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Trading Top 10 Picks

A study of recent trades involving top 10 picks.

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It seems everyone is predicting a trade involving the Titans in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft these days. Mike Keith joined that chorus yesterday on 3HL as Jimmy reported here. There are several reasons for this speculation. First, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus player that fits the Titans perfectly at #5. Marshon Lattimore, Jonathan Allen, Mike Williams, O.J. Howard, Jamal Adams, and Malik Hooker seem to be the most likely options if they choose to stick at #5, but with that many options it makes sense to see if they can get better value by trading back and possibly still end up getting one of these guys. The other big reason for all this talk is that Jon Robinson has quickly established a reputation as one of the most aggressive GMs in the NFL when it comes to making deals, and he comes from a background with the Patriots who have made trading back in to an art form over the past 15 years. Robinson himself has called the 2nd round of this draft in particular the “sweet spot” and openly stated that he would like to find a way to get a 2nd rounder.

“I’d love to have a second-round pick,’’ Robinson said. “That is a sweet spot in the draft, those second-round picks. The first-round picks, it is good to have extras of those, too. You get an extra year on the contract, with a fifth-year option that you don’t get on the other rounds.

“If we can navigate and put ourselves in a position to pick up an extra pick, specifically in the second round, we’ve love to do that.”

Now there are other ways to acquire a 2nd round pick besides trading back from #5. He could look to move a veteran player for a 2nd round pick. The list of current Titans who could fetch a 2nd round pick or better is rather short though. I would count Mariota, Lewan, Conklin, Casey, Byard, Henry, Orakpo, Morgan, Dodd, and Austin Johnson as the only guys who could even sniff a 2nd rounder in return. Dodd seems to be the most likely of the options, but trading him likely means drafting an edge rusher in the 1st or 2nd round to fill his spot so it would really be more like replacing Dodd than truly adding another piece of draft capital. This seems very unlikely.

You could potentially look at packaging the two 3rd round picks together to move up in to the 2nd, but according to the standard Jimmy Johnson Draft Value Chart (more on that later) the best you could hope for would be climbing up in to the very end of the 2nd round. That also leaves the Titans without a 3rd round pick which isn’t ideal.

So it seems that trading down from 5 or 18 (or both as Mike Keith speculated) would be the most likely way for the Titans to end up in the 2nd round. There are two primary draft value charts that we can use to guess what kind of deals would be most likely should the Titans trade down. There is the classic Jimmy Johnson Draft Chart and the Chase Stuart Draft Value Chart which takes a more analytical approach to charting draft value. The Stuart chart compares Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value (AV) statistic to where each player was drafted to derive an expected AV over the course of their rookie contract. You can see how AV is calculated in depth here. Obviously, AV is not a perfect stat, but there is no perfect stat for boiling an NFL player’s performance down to a single number. It stills seems that teams track much closer to the Jimmy Johnson chart in reality as you will see later, but the methodology behind Stuart’s chart (and other studies like this Harvard study on the value of draft picks) seem to indicate that high draft picks are overvalued.

With this information, I went back and charted every trade involving a top 10 draft pick since 2008 according to both charts to see how accurate they were and to try to get a better idea of what we could realistically get back for the 5th overall pick. When calculating the points for each chart, I plugged in all future draft picks as middle of the round picks. For example, the 2017 1st that the Titans got from the Rams last year is plugged in as the 16th overall pick despite the fact that we now know it to be the 5th overall pick since at the time of the trade the teams had no way of knowing where that pick would end up.

NOTE: There were three players involved in the Mark Sanchez trade going from New York to Cleveland who are not factored in to the points for those trades.

A couple of really interesting things that jump out to me. First, according to Chase Stuart’s chart, the team trading down “won” every single one of these deals, including some extremely lopsided trades. The Jimmy Johnson chart, however, is basically split right down the middle with the team trading down getting right at 5% more value on average than the team trading up. You can also see that most of the massive wins for the teams trading down were when the team trading up was coming up for a quarterback.

Since Stuart’s chart is based on historical performance data, it would seem to indicate that trading back is almost always a good idea, especially high in the 1st round. If you look at that list of players that were acquired by trading up, only Julio Jones has really turned in to a Superstar level player that you would expect for a top 10 pick and many of them have been outright busts. It’s too early to tell on the 2016 guys even though Conklin seems to be as close to a sure thing as you can get. But even if we grade on an extremely generous curve and assume that all 4 of the 2016 guys hit and Sammy Watkins turns out to be a star for Buffalo, that means 6 out of 17 times the team trading up got a player that ended up being worthy of that pick, let alone all the draft capital that they gave up to get him. That’s not a great hit rate.

The 5th pick was moved twice during this time frame. The first being the 2009 trade when the Jets came up to get Mark Sanchez. The Jets sent #17, #51, Abram Elam, Kenyon Coleman, and Brett Ratliff to Cleveland for the rights to Sanchez. It is hard to value veteran players when they are included in these deals, but Elam and Coleman were starters on defense and Ratliff was a backup quarterback to give you an idea of what kind of players they got.

The second time the 5th pick was traded was in 2012 when the Jaguars traded up to draft Justin Blackmon. The Sparkle Kitties gave up pick #7 and pick #101 (top of the 4th round) to come up two spots to 5.

The 4th pick was traded once. In 2014, the Bills gave up #9 overall and their 2015 1st round pick and 2015 4th round pick to move up and take Sammy Watkins.

The 6th pick was traded twice. In 2012, the Cowboys traded #14 and #45 to the Rams to get Morris Claiborne. And in 2011, the Falcons gave up #26, #71, #89, and #125 to move up and take Julio Jones.

Given that the average value of these trades according to the Jimmy Johnson chart ends up tracking within 5% of being equal, we will stick with that chart to determine the most likely trade possibilities.

With that background, what are the most likely trade scenarios for the Titans if they choose to move back from #5? I think we first have to look at which players teams might be coming up to draft. Of the 17 teams who have traded up in the top 10 since 2008, 5 of them were targeting a quarterback, 4 were targeting a wide receiver, 4 were targeting a pass rusher of some kind, 2 were targeting a corner, 1 was targeting a running back, and 1 was targeting a tackle.

With reports that the Browns are “split” between all-world pass rusher Myles Garrett and Mitchell Trubisky coming out this week, it seems that QB silly season is officially upon us.

This is insane, but it does lend some credence to the idea that the Browns may be willing to pay big to move back up for Trubisky if they decide to go with Garrett at #1. The Titans sit in a particularly advantageous position at #5 for leveraging a deal with a QB needy team since the Jets sit right behind them at #6. The Jets have been bringing in tons of QBs during the pre-draft visit process so there is a good chance that a team who likes a certain QB could be spooked in to doing a deal to make sure they get their guy if he’s still on the board when the Titans go on the clock.

The Browns currently have picks #1, #12, #33, and #52 in the first two rounds. A package of #12 and #33 equals 1,780 JJ Points which is exactly 5% over the 1,700 JJ Points that the #5 pick is worth which makes it right in line with what we would expect to see based on past deals. However, since Trubisky plays quarterback, Robinson may be able to squeeze an extra late round pick out of the Browns in this deal if it plays out this way. Then again, the 49ers at #2, the Bears at #3, and the Jags at #4 are all possible landing places for a QB, so all of this could fall apart if one of them takes Trubisky or trades down to the Browns themselves.

Another option for Robinson could be to use the threat of trading out of #5 as leverage to force the Jets to trade up one spot. This has happened a couple times in the top 10 in recent years. In 2012, the Browns gave up picks #4, #118, #139, and #211 to move up one spot to #3 to take Trent Richardson. And in 2014, the Browns again got leveraged in to giving up #9 and #145 to move up to #8 and take Justin Gilbert. Those two trades and subsequent picks sum up the Browns existence perfectly. Based on those two deals, you would think that getting a 4th round pick would probably be the most Robinson could squeeze out of the Jets for moving down one spot, but then again it leaves him with the option of trading down yet again after that with a “free” 4th round pick in his back pocket.

What other QB’s could drive a team to trade up to #5 besides Trubisky? Well, despite all the grumblings about how bad this QB class is, Trubisky, DeShaun Watson, DeShone Kizer, Patrick Mahomes, and even Davis Webb have all been rumored to be potential 1st round picks. Every year teams talk themselves in to flawed QBs in the draft. I don’t expect this year to be any different. I would be shocked if we didn’t see at least 3 QB’s go by the end of Round 1. The other teams besides Cleveland and New York that seem likely to be highly motivated to trade up to #5 for a QB would be the Bills at #10, the Cardinals at #13, and the Texans at #25.

The Bills brought back Tyrod Taylor which lessens the severity of their need, but doesn’t eliminate it altogether as evidenced by the fact that they have had Trubisky, Watson, Kizer, Mahomes, and Nathan Peterman all in for official visits over the past couple weeks. The Bills could offer #10 and #44 to the Titans which would put them right at the magic number according to the JJ chart.

The Cardinals know they need to replace Carson Palmer after this year and have worked out Trubisky, Watson, Kizer, Mahomes, and Webb officially. However, the Cardinals package of #13 and #45 would come up 100 points short of the value for #5 so it is likely they would have to sweeten the deal with either #77 or a 2018 2nd round pick.

The Texans would have to blow the Titans out of the water to get up from #25 to #5, and that’s before you even consider the fact that the Titans wouldn’t want to help their division rival land a QB of the future. This deal would be something like the Texans #25, #57, and #89 this year plus their 2018 1st and 3rd round picks (they don’t have their 2018 2nd thanks to the Osweiler dump trade) and probably even a 2019 1st. My guess is that this doesn’t happen as it would take the Texans completely mortgaging their future drafts for one of these QB’s.

Besides quarterbacks, who are some other targets that teams could be moving up to pick? Wide receivers were targeted 4 times in trades, but it seems unlikely that Mike Williams, Corey Davis, or John Ross have high enough grades to justify a team trading up to #5 to take them. Pass rushers could be possible. Guys like Jonathan Allen, Solomon Thomas, and Derek Barnett could inspire a trade up to #5. The Panthers at #8, Bengals at #9, Saints at #11, and Cardinals at #13 are all teams that need players who can get after the passer.

The Saints are a particularly interesting trade partner since they own #11, #32, and #42. They could easily move up to #5 without leaving a big hole in their draft. A package of #11 and #32 for #5 would be a big win for the Titans, but #11 and #42 would be right in line with the JJ trade chart value. Interestingly enough, a #18 for #32 and #42 trade could be another Titans-Saints swap that would make some sense on both sides.

There are a few other players that could motivate a team to move up. Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, Jamal Adams, Reuben Foster, and Leonard Fournette would seem to be the most likely among the non-QB and non-pass rusher group. Just looking at the pick packages and needs of other teams, I would expect the Bills, Saints, Browns, and Cardinals to end up as the most likely trade partners. By most accounts that I have seen from the so-called experts there are about 10 “elite” prospects in the draft: Garrett, Allen, Thomas, Lattimore, Hooker, Adams, Howard, Fournette, Foster, and Barnett. Trading back to #10 (Bills), #11 (Saints), #12 (Browns), or #13 (Cardinals) would mean that the Titans would have a pretty good shot at getting one of those elite guys assuming at least a QB or two sneaks in to that top 10, and I fully expect that to happen. Trading down from #5 to anything lower than #13 would require a future 1st round pick most likely coming back to the Titans in the deal to make it work.

So what do you guys think? Would you want to trade back to the #10-13 range if the opportunity presents itself? I would love to get feedback from any Bills, Saints, Browns, or Cardinals fans to see what their thoughts would be on these potential trade scenarios.