In the aftermath of the NFL draft, pundits open on which teams did the best and worst jobs of improving their teams. Much of that is predetermined by where a team picks, by free agent losses that determine the number of picks each team has, and by trades made before and during the draft to obtain, give up, or exchange picks.
The true test of NFL GMs comes when their team is on the clock and makes a pick. At that moment the processes that led to their big board and their assessments of needs and positional value come together. The true value of any draft pick does not become clear until years later, when the evidence is in about each prospect’s NFL career. Right after the draft, though, it is possible to compare the choices they made given the assets they had to how those players were evaluated leading up the draft.
Fandom and draft experts do this almost instantaneously, as Twitter feeds can attest. But draft success can also be quantified using two pieces of information. Draft value charts put a numerical value on each draft position as a way of assessing what is and is not a fair trade, while pre-draft big boards by experts attempt to rank the quality of the players entering the draft. Combining the two allows us to calculate a “draft value over expected” (DVOE) for each pick. It merely asks how successful GMs were in getting value from the picks they actually made given how prospects were viewed at the time of the draft.
Calculating draft value over expected
For the value of picks we use the Fitzgerald-Spielberger draft value chart from overthecap.com, which is based on the monetary values of second contracts, to objectively assess how the NFL itself has valued players at each draft position. For the pre-draft rankings of players we adopt “The Beast,” The Athletic’s draft guide compiled by respected draft analyst Dane Brugler.
To illustrate DVOE, consider some notable surprise recent draft picks by the Giants:
Daniel Jones (2019): Jones was drafted No. 6 (2092 Fitzgerald-Spielberger value points), but The Beast ranked him No. 53 (988 FS points), so DVOE = 988 – 2092 = -1104. 1104 corresponds roughly to the No. 42 pick in the draft on the FS chart, ie, taking Jones that high was equivalent to losing a high Round 2 pick.
Andrew Thomas (2020): Thomas was the first OT off the board at No. 4 (2297 FS points) but The Beast ranked him No. 15 (1628 points), so DVOE = 1628 – 2297 = -669, equivalent to losing the No. 99 pick. Brugler’s rankings suggest that Jedrick Wills (ranked No. 5) or Tristan Wirfs (ranked No. 8) would have been better at No. 4, but Wills was outplayed by Thomas in 2021 and Wirfs, though excellent, plays RT, not LT.
Kadarius Toney (2021): Toney was drafted No. 20 (1482 points) but was ranked No. 28 (1311 points) by The Beast, so DVOE = 1311 – 1482 = -171 points, equivalent to losing a priority undrafted free agent. There was sentiment that Toney was overdrafted, but this small DVOE illustrates that in reality there is little difference in value on average between picks fewer than 10 positions apart except near the top of the draft.
Azeez Ojulari (2021): Ojulari was drafted No. 50 (1018 FS points) but was ranked No. 16 (1595 points) by The Beast, so DVOE = 1595 – 1018 = +577 points, equivalent to an extra No. 119 pick. This is an example of how medical red flags can lead to great value picks. (Just ask Giants fans about Trey Smith dropping to Round 6.)
DVOE during the Gettleman years
Here is a summary of the DVOE of all Giants’ picks from the four drafts of the Dave Gettleman era. (The Beast only ranks the top 100 prospects and assigns rounds for others, so I used mid-round or top-of-round values as appropriate for those lower picks. For 2018 I only have access to Brugler’s top 100 big board so I assign DVOE = 0 to later picks.)
Giants’ Drafts 2018-2021
|2. Saquon Barkley||-352||6. Daniel Jones||-1104||4. Andrew Thomas||-669||20. Kadarius Toney||-171|
|34. Will Hernandez||269||17. Dexter Lawrence||-336||36. Xavier McKinney||29||50. Azeez Ojulari||577|
|66. Lorenzo Carter||-134||30. Deandre Baker||-63||99. Matt Peart||0||71. Aaron Robinson||77|
|69. BJ Hill||-21||95.Oshane Ximines||-83||110. Darnay Holmes||-9||116. Elerson Smith||-110|
|108. Kyle Lauletta||0||108. Julian Love||391||150. Shane Lemieux||76||196. Gary Brightwell||-137|
|139. RJ McIntosh||0||171. Darius Slayton||272||183. Cam Brown||-27||201. Rodarius Williams||21|
|143. Ryan Connelly||-149||218. Carter Coughlin||154|
|180. Corey Ballentine||169||238. T.J. Brunson||-39|
|245. Chris Slayton||121||247. Chris Williamson||-20|
|255. Tae Crowder||-4|
|DVOE per pick||-40||-87||-51||43|
Gettleman more often drafted players higher than Brugler’s rankings suggest he should have, but many of the disparities are small (less than 200 points), and he got a few “bargains” as well. So, why are the Giants in yet another rebuilding phase? The chart above suggests several reasons:
- Every single first-round pick in 2018-2021 was a player ranked lower than where he was drafted. Several may be very good players for the Giants going forward, but several more trade-downs (and one less trade-up) might have put the Giants’ roster in better shape. None of the first-round picks has been a universally acclaimed hit; in general, about one-third of first-round picks become great players, but none in recent years has been a Giant.
- Even when the Giants have seemed to get good value on draft day (Hernandez, Love, Slayton), the player has either underperformed or played only adequately. The biggest bargain of all was Azeez Ojulari; That pick may turn out to be the great exception to this general tendency.
Evaluating Joe Schoen’s first Giants draft
With this as background, we can take a first look at how the Giants did this past weekend. First, since Joe Schoen made two trades after the draft began to get extra picks, we can evaluate these:
First, the Giants traded pick No. 36 (1184 FS points) to the Jets for No. 38 (1157 points) and No. 146 (474 points). This was clearly good value for the Giants: 1157 + 474 – 1184 = +447.
Then the Giants traded No. 38 (1157 points) to Atlanta for No. 43 (1094 points) and No. 114 (600 points). This also was good value: 1094 + 600 – 1157 = +537.
The net gain of 447 + 537 = 984 points from this pair of trades that brought two extra picks is roughly equivalent to having an extra Round 2 (No. 53) pick.
Ultimately, though, draft performance is judged by the player chosen with the picks a team has. The chart below shows the DVOE for the Giants’ 11 picks:
2022 Giants’ DVOE
|Draft position||“The Beast”||DVOE|
|Draft position||“The Beast”||DVOE|
|5. Kayvon Thibodeaux||2184||1946||-238|
|7. Evan Neal||2014||2443||429|
|43. Wan’Dale Robinson||1094||682||-412|
|67. Joshua Ezeudu||869||682||-187|
|81. Cordale Flott||773||425||-348|
|112. Daniel Bellinger||609||609||0|
|114. Dane Belton||600||425||-175|
|146. Micah McFadden||474||481||7|
|147. DJ Davidson||471||298||-173|
|173. Marcus McKethan||388||188||-200|
|182. Darrian Beavers||363||682||319|
|DVOE per pick||-89|
For the most part, DVOE values are consistent with opinions of the selections as they were made:
- There was near-universal praise for taking Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5 and Evan Neal at No. 5 7. Both satisfy needs, and arguably both may be the best at their positions in this draft. The Thibodeaux pick is modestly negative (ie, ideally he would have been taken 1-2 picks lower) while the Neal pick is strongly positive (a No. 3 value taken at No. 7). We know, though, that the sequence of picks was a strategic move by Schoen: Taking Thibodeaux when he had the chance with the first pick knowing that one of two coveted OTs, Neal and Ekwonu, would be there for the second pick. The sum of the DVOE values (+191) tells us that as a pair, these picks were a win for the Giants.
- For the remaining rounds of the draft, all but three of the nine Giants draft picks have a negative DVOE. In particular, Wan’Dale Robinson and Cordale Flott were taken perhaps two to three rounds earlier than the value assigned to them by The Beast. Daniel Bellinger and Micah McFadden are the only new Giants chosen at a point where value meets need, while the Giants’ final pick, Darrian Beavers, could be a sixth-round steal. The overall DVOE per player of this draft is similar to the lowest of the Gettleman years (2019).
The real value of draft picks only becomes evident years later. Daniel Jones is still regarded as having been a big reach; only a breakout 2022 season that entrenches him as the Giants’ QB of the future can change that narrative. Andrew Thomas was a bit of a reach, too, but if he continues to trend that pick will be viewed in retrospect as a wise upward one despite its negative DVOE. Kadarius Toney is a big question mark – will the small sample of scintillating on-field performances be the norm, or will the injuries and off-field questions make him one more Giants first-round bust? Azeez Ojulari at the moment looks like one of the best picks of the Gettleman era – a first round value obtained with second-round assets. And sometimes you just have to pick the right player in the right spot, as it seems to have been the case with Xavier McKinney, drafted about where he should have been but showing signs of becoming a great player.
The Joe Schoen – Brian Daboll regime clearly has some different ideas about player evaluation than most experts and fans do. On the one hand, they identified the same areas of need that everyone did and drafted to fill them. That’s different from the Gettleman era. They also implemented the modern draft wisdom of trading down and getting “more bites at the apple,” something that Gettleman did only in his final draft. And they followed modern ideas about positional value, using four of their first five picks on high-leverage positions that should be addressed early (EDGE, OT, WR, CB) and leaving OG, TE, S, ILB, IDL, until the middle and late rounds where good value can still be found at these positions. They just didn’t select the players at these positions that people expected in most cases.
No big board compiled by external draft experts takes into account the philosophies of specific teams: Zone vs. man defenses, power/gap vs. outside zone rushing attacks, Erhardt-Perkins vs. west coast vs. air raid passing games, and so on. The Giants’ big board presumably reflects the coaches’ and GM’s view of players who have the specific traits they seek and are suited to the specific ideas their coaches hope to implement. In four months we’ll begin to learn how successful they were.