cook RB $14,006,000 RB $7,854,895
Tre’Davious White CB $12,917,000 CB $7,838,164
Baker Mayfield QB $19,469,000 QB $7,808,520
D.J. Reader IDL $10,068,000 IDL $7,750,959
DeForest Buckner IDL $10,489,000 IDL $7,720,168
Kenny Clark IDL $11,310,000 IDL $7,695,674
Julian Edelman WR $11,803,000 WR $7,654,175
Jamal Adams S $11,465,000 S $7,646,877
Robert Woods WR $11,985,000 WR $7,609,230
Josh Jacobs RB $11,726,000 RB $7,556,632
Gerald McCoy IDL $10,103,000 IDL $7,514,884
Olivier Vernon Edge $11,126,000 Edge $7,484,871
Anthony Castonzo LT $14,668,000 LT $7,475,669
Aaron Jones RB $12,599,000 RB $7,464,500
Michael Brockers IDL $10,482,000 IDL $7,429,185
Tramon Williams CB $9,485,000 CB $7,408,474
Deion Jones LB $11,315,000 LB $7,403,331
Odell Beckham Jr. WR $11,563,000 WR $7,336,163
Andy Dalton QB $18,033,000 QB $7,326,733
Trey Flowers Edge $10,661,000 Edge $7,323,298
Marcus Davenport Edge $10,553,000 Edge $7,303,132

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC