An Ohio University professor is out to prove to self-proclaimed NFL Draft experts that predicting the best picks is less of a piece of cake and more about pi.
William Young, an adjunct assistant professor in OU’s Russ College of Engineering, has developed a mathematical model in an attempt to quantify the value of a football player to his team. By using hundreds of data points per player, he believes he can predict which athletes will produce or bust.
“Once you quantify how many games you’re going to help me win or lose, you can ultimately use that for better financial decisions,”
Those decisions are of great importance during the draft, where first-round picks have the leverage to hold out and sign lengthy multi-million dollar contracts that can determine the future success of a franchise.
Finding a player’s value involves much more than NFL combine statistics, Young said. Calculating a player’s value involves compiling statistics from his three previous seasons, analyzing the risks he brings to the team — such as lost time due to injuries and suspensions — and the relative effectiveness of the player compared to the veteran he would theoretically replace. This led him to name his model Heuristic Evaluation of Artificially Replaced Teammates, or HEART.
The name also symbolizes and attempts to quantify the ‘intangibles’ and effort that often outweigh a player’s
“You might have a guy that doesn’t have any of that but outperforms that guy because they work hard day in and day out,” Young said. “I’m trying to measure the intangible. I’m trying to find out what factors are important.”
Young began developing his model in 2005 after many conversations about the NFL Draft with a friend. Young presented his concept to his PhD adviser, Gary Beckman, who wholeheartedly approved of the idea. Young has since earned his doctoral degree, and both now teach in the department of industrial and systems engineering.
“He was the reason I stayed for my PhD and was able to develop HEART,” Young said. “His insight and encouragement throughout my PhD program will never be forgotten and was invaluable in my professional development.”
Because of the time and money required to collect data to evaluate draft picks, Young has not ranked prospects for this year’s draft. His most notable success came in 2007, when his projected first and third picks — linebacker Patrick Willis and running back Adrian Peterson — won defensive and offensive Rookie of the Year awards, respectively, despite being selected later in the first round. The Oakland Raiders used the top pick to claim JaMarcus Russell, who held out for a lucrative contract before falling short of expectations. Young ranked Russell 10th in the draft.
Young said he wants to enhance, not replace the human ingenuity used by most draft analysts. He called the traditional method the “eyeball test,” which he said he wants to combine with his model.
“Now, we have two ways of looking at things. I think the more information you have about anything in life, the better decision you’re going to ultimately make.”