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Were ‘Trader Joe’s’ draft moves worth the cost?

Statistically, no. But individual trades can only be evaluated in light of the specific situation and after the fact.

Photo courtesy of Matt Swensen/New York Football Giants

The simplest thing that general managers of NFL teams can do during the draft is to sit tight and then select the best player left on the board that meets a need and/or provides value. It’s more of a gamble to trade down or up out of your draft slot. Fans and professional analysts are all over the place in their opinions of such moves.

The New York Football Giants have a pretty controversial recent history of draft day trades - those made, those not made, and those made by other teams at the Giants’ expense:

  • In 2016, GM Jerry Reese had his eye on edge defender Leonard Floyd, or offensive tackle Jack Conklin, with the No. 10 pick, but let other teams jump him, leaving him with cornerback Eli Apple.
  • In 2018, new GM Dave Gettleman stayed put at No. 2 and selected running back Saquon Barkley while the Indianapolis Colts traded down from No. 3 to No. 6 for a draft haul that included guard Quenton Nelson.
  • In 2019, Gettleman traded up from No. 37 to No. 30, giving up picks No. 132 and 142 to the Seattle Seahawks and drafting cornerback Deandre Baker.
  • In 2021, Gettleman sat at No. 11 and watched the Philadelphia Eagles jump up to the No. 10 spot by trading with the Dallas Cowboys to get wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
  • After that trade, Gettleman traded down to No. 20 with the Chicago Bears, getting 2022 first and fourth round picks plus a 2021 fifth round pick and leaving linebacker Micah Parsons and offensive tackle Rashawn Slater on the board.

The fallout from trades not made

It didn’t take long to conclude that Jerry Reese’s inaction in 2016 was a disaster, as both Floyd and Conklin became stars while Apple was an inadequate defender and a negative presence in the locker room.

Syndication: The Tennessean
Saquon Barkley scoring the two-point conversion that won the Giants’ opening game against Tennessee in 2022.
George Walker IV / / USA TODAY NETWORK

I am one of the few who does not consider Gettleman staying put in 2018 to take Barkley a terrible non-move. No, Barkley did not move the needle for the Giants his first few seasons. Partly that was his injuries, partly it was that the rest of the team was so terrible that no one player could make things better.

In 2022, Barkley did move the needle. Arguably, he was the biggest reason the Giants defeated Tennessee, Chicago, and Houston, and a big part of why they defeated Green Bay, Washington, and Minnesota. Barkley is an impact player at a position that is generally low-impact in today’s NFL.

Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts, considered a model franchise after their trade-down with the New York Jets, have floundered since Andrew Luck retired and descended to almost laughing stock status. Nelson has been great but in 2021 injuries dragged him down and in 2022 he just didn’t play well. The Colts have only made the playoffs twice since he arrived and not gotten past the Divisional Round. So was drafting a guard at No. 6 any better than drafting a running back at No. 2?

In 2021, there wasn’t much talk about the Giants trading up from No. 11. There was a good chance one of the four top wide receivers would drop to them, especially DeVonta Smith, whose slim frame made him a risk not work taking in the top 10. Howie Roseman thought otherwise, and Smith has proved the doubters wrong.

The (almost) final verdict on the 2021 trade-down

You have to wait to see how trades play out in the long term. Only now can we begin to fully evaluate the one big trade-down that Dave Gettleman did make as Giants’ GM.

The players the Giants didn’t get:

  • Micah Parsons has become a premier NFL player. As an off-ball linebacker he was good but not special, but when when Dan Quinn began to use him as a pass rusher instead he really blossomed.
  • Rashawn Slater was one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL as a rookie despite thoughts he might have to move inside because of his short arms. He was injured much of 2022.
  • The Bears used No. 11 to draft quarterback Justin Fields. Fields has become the most dynamic running QB in the NFL, but there are still questions about him as a passer.

The players the Giants did get:

Amazingly, we have had to wait two full years to get the final tally on the trade-down. Here’s where things stand:

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
  • Gettleman drafted Kadarius Toney with the No. 20 pick he exchanged with Chicago.
  • He traded the 2021 fifth-round pick acquired in the trade to move up in the third round to draft cornerback Aaron Robinson (jumping the Eagles, who were said to want him).
  • In the 2022 draft, Joe Schoen selected offensive tackle Evan Neal at No. 7 and tight end Daniel Bellinger at No. 112.
  • During the 2022 bye week, Schoen traded Toney to the Kansas City Chiefs for third and sixth round picks.
  • Schoen traded that third round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders for tight end Darren Waller. (Side note: The Raiders selected wide receiver Tre Tucker at No. 100 with that pick.)
  • Schoen used the sixth round pick, No. 209, to select cornerback Tre Hawkins II. (So both of the KC picks turned into players named Tre.)

So the bottom line is No. 11 for Evan Neal, Daniel Bellinger, Darren Waller, the ability to move up for Aaron Robinson, and Tre Hawkins III.

Was it worth it? Check back in a few years and we’ll see.

Joe Schoen’s 2022 draft trade-downs

In general trade-downs are a better move than trade-ups, because teams tend to overvalue high draft picks and undervalue low ones. That’s the legacy of the Jimmy Johnson trade value chart, which is now considered very unrealistic. But the “in general” part is important - in 100 such trades, the team trading down “wins” more often than the team trading up. But each individual trade must be judged on its own merits.

Schoen traded No. 36 to the New York Jets for Nos. 38 and 146, and then traded No. 38 to the Atlanta Falcons for Nos. 43 and 114. Statistically, these trades collectively were a great deal for the Giants, according to six different trade value charts, some of which value later picks much more highly than the Jimmy Johnson chart:

Data courtesy of NFL Trade Value Calculator

In practice, the Giants got wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, safety Dane Belton, and linebacker Micah McFadden. Robinson was just starting to break out when he suffered a season-ending ACL injury; he is an important part of the Giants’ plans this season. Belton lost some time to injury, had two interceptions when he did play, but generally was not able to get a lot of playing time. McFadden did get a lot of playing time (out of desperation) but looked overmatched much of the time.

The Jets used their trade for running back Breece Hall and the Falcons used theirs for edge defender Arnold Ebiketie. At the moment it is difficult to judge these trades as having been good value for the Giants, but time will tell.

The Giants’ 2023 trade-ups

This year, Schoen has taken the opposite tack, surrendering picks to move up rather than accumulating them. His first trade, with the Jacksonville Jaguars in Round 1, brought the Giants cornerback Deonte Banks but was statistically judged to have been too costly (picks No. 160 and 240 to move up one place):

Data courtesy of NFL Trade Chart Calculator

The trade-up in Round 3, with the Los Angeles Rams, was pretty much a wash (pick No. 73 for No. 89 and 128). The more recent trade value charts say advantage Rams:

Data courtesy of NFL Trade Chart Calculator

Did the Giants lose both trades?

It all comes down to the intersection of need and value

Kevin Cole of Unexpected Points has analyzed all the picks on Days 1 and 2 of the draft from the standpoints of positional financial value (second contract vs. rookie contract cost at a given position and place selected in the draft), big board ranking, and consensus mock draft ranking. Here are the results for the Giants’ first pick, Deonte Banks:

Courtesy of Unexpected Points

The selection of Banks himself was perfectly justified: His $3.7M rookie salary is $6.8M less than the typical value of a contract the NFL typically gives to cornerbacks ($11.4M).

Courtesy of Unexpected Points

Like many of the first round picks, he was chosen within a few places of where he was ranked in consensus mock drafts and big boards.

The question is whether Banks was worth giving up fifth and seventh round picks to go up and get. Statistically, no, as the trade value chart figure suggests. In reality, though, the pick is justified in this specific case because (1) the Giants apparently had to compete with at least one other team to make that trade, which necessitated “sweetening the pot” a bit, and (2) a Wink Martindale defense requires a specific type of cornerback to succeed, and if that scarce resource is already depleted by earlier picks, a slight overpayment makes sense.

The Giants somewhat surprisingly didn’t get antsy in Round 2 when center Joe Tippmann went off the board to the Jets at No. 43. Either they were comfortable with alternatives other than John Michael Schmitz, or they decided to gamble on the relatively low urgency of teams to draft centers early. Either way, JMS was there at No. 57 and they jumped. It was a good value financially ($5.8M surplus value):

Courtesy of Unexpected Points

And JMS was one of the three best football values in Round 2, being drafted 15-20 slots lower than where his consensus big board/mock draft position was:

Courtesy of Unexpected Points

The Round 3 trade that netted Jalin Hyatt for the Giants was actually initiated by Brian Daboll:

This one was less controversial from an analytics standpoint since the value surrendered (the No. 128 pick) roughly warranted moving up 16 slots according to the trade value charts. Was it worth it? Again, the Giants got $4.8M surplus value with the pick compared to Hyatt’s $1.4M rookie contract cost:

Courtesy of Unexpected Points

And as a football value, Hyatt is almost off the charts, one the five best values in Round 3, chosen 30-40 slots lower than it was believed he would go:

Courtesy of Unexpected Points

With the very next pick after the Giants chose Hyatt, the Cleveland Browns selected his fellow Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman. Would they have taken Hyatt if he was there at No. 74? We’ll never know.

And that’s the thing - draft trade calculators don’t identify the player traded up for, only his draft position. Jalin Hyatt was No. 39 on the NFL Mock Draft Consensus big board. If we redo the draft trade calculation and tell the app that the Giants traded for No. 39, the results look like this:

Courtesy of NFL Trade Chart Calculator

The trade overwhelmingly favors the Giants except in the Over The Cap trade chart, in which the trade is estimated to be almost even. It all comes down to whether Hyatt plays like the No. 39 pick, the No. 73 pick, or a lower pick.

The bottom line

Trade-ups like the two that Joe Schoen agreed to on the first two days of the draft are made for one reason: Teams that win Super Bowls in the modern NFL era have impact players at many positions. Arguably, the Giants made the playoffs in 2022 with only three impact players - Saquon Barkley, Dexter Lawrence, and Andrew Thomas. They need more. Kayvon Thibodeaux shows promise, and it is hoped that Daniel Jones can take the next step and become one. Maybe a healthy Xavier McKinney, too. A healthy Darren Waller is an impact player as well. That’s a start.

If Deonte Banks can become the shutdown corner that the Giants envision, he can be that type of impact player and people will forget that they gave up low draft picks to get him. If not, people will rightly question whether Joey Porter Jr., whom they might have had instead while staying put, would have been a better choice.

If Hyatt can stretch the field, produce the explosive passing plays that the Giants were sorely lacking last year, and open up the middle of the field to get other receivers open more often, no one will remember that the Giants had to pass up a pick in the fourth round to get him. If not, people will wonder whether Michael Wilson (taken at No. 94) would have been a satisfactory alternative and whether one of the players they didn’t get the chance to draft at No. 128 would have been better for the team’s success.

Joe Schoen isn’t going all in to win a Super Bowl this year. But his moves in this draft are telling us that he doesn’t think the Giants are all that far away. He’s not throwin’ away his shot.