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2017 Bears Draft: Draft Day Trades

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NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

One subject of speculation is what might happen if a top quarterback is available at #3. Could Pace trade down and really strike it rich (pick-wise)? It could happen, of course, but recent history tells us it’s not how to bet.

Over the last three years, there have been 71 trades once the NFL Draft began. 54 of those trades involved no future picks, and so they are the easiest to account for. 29 of those 54 fell within 5% of the “trade value” of the famous draft chart, whereas 38 fell within 10%. Those future picks, though, were clearly where teams made the numbers add up. When the 17 trades involving future picks are counted, and a “stock” value is assigned to a future pick as being worth a pick one round later (e.g. a future Round 3 is treated as having the same value as a Round 4, while a future Round 6 is treated as having the same value as a Round 7), things even out dramatically. Using that same basic formula, 54 of 71 picks fell within 10% of the value chart (75%), and 44 of 71 fell within 5% (62%).

Clearly, for most trades the chart holds sway. However, it’s also clear that there is some wiggle room once the draft starts. Unfortunately, for those of you thinking that this is a clear sign that desperate teams give away the farm on draft day, there’s bad news. It is, in fact, the other way around. The majority (46 of 71) of these trades saw value lost by the team trading down. Worse, 14 of the 18 trades that were notably outside of the confines of the chart represented value lost by the team trading down. In other words, if a deal did go away from the chart, it was vastly more likely to go against the team trading down than the alternative.

Draft Day Trades

Year Trades Lost Value Biggest Gain Biggest Loss Average Loss
Year Trades Lost Value Biggest Gain Biggest Loss Average Loss
2014 25 17 13% 25% 7%
2015 22 15 3% 18% 4%
2016 24 14 8% 22% 6%
This table shows the number of draft-day trades and how they compare to the famous Johnson “value chart”. Gains and losses are from the perspective of the team trading down.

Two of the four exceptions involve Chicago (because of course they do). When Chicago’s Phil Emery traded up to take Brock Vereen in 2014, he overpaid by giving a future 5th-rounder when a future 6th-rounder would actually have been closer to the “right” value. On the flip side, when Ryan Pace traded down in the second round last year, Buffalo really only “owed” Chicago a future fifth rounder; the Bears received a future fourth-rounder instead. In a non-Bears example, when Dallas traded up to take DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014, they also overpaid (by about a fourth-rounder).

The final exception is worth noting. Cleveland traded up back into the first to take Johnny Manziel in 2014, and they overpaid by almost one full round (they give up a third-round pick instead of a fourth-round pick). Cleveland’s trade in 2014 is significant in one other way—it is the only first-round pick traded for more than its chart value once the draft began in the last three years. Otherwise, teams looking to trade down on draft day actually lose value. In most cases, it’s not very much value, but it is a notable trend.

The most action happens in the second round, where 22 trades have been made, mostly involving slight shifts of position. Overall, though, the chart lingers on, and teams don’t cash in. In fact, most of the real variations off of the chart happen in the later rounds. These aren’t desperation moves made by teams trying to secure a franchise quarterback. They are small shifts in position to find the right guy, or to pick up an extra selection, as the board shakes out.