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How Teams Did In First-Round NFL Draft Trades

The biggest trades of NFL draft picks took place weeks in advance, when Los Angeles and Philadelphia traded up with Tennessee and Cleveland, respectively, to acquire the top two spots. Then, on draft night, five more trades of picks were finalized. We can’t grade whether a team won or lost a trade until we see how those players turn out in the NFL, but we can analyze whether the trade made sense and whether a team under- or overpaid for the right to acquire that player. For that, I created a draft value chart to measure the expected marginal value provided, on average, by a draft pick based on the production of players historically drafted from around that draft spot. Let’s start with the splashiest move not involving a Twitter account of the night.

Cleveland gives up: eighth pick overall, sixth-round pick (No. 176 overall)Tennessee gives up: 15th pick overall, third-round pick (No. 76 overall), second-round pick in 2017

The Browns traded down and eventually selected Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman; if he was Cleveland’s target all along, this was an excellent move — Coleman was at little risk of going before the 15th overall pick. Tennessee moved up to take offensive tackle Jack Conklin after the Baltimore Ravens began the run on offensive linemen at No. 6, with Ronnie Stanley. Cleveland extracted significant value in this move, perhaps because of a mental accounting effect, as the Titans may have viewed the picks involved as found money after the Rams trade.

Based on my marginal value chart, the Browns win the trade … even without considering the second-round pick in 2017! The 76th pick is a valuable one — more valuable than the difference between the eighth and 15th picks. If we value the 2017 second-round pick as equivalent to the 48th pick in this year’s draft, the Browns received a whopping 148 cents on the dollar for this trade. (The 48th pick is likely a worse pick than Tennessee’s 2017 second-rounder will be, but we’re eyeballing a markdown for having to wait a year.)

The Jimmy Johnson chart is used by many teams as a framework for constructing trades even though its values are not reflective of how players from each round perform. In general, it overvalues higher selections. In this case, it would have the Browns receiving only 89 cents on the dollar before considering the 2017 second-round pick. However, even on that chart, this trade is a home run for Cleveland. Consider that if the Titans had traded the 85th pick in this draft rather than the second-rounder in 2017, the old Jimmy Johnson chart would still give a slight edge in this trade to the Browns. The Browns may have benefited from the Titans’ panic that the Giants wanted to take Conklin 10th overall.

Chicago gives up: 11th pick overall, fourth-round pick (No. 106 overall)
Tampa Bay gives up: ninth pick overall

This was a small price for Chicago to pay to move up two spots to select Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd; the trade may be a little harder to understand from the Buccaneers’ perspective. My chart has this as a nice deal for Tampa Bay — the team picked up 117 cents on the dollar. The Jimmy Johnson calculator has this trade as nearly dead even (it has Tampa Bay losing the deal by a tiny margin), which suggests that teams really do use that chart as a framework for trade discussions. Sometimes, teams need to overpay to acquire the players they want: The Giants were heavily linked to Conklin and Floyd at 10th overall and then saw teams trade up (and overpay) to No. 8 and No. 9 to take those two players. Giving up a high fourth-round pick is not insignificant, but the draft was light on pure edge rushers, so the trade makes sense if Chicago viewed Floyd as a great prospect (and far ahead of, say, Clemson’s Shaq Lawson) and pass rusher as a big need position.

The only reason this struck me as a bit odd was that Tampa Bay traded down two spots to take a corner, Vernon Hargreaves, but watched the Giants draft cornerback Eli Apple in between! There’s no way of knowing how the Bucs valued Hargreaves relative to Apple, but presumably Tampa Bay got the man it wanted considering that Hargreaves had a higher grade by most analysts and was born in Tampa. Still, the Bucs could have lost Hargreaves to New York, so Tampa Bay likely viewed a free early fourth-rounder as worth the risk.

Washington gives up: 21st overall pick
Houston gives up: 22nd overall pick, sixth-round pick in 2017

Using a trade chart to analyze this trade doesn’t make sense because it’s best understood as a matter of risk allocation. Houston, which was known to be after a wideout, traded up one pick to draft Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller. In addition, many mock drafts had the Vikings and Bengals selecting wide receivers with the 23rd and 24th picks, respectively. With Cleveland grabbing Coleman at No. 15, one fewer receiver was available for Cincinnati and Minnesota. And if either the Bengals or Vikings (or another team later in the draft) had Fuller as the top wide receiver left on their board, it would have made sense for either team to pay a small price to leap Houston by trading with Washington.

The Texans presumably had Fuller and perhaps Coleman a tier above wide receivers Josh Doctson of TCU and Laquon Treadwell of Ole Miss even though most mock drafts had Fuller as the fourth player in that group. Houston’s giving up next year’s sixth-round pick is hardly a significant price for eliminating the risk of missing out on the man they were targeting, but it only makes sense if Fuller truly is a better prospect (or fit for the Houston offense) than Doctson or Treadwell. Putting aside value, we can safely say that Houston really wanted Fuller, which could mean good things for his fantasy football value this season.

For Washington, which drafted Doctson at No. 22, the only knock on this trade is that it probably could have gotten more by trading with, say, Minnesota and picking Doctson or Treadwell. We can’t know for sure, but Washington likely was going to take Doctson over Fuller anyway, so the team simply picked up a 2017 sixth-rounder selection for free.

Seattle gives up: 26th overall pick
Denver gives up: 31st overall pick; third-round pick (No. 94 overall)

On my chart, this was a great trade for Seattle — the Seahawks picked up 132 cents on the dollar. Seattle moved down five spots to pick up a third-rounder and selected Texas A&M offensive lineman Germain Ifedi 31st overall. Seattle was heavily linked to him ahead of the draft, so this worked out beautifully for the team. Picking up a third-round pick, even a late one, is still very valuable: Remember, that is the same round where Seattle drafted Russell Wilson in 2012 and Tyler Lockett in 2015.

The Broncos moved up to take Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. The trade was pretty even on the traditional chart, with the Seahawks picking up “only” 103 cents on the dollar. But even if Denver paid a premium based on my chart, that is often the cost of doing business when a team wants to trade up. Lynch was a possible top-15 pick in this draft, and given that he was the top quarterback prospect remaining in the draft, he likely would not have made it to No. 31 (Lynch would have made a lot of sense for Arizona at No. 29, and the Cowboys acknowledged a desire to trade up in front of Denver for Lynch). The Broncos didn’t get Lynch for cheap, but this was a much more reasonable trade than the franchise-altering ransoms paid by Los Angeles and Philadelphia for the top two quarterbacks.

Kansas City gives up: 28th overall pick
San Francisco gives up: second-round pick (No. 37 overall), fourth-round pick (No. 105 overall), sixth-round pick (No. 178 overall)

The 49ers traded up for Stanford guard Joshua Garnett but paid a serious price. Kansas City received 136 cents on the dollar according to my chart and 96 cents according to the traditional chart. San Francisco gave up an early fourth-round pick to move up just nine spots … for a guard! It’s one thing for the Broncos to trade a pick at the back end of the third round to move up five spots for a quarterback; to pay essentially the same price for Garnett is much harder to defend.

Whereas Lynch was viewed as a potential first-rounder by many teams, the market for Garnett appeared to be much softer. Trading up for the last player in a tier at a position of significant value makes sense, but this trade by the 49ers is much tougher to justify. Valuable players are still available at No. 105; consider that since 2010, Kirk Cousins, Everson Griffen, Jordan Cameron, Devonta Freeman, Alterraun Verner and Perry Riley were all selected between pick 100 and 110. On the other side, a fourth-rounder is a valuable commodity — it’s the sweet spot of getting a solid prospect on a cheap contract for four years — so kudos to the Chiefs for pulling off a nice trade in exchange for waiting nine selections.

Chase Stuart writes about football statistics and history at FootballPerspective.com

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