Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Value of Draft Picks

A lot has been made about which team won the trade that sent Odell Willis to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in exchange for the eighth and twenty-third overall picks.

The prevailing school of thought is that teams should not trade draft picks (or non-imports) for import players. Since the Riders did just that, the popular opinion is that they lost the trade.

With that in mind, I decided to look at the five drafts held between 2004 and 2008 – excluding the past three drafts because it is too early to tell if those players how good those players will be – to see if that widely held belief is correct. The evidence seems to point to a few great players, some good players, but mostly players that make their biggest contributions on Special Teams, if they do anything at all. In fact, the highest number of players end up not even playing in the league or have very short careers.

Quite a few solid players came out of the 2004 Draft, with Marwan Hage and Josh Bourke being the best of the bunch. Wayne Smith, Obby Khan, Luc Mullinder and Matt Kirk were also selected in 2004. Hage and Bourke are perennial All-Stars, but the others are not much more than depth players.

The noteworthy selections from the 2005 Draft were Jeff Keeping, John Comiskey, Tim O'Neill, Bryan Crawford and Brett Ralph. Good players, no question, but not great players.

The 2006 Draft was probably the best draft in recent memory with Jay Pottinger, Andy Fantuz, Ricky Foley, Jon Cornish, Peter Dyakowski, Étienne Boulay and Dominic Picard being selected in the first three rounds. But 2006 looks to be an outlier in regards to high-quality talent.

With the exception of Chris Getzlaf, the 2007 Draft once again produced good players and special teamers, but no stars. Jabari Arthur, Tad Crawford, Chris Van Zeyl, Yannick Carter, Donovan Alexander and Calvin McCarty are the type of players that were selected. Decent players, and valuable cogs on their teams, but not the same calibre as a guy like Odell Willis.

The 2008 Draft was top heavy, with Dylan Barker, Dimitri Tsoumpas, Keith Shologan, Brendon LaBatte and Shea Emry going in the first seven picks. After that, it was players like Greg Wojt, Aaron Hargreaves, Jason Arakgi, Jonathan Hood, Marc Beswick, Don Oramasionwu, Mark Dewit, Pierre-Luc Labbé and the two best players taken after the first round, Paul Woldu and Luc Brodeur-Jourdain. All of them are decent players, and there are some very good players in this list as well, but not many of them would be worth trading a player the calibre of Odell Willis.

Those five drafts show that trading draft picks, especially those that come after the first round, is not a losing proposition. The best players tend to be steady, solid players (mostly on the Offensive Line) and Special Teamers; however, the CFL Draft has produced very few All-Stars, especially with players picked in later rounds.

Also, with the draft being such a crap shoot, only 40 players out of a possible 252 selected between 2004 and 2008 have become steady contributors. That means with the trade, Winnipeg has about a 16 per cent chance of picking someone who will help them over the long term.

The point of this was not to devalue the CFL Draft, but to perhaps open some eyes as to the overvaluing of draft picks. We are told that team should not trade Canadians for imports, but with a little more than a one-in-ten chance of getting a difference maker in the draft, the idea doesn't hold up. Missing out on the next Josh Bourke would hurt, but the chance of that happening is very slim. Based on these numbers, trading draft picks for proven import players is the not the risk it is made out to be.

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