Does trading up work? What we can learn from 242 past deals


There’s nothing quite like instant gratification. During draft weekend, trading up is an NFL organization’s path to immediate happiness. Why would a team wait and hope to land the player it wants when it can get him now? Why wait to use picks next year when it can get those players on its roster in a matter of moments? Every fan has seen the way draft rooms celebrate when they make the call to land the player of their dreams. Nobody ever fist pumps because they landed an extra sixth-round pick on Saturday afternoon.

Just about every bit of research on the draft you’ll read suggests trading down and amassing extra picks is the right approach. No team wants 250 seventh-round picks — that’s a straw man argument — but there’s real value in adding premium picks as franchises build a roster. The early-1990s Cowboys were built on a bedrock of draft picks, many initially acquired by the Herschel Walker deal. The 2000s Patriots built their dynasty by taking advantage of desperate teams and often trading down for extra picks. They also landed a pretty good quarterback with a sixth-round compensatory pick in 2000 by the name of Tom Brady, a reminder that those late-rounders can turn into a valuable player.

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The Chiefs, though, might best exhibit how a modern team can move up and down and make it work. Their Super Bowl window opened when then-general manager John Dorsey moved up in Round 1 of the 2017 draft to take the second quarterback off the board, Patrick Mahomes. A few years later, the Chiefs acquired significant draft capital by trading Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins for five draft picks, some of which were used when they moved up to take star cornerback Trent McDuffie in 2022.

There are anecdotal success stories of teams trading up and trading down, but what does a broader look at moving around the draft tell us? Are teams too confident when trading up? Are there certain pockets or types of deals that make sense? Before we can even answer those questions, I need to start by reimagining how we think about and evaluate these kinds of trades.

Jump to a section:
How should we value each pick?
How often did trading up actually work?
Do teams land more better players in trade-ups?
What if my team has a higher grade on a player?
Are there any teams good at trading up?
Wait, so when should teams trade up?
What this means for the 2024 draft

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We often evaluate draft-day trades the wrong way.

The simplest way to measure a trade is to see the players each team landed and determine which side of the swap you would want. In the case of the McDuffie deal, that’s easy: The Chiefs landed a Pro Bowl cornerback, while the Patriots took guard Cole Strange, cornerback Jack Jones and traded a third-round pick to the Panthers for two selections, which became linebacker Marte Mapu and quarterback Bailey Zappe. So far, that’s an easy win for the Chiefs.

From Kansas City’s perspective, however, it doesn’t matter what the Patriots do with the picks once it trades up. GM Brett Veach doesn’t invalidate the Chiefs’ side of the trade if the Patriots land on a great player in the fourth round, and it doesn’t make the trade a success if the Patriots bomb on their selections. The Chiefs are making a bet they can get more out of the player they pick than they would typically get with the draft capital they’re sending to the Patriots, while the Pats are making that same bet in the other direction by trading down.

Let’s consider a different sort of trade. In 2014, the Browns traded a third-round pick to the Eagles to move up from No. 26 to No. 22 and draft quarterback Johnny Manziel, who struggled through eight starts in a Browns uniform before falling out of the league. The Eagles used the No. 26 pick on Marcus Smith, an edge rusher who had four sacks in three seasons with the team. Philadelphia traded the third-round pick to Houston for a pair of selections, using them on backup safety Jaylen Watkins and edge rusher Taylor Hart, who lasted one year with the team.

By the model we’re using to judge player performance (more on that in a moment), the Browns technically landed the best player in this deal. The Eagles didn’t land anyone who started with the four picks they got in return. Does that mean the Browns won this deal? Absolutely not. The two picks they used roughly equate to the value of the No. 9 overall pick in a typical draft, and they landed a player who barely made an impact before disappearing. The Eagles didn’t hit on their picks, either, but comparing what each team landed would be misleading. Philadelphia won the trade in terms of draft capital gained, and both teams lost in finding players to live up to expectations.

This is true on the other side of the coin as well. The Falcons traded up for defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, sending a sixth-round pick to the Vikings. Minnesota moved down nine spots and then took wide receiver Stefon Diggs. You might rather have Diggs in a vacuum, but do the Falcons regret giving up fifth- and sixth-round picks for an imposing defender who nearly helped them win a Super Bowl? Of course not. Minnesota ended up with the better player and the extra draft capital, but Atlanta made a correct bet that Jarrett was worth more than the price it paid to get him.

What’s lost in the shuffle when teams trade up is it opens up another hole on their roster that can’t be filled by the draft pick(s) they traded away. Those holes eventually have to be filled by trading down and acquiring additional picks, signing a free agent or playing an undrafted free agent (or other replacement-level talent) in that same spot. If a team trades multiple picks, that’s multiple players missing from the roster.

This can come back to bite franchises at the worst possible time. The 49ers traded three first-round picks to the Dolphins in a move that eventually landed them quarterback Trey Lance in 2021, didn’t get anything out of the deal and still managed to make it to Super Bowl LVIII three seasons later. They felt the holes once they got to the title game, though. When linebacker Dre Greenlaw got injured, San Francisco was forced to replace him with a low-cost signing: free agent Oren Burks, who allowed six catches for 50 yards and a touchdown as the nearest defender in coverage. Fourth-round pick Spencer Burford filled in for the injured Jon Feliciano, himself an addition on a low-cost contract, and blew a pass protection on the third-and-2 that could have won the 49ers the game in regulation. And on the final snap of the game, veteran free agent Logan Ryan wasn’t able to pass off and communicate through motion with receiver Mecole Hardman, and Mahomes found Hardman for a Super Bowl-winning score.

We’ll never know what the 49ers would have looked like without trading those picks for Lance, but even if he had thrived, they would have needed to make cutbacks or compromises elsewhere. That’s why trading up and simply landing a solid player isn’t enough; teams need to acquire a player who is worth more than all of the draft capital they sent to acquire him, which allows a franchise’s team-building to stay on schedule as it builds a 53-man roster.

With that said, because it’s fun, I’ll also include a look at the bottom at which team landed the best player in these various deals.


How should we value each pick and what it produces?

This is another question we need to answer before actually evaluating how trade-ups perform. One way is to use the Jimmy Johnson chart, which we still see teams using to talk through trades with one another, but we know the historical chart doesn’t hold much relevance in terms of evaluating realistic expected returns for draft picks. Every modern chart that uses some sort of evidence-based measure of pick performance differs greatly from the expectations of the Johnson chart.

So, if we want to evaluate what teams are giving up by making trades, we need to use one of those charts. My favorite is the Chase Stuart draft chart, which finds there’s a much flatter curve for draft pick value than the Johnson chart. It’s based on Pro Football Reference’s approximate value (AV) and what each pick is expected to produce by that metric over the first five seasons of a player’s career, minus a two-point yearly “penalty” that serves as replacement level.

We will measure the impact produced by each player in our pool the same way, considering their approximate value over the first five years minus that two-point annual penalty. For reference, the top players taken between 2011 and 2019 by this are J.J. Watt, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Richard Sherman and Mahomes, who sat out nearly all of his rookie season. The average first-round pick generates 22.0 AV over five years, while that drops to 12.9 in Round 2, 9.0 in Round 3 and 5.5 in Round 4.

There’s one more thorny problem: How should we value future picks? The common trope is to suggest devaluing future picks by one round per year, although I’m not sure that plays out as often in practice as is suggested. (Nobody was offering teams a 2026 first-round pick for their third-rounder last weekend.) From a team perspective, there’s no reason current picks should be worth more than future selections; the focus on present value is a product of impatience by general managers who have their jobs riding on the line. I’ll touch more on how badly it can go for teams that overvalue present picks at the expense of future selections later in this column.

We also don’t know where those picks will land in each round. Neither do the teams making those picks. As tempting as it is to plug each future pick in somewhere close to where a team currently stands, ask the Cardinals if they expected the Texans to hand them the 27th pick in the first round after they picked No. 2 overall a year ago. The Seahawks, perennial winners with Wilson, sent a top-10 pick to the Jets as part of the Jamal Adams trade in 2020. The Rams won the Super Bowl and then sent the No. 6 overall pick to the Lions as part of the deal they made for Matthew Stafford in 2021.

With all of that in mind, I’ve valued future picks as landing in the middle of each round after adjusting for the historical number of compensatory picks. That means first-rounders are valued as No. 16, second-rounders as No. 48, followed by Nos. 80, 116, 153, 189 and 224. I’ve also made a small concession to the value of having a pick in a team’s hand right now by discounting the cost of future picks by 10%.

So, to consider how a team performed when it traded up, we compare the player’s five-year performance to the draft capital it gave up by the Stuart chart. As an example, the Chiefs gave up Nos. 27 and 91 in 2017 and a first-round pick in 2018 to acquire Mahomes. The two picks they sent in 2017 were worth 19.5 points, and the future first-rounder was treated as the 16th pick and discounted by 10%, producing an additional 15.2 points of AV.

For Mahomes to be worth the trade up, he would need to top 34.7 points of approximate value over his first five seasons. The future Hall of Famer generated 66 AV, unsurprisingly making this a big win for Kansas City. Other trades aren’t going to be as clear-cut.

We’ll be using nine years of draft trades, going back from 2011 through 2019, which is the final draft that leaves us five years of player performance to evaluate. I’m starting in 2011 because the league moved to its slotted draft system that year, which changed the contracts for rookies, impacted the value of draft picks and invented the economic cheat code of quarterbacks on rookie deals.

That economic opportunity, by the way, changed how teams moved up around the draft. From 1991 through 2010, just one team moved into the top five for a quarterback, when the Jets moved up for Mark Sanchez in 2009. Since 2011, that same trade has happened six times.

I’m also not going to be including trades that involve players as part of the swap since we can’t place a value on how much they offset the various draft picks involved in a deal. That still leaves us with 242 deals to analyze, so there’s plenty to work with here. Let’s get started answering some questions!


How often did trading up actually work?

Trading up still pays off less often than the teams that move up would hope. When a team traded up for a player, his performance over the first five years matched or surpassed the cost his team paid in draft capital just 42% of the time. That figure dropped to 40% in the first three rounds and was slightly better on Day 3, when the threshold for meeting draft value is much lower. Nearly 23% of the picks were total busts who produced zero value for their new teams, including 16% of the players who were acquired via trade-ups on Day 1 or Day 2 of the draft.

What if we split the trades by relative size and the difference in value sent between the two teams? I separated the deals into large-, medium- and small trade-ups, as well as a fourth group for trades in which the team moving up either got equal value or actually gained draft value as a part of the swap. (That commonly happens in later rounds, where the Stuart chart values picks past No. 224 as being worth zero relative to the value of an undrafted free agent, while the Johnson chart gives them only a nominal value. The Lions sending Nos. 205 and 249 to the Texans for No. 189 last weekend, as an example, rates out as a win for Detroit.)

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Bills GM explains team’s decision to trade down, take Keon Coleman

Bills GM Brandon Beane discusses with Pat McAfee what goes into making trades during the NFL draft.

Teams moving up landed a player worth their move up the board in only five of the 13 large trades, which is a 38% hit rate. They won on 37% of their medium-sized moves and 42% of their small swaps. They were best when the value exchanged was even or in favor of the trading team, as those deals were essentially 50/50. Given that the team moving up is also getting the better of the draft capital in those deals, I’d argue teams should be more aggressive in trying to trade picks very late in Day 3 to land fifth- and sixth-round picks.

These win rates are roughly in line with what we see with the picks that aren’t part of a trade. On the whole, about 39% of picks exceeded their expected value by the Stuart chart. It was closer to a 50/50 proposition in Rounds 1-3, while later picks were more binary and likely to produce players with zero value. Trading up made it slightly more likely that a team would land a player worth his draft capital, but that’s still likely within the margin of error. And given that teams would then need to fill those other spots on their rosters with replacement-level draftees or shop in a free agent market that turns out more expensive failures than successes, a 3% improvement on staying put doesn’t move the needle.

Does that settle the argument and prove that trading up isn’t worth the squeeze? No. There’s another element to drafting and moving up for players, and it’s also worth considering as part of these moves.


Do teams land more successful players when they trade up?

Trading up isn’t simply a pass/fail conversation. If we’re measuring a player’s production versus what it costs to land that player, there’s a big difference between trading up and landing Mahomes (who generated 31.3 AV over expectation across his first five seasons) as opposed to tight end Dawson Knox, who generated 0.8 AV over the draft capital sent to acquire him after joining the Bills in 2019. Both of those trades count as victories, but one is much more significant than the other.

The difference between the average draft capital sent to acquire players in trade-ups and the performance of those players across their first five seasons? It’s 0.0. In other words, if you discount future picks by 10% and treat them as falling in the middle of each round — and adjust for the typical impact of where compensatory picks land — teams are getting almost exactly as much in terms of performance as they’re paying for with the draft capital they’re sending to trade up and land players.

Franchises aren’t always trading up and hitting, but when they are successfully landing on picks, they’re usually getting more out of it than when they stay put and draft a player. When teams have traded up for players and had them succeed, those hits have generated an average of 12.1 AV over expectation. When teams stay put and land on a successful player, those hits have averaged 9.8 AV over expectation. The difference isn’t huge — it’s only about one half-point of AV per season across that five-year span — but it hints at the upside that teams are hoping to grab when they trade up.

The biggest reason teams are landing more successful players when they trade up? They’re more often targeting players at premium positions. While some organizations have stuck their head in the sand and refused to consider positional value as they build through the draft, others have been far more realistic about what they plan to do and which positions they’re willing to target in trades up the board.

The top four positions teams spent the most money on over that 2011-19 span were quarterback, edge rusher, defensive tackle and offensive tackle. Teams that weren’t trading up used just under 30% of their picks on players at those four spots, but those that traded up took players at one of those four premium positions 38% of the time.

Likewise, the four least valuable positions on offense or defense, according to the market, have been running back, tight end, center and off-ball linebacker. Unsurprisingly, teams that trade up target players at those positions less often; they’re the subject of trades 26% of the time as opposed to being selected 30% of the time by teams that aren’t moving up.

After accounting for position and the draft capital cost of moving up, are teams better at identifying more valuable options by trading up? Not really. There are some positions at which teams trading up have generated more AV than expected (quarterback, wide receiver and off-ball linebacker) and some in which that isn’t the case (edge rusher and defensive tackle). I don’t see a significant trend there.

What about adding the truly transcendent Hall of Fame-caliber stars whom everyone dreams of finding during their draft? It’s still too early to evaluate many cases from this window of talent, but there wasn’t a real benefit across these eight years. Teams that traded up were more likely to pick a Hall of Famer with their lone selection, but the benefit of adding extra picks canceled that out.

Organizations found four players who were projected to be Hall of Famers by trading up: quarterbacks Mahomes, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson and receiver Julio Jones. On the other hand, teams that traded down also landed four Hall of Famers over that same span. When the Lions traded up and drafted running back Mikel Leshoure, they sent a Day 3 pick to the Seahawks that eventually turned into Sherman. Another trade with the Seahawks saw the Jets land wideout Stephen Hill, while Seattle moved down and added linebacker Bobby Wagner. A Ravens move up for offensive tackle Jah Reid netted the Eagles center Jason Kelce, while the 49ers traded up for guard Joshua Garnett and sent the Chiefs the draft pick they would use on defensive tackle Chris Jones. Oops!


How often does a team trade up, only to find that the next player chosen at the position is better?

Nothing’s more painful to look at in hindsight than a team that chooses a player at a position just before a future star. Bears fans might have just gotten over trading up for Mitch Trubisky with Mahomes on the board. The Patriots chose running back Sony Michel with the 31st pick in 2018, and while he was the lead back on a Super Bowl team, imagine how much better off they would have been by going elsewhere; the next pick was a two-time MVP in Jackson, while the next back off the board was running back Nick Chubb, Michel’s teammate at Georgia.

When teams trade up for a player, something that’s implied with that move is that they’re targeting a player who stands ahead of the other players still available at that position. Otherwise, there likely wouldn’t be the same impetus to move up for a player. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, but teams giving up draft capital out of the fear of missing out on a prospect aren’t doing so because they see him as just another player.

So, how often are they right? Not as often as you might think. Given that the seventh round is mostly a binary scenario where most teams are landing players who end up generating zero AV, let’s focus on the first six rounds. In that range, when teams trade up for a player at a given position, that player is better than the guy who is drafted next at that position only 49% of the time. It’s a coin flip. The player acquired via the trade generates 0.8 AV more than the next player up, which isn’t enough to justify the confidence in making that move very often.

Teams that are trading up do typically have a better shot at landing a superior option than ones that stay put, though. When teams stay put and take a player at any given position in the first six rounds, there’s just over a 43% chance that he’s better than the next player taken. In both cases, there’s a significant number of times where both the player in question and the next guy off the board are worth zero AV. Even given that gap, though, teams trading multiple picks to move up are overconfident about their ability to identify a tier drop between one player and the next guy off the board at his spot in the lineup.

What about identifying value versus the broader board? I went through this same analysis, but instead of comparing a player to the next guy drafted at his position, I compared him to the average AV generated by the next five players taken at any position. As an example, I compared Mahomes’ AV (66) with what was produced by Marshon Lattimore, Deshaun Watson, Haason Reddick, Derek Barnett and Malik Hooker, which turned out to be 22.6 AV. Unsurprisingly, it was another clear win for the Chiefs star, even with a guy who was a franchise quarterback earlier in his career and an elite cornerback in the mix behind.

That doesn’t hold up across all positions. When a team trades up in the first six rounds, the player it acquires generates an average of 1.1 AV more than the five subsequent players off the board. When a team makes its pick without trading up, the player it drafts racks up 0.4 AV over the next five players selected. That’s a minuscule difference, and again not enough to justify giving up multiple draft picks to get a deal done.


How often does the team that trades up land the best player in the deal?

Let’s touch on the conversation I mentioned earlier. I don’t think this is the right way to analyze trades up and down, but if you want to just look at both sides five years later and see which team landed the best player in the deal, let’s see how that plays out.

To be clear, this isn’t comparing the value of the best player from the team that traded up to the cumulative value of the players who ended up on the team that traded down. This is simply the best player on one side of a deal versus the best player on the other side. When a team traded down and then traded down again, I tracked the various picks to see the actual players it ended up landing. And when a team traded down and then back up, I found the player it added and then calculated a percentage of the player’s AV relative to the proportion of how the picks it added factored into the trade-up.

In other words, if a team traded down into the second round and then used that pick to move back up into the first round to draft a player, I treated the pick as a significant portion of what that player ended up producing. If the team added a sixth-round pick by trading down and then used that as a tiny part of a much bigger deal to jump into the first round, I gave that pick credit for producing only a fraction of that player’s resulting value.

With that being said, the results might surprise you. Between 2011 and 2019, a team trading up in the draft landed the best player in that deal just 42% of the time. The team that traded down ended up getting the best player of them all nearly 47% of the time, while the remaining 11% were trades in which the best players on either side of the deal produced equal value, mostly when neither team landed a player who made any sort of impact at all.

That’s not a product of late-round deals, either. If we look at just the first three rounds, the team that traded up landed the best player just under 45% of the time. That’s a slight increase, but with virtually no ties, the team that traded down landed the best player from the deal more than 55% of the time. There’s real power in trading down and adding multiple picks early in the draft.

This really reared its head in 2013, which might remain one of the most remarkable drafts for trading over the next 100 years. There were 22 trades down involving picks during that draft, and the team trading up won exactly zero of them. They went 0-20-2. The Dolphins traded up into the top five for Dion Jordan, who was the single worst pick of this eight-year run, coming up nearly 27 AV short of expectation. Miami traded up in the third round for Will Davis, who never started an NFL game; the Packers used one of the picks they received to land a franchise stalwart in David Bakhtiari, who started 131 times for Green Bay. Just three of the 22 trades (for Desmond Trufant, Zac Stacy and Akeem Spence) produced positive results relative to the cost of what each team paid as part of those trades up.

And then, in 2014, eight of the first nine teams that traded up landed the better player as part of their respective deals. The 2013 draft wasn’t a trend, but in the big picture, having multiple picks gives teams a better shot of landing the best possible player than trading up for one selection. Of course, teams trading up are targeting a player at a specific position as opposed to simply the best player available at any position, but it’s fair to wonder whether teams are getting too focused on one particular player at one particular spot on their board as opposed to trying to amass the best team possible across a range of selections.


Sure, but my team had a grade two rounds higher on that player, so why should that apply?

When I talk about teams trading down, the comment I hear most often from both fans and executives is the player their team just acquired is the exception to the rule. Sure, trading up might be a bad idea, but if a team has one first-round grade left on its board and a player’s still there at the top of Round 3, that’s a good time to trade up, right?

Maybe. Teams do land some of their trade-ups, as I’ve written about above. There are a few issues with that specific logic, though. One is that virtually every trade-up is in a scenario in which a team has a much higher grade on a player than where it currently sits on the board. If a team has a third-round grade on a player and it’s drafting in the third round, there’s usually not much of a reason to give up more draft capital to jump ahead of the pack and grab him. Even given that every trade-up is for a player higher on that team’s board than where he’ll be drafted, we know they don’t succeed at a high rate.

The second issue with the logic is that the price paid for that player is no longer in line with where he’s being drafted. Take this past weekend and the trade the Rams made with the Panthers in Round 2. To move up from No. 52 to No. 39, the Rams sent No. 155 and a 2025 second-round pick to Carolina, grabbing defensive tackle Braden Fiske in the process. As ESPN’s Seth Walder noted, this was the largest overpay by a team on Day 2 in at least the past six drafts.

Given the 10% discount on the future pick and the expectation it’ll land at No. 48, the Rams paid nearly double the value of that No. 52 pick on the Stuart chart to land their defensive tackle. By Stuart’s model, they sent the equivalent of the No. 8 overall pick to land Fiske, which means he has to be far more valuable than the typical second-round pick to make this deal pan out. Even by the more conservative Johnson chart, the trade haul sent to acquire Fiske equates to something like the No. 21 pick in a typical draft. I’m sure Los Angeles had a first-round grade on Fiske, but the price the front office paid means it would be breaking even if he plays like a solid first-round pick and would come up short otherwise.

The third issue is we’re getting real-life intel on what every other team actually feels about these players as the draft goes along, and that’s meaningful and valuable information. If a team has a second-round grade on a player who’s available in the fourth round, that typically means every other team has had at least one or two chances to draft that player and chosen not to do so. Others might have a second-round grade on him and have preferred a higher-rated player on their own board, but nobody else has been blown away by the value and made a deal to go land that player or draft him before now.

Should that gap between an internal draft chart and the rest of the league discourage teams from drafting that player? Of course not. Players fall on every team’s board each and every year, and I’m sure any general manager can tell you a story about landing a star they loved in the middle rounds of the draft. But when every team in the league tells you they don’t value a player the way you do, does it make sense to trade up and get ahead of the league for that player when the more recent evidence says you very well might be able to stay put and land him? That’s a tougher argument to buy, especially when trading up means a team is paying a premium and valuing him at a higher rate than anyone else did earlier in the draft.

Mixing in some knowledge beyond the draft board is important here. How far away is the team from the pick? How likely are the teams in front of this one to draft that player or hit that position? Are the teams behind that franchise likely to move up for that player? Is the team paying 15 cents on the dollar to move up or a more significant premium like the one the Rams paid for Fiske?

Any trade can work, but being selective and intentional about when the team is willing to trade up is essential. Most teams, the Rams included, know they’re trying to be the exception to the rule when they move up for a player. There’s nothing wrong with making that bet in the right situation, but falling in love with a player and ignoring history usually ends up producing disappointing results.


Is my team good at trading up?

It’s really impossible to say. Just about every general manager doesn’t get a large enough sample of trades during their time in charge to get a strong sense of whether they’re right to move up for players. The reality is we judge their effectiveness over two or three drafts before they either earn an extension or get fired, which is probably unfair. We’ve seen different long-tenured executives have stretches where they knew exactly what they were doing and runs in which they looked totally off their game, most notably with Bill Belichick’s last few seasons in New England.

The team that generated the most EV per deal between 2011 and 2019 was Chicago, which turned eight trade-ups for Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Jackson and more into 60.7 surplus AV. The problem with that is the Bears had three different general managers make deals over that stretch: Jerry Angelo, Phil Emery and Ryan Pace. One of Emery’s successful trade-ups was for running back Brock Vereen and was bailed out only by the fact he got a seventh-round pick as a throw-in and used it on offensive tackle Charles Leno. Pace traded up a spot for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and just outside the scope of this column, moved up in the first round for signal-caller Justin Fields.

The Bucs generated the most cumulative AV while trading up, with 68 AV across 11 deals. Again, though, those deals were split between GMs Mark Dominik and Jason Licht. The latter made most of those trades and landed players such as guards Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa and linebacker Kwon Alexander, but he also moved up for kicker Roberto Aguayo.

Another popular and long-standing mover on draft day might be Eagles GM Howie Roseman, who seems to move up, down and all around each year. Our window doesn’t include the recent moves up for wide receiver DeVonta Smith or defensive tackle Jordan Davis or Jalen Carter, but if we exclude Chip Kelly’s year in charge in 2015, Roseman’s eight other trades up from 2011 to ’19 produced … 0.1 AV. He successfully moved up for defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, tight end Dallas Goedert and offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, but the jumps for tackle Andre Dillard and quarterback Matt Barkley were less successful. AV also rates the Carson Wentz trade as a negative, given how much it cost and how often he battled injuries in Philadelphia.

I’m not comfortable saying any particular team or general manager has proved themselves frequently enough with successful trades up the board to justify paying a significant premium as part of any deal. Trades up can work, but no team is reliably winning these deals every single time.


When should teams trade up?

Let’s try to come up with a few best practices for teams interested in trading up. When does making a move up the board make sense?

Trading up for a quarterback. In his draft value chart, Ben Baldwin notes there should be a different trade chart for quarterbacks than for all other positions, given the potential upside of landing a passer and how that value dwarfs virtually every other position. We saw this in practice over the weekend, even without trades involved, given that six of the top 12 picks were quarterbacks.

Attempting to land a player at a premium position who can provide outsized value. Teams can’t win the majority of trades when they move up for players, but the evidence tells us a team can win by hitting big when it makes the right move. Its best chance of landing a standout player who provides significant surplus value on a typical rookie deal is by attempting to acquire players who play the most valuable positions in football. Outside of quarterback, that includes wide receivers, offensive tackles and pass-rushers.

It’s not impossible to win big when a team trades up for a player at a less notable position — the Saints hit on running back Alvin Kamara, and the Vikings landed a winner when they moved up for running back Dalvin Cook — but the franchise’s upside is going to be capped. If we were evaluating these trades by surplus dollars as opposed to surplus AV, the value of positions at the bottom of the spectrum would make those deals even less appealing.

Price matters. Don’t just get carried away and trade anything to land a guy. It’s a lot easier to win a trade when the team is paying within reason. The average premium to move up and land a player in the second round is about 30%. That drops to 21% in Round 4 and 15% in Round 6. Staying below those rates as teams pay to move up makes it more likely that they will get the value they’re hoping to land, while blowing those prices out of the water is a much riskier proposition.

Be realistic about the roster and its needs. When the Saints traded up to grab edge rusher Marcus Davenport in Round 1 of the 2018 draft, you could make a case they were in a position to be all-in and get very aggressive. They were coming off an 11-5 season and had 39-year-old quarterback Drew Brees. Edge rusher Cameron Jordan had 13 sacks the previous season, but none of their other pass-rushers had managed more than four sacks. The move didn’t work out, but if there was ever a time to take that sort of risk, it was then.

Since Brees retired after the 2020 season, a cap-strapped New Orleans team that ranks as the oldest in football has traded up seven more times. Even given that one of those moves landed the franchise wide receiver Chris Olave, I’m not sure the logic to repeatedly trade up to try to shore up a middling team in the NFC South passes muster. Trading up when you’re a championship-caliber team with one significant hole or a young team that needs a building block at a premium position might make sense. Falling in love with prospects and repeatedly sacrificing draft capital when an organization is in the middle of the league is bad business.

Don’t sacrifice future picks for lesser picks in the current year’s draft. If there’s any rule an executive should take away from this article, it’s this one. Teams can incur the moral hazard of general managers and front office people making decisions that increase their chances of holding on to their jobs at the expense of the organization’s long-term viability. Handing out a backloaded deal would be an example of that sort of decision, allowing an executive to build a better team now while restricting a team’s spending long after that front office person has likely left the club.

The same holds true for trades in which teams make deals that are obvious losses on paper. In fact, let’s talk about them in the context of the 2024 draft …


How does this research apply to what we saw teams do with trades over the weekend?

Dolphins-Eagles and Jets-Lions trades

Let’s start with two deals that almost always go the wrong way for teams moving up. I’ll call it the X+1 deal. One team wants to acquire a pick in this year’s draft, and so it sends a pick in next year’s draft that is one round higher, guaranteeing the team giving up this year’s pick will land a more valuable selection simply by waiting a year.

This sort of trade is typically like giving away draft capital to charity. I charted 14 deals like this from 2011 through 2019. The team that waited a year and picked up the more valuable pick came away with the best player in the deal 12 times. The only one of the deals in which the team moving up really won by a meaningful margin was the Kamara deal.

Stretching beyond the window we’re analyzing, these deals have produced some of the worst trades in league history. The Broncos sent a future first-rounder to the Seahawks to land edge rusher Alphonso Smith in Round 2 of the 2009 draft. Seattle used that gift to draft safety Earl Thomas. The Saints sent a second-rounder and a future first-rounder to the Patriots to draft running back Mark Ingram in 2011. The Pats used the future pick to move up for pass-rusher Chandler Jones. The Ravens made a similar move with the Patriots to draft quarterback Kyle Boller in 2003. Bill Belichick used that Ravens selection to grab Vince Wilfork. Not ideal.

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Roseman and the Eagles are typically the sort of team to take advantage of other teams’ impatience, but he ended up on the wrong side of one of these moves last year, sending a future third-rounder to the Cardinals for a fourth-rounder that was used on cornerback Kelee Ringo, who was just buried on the depth chart when Philly used its top two picks in the 2024 class on cornerbacks.

To make up for his rare moment of overconfidence, Roseman picked up some free draft capital by exploiting the Dolphins over the weekend. A cap-strapped Miami team that is missing draft capital because of its tampering case sent a 2025 third-round pick to the Eagles to move up for running back Jaylen Wright at No. 120. Wright is a fun, explosive player, but the Dolphins don’t need to prioritize adding speedy running backs given their current roster. This could end up being a 40-pick jump for the Eagles a year from now.

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Likewise, while GM Brad Holmes is understandably regarded as a hero in Detroit for rebuilding the Lions, he has taken some questionable swings in moving up the board. The trade up for wideout Jameson Williams two years ago has yet to pay dividends. On Saturday, trading a future third-round pick to the Jets to grab guard Giovanni Manu at No. 125 is probably too aggressive of a decision. Again, that pick could fall in the 80s next year if the Lions take any sort of step backward. That pick could come in handy for New York if it wants to add a veteran at the trade deadline.

The Vikings moving up twice to land Dallas Turner

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While the Vikings landed a second first-round pick in March in the hopes of trading into the top three, the fact they weren’t able to do so means they essentially lit draft capital on fire when it wasn’t necessary. They ended up making a modest move from No. 11 to No. 10 to land quarterback J.J. McCarthy, a deal I will take no issue with, especially given the upside of quarterbacks and the likelihood the Broncos and Raiders were considering moving up themselves.

What happened afterward only became an even bigger mess when Minnesota moved up again in Round 1 to land Turner. While I’m sure Minnesota wasn’t expecting the edge rusher to be available at No. 17, the price it had to pay to jump from No. 42 to No. 23 and then from No. 23 to No. 17 became extravagant.

In the end, the Vikings sent their second-, fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2024 and their second-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2025 to add Turner. By the Stuart chart, this deal is a nightmare. They paid more than double what the No. 17 pick typically returns. They gave up something close to the equivalent of the No. 1 overall pick in a typical draft to land Turner by the Stuart chart.

The deal was much more reasonable by the Johnson chart, which painted this as a 25% premium, but don’t be fooled. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has made myriad trades over his two previous drafts as Vikings general manager. Many of those trades looked like mistakes by the Johnson chart and victories by the more analytically inclined models, including Stuart’s. Unless you think Adofo-Mensah and his front office suddenly recalculated all of their draft pick models and decided that Day 2 and Day 3 picks were all dramatically overvalued (and they’re not), this was a huge mistake.

Adofo-Mensah is smart and framed this correctly for his fan base. “Obviously, I’m a spreadsheet guy myself,” the general manager said, “but sometimes, you’ve got to step out from there, take your Clark Kent glasses off, have a championship mindset and swing for a great player.” If Turner turns out to be a superstar, Vikings fans will be satisfied, even if the process that led the team there isn’t thrilling.

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Vikings LB Dallas Turner’s prospect profile

Check out some of the top college highlights from new Vikings linebacker Dallas Turner.

Is this really the time for the Vikings to take that swing, though? They’re coming off a 7-10 season, and their 13-4 year the season before was the mirage of all mirages, as they were outscored and ranked in the bottom quarter of the league by DVOA. The various Cousins restructures Adofo-Mensah inherited left the team in rough cap shape, which hasn’t helped matters, and Minnesota’s cap will be in better shape after Cousins’ dead money comes off the books.

Does this team really need to consolidate its draft capital around one player? Adofo-Mensah’s first draft in 2022 appears to have been a disaster, with fourth-round cornerback Akayleb Evans as the lone bright spot. Wide receiver Jordan Addison looks better from the 2023 class, but he was the only selection the Vikings had in the top 100 a year ago. Undrafted free agent Ivan Pace emerged as a standout at linebacker, but this isn’t a team flooded with young talent.

Now, after McCarthy and Turner, they had no other top-100 picks in 2024 and are down their second-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2025. They’ll get a third-round compensatory pick for Kirk Cousins, but the decision to sign quarterback Sam Darnold appears to have cancelled out the other third-rounder they expected to receive for edge rusher Danielle Hunter. That Cousins pick will also be no higher than the 97th selection. Even if McCarthy and Turner pan out, it’s tough to believe Minnesota is going to build a great team around them.

I already discussed the other most notable deal from the weekend earlier in the article, when I hit on the Rams-Panthers trade. As teams get more aggressive with trades and more confident in their ability to assess the value of given picks, we’re going to see these deals more and more often throughout the NFL draft. In a league in which no general manager has shown a consistent ability to outpick the others after adjusting for draft position, the easiest way to tilt the draft in your favor is to amass extra picks. And while trading up isn’t quite as damaging as I might have guessed after analyzing the data, I’d encourage you to be at least a little skeptical the next time you see your team’s draft room high-fiving after a move up the board.





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