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An Early Look At The 2011 Draft

ARLINGTON TX - FEBRUARY 06:  Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson celebrates after winning Super Bowl XLV 31-25 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium on February 6 2011 in Arlington Texas.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON TX - FEBRUARY 06: Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson celebrates after winning Super Bowl XLV 31-25 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium on February 6 2011 in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Given the state of the labor dispute, one of the few things we have left to look forward to is the NFL Draft on April 28-30.  Green Bay, by virtue of their Super Bowl XLV win, have the last ordered selection in each of the drafts.  They also gathered a 4th-round compensatory selection from the departure of Aaron Kampman, as well as the first pick in the seventh round in a trade with Carolina that sent LS J.J. Jansen to the Panthers.

It is the latest that the Packers have drafted in team history (the post-championship 1997 draft only featured 30 teams), but that won't prevent Ted Thompson from using all the tools available to continue building the team.  One commenter on this site put it this way: it's not like the Packers have the last pick in the first round, but the first pick in the second round.  And if winning the Super Bowl came with a penalty of losing your first round pick, I think we'd all take it in a heartbeat.

Here's how the complete draft order looks with a month to go:

Round Pick Overall Notes Value
1 32 32 590
2 32 64 270
3 32 96 116
4 32 129 43
4 34 131 COMP 41
5 32 163 27.2
6 32 197 13.6
7 1 204 from CAR 10.8
7 32 232 2.2
TOTAL            9 - - 1114

The last column might be a little confusing, but it's a delightfully simple tool that's actually pretty important to analyzing how GMs approach draft-day trades.

I introduced this back in January of 2009, but it's just as relevant as it was then.  Allow me to reiterate:

Draft picks are the most valuable commodity available to exchange in the NFL.  However, it's difficult to gauge the difference between draft picks when considering multiple deals.  Imagine you're a GM with a mid-third round pick, and you have two offers on the table.  One team is offering a late third rounder, and another team is offering their early fourth and sixth rounders.  Which offer is better?  If you are targeting a specific player that might not be available in the fourth, then you might go with the third round pick.  However, in strict terms of value, the second option is actually the superior one. 

How do I come to that conclusion?  I use this handy chart that ESPN produced in 2004.  It assigns points to each and every draft pick and measures the values thereof.

In addition to gauging the actual value of draft picks in trades, the chart also allows teams to effectively measure how much value they gain compared to value lost.  Trading picks in the draft is commonplace.  Good GM's pick their spots and only trade up in the draft when they can get a pick that is worth about 75% of what the picks they give up are worth.  Likewise, it's good practice to trade down to accrue more picks that together match or exceed the value of the draft picks they gave up.

All caught up?  Good, because it's an oft-forgotten detail that can help explain why a trade was made.  It really does separate the good general managers from the mediocre, and Ted Thompson is the perfect case study.

The draft is first, second, and third on Thompson's list of preferred ways to improve the team.  He's not only a solid judge of talent and fit, but he's got a keen sense of value when it comes to drafting and trading picks.  Let's look at his draft-day trade track record, going all the way back to 2005 (using the following format):

Year, round: Packer's pick(s) sent (picks sent value) to team for pick(s) received (picks received value) ---% gain/loss

  • 2005, 3rd round: pick 89 (145 points) to Carolina for picks 115 and 126 (110 points) --- 75% of original pick's value
  • 2005, 4th round: pick 126 (46 points) to Philadelphia for picks 167, 175, and 245 (48.95 points) --- 106% of original pick's value
  • 2005, 6th round: pick 175 (22.4 points) to New England for picks 195 and 246 (15.3 points) --- 68% of original pick's value
  • 2006, 2nd round: pick 36 (540 points) to New England for picks 52 and 75 (595 points) --- 110% of original pick's value
  • 2006, 2nd/5th round: picks 37 and 139 (566.5 points) to Atlanta for picks 47, 93, and 148 (590.2 points) --- 104% of original picks' value
  • 2006, 3rd round: pick 93 (128 points) to St. Louis for picks 109 and 183 (95.2 points) ---74% of original pick's value
  • 2006, 4th round: pick 109 (76 points) to Philadelphia for picks 115 and 185 (78.4 points) --- 103% of original pick's value
  • 2007, 2nd/7th round: picks 47 and 235 (431.9 points) to New York Jets for picks 63, 89, and 191 (428 points) --- 99% of original picks' value
  • 2007, 4th round: pick 112 (70 points) to Pittsburgh for picks 119 and 192 (71.6 points) --- 102% of original pick's value
  • 2008, 1st round: pick 30 (620 points) to New York Jets for picks 36 and 113 (608 points) --- 98% of original pick's value
  • 2008, 4th/5th round: picks 113 and 162 (95.6 points) to New York Jets for pick 102 (92 points) --- 96% of original picks' value
  • 2008, 4th round: pick 128 (44 points) to St. Louis for picks 137 and 217 (43.1 points) --- 98% of original pick's value
  • 2008, 5th round: pick 137 (37.5 points) to Minnesota for picks 150 and 209 (40.2 points) --- 107% of original pick's value
  • 2008, 7th round: pick 237 (1.7 points) to New Orleans for 2009 6th rounder, became pick 187 (17.6 points) --- 1035% (!) of original pick's value
  • 2009, 1st/2nd/3rd round: picks 41, 73, and 83 (890 points) to New England for picks 26 and 162 (727.6 points) --- 82% of original picks' value
  • 2010, 3rd round: picks 86 and 122 (210 points) to Philadelphia for pick 71 (235 points) ---112% of original picks' value
* * *

That is a LOT of trading over the past six years (16 trades total), although the majority of the moves came before the 2009 season.  The two trades that happened after, however uncharacteristic, were used to draft Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett, so it's safe to say that the reasoning was sound.

Brandon said earlier this week that he's not a fan of the trade value chart linked above.  I disagree, partially because it's the best way to gauge draft pick trade value, and partially because the evidence makes Ted Thompson look so damn good.  He's consistently moved picks around without losing too much value, and only once traded up and lost more than 25% of the original point value.  

But Thompson, like all the other GMs, will have a tough go of it this year.  Going into this year's draft will be significantly more interesting, if only because of the lack of free agency from the CBA battle.  In our position evaluations, we determined that the positions of need were OT, OLB, DE, CB, and WR.  OT, OLB, and CB are obvious, since there are aging veterans who will need replacing (Chad Clifton and Charles Woodson), and a huge hole opposite Clay Matthews.  But WR and DE were determined needs because of the possible departure of Cullen Jenkins and James Jones, both of whom are stuck in limbo because of the lockout.

Along with the free agency freeze, the league has been ominous as to whether or not trading future draft picks is viable this year.  For the 2011 draft, swapping picks is within the rules, but until the CBA is resolved, there is no indication that the conditions for 2012 will be the same.  Thompson doesn't rely on trading future picks all that often, but it's one less avenue that he has at his disposal.  

Finally, there has been a lot of talk about the Packers, with their solid roster, moving up in the draft to take a player who would have more of an impact.  Prospects like Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, or Tyron Smith would be excellent fits in Green Bay, but their likely draft position prevents them from being available when the Packers pick.  Trading up is always a possibility, but if all three players go in the top 10, Green Bay wouldn't have enough value from their entire draft to make the pick worth another team's while.  Green Bay's eight draft picks (minus the untradeable compensatory pick) equal the 14th overall selection, which is not high enough to guarantee a shot at an elite player.

* * *

One possibility I see would be to trade picks 32, 96, and 129 to Seattle for the 25th overall selection.  That trade would have equal value for both teams, and the two extra picks in the 3rd and 4th rounds might be enough to sway the Seahawks into making the deal (especially if the QBs they've been looking at are gone).  This trade is in the same mold as the Clay Matthews trade, where the team gave up a 2 and two 3s to move back into the first round to grab a player that was high on the draft board but had fallen below his projected slot.  I can see this being feasible if a prospect like Justin Houston, Akeem Ayers, Gabe Carimi, or Nate Solder is available and the Seahawks shop the pick around.  

Taking everything into account, though, the conditions surrounding the 2011 draft are so unprecedented that I can't see the uber-conservative Thompson making too big of a splash.  He will continue to stick to his scouting reports and will only make a move if it's too good to pass up.  As far as mock drafting, it's impossible to predict which prospects will fall to Green Bay at 32.  Who do you think will be available?