How the Trend Richardson Trade Affects 2014 NFL Pre-Draft Grades

Long ago, before Twitch started playing Pokémon, before the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, before Richard Sherman reminded us why it is a good thing baseball pitchers can throw at players’ heads, the Indianapolis Colts traded their 2014 first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for their 2012 first-round (and third overall) pick, running back Trent Richardson. It is quite curious that months later, the two teams involved in the spiciest mid-season trade of the last few years should find themselves on opposite ends of the 2014 draft potential spectrum.

As blogged about previously, the Jimmy-Johnson-arbitrarily-created draft chart of the 1980s is precisely that: the chart of the 1980s. The chart of the modern, savvy NFL general manager at least resembles that of Kevin Meers’, President of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective. Meers’ utilized decades of data from Pro Football Reference‘s career approximate value statistic to estimate the expected value of each pick in the NFL draft. Meers’ chart is not perfect–it estimates the relative value of draft choices based on performance data of all the players chosen in every draft between 1980 and 2005. It is an excellent guideline to every pick’s worth. How do all 32 teams stack up? [SPOILER: The team that received the first-round draft pick is better off.]

Team Rank Meers’ Valuation Score
CLE 1 1343.3
STL 2 1279.7
JAC 3 1178.2
HOU 4 1072.7
SF 5 999.7
MIN 6 958.6
ATL 7 900.5
OAK 8 880.6
BUF 9 845.2
TB 10 829.8
DAL 11 794.4
CHI 12 786.2
NYG 13 770.7
NYJ 14 751.6
DET 15 751.4
MIA 16 745.5
PHI 17 722.1
GB 18 718.4
CIN 19 705.7
TEN 20 701.6
SD 21 695.6
ARI 22 691.1
CAR 23 672.2
PIT 24 657.9
DEN 25 653.1
NE 26 652.6
NO 27 641.3
SEA 28 620.4
KC 29 576.8
WAS 30 572.9
BAL 31 567.3
IND 32 383.3

Without the Trent Richardson trade, the Colts’ 2014 first-rounder–26th overall, valued by Meers at 218 units–would still be in their possession. And the Colts’ total estimated 2014 draft value would be 29th instead of dead last, and the Browns’ would be fourth overall, not first. Of course, the Colts received Richardson in the trade, and as a second-year player he went on to record a…-4.8 grade from Pro Football Focus through his 16 games with the Colts so far. Hmm.

As Brian Burke notes, overall draft value may not be worth much, if it comes from several low-round picks. To be sure, low-round picks are undervalued. However, a team may only have 11 players on the field at once; if all of them are average, while they may have been obtained at good value, they likely will not win a championship. Which teams have the highest average valuation across all their 2014 draft picks?

Team Rank Average Meers’ 2014 Draft Pick Valuation
HOU 1 153.24
STL 2 142.19
BAL 3 141.83
TB 4 138.30
CLE 5 134.33
ATL 6 128.64
NYG 7 128.45
OAK 8 125.80
DET 9 125.23
BUF 10 120.74
MIN 11 119.83
JAC 12 117.82
TEN 13 116.93
ARI 14 115.18
CHI 15 112.31
PIT 16 109.65
NYJ 17 107.37
NO 18 106.88
MIA 19 106.50
PHI 20 103.16
GB 21 102.63
CIN 22 100.81
SD 23 99.37
DAL 24 99.30
KC 25 96.13
CAR 26 96.03
WAS 27 95.48
DEN 28 93.30
NE 29 93.23
SF 30 90.88
SEA 31 88.63
IND 32 76.66

Indianapolis is still dead last; Houston, however, armed with the first overall pick, the most valuable by any analysis, is ready to strike. Oh, and most likely they were the unluckiest team last season, not the worst.

It is still too late to give the final judgement on the Trent Richardson trade. But unless he plays as one of the top five backs in the league starting in week one of next season, it is a dominating win for the Browns. Even if he does, it could still be a win for the Browns; the added benefit of a first-rounder is nothing to sneeze at. Yes, the Browns did spend the third overall pick on Richardson, which no mater what will seem somewhat wasted. But it is much better to cut your losses for as high a value as possible (the 26th overall pick two years later) than be left with scraps. Despite the chaos going on in Cleveland, they have at least one thing going for them: the most draft capital in the NFL. No matter what, Browns fans will likely not be consoled until mayor of Cleveland Frank Jackson bans Brandon Weeden from the city forever.

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