The NFL Draft. It was invented to add players from college, and to do so in such a manner as to reward the NFL’s worst teams more than the NFL’s best teams. To maintain some semblance of competitive balance.
While the prior year’s finish dictates current year selections, a number of elements cause the distribution to be imbalanced on an annual basis. For instance, prior year trades (and current year trades) will cause some teams to be better off. Additionally, the overlooked (by most fans) world of compensatory selections allows some really good teams to have even more value than one would expect based on their prior year’s finish.
Who owns the 2021 NFL Draft as of right now?
The first couple of teams may not be surprising, as the Jaguars and Jets own the first two picks in the draft. But how do the Dolphins and Eagles slip into the top-5? How do the Vikings and Chargers slip into the top-10?
Let’s start with defining draft capital.
Certainly, the total number of picks isn’t a sound basis because first round picks are worth substantially more than seventh round picks. For that, we’ll rely on two very smart public models to create our own.
The first is average performance delivered in a player’s first 5 years based on draft slot (the AV model created by Chase Stuart) and the second is average dollars earned in non-rookie deals based upon draft slot (the OTC model created by Brad Spielberger & Jason Fitzgerald).
Several years ago, I focused on just the performance aspect when assessing draft capital. But then the guys at Over The Cap created the contractual valuation. And it seemed wise to incorporate the two together.
Performance. Dollars. Together into one metric, simply the Sharp Football Analysis Draft Value metric. But we’ll refer to it as simply “draft value” from here on out.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, with the first overall selection and 10 picks in total, own the most value in the 2021 NFL draft. At least right now. Whether they keep all of these picks will determine if they finish with the most draft capital. But tracking draft capital back to 2000, the Jaguars never used the most draft capital in a single draft. In other words, this would be the first time they’d finish #1 in draft capital.
But the Jaguars have had large hauls in the draft before thanks to their terrible performance for years. Since 2013, the Jaguars have ranked top-10 in draft capital 7 of 9 years.
Another team that has been bad but unlike the Jaguars, will see much more draft capital in 2021 than they are accustomed to are the Jets. The Jets have ranked top-10 in draft capital in just 3 of the last 7 drafts and now will have draft value of 108.9 points, the most draft capital since at least 2000.
The Dolphins have the 3rd most draft capital, but are accustomed to it as they had even more last season. But prior to that, Miami hadn’t ranked top-10 in draft capital since 2013. We’re seeing a team in Miami which is focused on building through the draft and sees their window as “now” given Tom Brady has left the AFC East and the AFC Conference altogether.
Clocking in at #4 and #5 in total draft capital in 2021, we have two teams completely unaccustomed to having such riches.
The Atlanta Falcons haven’t tried to build through the draft and accumulate draft capital since 2014. We know that teams with great records tend to have less draft capital, but that’s not the excuse for the Falcons.
Since 2014, they’ve posted just two winning records in 6 seasons. Yet examine their rankings in total draft capital, starting with 21st in 2020: 21st, 19th, 24th, 31st, 25th and 16th. In 2021 they rank 4th. They have a new Head coach and a new GM. Former GM Thomas Dimitroff had been General manager since 2008. It will be interesting to see if new GM Terry Fontenot chooses to sit pat and actually use his draft capital in 2021, unlike his predecessor. If he does, and if the Falcons continue to value draft capital, it will mark a massive shift in roster building philosophy.
The Philadelphia Eagles have the 5th most draft capital of any team in the draft. And for the Eagles, it’s the most draft capital they’ve owned since 2010, a draft when they ranked 3rd in total draft capital. And this is just the start for the Eagles. As I’ll show further in this article, the Eagles currently rank #1 in projected 2022 draft capital. The year after their 2017 Super Bowl, the Eagles had the least draft capital of any team in the NFL. They had the 10th least in 2019. Those issues, coupled with ranking among the worst teams in the NFL in injury luck, really capped their upside.
Last year, the Eagles had less draft capital than in 2016 (or 2017), which was GM Howie Roseman’s first year back responsible for the NFL Draft after the dismissal of Chip Kelly. So 2021 and 2022 mark two years for the Eagles and Roseman to rebuild strongly through the draft should they wish to take advantage of this draft capital.
It’s also interesting to note the teams at the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Seahawks have 70% less draft capital than average. Even more astonishing, they have the least draft capital of any team in any draft since at least 1999. Why did I track this back to 1999? Well that’s the year the Saints traded away every single pick to draft RB Ricky Williams at #5 overall. And even the Saints in a year when they had only ONE PICK still had more value than the 2021 Seahawks have in this year’s draft.
The Houston Texans are certainly an anomaly to be sitting here with the 2nd least draft capital of any team in 2021. That’s because, at 4-12 in 2020, they should have some of the most draft capital. But they have even less this year than they had in each of the prior two years where they recorded double-digit wins and were AFC South Champions. In fact, the 2021 Houston Texans have the least draft capital in franchise history (since 2002).
With the 3rd least draft capital is the LA Rams. But this isn’t surprising. No team has used less draft capital since 2017 than the LA Rams. Rams GM Les Snead took over in 2012 and his first 3 years on the job, no team used more draft capital than the Rams. But they’ve ranked 27, 29, 25, 25 and now 30 the last 5 years. That is in large part a result of success. The Rams have produced double-digit wins in 3 of their last 4 years and teams will have less draft capital as a result (though that’s not always the case with a team like the Patriots).
Having discussed in detail the top-5 teams with the most and least draft capital in 2021, let’s dive in deeper.
We know that early picks will deliver more so than later picks in the draft, which is why they have more value associated with them. It’s interesting to remove entirely picks after the first three rounds and examine the teams with the most value at the top of the draft, where more impactful players are likely to be found.
What this shows is how dominant the value is of the top-3 teams in the draft, the Jaguars, Jets and Dolphins.
It also showcases the unenviable position of the Texans. Looking at all teams that have 30% or lower value over average, we see the list includes:
Every single one of those teams made the playoffs last year… except the 4-12 Texans. It’s truly remarkable how little draft capital the Texans have in 2021 and how poorly their roster looks if Deshaun Watson is not a part of it.
Draft Capital 2021-2022
Before we look back at the prior 10 years, let's look ahead to the next two drafts. We've already established value in 2021. How can we predict value for 2022?
To do so, I looked at all 2021 NFL win totals to predict final standings at the end of 2021. This will then determine the draft order for the 2022 draft. Then I factored in all of the trades that have already been made of 2022 picks.
The end result is as strong a predictor as possible of 2022 draft value.
As we can see, the Jaguars and Jets (propelled by their strong draft capital in 2021) will have the most draft capital over the next two years combined.
I am predicting the Eagles will have the most draft capital of 2022 and thus the 3rd most draft capital over the next two years.
The Lions are projected to have the 2nd most draft capital of 2022 and the 4th most over the next two years.
Rounding out the top-5 are the Dolphins, who I predict will have the 10th most draft capital in 2022.
At the bottom of the list are the Seahawks, Rams and Colts. Three playoff teams from 2020 that lack draft capital in 2021 and are projected to be bottom-5 in 2022 as well as a result of trading away top draft picks in order to acquire players (Jamal Adams to Seattle from the Jets, Matthew Stafford to the Rams from Detroit and Carson Wentz to Indy from the Eagles).
Draft Capital 2011-2021
To conclude, it’s interesting to take a historical look at draft capital used over the last decade to see how many teams build.
Keep in mind, the better the team, the less capital a team “should” have, but that’s not always the case (see the Patriots for example). The worst the team, the more capital a team “should” have but again, that’s not always the case (see the Falcons for example).
At the end of the day, a lot will change during the course of the draft. Teams will trade up and down the board, which will result in the final 2021 draft capital used being different than the current draft capital. (I will pen another feature that analyzes which teams were the most aggressive in the draft and made moves up the board.)
But it’s fascinating to study where teams sit just 3 weeks out from the draft. And it’s interesting to see which teams should own the draft and which teams (and their fan bases) may find themselves very bored in a few weeks with very little draft capital at their disposal.