You get a lot of media narratives when it comes to the NFL draft. Some are true, some aren’t. One storyline that’s gotten a lot of traction is that Jimmy Johnson, during his time running the Cowboys in the 80s and 90s, he developed a value points system for every pick in the draft, and he used it to weigh the draft-day offers he’d get, as well as the offers he’d make.
One year, I was part of the draft broadcast team for a major radio network, and one of my counterparts was a guy who had spent a little time in an NFL front office and used it to market himself as a personnel guru. At one point, the host asked about the value points system, and I kind of brushed it off, explaining that teams wouldn’t lock themselves into something so one-dimensional. He overruled me, countering that all teams used it and it was a routine part of every team’s war room.
I’ve always wondered which one of us was right, so I asked several of my friends in scouting (seven, to be exact) about it. The responses I got fit into three categories.
- “We don’t use it:” I only got this response from one team, but it’s one of the better franchises in the NFL. The scout said that, instead, the team compares the offer against similar previous offers and uses draft histories to evaluate each trade.
- “We use it as part of our evaluation system:” One scout said his team uses 11 different charts to measure draft trades, and Johnson’s chart is one of them. One told me everyone uses it to some degree, and estimated that there are 3-4 other charts out there that teams use.
- “We do our own charts:” One scout said his team uses its analytics people to develop its own value system for picks. Another scout said his team uses a chart that is very similar, but that his team does not use Johnson’s chart. Another scout said his team is always evaluating its charts and they change every year. Things can get pretty complicated: variables include the relative value of a position, which changes from year to year, the performances of players at differing places in the draft, etc. “It’s a very fluid chart,” one scout said, calling it “football’s version of the slide rule.”
In the end, I guess every team has its own way of doing things, but the idea of a chart, and assigning value to picks, is valid. I guess the main takeaway is that teams are always looking for ways to look at data and break the code for success.