The 2021-22 NFL Season Trade Deadline went out with a bang this Tuesday (11/1). A whopping 14 trades were executed around the NFL on that day alone — which CBS says is a record. Although they got the total # of trades wrong, so that could be wrong.
Among those traded on the Trade Deadline, there were a few Fantasy Football relevant players like Dolphins running back Chase Edmunds and Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson. Some of these players have been “disappointments” from a Fantasy perspective. In other words, they are underperforming Average Draft Position (ADP). For example, the 5th running back taken in a Fantasy draft would be considered “underperforming their ADP” if they were only the 15th highest scoring running back.
Of the 14 players traded on the Trade Deadline, there were five “Fantasy relevant” players: T.J. Hockenson, Chase Edmonds, Chase Claypool, Nyheim Hines, and Jeff Wilson Jr. Ever the optimists, fantasy owners who have these players on their Fantasy teams are hoping that these trades will have a positive effect.
But does the data bear this out? Do players who are traded during the season do better Fantasy-wise afterwards? Optimists would argue that players are traded midseason because they aren’t working out with their current teams. So a new team could lead to new opportunities to shine. Others would counter that adjusting to a new team isn’t easy. It isn’t trivial to learn a new playbook or build chemistry with new teammates.
To attempt to answer to this question, I scraped data on all trades from NFL.com and combined it with data from FantasyPros. I looked at all trades since 2002 (i.e. since the last NFL Expansion), and restricted my analysis to Running Backs and Wide Receivers. I exclude other fantasy relevant positions (namely Quarterbacks and Tight Ends) because in-season Quarterback trades are exceedingly rare, and the Tight End position in fantasy has undergone dramatic evolution in recent years (making a historical analysis tough).
So… let’s take a look!
A simple analysis here would be to look at average Fantasy scoring before and after being traded. In addition to just looking at RBs and WRs, I also decided to restrict the data to “fantasy relevant” players who averaged more than 5.0 Fantasy points per game (fppg). Since we need at least a few games for a before-and-after analysis to be meaningful, I further restricted the data to players who played at least 2 games before and after being traded. Once these restrictions are made, I simply took the average Fantasy points scored by players before and after they were traded. Let’s take a look at the results below.
Here we see a slight improvement in Fantasy performance (+9.9%) among traded players. Around 2/3rds (61.9%) of them did better after the trade, as opposed to worse. Keep in mind that our sample is only 21 players, so its hard to make any sort of statistical conclusion, but the data does point towards a slight post-trade improvement among players.
Does Position Matter?
Recall that our dataset contains both running backs and wide receivers. It’s conceivable that post-trade performance differs by position. Wide Receivers need to run crisp routes and have a good chemistry with their Quarterback in order to be effective. Both of these things are hard to do/develop immediately after being placed in a new situation. So let’s split our data by position!
It looks like there is a stark difference between WRs and RBs. Running Backs tend to perform much better (+31.3%) after being traded. Wide Receiver scoring doesn’t seem to change before and after being traded. So it looks like the earlier post-trade improvement in the first chart (+9.9%) was entirely driven by Running Backs. This is further shown by the fact that only basically half (57.4%) of WRs improved, as opposed to nearly all (71.4%) of RBs.
Money Fantasy Season and I Need it Now!
Fantasy players are an impatient bunch (among other things). Many of you (let’s face it, only people interested in Fantasy are still reading at this point) want to know how your traded players are going to do in their first game on their new team. So let’s redo this analysis looking only at the first post-trade game.
Here we see a more dramatic improvement (+26.8%) in fantasy performance in the first game on a new team. However, only around half (52.4%) of players do better than their pre-trade average on their first game back. Maybe this is being driven by a difference in position, so let’s take a closer look.
We see the same sort of discrepancy in between RBs and WRs as we saw earlier. Running backs tend to do astoundingly better (+91.0%) on their first game on a new team — and almost all of them at that (71.4%). Wide Receivers, on the other hand, again seem to have no change in performance (or might even do slightly worse at -1.5%). And more of them actually tend to do worse than average.
Okay fair enough. Maybe the charts are wrong. Maybe I’m lying to you. So below is a table summarizing the performance of all players who were traded in-season from 2002—2021.
|Year||Player||Position||From||To||Week Traded||# Games Before||Mean Score Before||# Games After||Score Game After Trade||% Diff Game After||Mean Score After||% Diff Mean After|
There are a lot of things pointing towards in-season trades becoming more common in the future. This year had the most in-season trades ever since 2002 at 22 total transactions. There a trend upwards if you look at past years too:
So given this, an analysis of post-trade Fantasy performance can be useful. There isn’t enough data to make any meaningful conclusions, but some summary analysis is still pretty interesting. This simple analysis suggests that players, especially Running Backs, tend to do better after being traded.
Thanks for reading! I’ll play us out with what I presume was Zack Moss’ reaction after being traded from the Bills to the floundering Colts. Don’t forget to subscribe below if you liked this article and want to get updates on more posts like this!