Predicting Top Trade Scenarios for the 2014 NFL Draft
With the start of free agency, the combine and most pro days out of the way, we can start to get a better idea of who might be willing to move up—or back—in the 2014 NFL draft.
Predicting trades can be one of the toughest aspects of draft analysis. It’s why the majority of mock drafts don’t try—there are so many variables we don’t know about that it can distract from the mock itself.
We can compile all the data and read the tea leaves enough to put together some potential scenarios for May.
Consider this an update from my March 6 piece—though two slides from that make a repeat here, with some more specific details.
In order to delve into cost, I pulled up the NFL trade value chart—this one posted at DraftCountdown.com—though as useful as that is for this exercise, we know that every team’s value chart is a bit different.
Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills Swap Picks
Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei recently wrote that the Houston Texans were hard at work trying to move that first overall pick and that at least one interested party were the Buffalo Bills.
Pompei mentions that what the Bills would want with that first pick is unclear, but I would doubt it would be a quarterback. They could trade up for a tackle, but they have Cordy Glenn at left tackle, and while I am not opposed to grabbing a guy who will start at right tackle with a top pick, it seems unlikely they would spend the picks to move up for one.
According to the value chart, the first pick is worth 3,000 points. The Bills pick No. 9, which is worth 1,350 points. Assuming that those values hold for both teams (give or take) that’s a differential of 1,650 points.
Which means this will require a sizable payment on the part of the Bills involving picks from this year and next. I don’t see that happening for a left tackle, much less a right one (even if the right tackle will move left at some point).
I could see them, as Pompei also mentions, spending the picks to move up and grab Khalil Mack or Jadeveon Clowney, or maybe even Sammy Watkins.
If it were one of the two defensive players, it makes sense to pair one of those guys with Mario Williams. If, on the other hand, it was Watkins, it would make sense, as they would have another weapon for EJ Manuel, who they invested a high pick in during the 2013 NFL draft.
Stevie Johnson has three more years on his contract, per Spotrac.com, but was injured a chunk of last season—something which caused the offense to suffer (as did an injury to Manuel himself).
Adding Watkins would be a huge boon to Manuel and the offense, give them some leeway if Johnson gets hurt again (or declines) and would help in the arms race to take over the AFC East.
For Houston, it’s simple—more picks. They could net quite a bit of extra picks in this and the next draft, yet still be within striking range of many great prospects remaining in the top ten. There’s even a chance they could nab one of the top quarterbacks if someone tumbles or, as I suggested last time, they could move back into the late first for another quarterback.
They’re a team poised for a quick turnaround and have the leeway to move if need be, but can still achieve what they need to in order to compete.
Jets Move Up to Grab Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins
The New York Jets have 12 picks this year, are desperate for a top receiver and general manager John Idzik appears to be pretty content to sit back this offseason and add players in the draft.
Whether Geno Smith or Michael Vick win the starting job, the truth is Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill aren’t enough.
Sure it’s a deep class at receiver, but the top—which is just Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans—are really a world apart.
The Jets were at Johnny Manziel’s pro day, and while you could argue that they are doing due diligence in case Manziel drops, isn’t it just as likely they were taking a close look at Evans?
After signing Vick, which Aggies player solves a current Jets problem?
In order to get Watkins or Evans, the Jets have to move into the top ten. For Watkins, they would probably have to move to the top five, or maybe even three.
The Jets are at No. 18—so what would it cost to move from 18 to somewhere between picks No. 3 and 10?
The third pick in the draft costs 2,200 points, while the 10th runs at 1,300. The Jets pick is worth 900 points. The jump from No. 18 to No. 3 would cost 1,300 points, while the leap to No. 10 would be just 400.
Two recent moves up are worth examining when thinking of cost.
First, Washington moved from No. 6 to No. 2 in order to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012. I’ve always thought they overpaid—if you can say such a thing when quarterback is so important—and based on the value chart, their three firsts and a second kind of back that assessment.
That said, it was a shorter jump and in the same ballpark of where the Jets almost have to go if they want Watkins.
Our other test-case happened back in 2011, when the Atlanta Falcons moved all the way to No. 6 from No. 27. That’s a much bolder leap than the Jets jumping up for Watkins or, more likely, Evans. Of course it cost Atlanta more than the Jets trade would, but it gives us another baseline for that.
In that trade, the Falcons gave away more picks (five) than Washington did but one less first-round pick overall, replaced by an extra fourth-round pick in 2011.
While Watkins is the better all-around receiver, Evans is very, very good. If the Jets wanted to make a move, I’d hazard a guess they shoot for Evans, somewhere around picks 8 through 10.
In which case, we could assume it costing them something like this year’s first-round pick (again, a value of 900 points), their second (400) and perhaps one or two of their fourth-round picks. Or, alternatively, their first, their third (180) and one or two of those fourth-rounders.
Either way, it actually makes sense because they get a game-changer at receiver and can still grab talent in the mid rounds of the draft.
They can also be hard in negotiation because they can easily sit at No. 18 and grab the best defensive back or a receiver like Brandin Cooks or tight end Eric Ebron. So Idzik need not overpay.
The other team they trade with would, of course, gain some very good picks, and in a draft as deep as this one, still get a great value at No. 18.
I could see the Falcons, Buccaneers, Vikings or Bills all being potential trade partners. The Falcons can pick up some solid defensive help at No. 18, while Vikings could select a quarterback there as well. Both the Bills and Bucs could grab defense or a solid wide receiver there as well.
Rams Move Back, Falcons Up
When I wrote the pre-free agency version of this article, I talked about how often this trade was being thrown in mock drafts, but that it made sense. Still, it was mostly conjecture.
Well, no longer, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Atlanta Falcons are open to trading up in draft, per league sources. Falcons are first team known to be willing to go up.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 25, 2014
While it's unclear whom they might be after at this point, the defensive front seems likely. This is a team that needs help rushing the passer, and South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack seem like ideal cures for that particular ill.
They could wait and see if someone drops to No. 6, or grab UCLA’s Anthony Barr, but if they want the top defensive end or outside linebacker, they have to move to be sure they get them because both could be gone by No. 6.
The problem could be that St. Louis holds out for a Washington-Griffin sized payoff, which likely isn’t to be coming, not when they could very well have a more reasonable trade with Jacksonville or Oakland.
But if the Rams are reasonable, the Falcons should be willing.
And it’s nothing but good for the Rams. Yes, they could secure the top left tackle (Auburn’s Greg Robinson or Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, depending on your preference) at No. 2, but they might still have a shot at him or they could get any number of top prospects at No. 6, as well as a bunch of picks: The aforementioned Barr, tackle Taylor Lewan (assuming his stock doesn’t continue to stumble) or a cornerback like Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard.
And let’s be honest, while Robinson or Matthews might be gone, there is a good chance one of the two will be there at No. 6.
More picks and either a top player or a solid tackle? Sounds like a win-win.
San Francisco 49ers Move to the Middle Rounds for Defensive Back
Here’s another one from last time, but more specific.
I would say that GM Trent Baalke aims around where he did last year when he grabbed safety Eric Reid, and hits between pick No. 16 to pick No. 19.
With 11 picks, the Niners have the ammo to move all over the place, depending on where value drops, and Baalke has proven he will not hesitate to make a trade.
While the Jets might not be against trading back, it would depend on what players were present, and seeing as how defensive back is a high-priority need, it’s unlikely they would trade out to let the Niners select a defensive back.
Not impossible but unlikely.
The most likely scenarios would involve either the Baltimore Ravens or the Miami Dolphins. The Ravens don’t have tremendous needs at present and could grab an offensive lineman at pick No. 30.
The Dolphins have far more needs, but unless someone surprising drops, the quality of offensive linemen doesn’t drop off tremendously between 19 and 30, and many of the other needs they have can be had later as well.
The Dolphins, especially, could use more picks, but both teams could certainly benefit from adding to their picks.
For the 49ers, I still contend they would do this for a very good corner or one of the top safeties. If, say, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert were available, he’d immediately have a shot to start, considering the starting corners are Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver, with Eric Wright as a third option. Wright can win a full-time job, and Gilbert has the talent to do so as well.
Safety is another reason to trade up, though not as high of a priority. Calvin Pryor of Louisville or Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would have to be there, and you can’t bet on that for sure. Last year, the Niners moved for Eric Reid, who had an outstanding season, but they signed Antoine Bethea this offseason so they could be set.
Still, if they value either safety—especially Clinton-Dix—they could pull the trigger.
Pick No. 30 is worth 620 points, so to move up they would have to cough up picks worth between 400 and 600, depending on where they would want to move. Again, they have the picks and they were willing to do it before.
A combination of swapping first-round picks with their partner, plus perhaps one of their two second-round picks and a late pick, or one of their two third-round picks and a fifth, should get the job done.
Raiders Trade Back for More Picks
While they started out slowly, the Oakland Raiders have had a decent offseason, though a lot of it hinges on aging players and a bounce-back season by quarterback Matt Schaub.
The team still needs some receiver talent, but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (via NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling) reports that they are interested in former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson and that the interest is mutual.
If the Raiders do sign Jackson, it doesn’t make grabbing a guy like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins impossible, just less likely.
Why do that when they have Jackson to pair with guys like Rod Streater and Denarius Moore? Why not trade back for more picks?
At pick No. 5, there will be some very attractive players. One of the top three quarterbacks will still be there, if not more—and Fresno State’s Derek Carr is likely to be there as well. If all three (or four) quarterbacks are gone, that means there’s a good chance that some combination of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack, left tackles Greg Robinson from Auburn and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, as well as Watkins, would be available.
That’s a lot of talent, and while you can see the Raiders getting any of them with that No. 5 pick, you could see them trading back as well.
Especially if the quarterbacks are there. We know the Minnesota Vikings need a quarterback, and while we don’t have a lot of information on whom they prefer, if their guy is there at No. 5, they could jump.
This year they only have eight draft picks, one of who is a compensatory pick and not able to be traded. So their ammunition isn’t great, but they could pull off a trade if need be. This would allow them to grab their quarterback of the future (or an edge pass-rusher) and be sure they got the guy they like best.
On the downside, GM Rick Spielman told Star Tribune writer Sid Hartman that “I think you can find quarterbacks in the second round and the third round,” and “The one thing that I want to make sure we don’t do is box ourselves into having to take a quarterback if there’s another player that’s very significant at another position.”
Of course it’s lying season, so who knows if he’s telling us the truth.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are also a potential trade partner, though new head coach Lovie Smith has always been hard to predict and new GM, Jason Licht, hasn’t been a general manager before. Licht was vice president of player personnel for the Arizona Cardinals last season and held the title of director of player personnel the year before, but we don’t have a firm sense as to what his habits are when it comes to the draft.
Smith has been all over the map when it comes to first-round picks—twice picking defensive linemen and three times selecting offensive players in the nine years as head coach of the Chicago Bears. How involved he was in those picks can be debated but it doesn’t give us much to work on.
We know that Smith doesn’t appear to have faith in Mike Glennon, since he named former backup Josh McCown as his starter already. So it’s not off-base to think that the franchise might be looking to get one of the quarterbacks here, ditch Glennon and let the new guy mature behind McCown.
Or they could see if Watkins drops and grab him at No. 5, replacing the troubled Mike Williams. Or perhaps they could grab Clowney or Mack if either one falls.
The downside for the Bucs making this move is that they’re short on picks. With only five picks (one was traded to the New York Jets in the Darrelle Revis trade and one to the Chicago Bears for Gabe Carimi), the Buccaneers would leave themselves short of many opportunities for players this year.
They were very active in free agency though, so it could be that they aren’t worried about it.
Both the Vikings and Bucs are missing key pieces, and if the right players fall, would be willing and able to move up.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.