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Should the Vikings trade down in the draft?

Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Minnesota Vikings traded up to pick Dalvin Cook and Pat Elflein. While each player’s story is far from written, it’s safe to say the Vikings’ gamble worked out pretty well. Cook appears to be an All-Pro talent and Elflein impressed as the team’s starting center. But this time around, the Vikings might go the opposite direction and trade down.

The argument for moving out of the No. 30 pick begins with need. By far the Vikings’ No. 1 goal of this year’s draft is to find a starting guard or tackle (if they want to move Mike Remmers to guard). There are several prospects who are likely to be drafted before the Vikings pick, including Notre Dame’s  Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn, UCLA’s Kolton Miller and Texas tackle Connor Williams.

If none of the top-notch prospects fall to Minnesota, there is a great chance the Vikings could draft a quality guard later in the second round. It appears very unlikely that all of the second tier players like UTEP’s Will Hernandez, Iowa’s James Daniels, Arkansas center Frank Ragnow, Oregon tackle Tyrell Crosby or Auburn’s Braden Smith will be gone by the middle of the second.

What could the Vikings get in a deal to move down? Well, assuming teams still use The Chart – which is a set of values placed on each pick that is widely accepted by NFL teams – if the Vikings moved down into the mid-second, they should be able to land at least a fourth-round pick. At the moment, Minnesota does not have a fourth round selection.

The math on a trade down was studied back in 2012.

In a paper titled, “The loser’s curse: Decision Making & Market Efficiency in the National Football League Draft,” University of Pennsylvania professor Cade Massey and University of Chicago’s Richard H. Thayer ran through what-if trades based on the chart of draft pick value. Here is what they found:

We analyze 8,526 potential trades over the 14-year period and find overwhelming evidence that a team would do better in the draft by trading down. The average gain from trading down is 5.4 starts per season. We estimate this gain to be reliably positive for 31 of the 32 draft-pick positions in the first round. Indeed, the mean gain is greater than 3 starts/trade for most of the round (25 of the 32 positions). Importantly, these gains are generated without cost in terms of pro bowls – the net change in pro bowls for most (20 of 32) draft-pick positions is not different than zero, and there are more that are positive (9) than negative (3).

Of course not every possible trade will work out well, sometimes the team with the high pick will trade away a star for two duds, but this strategy has a very high hit rate. For 74 percent of the trades, a team would have acquired more starts by trading down than by using a pick. And it is not the case that these gains come at the expense of giving up the chance at a big hit. In fact, in terms of starts and pro bowls, trading down is a stochastically dominant strategy – 61 percent of the time the team trading down would have done better in terms of starts without doing worse in terms of pro bowls.

The conclusion is pretty clear: The Vikings are in prime position to get the most out of a trade down. The odds of a guard drafted at No. 30 vs. No. 45 aren’t much different. This study by the website Arrowhead Pride found that 70 percent of second-round linemen over the last 10 years became regular starters.

One of the key points of the study is just how difficult it is to predict success in the NFL. Last year the Vikings hit a home run with their first two selections, but the previous year neither worked out.  Every study on draft success rate has found that success is hard to predict from year to year.

“Overconfidence is exacerbated by information—the more information experts have, the more overconfident they become. NFL teams face a related challenge – making judgments about players while accumulating increasing amounts of information about them as the draft approaches.”

Picking up another fourth-rounder would also give the Vikings an opportunity to address depth at another position or take a shot on a high ceiling player.

The bottom line: Trading down is not only plausible, but is probably the best course of action for the Vikings – if they can find a trade partner.





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