Examining NFL Draft Capital in 2019 & Looking Ahead to 2020

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While we are still a few months away from the 2020 NFL Draft, I wanted to get started on some preliminary Draft content before we hit Free Agency.

Knowing the relative Draft Capital of each team will also assist in your understanding of how Free Agency plays out. Teams will look to improve their roster through both avenues separately, but a cohesive plan that takes financial and positional considerations into account is vital to success.

What do I mean by Draft Capital? Simply, the Total Value of all Draft Picks for each team. Where am I getting the values of each pick? The Jimmy Johnson, Rich Hill and Jason Fitzgerald Draft Pick Value Charts.

Jimmy Johnson and Rich Hill effectively codified the NFL’s valuation of each draft pick based on previous draft pick trades (methodology explained here). Jason valued the draft picks based on the historical Second Contract outcomes of draft picks (methodology explained here). The Rich Hill rankings most closely resemble what NFL teams believe they have in Draft Capital. The Fitzgerald rankings most closely demonstrate what teams truly have in Draft Capital.

Here are Jimmy Johnson’s Chart Values:

Here are Rich Hill’s Chart Values:

Finally, here is the Jason Fitzgerald Draft Value Chart:

Let’s look at the Arizona Cardinals as an example. The Arizona Cardinals have the No. 8, No. 40, No. 72, No. 111, No. 153, and No. 222 Draft picks for 2020. You can find their Total Draft Capital by simply adding up the Values associated with those draft picks for each chart.

According to the Jimmy Johnson chart, Arizona has a Draft Capital of 2235 points. According to Rich Hill, Arizona has a Draft Capital of 662 points. Finally, according to Jason Fitzgerald’s chart, Arizona has a Draft Capital of 4736 points.

But what do these random numbers tell us? Not much without context. One way to make Draft Capital more approachable is to look at the Value as a percent of the Total Draft Pick Pool.

With 32 teams, an exactly equal distribution of all 256 Draft Picks would come out to 3.125% of the Draft Pick Pool per team. For the Jimmy Johnson chart, 2235 points is 3.68% of the Total Draft Pick Pool. So according to Jimmy Johnson, Arizona has slightly more Draft Capital than the average team. For Rich Hill, that percentage decreases slightly to 3.6%, but Arizona remains above average. Finally, for Jason Fitzgerald, that percentage moves across the 3.125% line to 3.09%. Jason’s chart believes Arizona has less Draft Capital than the standard average.

This approach still has its limitations, as each Draft is different. To take it one step further, how Arizona’s Draft Capital stacks up against the other teams in the league is the truly critical information.

The below table illustrates the 2020 Draft Capital for every team according to Jimmy Johnson, Rich Hill, and Jason Fitzgerald’s Draft Value Charts. The far right column shows the difference in perceived value between Rich Hill and Jason Fitzgerald.

The above chart shows the 2020 Draft Capital for every team, including our Compensatory Pick guru Nick Korte’s projected compensatory picks for 2020.

Based on our analysis of every draft pick trade from 2011-2019, the Rich Hill Values most closely resemble what NFL teams are currently using to facilitate draft pick trades. The biggest disparities between Rich Hill’s chart and Jason Fitzgerald’s chart can largely be explained by the NFL overvaluing top draft picks and greatly undervaluing second and third round picks.

The Ravens (+11), Broncos (+9) and Eagles (+9) being the three teams that the Fitzgerald Chart valued the most as compared to the Rich Hill Chart is entirely unsurprising. The Ravens have earned the most compensatory picks of any franchise in the NFL since compensatory picks were created, and they trade down very often. The Broncos traded down from No. 10 to No. 20 with the Steelers just last year in a great trade for Denver in which they added a 2020 3rd Round pick. And the Eagles have embraced analytical decision-making in all facets of football as much or more than any other NFL team.

So what can we do with this information? Let’s take a look at 2019 Draft Capital before the Draft began…

There were 37 “draft pick trades” (exclusively draft picks exchanging hands) during the 2019 NFL Draft. Another very unsurprising development: smart teams trade down a lot. It is no coincidence that the teams that traded down three or more times in 2019 were: the LA Rams, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks. Now I know one of these is not like the other, but the Raiders maneuvered around the 2019 Draft exceptionally well.

2019 NFL Draft Trades by Team

These trades obviously occurred all throughout the draft, and the amount of value exchanging hands for a trade in the 1st Round is a lot different than one in the 6th Round. Here is the breakdown of the Draft Value that teams Gained or Lost:

As noted before, these Values don’t mean much in a vacuum. So, I converted the values back into the respective Draft Pick they equate to on each chart. For example, as you can see above the Atlanta Falcons Lost 648 points with their 3 Trade-Ups according to the Jason Fitzgerald chart. 648 points on the Fitzgerald chart equates to the No. 87 overall pick. The Rich Hill chart has the Falcons Loss at 9 points, which equates to pick No. 164. In contrast, the Jimmy Johnson chart has the Falcons Gain 30.6 points, which equates to the No. 151 pick.

Here is the same 2019 Draft Pick Trade Summary chart as above, except with the Values as Draft Picks:

The Falcons example perfectly demonstrates the dangers of relying on the Jimmy Johnson Draft Pick Chart, which teams still appear to consult to varying degrees based on analysis of Draft Pick trades from 2011-2019. Calculating these Gains & Losses using the Values derived from Fitzgerald’s research of the historical outcomes of Draft Picks, the Falcons gave up a 3rd Round pick in Total Draft Capital through moving up three times. Calculating these Gains & Losses using an arbitrary point system with no known connection to data, the Falcons ADDED a 5th Round pick in Total Draft Capital according to the Jimmy Johnson chart. This disconnect can create tremendous value opportunities for smart teams, and it already has for some. Even when comparing Gains & Losses with the Rich Hill Chart (an update & improvement of the Jimmy Johnson Chart) there are still some large gaps in valuation.

The Falcons didn’t give up the most value according to the Fitzgerald chart though. That honor was reserved for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who made the biggest Trade-Up of 2019 from No. 20 (+ No. 52, + a 2020 3rd) to No. 10 to select Devin Bush. As you can see above, the Steelers clearly must at least look at the Jimmy Johnson Draft Value chart. I say this because according to the Jimmy Johnson chart, the Steelers and Broncos made a trade that was exactly equal in value for both parties. This is extremely rare for trades in the first two or three rounds. However, Jason Fitzgerald’s data tells us the Steelers gave up value equivalent to the No. 40 overall pick with the package they sent to Denver to move to No. 10. Rich Hill’s chart goes even further and actually tells the Steelers they won the trade and added value equivalent to the No. 100 overall pick. Imagine two NFL Draft war rooms wherein both teams thought they made out like absolute bandits in a trade. That is often the reality! The Jimmy Johnson & Rich Hill charts severely over-inflate the value of top picks and even more severely undervalue second and third round picks. That’s exactly what happened here.

One final component on display with the Steelers & Broncos trade that explains the large disparity: the future pick the Steelers included, a 2020 3rd. The analysis of trades from 2011-2019 seemed to confirm a long-held belief about perceived value in NFL Draft trades. The notion that when teams trade a future draft pick in the following year, they devalue the future pick by one round. For example, the 2020 3rd in this trade was treated as a mid-4th Round pick (No. 112) for the purposes of running this trade through the Johnson and/or Hill calculator to get as close to equal value as possible.

This methodology of devaluing future picks to the middle of the following round (No. 48, No. 80, No. 112, No. 144, No. 176, No. 208, No. 240) is imperfect for a few reasons, but still provided consistent results throughout the sample. First, teams don’t know if they will win the Super Bowl or have the No. 1 overall pick any given year (some may have better ideas than others over a stretch, but parity is real in the NFL). Second, compensatory picks make the length of the 3rd-7th Rounds different every year (Supplemental Draft pick usage can take a pick away from a team as well). Nevertheless, the Johnson and Hill charts have a much steeper decline in Draft Pick Value after the 1st Round than the Fitzgerald chart.

The “Rank” columns above really drive the point home: Jason Fitzgerald’s chart shows the Steelers gave up the most Draft Capital of anyone in 2019 through their big trade-up. Meanwhile, the Rich Hill chart tells the Steelers they added the second-most Draft Capital in the league. In their defense, and to play Devils Advocate a bit, if all of the other teams use the Jimmy Johnson and/or Rich Hill chart too then this isn’t that cut and dry. However, we know that the Fitzgerald Draft Values are based on actual data and are thus far more informative and predictive. For those that are fans of the Chase Stuart AV Draft Pick Value chart using Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric, the Fitzgerald chart and Stuart chart are very similar.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Seahawks effectively added another 1st Round pick (No. 33 overall) with their series of Trade-Downs. The Seahawks traded back from their first spot of the night, No. 21 overall, and kept moving back to stockpile picks. Here is where every team started the Draft in terms of Draft Capital and where they stood by the end:

Future draft picks that were not accounted for in the Draft Capital before the Draft began were of course introduced, which makes this chart imperfect. But there aren’t many high priced future draft picks (especially when you devalue them all by a round) exchanging hands in a given Draft, so the impact is not too large. The Seahawks started the Draft with the 25th-most Draft Capital according to Jason Fitzgerald and ended it with the 7th-most, and they didn’t acquire any future picks. So within the 2019 Draft itself, the Seahawks were able to go from the bottom-third to the top-third in Draft Capital. How do you have a winning record for eight straight seasons? Well, there’s part of your answer.

I will be updating the 2020 Draft Capital as trades unfold throughout the offseason until the NFL Draft on April 23rd.

By: Brad Spielberger (@BradOTC)

Steelers and Antonio Brown Agree on $68M Contract

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport the Steelers and Antonio Brown have come to terms on a massive $68 million contract extension that will make him the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL by over $2 million a season on an annual basis.

Continue reading Steelers and Antonio Brown Agree on $68M Contract »

Looking at a Possible Contract Extension for Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown has been one of the best receivers in the league the past few years, arguably the best. In any matchup he’s faced, even the toughest ones, Brown finds a way to have a big game. It doesn’t even feel surprising anymore when he has monstrous games of ten catches and well over 100 yards. Retaining Antonio Brown for an extended period of time is definitely a top priority for the Steelers, because he and Ben Roethlisberger are a deadly duo.

Continue reading Looking at a Possible Contract Extension for Antonio Brown »

Best and Worst Contracts 2016: Pittsburgh Steelers

We wrap up our look at the AFC North today with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Starting tomorrow or Saturday will be the AFC South, which we will kick off with the Texans.

Best: Antonio Brown, 5 years, $41.9 million, $8.5M guaranteed

I was a bit conflicted with this choice because if you go back to 2012 when this was signed Brown had one 1,100 yard season and his other year in the NFL produced less than 175 yards. Brown was a 6th round pick so it’s not as if he was a can’t miss prospect and he was not considered the number 1 receiver on the team at the time. That distinction went to Mike Wallace who was feuding with Steelers management over a contract. In many ways this contract was considered to be something of a message to Wallace that the Steelers were prepared to move on and he needed to report. So in many ways this was a risky contract. Continue reading Best and Worst Contracts 2016: Pittsburgh Steelers »

2016 Cap Analytics: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers possess six contracts – Timmons, Brown, Pouncey, Miller, Mitchell and Gilbert – that include more prorated signing bonus in 2016 than scheduled at the time of signing due to cap-related restructurings, a number that few teams can match.  The team’s salary cap management approach clearly skews toward maximizing the current roster at the potential expense of future rosters, an approach that creates a greater pressure to draft successfully than is faced by most teams.

Continue reading 2016 Cap Analytics: Pittsburgh Steelers »

@ZackMooreNFL on Cameron Heyward via USA Today’s new Steelers Site!

@NealCoolong, formerly of Behind the Steel Curtain, now runs a Steelers website under the USA Today banner named SteelersWire.USAToday.com, which is now the #1 spot for Steelers information on the Internet. He recently contacted me about answering some cap related questions about the Steelers for a piece. It’s a very interesting move by USA Today to have a site like this for each team and I think it’s a great idea for them to help build a credible voice in each marketplace, so I hope they continue to expand on this. Continue reading @ZackMooreNFL on Cameron Heyward via USA Today’s new Steelers Site! »

Steelers 2015 Salary Cap Outlook

Estimated 2015 Cap Space: -$2.63M ($140M cap limit)

Roster Overview

Players Under Contract: 61
Pro Bowlers: 5
Unrestricted Free Agents: 11(2 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 22

Salary Cap Breakdown

Steelers 2015 Salary Cap

Steelers 2015 Offensive Spending

Steelers 2015 Defensive Spending

Free Agents to Re-sign

I am not sure that a compelling case can be made to really keep any of the notable free agents on the roster. Brice McCain likely makes the most sense to keep as he played decently and is only 28 years old. McCain played for the minimum last season but should cost more than that this season. Probably best to sign a deal before free agency begins as I could see some worry about the cornerback market being dragged up because of the lack of talent available both in free agency and the draft…James Harrison played well in his role last year but will be 37 years old. If he is willing to do another minimum salary contract there is no downside risk, but it can’t be anything more than the minimum….Arthur Moats was a good situational rusher last year and should not cost much to keep on another one year deal. He shouldn’t receive much buzz in free agency especially since the field looks to be loaded this season.

Free Agents to Let Walk

The Steelers need to be very careful with Jason Worilds. Worilds is one of the most difficult types of players to work with on a long term deal because he can be terribly inconsistent and is not a top end pass rusher. But he shows more than enough flashes that he will draw interest in free agency. Given that the Steelers used the transition tag on him last season and he virtually had the same year as he did in 2013, he has no reason to really accept less than that number, and that’s too big a number to pay him…The Steelers took a shot on keeping Ike Taylor last year at a heavily discounted rate, but he only played in 5 games last season. There are not many players in the NFL that continue paying corner at his age (last year the others were T. Newman and R. Mathis) so this may be the end of the line for him.

Contracts to Modify

The first order of business for the Steelers really should be addressing the contract on Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger is in the final year of his contract and the Steelers need to strike before either one of the young players (A. Luck or R. Wilson) signs a new contract to further push an overpriced QB market and before Eli Manning or Philip Rivers sign new contracts. While Roethlisberger has a $18.395 million cap number they shouldn’t use this extension as a way to bring that number significantly down. Designing a contract that works well for the next four seasons from a cap perspective should be the prime objective….Cameron Heyward has now put up back to back quality seasons after floundering his first two years. He has a $6.969 million figure this year and will be a free agent next season. He will only be 26 this year so locking him up seems like a good decision. They could hold off into the summer, which is the standard timing for the Steelers, but they might gain some cap flexibility doing it earlier….The team might consider converting salary into bonus money for wide receiver Antonio Brown. While he is dramatically underpaid he is likely one more season away from considering trying to force his way into a new contract. They can create around $3.5 million in cap room with the restructure…Lawrence Timmons might be considered for a restructure as well, but he only has one more season remaining past this one which limits the savings of the restructure. If they need to bring his $12.5 million cap figure down they need to begin the process of a signing him to a 3 year extension…Starting defensive tackle Steve McLendon is in the final year of his contract and could be considered for an extension.

Players to Consider Releasing

Pittsburgh will have a tough decision to make on Safety Troy Polamalu who has an $8.25 million cap charge and $6 million salary.  The Steelers extended Polamalu last season, but it was really a salary cap deferral written up as a new contract. Polamalu does not have the impact that he used to and he may even consider retirement. Releasing him would save the Steelers $3.75 million in cap room. If he doesn’t retire I would expect the team to approach him on a pay cut that is equal to the savings if released, but I believe that they will go into this thinking his days in Pittsburgh are over…The Steelers signed Cortez Allen to a new contract last season worth around $6 million a season and he was awful.  The Steelers only guarantees in their deals are typically signing bonus money so they may consider cutting Allen to avoid paying him another $5.63 million this year. Cutting him saves the team $1.58 million….The team had another miss when they surprisingly hit free agency to sign Mike Mitchell for $5 million a season. Mitchell will earn $4 million this year and was poor in coverage last year.   His release saves the team $1.15 million….The team has a number of players like veteran receiver Lance Moore and QB Bruce Gradkowski that save the team around $1.5 million if cut.

Offseason Plan

Pittsburgh is a very hard team to get a handle on. Last year there were weeks where they looked like the best team in the NFL.  There were also weeks where they lost to some of the worst teams in the NFL. They are plagued by inconsistency and their defense is in need of an overhaul.

Due to a combination of injuries and ineffective play the Steelers only had four defensive players start at least 14 games. That list includes Worilds, who is a free agent, and Mitchell, who struggled. Only 7 started more than 10 games.

As is typical for the Steelers they will be right up against the salary cap this season and have to scramble to make some space. Restructuring Brown should make them cap compliant and moving on from Polamalu will give them a little bit of breathing room. Cutting a few backups should put them around $8 million in space and that is with keeping Allen and Mitchell if they don’t believe they can upgrade them in the draft.

I would not expect much activity in free agency for the Steelers given what seems to be limited resources, plus in general they are not a big free agent splash kind of team. Expect the team to go bargain hunting for veterans or players coming off a rookie contract that were considered disappointments and not generating much interest.

The draft is where the Steelers will make their mark and hope to build on their 11-5 season. The offense is pretty well situated but I would expect the Steelers to go heavy looking for help in the secondary as well as new additions to the linebacker rotation. Their offense should be good enough to let the team have a transitional year defensively to get as many new, young faces in as possible to build the next chapter for the franchise.

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