By Kurt Bullard
This morning, a trade was announced between the Rams and Titans in which Tennessee sent the rights to the first overall pick to Los Angeles for a boat-load of picks, including the Rams’ 2016 and 2017 first-rounders. Those with good memory might remember that the Rams were on the opposite side of a similar trade that sent the rights to the 2nd overall pick to Washington for a treasure trove of picks, a move that former HSAC co-president Kevin Meers denounced. That second pick turned out to be RGII, and after that failed to pan out, Washington was left without first-round picks for two years.
This trade is very similar in structure, so the Rams were most likely on the losing side of this transaction. But, using Meers’ formula on how to weight draft picks, one can find the surplus value that the Titans added by trading away the No. 1 pick for a chance to completely revamp their roster.
The model was fitted by regressing Career Approximate Value (CAV) of a player against the natural log of his draft pick. The R-squared value of this regression was 0.91, meaning that it explained a lot of the variation in the data. The following formula then predicts the CAV based solely on draft pick.
CAV = -12.85*ln(Draft Pick)+74.657
Meers’ then found the value of the pick over a “replacement pick,” by taking the CAV and dividing it by an “average” draft pick, which turned out to be a player with a CAV of 15.03 (think Josh McCown), calling this stat the Career Approximate Value Over Average. One could now value the picks swapped to see how much value the Titans gained. Since two picks are from future years, I used the median draft pick from that round (the 16th and 80th picks, respectively) since Jeff Fisher always goes 8-8 anyways.
No. 1 (4.97 eCAVOA)
No. 111 (0.94 eCAVOA)
No. 177 (0.54 eCAVOA)
No. 15 (2.65 eCAVOA)
No. 43 (1.75 eCAVOA)
No. 45 (1.71 eCAVOA)
No. 76 (1.26 eCAVOA)
2017 1st-Round (2.59 eCAVOA)
2017 3rd-Round (1.22 eCAVOA)
So, the Titans gave away 6.45 eCAVOA, while they received 11.19 eCAVOA, which is huge gain. To put this back into CAV, you multiply those totals by the mean draft pick (15.03 CAV), to find that the difference in CAV in this trade was 71.24 CAV, which is an incredibly high amount of surplus value to give up in a trade. In draft pick terms, this lies somewhere between a 1st and 2nd overall pick.
There is still a chance for the Rams to break even on this trade. The No. 1 overall pick just has to end up being really good. Adding together the surplus value and the value of a No. 1 overall draft pick, one can find the value of the first choice that would make this trade even (assuming all the other picks have average careers for their respective draft picks).
Break Even CAV = Surplus + No. 1 Pick = 71.24 + 74.19 = 145.43 CAV
Only ten players have even broken this threshold. Dan Marino had a CAV of 145, while Drew Brees has a 147 as of right now. Carson Wentz, whom the Rams are reported to be targeting with the first pick, reaching this level would only make the trade fair—they would not have even won it, assuming other players have average careers.
This, however, assumes that the future round picks are not discounted. The Loser’s Curse, written by Cade Massey and Richard Thaler, found that future draft picks were discounted by a rate of 173% in the NFL, an absurdly high rate. If the picks were discounted at this rate, the expected gain in CAV for the Titans would be 34.87, the value of a 23rd-overall pick.
Comparing this back to Robert Griffin, Meers found that Washington essentially gave up the value of a 22nd-overall pick, which is just ever so slightly more than what the Rams gave up here. So, whatever the Rams gained from that trade was just lost this morning in the pursuit of Carson Wentz.
The Rams are betting on a Hall-of-Fame career from Wentz. Banking on a draft pick to make it to Canton one day is a very, very dangerous and rash move, especially when it involves mortgaging your future. Even with RGIII flaming out, the Rams apparently learned nothing. As George Santayana said: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”