Trading down in the NFL draft is still free money. Despite significant evidence -- including research by Wharton professor Cade Massey and Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler -- suggesting that teams regularly overpay when trading up, the market remains inefficient and teams continue to pay a premium to move up year after year.
At its core, this boils down to overconfidence in player evaluation: the difference in the chance that, for example, WR2 will outperform WR3 does not justify the price teams pay to make that distinction (see: the price the 49ers paid for Trey Lance vs. the price the Bears paid for Justin Fields vs. the price the Patriots paid for Mac Jones).
To determine reasonable values for draft picks relative to one another, we have our own draft chart based on a regression of historical performance of players by draft pick using Pro Football Reference's approximate value metric (similar to work done by many others, including Chase Stuart in 2013). By comparison, the antiquated Jimmy Johnson chart overweighs how quickly the talent of players drops off as picks elapse in the draft. Our analysis does not include the difference in salary by pick, as Massey and Thaler's research did, which would cause an even more severe departure from the Johnson chart.
And if ever there were a year to trade down, it was this one. With suggestions that there was less information on prospects this season due to circumstances dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the additional uncertainty presumably led to a flatter talent curve than usual. That means that first-round picks were likely worth less than usual and that middle-round and/or late-round picks were worth more than usual (because the likelihood of a gem falling was higher than normal).
In this strange year of draft evaluation, an even stranger thing happened: Giants general manager Dave Gettleman traded down -- for the first time ever. Not only did he do that but he did so in the most valuable deal in the entire draft.
We're breaking down the five most valuable trades in this year's draft (during the draft only, so the 49ers-Dolphins-Eagles deals are not included) according to our AV-based chart, starting with "Trader Dave."