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A new study by a student team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) shows that NFL teams typically get greater value from their second-round picks, contrary to the popular view that coveted first-round picks are the best.
Craig Wills, the head of WPI's Department of Computer Science, who advised four WPI undergraduates on the study, said there is significant player value in later rounds. In fact, he noted, their analysis of the past 13 seasons shows that second-round picks represent the best value with 70 percent of the production of first-round picks but at just 40 percent of the salary.
"That's a significant value and it tells me that general managers should give more value to second- and third-round picks," said Wills.
The WPI study, titled "Evaluating Talent Acquisition Via the NFL Draft," focused on the value teams have realized from their draft picks from 2000 through the most recent 2012 draft and league season.
The analysis is based on measuring the cost of acquiring the players through the draft and the success of those players once acquired. WPI researchers employed two primary metrics for measuring the cost of drafted players. The first uses the round in which a player is taken while the second uses a table of draft pick values initially developed within the NFL in the early 1990s.
Wills said the results disprove some long-held conventional wisdom regarding the relative value of draft picks in the first three rounds. "This research project has some very interesting results, particularly when looking at the value of different player positions as well as draft pick values," said Wills.
The study concluded that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been the most cost-effective team at drafting college football players since 2000. The Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers are the next best teams for efficiency, while the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns ranked as the least efficient teams.
In addition to the team rankings, researchers focused on talent acquisitions based on football positions, and found that safeties provide the greatest value to teams, but on average teams spend the most to acquire quarterbacks, defensive ends, and offensive tackles.
WPI researchers also adopted two metrics for measuring the success of drafted players. The first metric, known as Approximate Value, was developed by Doug Drinen, the founder of pro-football-reference.com. The metric assigns a value to each player's performance for a season. The second metric, known as Appearance Score, was developed by WPI and is based on a weighted score for games played, games started, and recognition as a top player.
Under the Approximate Value metric, the most successful players in the 2012 draft were Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (first-round pick), Redskins running back Alfred Morris (sixth-round), Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (third-round), Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (first-round), and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (first-round).
Using the Appearance Score metric, the most successful players were Morris, Griffin III, and Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh (sixth-round). They were followed by a group including Wilson, Martin, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (first-round), Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David (second-round), and Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (first-round).
Four WPI students, all juniors, worked on the study. They are Casey Barney, Anthony Caravella, Michael Cullen, and Gary Jackson. The study was conducted as part of the students’ interdisciplinary project, which is typically completed in the junior year. Read the complete study, Evaluating Talent Acquisition in the NFL.