Five Draft Trade-Up Scenarios That Might Be Smart

It’s always important to challenge your prejudices, right? There’s this perception I – and many others – have: trading up bad, trading down good. We see accruing the maximum potential draft picks as being a positive. We see picking 6 or fewer times in a draft as being a sign of an ultimately doomed team. So we think fans that clamour teams to trade up for prospects are stupid. We see teams that trade down lots as inevitably getting one over loser teams.

We’re idiots when we stick rigidly to this maxim. Sometimes teams can trade up and pick up a generational piece that takes them from also-rans to perma-contenders. Example? Look at what Julio Jones has done for Atlanta. Sometimes teams can trade down and draft bust after bust after bust. Example again? With the picks accrued from the Robert Griffin III trade, the Rams drafted: Michael Brokers, Zac Stacy, Janoris Jenkins, Greg Robinson and Alec Ogeltree. One is a star (on another team), one is a solid starter, one is a mega-mega-bust, one is a nose tackle and one is a late-round running back. Not exactly what Dallas got from the Herschel Walker trade, is it?

It’s easy to fear the unpredictability of the draft and take solace in quantity. If you have little idea who can translate well to the NFL, give yourself more chances to win. In defence of us fans in that respect, we’re generally not experienced scouts, nor do we have access to a team’s database of scouting reports. How can we really know where a team’s convinced a player is a sure thing and are ultimately right about?

So I’ve tried to imagine five scenarios where teams might trade up in the 2017 Draft. I’ve kept it to trading up for one of the first 50 picks – no-one wants to know if the Panthers will give up a 7th round pick to trade up five spots in the 4th round, do they? Without further ado, let’s roll the dice:

Arizona trades its 2nd and 3rd round picks (#45 and #77) for Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick (#30) and drafts QB Patrick Mahomes

This is the one I’d have most confidence in. Ok, the Bruce Arians fondness for big-armed, slightly wild quarterbacks is slightly overplayed. But there’s been a lot of chatter linking Arizona to Texas Tech’s Mahomes, and it makes a lot of sense. First of all, Arizona have enough needs that I don’t see them going quarterback with their first pick. Carson Palmer didn’t play anywhere near badly enough in 2016 that Arizona want to replace him immediately. But, he showed enough worrying signs of decline that a succession plan seems wise.

Mahomes provides that. He comes from a very college offense, the pass-heavy “Air Raid”. That means there’ll be a steep learning curve in the NFL, which itself means a team that can let him sit and learn for a year will likely get more out of him that one who’ll start him straight away. In a general sense, teams get worried about Air Read quarterbacks. From Tim Couch to Jared Goff, quarterbacks coming from this system have struggled in the NFL.

Nonetheless, Mahomes both put up huge numbers and showed enough pocket passing nous that teams are keen. The feeling is he’s got the natural talent and general wherewithal to become an NFL starter. So don’t be surprised if he’s available late in the first round, but not much longer. Although he’s getting increased mid-first-round buzz, so did Derek Carr in 2014 before going in the 2nd. Mahomes seems to be in a similar situation. Nonetheless, Arizona would be wise to trade back into the first round if they really like him.

Why Pittsburgh as a trade partner? Well, Arizona will want to leave it as late as possible – the earlier the team picking they trade with, the more they’ll have to give up to pick there. A second- and third-rounder looks steep, but is the going rate here. Minnesota gave up a 4th rounder to move up 8 slots in 2014 for Teddy Bridgewater. Arizona can expect to pay a 3rd. Pittsburgh don’t tend to throw rookies in at the deep end, so this suits them perfectly.

Note: since I drafted this last week, Mahomes has received  yet more mid-first-round chatter. Apparently Arizona are considering him with their first pic.! Fellas, don’t draft Pat Mahomes that early. He could well be that good! But he’s a malleable piece of clay that needs a lot of work. If you sell your chances of drafting a top-10 player to get a quarterback who, while supremely talented, is full of known unknowns, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

(USA Today)

Baltimore trades its 1st and 3rd round pick (#16 and #78) and a 2018 5th round pick for Buffalo’s 1st round pick (#10) and drafts CB Marshon Lattimore or CB Marlon Humphrey

Baltimore’s roster is generally kind of weird, it’s fairly good in a lot of areas. Normally teams are chock full of obvious strengths and weaknesses. But, I do see one in Charm City: cornerback. Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr are two decent elements, but teams need three these days. With that and two very good safeties – Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson – secondary could become a strength. Furthermore, I don’t think Baltimore’s roster is weak enough that giving up a third-round pick would cripple them.

The top two cornerbacks, Lattimore and Humphrey, are legitimate top-10 picks. Lattimore will likely go first but I see such a narrow gap between them it could go either way. And, one could easily drift this late. A team that gives up a little to get a future star in the secondary may be a wise team. Humphrey can shut down a side of a field. He’s fast, athletic, and agile. He can press effectively, change direction and pace, and will make plays on the ball.

As for the trade? Well, I can see Buffalo targeting a receiver in round 1, and there are good odds that one of Mike Williams and Corey Davis will be around at 16. So it’s relatively low-risk in that respect. Now trading down hasn’t been the Buffalo way in recent years, sure. But with GM Doug Whaley increasingly sidelined, the door’s open for a change of tack. Would Baltimore trade up though? In truth, that doesn’t seem the Ozzie Newsome way. I think it’d make sense though! Baltimore’s roster isn’t far off, and a little injection of stardom could go a long way.

Indianapolis trades its 1st and a 4th round pick (#15 and #137) and a 2018 2nd round pick for New York Jets’ 1st round pick (#6) and drafts S Malik Hooker

Indianapolis have got the kind of defensive backfield that – outside of Vontae Davis – you’re clicking on the links on Wikipedia just to find out who the heck they are. So, a safety would be useful. Mike Adams has done well the last couple of years, but he’s now in Carolina. Indy pick at #15 where the top two cornerbacks and safeties will likely be gone when they pick. Worse than that, the next batch of defensive backs has late-first-round grades. I mean, there are vast swathes of them there, but still.

So, if Hooker (or, I guess, Jamal Adams) falls out of the top 5, someone picking mid-round may be keen. And who better than Indy? I love Malik Hooker’s tape. He’s instinctive, rangy, agile, just generally fun. He’s a playmaker, a ballhawk, the sort of player who’ll make opposing quarterbacks nervous. Even better, as a one-year starter you sense he’s just tapping into his immense potential. Can he be better than Earl Thomas? Well, maybe! Why might he slide to six? Well, he had surgery to repair a torn labrum and hernia in February. So, he won’t be fighting fit until training camp, you’d guess. Stock falls for all sorts of reasons.

To be honest, I don’t think this trade is likely, even though I wish it were. The new Colts GM, Chris Ballard, seems more cautious than some, so might not be as keen to trade up. The Jets…well, yes they have no quarterback. But they don’t seem all that bothered about it. I can see them thinking they need enough of a rebuild that draft picks are a priority. Though, this being the Jets, whatever they decide to do, the opposite would’ve been the best bet.

Tampa Bay trades its 1st and 3rd round picks (#19 and #84) for Cleveland’s 1st and 6th round picks and drafts RB Christian McCaffrey

Were you surprised that Doug Martin failed to capture his contract-year form? No, of course you weren’t. Martin both played and got injured more like 2013 or 2014 Martin this last year. Tampa don’t want another year rotating Jacquizz Rodgers, Peyton Barber and Charles Sims. They’re definitely seeking to give their quarterback more weapons too, picking up DeSean Jackson in free agency.

McCaffrey’s draft stock is red-hot, and he could be the second running back picked. He definitely qualifies as a “weapon”, being a two-and-a-half down back (at least) receiver, kick returner. He had a jaw-dropping combine, coming off the back of basically carrying Stanford in 2015. His game tape shows a fantastic cutter, wonderful short-range vision and agility. And, even in the age of the receiving back, he’ll leap to the front of the queue. So you’ve got a reliable dump-off, a big-play threat, a between-the-tackles rusher. A moveable piece!

Regarding the trade, I only see this happening if whichever of Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson that Cleveland want is gone by this point. Cleveland will have already drafted a pass rusher, and their next need (secondary) is better value at #19 than #12. And as far as Tampa Bay goes, well, it’s bound to be an improvement on trading back into the second round to draft a kicker!

(Michael Macor/SF Chronicle)

Denver trades its 2nd and 3rd round picks (#51 and #82) and a 2018 6th round pick for Chicago’s 2nd round pick (#36) and drafts TE Evan Engram

The 2017 season will approaching 3 years since Denver last had thrilling quarterback play. While Lynch and Siemian seek to be solutions to that problem, better receivers would help. In his latter years, Manning had Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker. The first two remain there, but the latter two have yet to be replaced. The reason Thomas succeeded playing tight end in Denver is that he’s a vertical receiving threat. The reason he failed in Jacksonville is he just didn’t bother to block.

Do you see where I’m going with this one? Evan Engram ran a 4.42 40 at the combine. That’s quicker than the #1 receiver in this class (Mike Williams) managed, and that the #2 (Corey Davis) was projected to run. So he’s a great threat to mismatch against safeties and linebackers. He’s also barely a better blocker than your granny. Yes, yes, I know Denver’s O-Line is pretty terrible. And yes, I know that a blocking tight end would be useful. But a reliable receiving threat on short and intermediate routes? A terrific threat after the catch to break tackles and escape into space? Engram could do wonders for whoever of Siemian and Lynch starts.

As for the details of the trade, Chicago are in desperate rebuilding mode, lacking any kind of core and needing as many chances as they can get to hit on rookies. Picking up an extra third round pick in a draft with barrel loads of mid-round talent is smart. This trade would be similar in value to that Dallas made with Washington in 2014, so a third-round pick and a future sixth will be around Chicago’s asking price.

No Blockbuster Trade?

Yes, last year the Rams and Eagles both traded up for quarterbacks. The truth is, there isn’t a quarterback that has that kind of top-of-the-draft lustre this year. Add in to which, seeing how woeful Jared Goff looked last year seems to have spooked teams. And in an offseason in which a recent non-QB-blockbuster-trade player got released (Dion Jordan), teams should be cautious. I think the trades above are by their nature punchy, but low enough risk they could work.

So, next time you’re clamouring for your team to trade down, remember someone else needs to trade up. Ask yourself why they’re doing it. It might be that this time, they’re making the smarter move.

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