NFL Draft Value: Franchise Quarterback

Synopsis: On the eve of the 2016 NFL Draft, much of the drama surrounding the top two picks has subsided. Over the last two weeks, both the Rams and Eagles traded up in order to secure a potential franchise quarterback. Arguably, it will take several years before anyone can properly evaluate the trades. However, I believe the evaluation can begin already based on the expected value of the draft picks involved. For example, the Rams will win if their pick matches the career of Eli Manning. Similarly, the Eagles will win if their pick matches the career of Philip Rivers. Is either case possible? Certainly. Probable? Certainly not.


Perhaps hoping to make a big splash in their return to Los Angeles, the Rams may have mortgaged their future instead. Specifically, they gave up the following picks to the Tennessee Titans in order to go first in the 2016 Draft. 

  • Two 1st round picks (#15 overall in 2016, TBD in 2017).
  • Two 2nd round picks (#43 overall and #45 overall in 2016).
  • Two 3rd round picks (#76 overall in 2016, TBD in 2017).

Technically, Los Angeles also received Tennessee’s 2016 4th round (113th overall) and 6th round (177th overall) picks. However, those throw-ins simply offset one of the two 3rd rounders included in the trade.

At this point, it appears the Rams will select Jared Goff. If so, how good does the former Cal quarterback have to be so that heads don’t roll? Interestingly, the answer involves another Cal quarterback.

Franchise Quarterback: 2005 #24 Pick Aaron Rodgers
Franchise Quarterback - Aaron Rodgers

Yeah, that one!

As described in a separate post, I developed a methodology that can be used to evaluate hypothetical draft picks. In particular, I created the Top10Busts Football Index (TFI) in order to covert a specific draft pick into a number. Without revealing too much, my composite incorporates WAV, Pro Bowls, 1st-Team All-Pro selections, and Super Bowl appearances/victories.

To aid with the discussion, the following table summarizes projected TFI by draft position.

Pick 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th
1     100.0       50.0       35.0       25.0       17.5       15.0       12.5
2-3       95.0       45.0       35.0       25.0       17.5       15.0       12.5
4       85.0       45.0       35.0       25.0       17.5       15.0       12.5
5-10       75.0       45.0       32.5       22.5       17.5       15.0       12.5
11-13       70.0       42.5       30.0       22.5       17.5       15.0       12.5
14-16       65.0       42.5       30.0       22.5       17.5       15.0       12.5
17-19       60.0       40.0       27.5       20.0       17.5       15.0       12.5
20-24       55.0       37.5       27.5       20.0       17.5       15.0       12.5
25-32       50.0       35.0       25.0       20.0       17.5       15.0       12.5

Of note, the previous table can be used to value an unknown future draft pick. For instance, the #1 overall pick (TFI of 100) has the same expected value as the 14th-16th overall pick (TFI of 65) plus one of the first four picks in the 3rd round (TFI of 35). Of course, teams needing a franchise quarterback often value a high draft pick much more than its expected value. As indicated by the following table, the Rams must have been really desperate.

  Received by Rams Given Up to Titans  
Year Round Overall Pick TFI Round Overall Pick TFI “The Diff”
2016 1st #1 100 1st #15 65  
2016 4th #113 20 2nd #43 43  
2016 6th #177 15 2nd #45 43  
2016       3rd #76 30  
2017       1st #11-19* 59  
2017       3rd #75-83* 26  
Total     135     265 (130)

* The exact order of the 2017 Draft won’t be determined until the end of next season. Instead, I assumed that the Rams will finish in a similar spot to where they finished this year.

With respect to the information in the table, the most relevant number is represented by “The Diff.” As you probably could tell, The Diff” simply shows The Difference in the expected value of the draft picks given up by one team and received by another.

The snazzy name pays homage to the statistic reported on the scoreboard at Cleveland Cavaliers games. Apparently, Cavs fans have difficulty calculating the point differential during the game so the scoreboard makes is easy for them.

The Diff

When attending a Cavs game several years ago, an out-of-town guest asked me to explain The Diff. After rolling my eyes, he simply said, “No way. I didn’t know people in Cleveland were that bad at simple math.”

Based on an unfavorable “Diff” of 130, the Rams must believe Jared Goff will have a career substantially better than a typical #1 overall pick. This statement might cause you to ask two questions. First, who represents a typical #1 overall pick? Second, has anyone had a career at least 130 points higher than the expected value for the 1st overall pick? Fortunately, I can answer both questions by using TFI.

  Draft Super Bowl  All- Pro   Actual Future Proj. Excess
Player Year Pick Wins Games Pro  Bowls WAV TFI Career TFI Value
Tom Brady 2000 199 4 6 2 11 160 345 10.0% 383 283
Peyton Manning 1998 1 2 4 7 14 177 377 0.0% 377 277
Drew Brees 2001 32 1 1 1 9 147 227 15.0% 267 167
Aaron Rodgers 2005 24 1 1 2 5 112 182 30.0% 260 160
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 11 2 3 0 4 108 183 25.0% 244 144
Eli Manning 2004 1 2 2 0 4 104 174 25.0% 232 132
Philip Rivers 2004 4 0 0 0 5 121 146 25.0% 195 95
Matt Ryan 2008 3 0 0 0 3 96 111 40.0% 185 85
Joe Flacco 2008 18 1 1 0 0 75 100 40.0% 167 67
Tony Romo 2003 UD* 0 0 0 4 95 115 20.0% 144 44
Carson Palmer 2003 1 0 0 0 3 100 115 20.0% 144 44
Jay Cutler 2006 11 0 0 0 1 83 88 35.0% 119 19
Alex Smith 2005 1 0 0 0 1 72 77 30.0% 100 0

* Undrafted

Hopefully, you agree that TFI meets the “eye test” for the career ranking of active (or recently retired) quarterbacks. Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have Actual TFIs in excess of 100. However, I didn’t include them because they have fewer than eight years of NFL experience. Their careers have started out exceptionally, but it’s too hard for me to estimate their Projected TFIs after only four and five years in the league, respectively.

So, who’s a typical #1 overall pick?. Well, the answer is Alex Smith. As of now, Smith has a TFI of 77 (the 4th column from the right), but a projected TFI of 100 (the 2nd column from the right). With respect to the second question (i.e. who had a career with a TFI greater than 230?), Eli Manning should meet the threshold by the time his career is done.


Franchise Quarterback? - LIKELY #1 PICK JARED GOFF

Will Jared Goff be as good as Drew or Eli? Probably not, but the Rams must believe it otherwise the trade would be flawed from the start.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Browns never planned on taking a QB with the 2nd pick in the 2016 Draft. Despite all of Schefter’s cell phones and presumed access to NFL executives, I don’t agree with him. Instead, I believe the Browns would have kept the pick if they thought Goff would be available. However, I don’t think they’re comfortable with Carson Wentz given that the North Dakota State QB failed the “wet ball” test.

Franchise Quarterback? - LIKELY #2 OVERAL PICK CARSON WENTZ

As shown in the following clip, Wentz lost his grip (to put it kindly) when attempting to throw a football that Browns Associate Head Coach Pep Hamilton had sprayed with a water bottle. In case you’re wondering, Goff fared differently when Hamilton gave him the same water bottle challenge. Click here to see how a “weenie” does it.

Once the Rams got the 1st pick, I agree with Schefter that the Browns didn’t want to take a QB (i.e. Wentz) at #2. Fortunately for Cleveland, another team in desperate need of a quarterback offered much more than the pick’s expected value. Cue the Philadelphia Eagles.

Since the end of last season, the Eagles signed Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel to 8-figure contracts. Still, the team gave up five picks (including two 1st rounders) for the right to add another QB to its roster. The following table details the expected value of the picks involved in the trade.

  Received Given Up  
Year Round Overall Pick TFI Round Overall Pick TFI “The Diff”
2016 1st 1 95 1st 8 75  
2016       3rd 77 30  
2016       4th 100 25  
2017 4th  97-101* 22.5 1st 11-19* 59  
2018       2nd 53-57* 30  
Total     118     219 (101)

* With the exact order of the 2017 and 2018 Drafts unknown at this moment, I assumed that the Browns will finish as one of the worst four teams in 2016 while the Eagles will barely miss the playoffs in 2016 and lose in the first round of the playoffs in 2017. Overall, the math doesn’t change much unless Philly finishes next year with one of the worst records in the league. For now, it seems reasonable to assume that the Eagles’ pick needs to exceed a “Diff” of 100 for the trade to pay off.

Going back to the previous table regarding the franchise quarterbacks with 8+ years of service, only three (Brady, P. Manning and Brees) have a TFI in excess of 200. With respect to projected value, three more (Rodgers, Roethtlisberger and E. Manning) should exceed that level as well. Given his projected excess TFI of 95, Philip Rivers provides the best comparison to evaluate the Browns/Eagles trade. 

In essence, presumed #2 pick Carson Wentz will have to surpass the career of Rivers in order to compensate the Eagles fairly for making the trade. Possible? Sure. Likely? Heck no. Then again, desperate times call for desperate measures.

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