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Is trading up in the first round of the NFL Draft worth it?

Mar 3, 2017

Is trading up in the first round of the NFL Draft worth it?
By: Logan Beatty

Hey guys, Logan here. How’s it going? And to any potential girls reading this… sup?

With the NFL draft coming up, you begin to hear more and more about teams potentially moving up and down the draft board to secure their guys of the future. It’s a wonderful time. Dumbasses like me will probably be yelling something about Ted Thompson being a dusty old fart who never does anything interesting like trading up, the Browns will do something stupid, and the Raiders will draft someone based purely on speed ***pours one out for Al Davis***. It’s a tradition unlike any other.

So with all of the mock drafts beginning to populate ESPN, I decided to take a deep dive into something that has always interested me about the draft: trading up, and its results. Often times, many fanbases clamor for their respective teams to make the big move and trade up into the first round, sacrifice some mid round picks to move up and select the guy they think can change everything. So I wanted to know what worked out better, trading up into the first and pushing all your chips in the middle for one big score? Or does moving back, collecting more picks (thus more odds, essentially) tend to pan out more?

Method to my madness

Only trades for first round picks from the 1999-2014 drafts were involved. Trades that included picks purely for players were not included as I only wanted to explore the trades that involved (mainly) picks. Granted there are some trades that involved players, but they were not the focal point of the main teams involved in the trades. Drafts were explored via http://prosportstransactions.com/football/DraftTrades/Years/ . By sifting through the first rounds, I was able to make a year by year analysis of the teams and players that were acquired in these trades involving first round picks. In the attached spreadsheet - sorry for size of document, analysis starts on pg. 20 - (spreadsheet), the draft year, teams involved in trade (team trading up for first is denoted with a *) trade details, and trade analysis (or how good were the pieces received.) Subsequent trades for picks acquired attached to the initial trade were also included when appropriate to help determine the “value”. Value of the trades were determined by the players selected years as a pro, statistics, pro bowl appearances (which I admit, as the years get deeper into the late 20-teens get less reliable), all pro’s, SB appearances and playoff impact, and a fun little stat called AV, or Approximate Value. AV can be explained in depth here. In short, it is a single number given to a player at any position to help better attribute his seasonal value. A player with an AV of 2 or 3 is generally below average. An AV of 4, 5, or 6 is generally average. AV’s around 7-9 are your starters/above average guys. 10+ AV players are generally your pro bowlers and multiple all pro’s. It’s not an end all be all stat, but it gives a good idea of how effective a player is. Based on these factors (along with, I admit some personal preference. But not much I promise) I was able to determine whether or not the team trading up had a successful “trade up” or if the team who received the package of picks received better value.

Results

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this whole thing is that it was actually really even, with the teams trading up (36 +) having just about as much success as the teams trading down (38). The important takeaway however is that the teams that often hit on their trade ups, or trade down packages (Patriots, Packers, Ravens, Washington, Eagles and Cowboys) are teams we think of being really good in recent memory (yes the NFC east had some good teams W-L this and last decade). The teams that had less success for the most part of this millennium (Bills, Browns, Raiders, Jaguars post 2010) often are involved in bad deals trying to trade up for 1st rounders. Front office stability matters. The Patriots are who they are for a reason. Look at these trades. Trading up, trading back (7 successful trade backs), it doesn’t matter. Most of the guys they select have an impact. The Browns have had team turmoil from front office issues to coaches, and they have a pissed off fanbase. They try to make splashes and miss every single time. Seriously look at the spreadsheet. Not one successful trade involving 1sts in fifteen years! Even when they trade back and get more odds they fuck up! And I thought being a Milwaukee Bucks fan was hard. These teams are where they are for a reason, and you can generally look no farther than how they handle the draft.

Also guys don’t get mad at me for the Michael Vick trade. I stand by it.


Nicholas Crowder
three and a half years ago

This guy has a bright future. Brilliant mind. I'd be interested to see what he follows this up with.