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Would trading down cost the Jets a chance at an elite prospect? It’s complicated.

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Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

The Jets currently own the 11th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. If all teams perfectly evaluated talent in the league they would be assured of landing one of the top eleven players from this year’s Draft class.

Trading down is seldom a popular decision among fans. One perception is that trading down from a high pick costs your team a chance at getting an elite player. This would be true again if all teams were perfect in their evaluations.

No team perfectly evaluates talent, though. Just how much would the Jets reduce their odds if they traded down from 11?

To try and provide some clarity I took a look at Draft classes from 2006 through 2015. That gives us a nice ten year sample, and all players have had at least five seasons to make an impact.

I then sought out the top eleven players in each Draft class. To do this I looked at the Approximate Value of every player from these classes and found where the top eleven were drafted.

There are two caveats.

First, I am well aware that Approximate Value is not a perfect measure of value. That’s why it uses the word “Approximate.” There just aren’t many tools available to compare players across positions, and this is among the best. It gives us a ballpark view.

The second caveat is that each Draft class is different. It is possible the 2020 Draft class is an outlier. Anybody who uses trends as a 100% absolute uses them incorrectly. Still having an idea where the value is in a typical Draft can help us better understand the real value of picks.

There were 115 players in this group. (If there was a tie for 11th I included everybody.)

  • 32 of 115 (27.8%) were picked in the top eleven
  • 33 of 115 (28.7%) were picked in the first round after the top eleven
  • 23 of 115 (20%) were picked in the second round
  • 11 of 115 (9.6%) were picked in the third round
  • 8 of 115 (7%) were picked in the fourth round
  • 4 of 115`(3.5) were picked in the fifth round
  • 2 of 115 (1.7%) were picked in the sixth round
  • 2 of 115 (1.7%) were picked in the seventh round

There are some things to note here. The 27.8% mark for top eleven picks ultimately being a top eleven player in the class doesn’t look that impressive at first. However, you must consider that the top eleven picks are only 4.3% of players in a given Draft class. The fact these players make up 27.8% of the group is impressive.

You also should note that while first round picks after 11 have slightly more players, there are 21 selections each year from that spot against only 11 in the top 11. That means the odds of picking an elite player are still higher in the top 11.

For a more apples to apples comparison, there are 25 players on the list who were selected between 12 and 22, which is 21.7%. Your odds are better in the top eleven.

There does seem to be a dropoff in your odds from trading down, but that dropoff does seem relatively modest. A trade down might reduce your odds of landing an elite player to some extent, but the value added from obtaining extra picks also has to be considered.

Evaluating Draft talent is a very inexact science. Given the difficulties in projecting prospects, I think the league largely does a really good job. Generally speaking, the best players go early in the Draft more than they go late.

However, I do believe the perception among many fans and even executives is that the Draft is a perfect market, and no elite player ever falls past the preliminary stages. That is far from the truth.

Trading down from 11 would likely reduce the Jets’ odds of adding an elite player, but that reduction is nowhere near as great as many perceive it to be. Whether such a trade would be worth it could only be answered once we know how far they would move down the board and the quality of the picks they would obtain.