Why Didn’t The Seahawks Draft The Right Guy?
The Confidence Bias and How It Affects the Way We Experience the Draft
by Steve Nelsen
Studies have shown that most people are not as good at objective tasks as they think they are. This psychological effect is known as “the confidence bias.”
For example, a study of people spelling words found that those who were 100% confident that their answer was accurate were only correct 80% of the time. A similar study of math and verbal questions found that 75% of participants overestimated their ability to answer multiple choice questions correctly.
I recently read a very interesting article about a study by two economists who applied the principle of risk diversification to the NFL draft. They determined that teams that trade down in the draft to stockpile extra picks are more likely to draft starters and Pro-Bowlers than teams that trade up. And they get those players at a lower cost.
They also found that teams that trade down in the draft win more games. Does this sound like the Seahawk model? Not surprisingly, the Seahawks were mentioned as an example of a team that successfully built their team through the draft. Check this article out if you complained about John Schneider trading down in the draft and you might never complain again.
So, why do teams trade up?
They concluded the answer is the confidence bias. Some NFL executives are so confident in their ability to analyze player prospects that they will pay a steep cost to trade up for Sammy Watkins or RGIII even though the objective data shows that their course of action is less likely to produce a successful team.
If NFL executives are not immune to this psychological effect, what does this mean for us; the readers of the Seahawks Draft blog? How many of us read analysis from NFL draft experts or did our own analysis of what the Seahawks needed going into the draft? (I’m raising my hand.) How many of us eagerly read Rob’s posts on this blog about different player prospects and the comments from other readers and developed an opinion about who we thought the right guy was for the Seahawks to draft? (Hand still raised here.)
And how many of us reacted with some disappointment or anger when “our guy” was not drafted by the Seahawks? (Yeah, me too.)
I remember reading a post from one guy who said he was physically ill on draft day about the Seahawks trading out of the first round and then blowing their pick on Paul Richardson. I responded to his comment with some empathic insights about how what he was experiencing was a side effect of the confidence bias. (Hit me up in comments if that was you and let me know if my remarks provided any solace or just made you want to choke me.)
So, now that we are all aware of the confidence bias, how are we going to react differently to the next Seahawks draft? Human nature being what it is and all of us being humans, most of us will react by trying harder to pick the “right guy” next year. Studies on the confidence bias show that we become more confident with more data so we will seek out more information about players (“What is his SPARQ rating?”) or the Seahawks drafting philosophies.
How many of us heard John Schneider talk after the draft about how a prospects perceived ability to survive in the super-competitive environment of the Seattle locker room has gained importance in his player analysis and thought, “Now that I know this, I will be better able to correctly predict next year’s pick.” The studies show that the confidence bias increases as we receive more data even if the data is incomplete or does not produce additional accuracy.
Having some idea of a player’s “grit” may be helpful, like knowing their SPARQ measure of athleticism, but we will never know a player as well as the Seattle front office.
We have all heard it before but now we have scientific analysis to support the conclusion that the best thing we Seattle Seahawk fans can do to prepare for the next draft is to prepare to be surprised.