Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thomas Dimitroff: Mr. Jones and me Tell Each Other Fairy Tales

Here is the abstract of Cade Massey and Richard Thaler’s academic article regarding the value of NFL Draft picks:

A question of increasing interest to researchers in a variety of fields is whether the biases found in judgment and decision making research remain present in contexts in which experienced participants face strong economic incentives. To investigate this question, we analyze the decision making of National Football League teams during their annual player draft. This is a domain in which monetary stakes are exceedingly high and the opportunities for learning are rich. It is also a domain in which multiple psychological factors suggest teams may overvalue the chance to pick early in the draft.. Using archival data on draft-day trades, player performance and compensation, we compare the market value of draft picks with the surplus value to teams provided by the drafted players. We find that top draft picks are overvalued in a manner that is inconsistent with rational expectations and efficient markets and consistent with psychological research.

Massey and Thaler conclude that the most valuable picks in the Draft are second round picks because the players taken with those picks are closer to first rounder than one would think in terms of quality and they are significantly cheaper.  (Note: changes to the salary scale for rookies might alter the analysis.  Always in motion is the future.) 

Massey and Thaler’s conclusion is consistent with what our own senses can tell us about the most and least successful teams in the league.  Which teams are the best run teams in the NFL?  The Patriots and Steelers immediately come to mind.  Do those teams trade up into the top ten?  No.  The Steelers generally stay put and take players in the late first round spots that they invariably occupy; the Patriots actively try to trade down, as they did last night.  Conversely, the Redskins are probably the worst run team in the NFL and what is their usual strategy?  Mortgaging a quantity of picks for a few stars.  How does that work out for them?

With that context in mind, I have a simple question for Thomas Dimitroff: what the f*** are you doing?  You just traded two first round picks, one second round pick, and two fourth round picks for one player?  It’s painfully clear that the Falcons’ brass went down to the dealership, fell in love with one particular car, and let the salesman jack them for it. 

This approach would make sense if the Falcons were truly one player away from being a Super Bowl team, but their brass are letting a lucky season cloud their judgment.  The Birds were outgained on a per-play basis.  At best, they were a ten-win team masquerading as the #1 seed in the NFC and they were ruthlessly exposed as a pretender by the Packers.  There are needs all over the roster, starting with the fact that they have only one defensive end who can generate pressure and he is about to turn 33 years old.  Assuming for the sake of argument that the Falcons would have batted 50% on the fourth round picks, the Falcons just traded four players for one.  In the modern NFL, this is a smaller scale equivalent of the Herschel Walker trade or Mike Ditka giving up the Saints’ entire Draft for Ricky Williams. 

And the worst part is that Dimitroff is a good evaluator of talent.  I wouldn’t care about the Hawks giving up draft picks because they are going to waste those shots anyway.  Dimitroff knows how to grade players.  Unfortunately, it also appears that he didn’t learn everything about pick value from his former employer.

Look, I’m the same guy who thought that the Falcons were making a huge mistake when they drafted Matt Ryan, that Arthur Blank was overreacting to Vickkampf by rolling the dice on a great white hope because Ryan made good eye contact in his interview.  Three winning seasons later, it’s safe to say that that assessment was wrong.  However, I’m also the person who didn’t jump on the bandwagon when the team was winning in November and December.  I think I have a good handle of where the Falcons are as a team and they are not at the stage where they can sacrifice five picks for one player. 


TJ Eckleburg12 said...

In Dimitroff's defense,

we had 9 picks before this deal. We still have a 3rd, 5th, 6th, and THREE 7ths this year. I'm sure he wouldn't have done that unless he had a very good plan for those picks, and he's been known to turn notihng into gold from there.

Julio had a better 40 time than AJ, and he's more physical.

He's also an EXCEPTIONAL run blocker.

Adam said...

I completely agree with this analysis, but would a big splash in free agency - whenever it happens - change your mind a little? I can't imagine the Falcons made this trade without a pretty clear plan about how to upgrade at DE and OL in free agency.

Glory Glory to old Georgianham said...

I think this move signals that the Falcons think free-agency is the way to build the team at this point.

Big trade-ups don't work for the Redskins because they have too many other holes to fill in their squad. But the Falcons have only a few holes and they can be addressed by getting veteran players. Yes, it will add to the budget, but the Falcons already have one of the lowest payrolls in the NFL. And they will (hopefully) be spending money on guys who have proven they can get it done at the professional level and can contribute immediately, rather than on rookies who may not pan out (or pan out fast enough). Look at it this way, by trading away all those picks, the Falcons have freed up more money to go get veterans.

I think the Falcons are close to being Super Bowl caliber and they were not going to be helped this year by getting even younger on defense. The statistical analysis quoted can provide a general strategy for relatively greater success over time, and if the Falcons follow it faithfully they no doubt will be pretty good year in and year out. But I think such a strategy can only provide guidance to a point. This move may negatively affect the Falcons in 3-4 years, but for now they have the immediate impact player TD has said all spring he wanted.

Glory Glory to Old Georgianham said...

Dimitroff must read Birds and Braves!

In an interview earlier today on 680 the Fan with Chuck and Chernoff, Dimitroff, at the beginning of the interview and unprompted, said the decision to trade up for Jones was not based upon emotion, but rather was something he had been working on for the last month.

He also stated that he was OK with trading away the later round draft picks because such picks are usually made for depth, and they like the depth they already have. He pointed out that using those later round picks for depth would have necessitated cutting some of their current players.

Neil Young and Geraldo said...

"Look, I’m the same guy who thought that the Falcons were making a huge mistake when they drafted Matt Ryan.... I’m also the person who didn’t jump on the bandwagon when the team was winning in November and December."

You are also the same person who thinks the Falcons gave up too much for JJ.

The facts point to you being a critical (and often stabby) person. That's why you have such a DAMN FINE blog-- you are a critical thinker and writer, and are drawn to top-notch critical analysis.

But let's give these new guys that are running the Falcons the benefit of the doubt. At least until they start losing on a regular basis.

You know what they say man, it's all good.