The Value of Draft Picks: Why Vontae Davis Was a Good, but Expensive Pickup

In the NFL, GMs value draft picks extremely highly. 

Moreso, probably, than they should. 

This past offseason, Asante Samuel was traded for a 7th round pick. Now, Samuel has his limitations, and is not a particularly strong tackler, but he’s one of the better corners in the league. Last season, only Darelle Revis had a better (lower) opposing quarterback passer rating when throwing at him. He’s a starter in this league, and a pretty darn good one. He’s worth more than a 7th rounder, which on average is a training camp cut or special teams player (if you’re lucky). 

Brandon Marshall, a Pro-Bowl wide receive, a number one WR in the league and a proven weapon, was traded out of Miami for two third round picks, one in 2012 and one in 2013. The move instantly made Chicago one of the most trendy darkhorse picks for the 2012 season. Marshall has off the field issues, and had a down season in Miami (but still had over 80 catches and 1000 yards), but is a dynamic receiver and one that every single team in the league would start today. He’s worth more than two third round picks, which, on average, turn out to be a Philip Wheeler/Mike Doss type of player (Occasional starter, better depth player), and that’s the high end of the third round. Marshall is worth far more than that. 

Both of thos players are Pro-Bowlers, are starters, and would be snapped up by the vast majority of teams in this league if offered to them for a special teams player or two average rotational defenders. 

However, they could only be moved for the price of a couple low picks. 

Why? NFL GMs value draft picks far too highly. 

Sure, you can find hidden talent far into the draft, but most of the time, you’re going to get the average. And the average simply isn’t that good. 

Nevertheless, NFL GMs value those picks like none other. For this reason, the Colts’ trade for Vontae Davis is both genius and questionable. 

A. The Colts’ trade is questionable because Ryan Grigson and Jim Irsay didn’t get good market value for their second round pick, which will be high.

A high pick like that will be similar to a late first rounder, and on the NFL GMs way of valuing things, you should be able to get a very good, proven veteran for that kind of price. Again, considering what guys like Samuel and Marshall were traded for, the Colts overpaid. Based on what we’ve seen in the past, NFL GMs generally don’t value young players with work ethic issues as highly as their prized 2nd round picks. Whether they should or not is irrelevant here, the point is that they don’t, and Grigson should have been able to find better value for his pick. 


B. The Colts trade is genius because Ryan Grigson and Jim Irsay got good on-the-field value for their second round pick. 

The average high second round draft pick averages between four and five AV per season, based on my draft project last year. Davis so far in his career has an average of 5.67, including AVs of six and seven in the last two years. Davis is a first round talent with a lot of potential, and should be an instant starter, something that is not in any way guaranteed with a second round pick. Getting that kind of value on the field with your second round draft pick would be very good. The Colts didn’t over value their pick, and valued on-field production, which bucks the trend in the NFL. If Davis fits in the defense (he should) and Pagano can reign him in a bit (not as likely, but possible), the Colts will be geniuses. 

So, do I think Ryan Grigson “won” the trade? Yes and no. 

The Colts need to be a better judge of the market, and what their assets are worth. Based on how past trades have happened, they didn’t do that well on this trade, and they could have gotten more value for a second round pick.

But, I do think that for the Colts, using a second rounder on a player like Davis is worth it. The only issue is that if Davis plays well, and earns a big contract, he could leave Indianapolis after two years, giving the Colts a very short period of time to use him. This would decline his value severely. However, if Davis plays up to his potential, and legitimately earns that contract, I have no doubt Irsay, Grigson, and Pagano would be willing to give it to him, and retain him in Indy. 

So, was it good negotiating to get Davis for a second rounder? 

I don’t think so. 

But was it worth it? 

We’ll see. 

Editor’s Note: Check out CA reader squirrel’s further breakdown of the AV numbers for a more in depth look at the value Davis needs to bring in order to be worth (in terms of on-the-field value) a second and sixth round pick. It’s a very good explanation of the numbers, and a good read. – KR

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.