The day of the draft is nearly upon us. A venerable Christmas to those who worship at the church of the NFL. I had big plans leading up to this draft to unleash my mathematical predictions on which players would be better and the worth of the NFL combine but the work needed was much larger than I expected. So, instead of that I want to give my fellow Lions the hope of draft order and randomness in talent judgement.
As Lions fans we seem to be predisposed to getting overly excited over the impending holy day, while at the same time bemoaning the ineptitude of the front office. While brow beating the front office is a time tested tradition and is 99% of the time well warranted, the one thing I have said repeatedly is that not finding starter late in the draft is not a reason to complain about a GM. I have repeatedly stated my opinion that All-pros and Pro-bowl players drafted after the first round is just luck. This is because if ANY team thought that player could be an All-pro or a Pro-bowl player he would have been taken in the first.
I was reinvigorated on this topic today after reading Mr.Barnwell's most recent article on Grantland. Where the punch line basically was that at the end of the day he believed teams were good at separating players into tiers but not very good at telling which player in those tiers would be better than others. While many would think this is ridiculous it really does not seem so. Yes some GM's suck, he-who-shall-not-be-named primary among them and some seem to do better (I hear that there is a guy in the north east who is pretty good) but the data provided by footballprospective.com is pretty compelling. It basically says that teams who have a really good draft don't tend to draft very well in the preceding years or the years following their good draft. Some good examples cited were how in the early 2000's AJ Smith and Bill Polian were GM gods but both got fired after having 3+ horrendous drafts in a row.
This raises the question are good drafting GMs like Polian and Smith good or just lucky? After hearing Gil Brant and Polian in their post GM years at times making ridiculous claims, player rankings and mock drafts just slightly more successful than the hot air that is Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, I think we can legitimately say that luck plays a pretty big role in it. So we can reasonably expect this year to be like any other year and be a crap shoot. As the eternal optimist that I am I look at it as a good thing. Mayhew has shown himself to, at least, not be on of the historically bad GMs. So assuming he is (as I have always maintained) just an average GM we can always say that this year could be our year!
HOWEVER! Beting on luck just isn't as fun. So how do we make the most of a draft? As fans we have an intuitive sense that trading down is a pretty good strategy. This can lend its self to the whole luck concept which would lead us to believe that the more picks we have the better chances we have to hit. This thought is true to a certain extent. Kevin Meers over at HSAC wrote a piece where he shows that the coefficient of variation is really high with all picks in the draft. Sense there is not a lot of certainty more picks at about the same certainty would result in a higher chance to get a single good pick.
Unfortunately, there are other factors at play and the coefficient of variation raises substantially as the draft goes on. For example the variance of the 100th pick is about two to three times that of the first. They also show that the average quality of player per pick goes down logarithmicly with the picks.
They found that the 100th pick is worth about 1/5th what the 1st over all pick is. What does this tell us? Well that moving down is really only good if the compensation is good as well. What is interesting to do though it to compare Meers draft value chart to this draft value chart. In the standard draft value chart if the Lions were to say to trade down with Miami it would take 500 points or Miami's second round pickish, which would be a STEAL when looking at Meers draft value. With Meers chart a fair trade with Miami would be Miami's 1st and forth round pick. This same concept was actually presented in an economic paper that concluded that the bottom of the first round tended to out perform their cost more than the top of the first, so its a pretty solid concept.
Now that I have told everyone what we already know, we can see that the more methodical way that the Patriots, Forty Niners, and Ravens stash picks leads to better value but as these teams have also shown, not always better players. Each of these teams have had their misses and bad drafts but the long term approach has won out more often than not. That being said this draft just like every other one is going to be a crap shoot, these teams might end up with good player but its really just as likely that the Lions will as well and I am feeling feeling lucky. So hurrah for crap shoot!