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Analytics Reveal Why Trading Back to Stockpile Picks Could be Broncos' Best Draft Strategy

The analytics tell the tale when it comes to the crapshoot called the NFL draft.

Build a team through the NFL draft! This is one loudly-spoken mantra and it is the key to success in this salary cap era. Following this philosophy makes draft picks an extremely valuable commodity. 

However, the value of draft selections isn’t what you think. With draft picks, it is quantity over quality. No matter how certain a team is about a prospect, trading up to get that particular player is not as effective as having more chances to find a player who becomes a success. 

Trading for an unknown commodity, a player who has yet to play a down in the NFL, is a very risky proposition. Swapping multiple selections for one prospect removes other chances of hitting on a good future NFL player.

The Denver Broncos, holding nine selections in next month's draft, are ahead of the curve. The more picks, the merrier. Here is why.

Setting the Bar

I have analyzed every draft pick and season those players participated in from 2010 to 2018. To measure the impact a player has, I set a very low bar: the percentage of seasons the player was a primary starter of all their years in the NFL. That percent was then compared to the mean (average of a data set) of each round.

Why is this a low bar? The answer is, because it includes any player who could be a fringe starter with no awards or accolades to his name, along with a player who is often injured, but started enough in a season to be considered the primary starter. It does include Pro Bowlers and All-Pros, but for the most part, a player doesn’t have to be elite to meet this threshold. 

If a player’s percent of seasons as the primary starter was greater than the mean for the round, then that player was considered a ‘hit’ and if not, a ‘miss.' Keeping this in mind, it may be a bit shocking to learn just how hard it is to 'hit' on a player in the NFL draft, even in the first round.

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Round 1 Hit Percentage: 55%

In Round 1, only 55% of players here considered 'hits'. In the money round, where elite players are to be found, nearly half of them were misses. 

Remember, this threshold for measuring success was not set at a high mark. Teams are about 50/50 at finding a decent NFL player in Round 1. Not much better than a coin toss.

It gets worse from there.

  • Round 2: 51%
  • Round 3: 38%
  • Round 4: 29%
  • Round 5: 29%
  • Round 6: 19%
  • Round 7: 14%
  • Total draft: 32%

What it Means for the Broncos

After months of breaking down film, interviewing prospects, coaches, teammates, family members, grading, testing, and putting these players under the microscope at 1000x magnification, less than one-third of draft picks pan out in the NFL. Even teams considered by many to be good in the draft are not immune to this game of chance.

This analysis does not indicate that the Broncos should constantly trade away their first-round pick for many later picks. Even though the odds are not fantastic, Round 1 offers Denver the best chance to land a good player. Round 4 has the same odds as Round 5. Denver should consider this when picking up a couple of later-round selections in a trade.

The Broncos would be wise to use as many selections as they can in this upcoming draft, or, to use new GM George Paton's vernacular: stockpiling as many 'darts' as possible to throw at the dartboard. Odds are that out of the nine selections, three will pan out. 

Now, the Broncos could trade some selections for a known, veteran commodity who has established himself in the NFL. That would also be a wise decision. 


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