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NFL Draft: Do Teams Trading Up In The Draft Get Better Players?

Everyone wants their team to trade down. Teams usually trade up, though, with a specific target in mind, in the heat of the moment of draft day. Sometimes it’s a guy they think represents the last of a tier at a position of need. Other times, it might be a guy that they did not anticipate being available at a spot, who they had rated much higher, and acquiring him becomes a more realistic possibility.

I was curious, though, as to whether teams trading up for a target end up getting a player than those around the pick. I looked back at the 2004 to 2007 drafts, at all draft day trades (via prosportstransactions.com), and found the “trade up” target–the earliest selection that was part of the trade. I excluded all draft day trades that involved a veteran player moving, as those more likely just involved getting a pick that was offered, rather than targeting a specific player while on the clock.

To measure the players, I used the “approximate value” figures at pro-football-reference.com. I compared the trade up target to the career value of the 10 players selected around them (5 in front and immediately after the traded pick).

The results? Yes, overall, players drafted as a result of a trade-up were better than those drafted around them. Of the 81 trades, the player turned out to be better than the average of those around them 44 times, and on average were +2 in career AV.

The best trade up values during this four year stretch saw the New York Jets hitting on 3 of the top 6 values. New York traded up to get Darrelle Revis, David Harris, and Kerry Rhodes. Haloti Ngata was the biggest hit (Baltimore traded up 1 spot to insure they got Ngata), and Steven Jackson of the Rams and Chris Cooley were the other biggest values compared to those drafted around them.

At the other end of the spectrum, first and second round busts that also cost teams multiple picks were the worst values. These include names like John McCargo, Ricardo Colclough, Jarvis Moss, Brady Quinn, Kellen Clemens, and Chad Jackson.

While the overall average showed a slightly positive outlook for trade up targets, there was one segment where they stood out. There were no trade up targets where the best pick was worse than pick #197. However, the 24 trades involving a player below pick #100 proved to be quite valuable. Teams trading up in the mid-rounds got a player who was +5 career AV better on average.

I know that number probably means nothing to you, so I’ll put it in perspective. That means that on average, the targeted trade player produced like a pick about a round a half better than where they were actually selected. You probably had a fair amount of teams that saw a guy slip, had him rated much higher, and made a move to get one of the few remaining guys projected higher on their board.

In an area where the draft is very much more miss than hit, teams got starters like Kerry Rhodes, Todd Herremans, Corey Williams, Isaac Sopoaga, Chris Canty, Uche Nwaneri, Rex Hadnot, and Brian Robison.

Compared to the very positive return on the late round trade targets, the first round trade targets were slightly better than average, while the second rounders were actually worse than those around them.

I’ll also say that this analysis is just looking at whether the trade up target turned out to be any better than other players selected in the same area. That’s not the same as endorsing the cost of the trade. For example, I maintain that it is a very bad idea to trade future picks that are a round earlier (for example, a next year’s first to get a second rounder), and the slightly better performance doesn’t offset.

Considering the higher costs associated with most trade ups near the top of the draft as well (often requiring another second rounder or third rounder, or perhaps future picks) I suspect they were losing propositions way more often than not.

The mid to later round trade-ups, though, were a different story. Giving up two 6ths to get into the 5th isn’t missing out on that many opportunities, and teams that were aggressive here did net a good return.

[photo via Getty Images]

 

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