Better to Trade Up, Down, or Stay Put?


There's been a lot of talk lately of Whaley's interest in trading up. Now, while I will admit that there are cases where it's worth doing such. Where you have a desperate need for a QB, I feel the math almost always favors trading down > staying put > trading up in the first round. Every model I've ever tried has supported that, but here's a very simple one. The main reason to trade up is to improve your chances of getting an exceptional player.

Now, an easy measure of that is who has made a Pro Bowl appearance. You can argue how biased the selection process is, and I'll agree with you, but you can't deny the average Pro Bowl player is far better than the average player who's never been selected. So it's a nice metric that involves no subjective analysis on my end.

Now, I selected my data without looking at or considering the numbers. I promise nothing was massaged here or carefully selected to prove my point. The data are from 2007-2011 range. I generally like more than 5 years, but it's a changing league, and if I used old data it could be argued things are different now. And nothing more recent because I want to give them at least 3 seasons in the NFL to develop.

The Numbers

Over the 5 year period, 52% of top 5 picks have made the Pro Bowl at least once. 40% of picks in the 6-10 range, 32% of picks number 11-32, and 14% of 2nd round picks have made it. This is exactly what you'd expect. I slope down in average quality as you move further and further down the draft. Scouts actually have at least some value in identifying worth, and this should be of no surprise to anyone.

The Trade Scenarios

We'll consider three scenarios.

1. A team in the 6-10 range (say at 9) giving up their second to move into the top 5.
2. That team staying put.
3. That team gaining a second round pick by trading out of the top 10.

Just for the record, according to the trade value chart, Buffalo could move up to the 4th pick with their 2nd round, and would drop to around the 16th or 17th pick for a second round pick in the same range.

The Odds of a Pro Bowl Player

I'll be happy to show my work if anyone really cares, but for now, just trust that while I'm human and can make mistakes, I'm pretty familiar with statistics and calculating odds, so I'll just show you the work.

Trade Up:

It's pretty simple, your odds of getting a Pro Bowl caliber player in the first two rounds is 52%. You're now in the top 5 and that's your only pick.

Stay Put:

Your odds of coming out with a Pro Bowl Player in the first two rounds is 48.4%. Not that much worse than the trade up scenario.

Trade Down:

Your odds recover a bit in this scenario, with a 50.3% chance of getting a Pro Bowl player. Having three selections in the top pair of rounds helps out here a bit.

Further Odds

You may say I'm not helping my case. I just showed that trading up does give you the best chance of the type of impact player a team would want. That would fail to consider a very important key. If you only have 1 pick, you can't possibly get more than a single quality player. So what happens if we look at the average number of Pro Bowl players you would get each year if you picked in the same spot and used the same strategy each year.

Trade Up:

.52 Pro Bowl Players per year. Very simple.

Stay Put:

You have a 5.6% chance of getting two Pro-Bowl players. Overall, that gives you an average of .54 Pro Bowl players per year.

Trade Down:

You have a 10.8% chance of getting two Pro-Bowl players and a .8% chance of getting three. This gives you an average of .62 Pro Bowl Players per year.

So you can see that the .62 trade down scenario > .54 stay put scenario > .52 trade up scenario.


All of this is before you even consider the very real value of having more depth players locked into reasonable rookie contracts. Now you might ask, why do trade values favor trading down if I'm right? Most GMs are pretty smart. If it's so lopsided, why would any of them trade up?

If I had to put it in one word it would be ego. You generally don't make it to a position like that without getting a pretty high opinion of your abilities. Too many GMs overvalue their own chances of identifying that one special player who's going to be the next big thing. They fall too much in love with a player, underestimate the chances they're wrong and another player at the same position will be better, and go after that player rather than playing the odds.

Trade values simply reflect a group of men who are each convinced they can beat the odds if the player they want is there. But in reality, down is almost always the way to go.

Just another great fan opinion shared on the pages of

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