NFL Draft: Examining which teams trade the most in the first round
Who are the most aggressive teams when it comes to trading in, out and around the first round of the draft? We look at recent data to predict what teams might do in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Successfully navigating the NFL Draft takes a lot of skill. It also takes a good deal of luck, as we pointed out Monday by breaking down the success of each draft slot over the past 12 years. But skill's still the big prevailing factor in success. The nature of the draft format means understanding negotiation, comprehending the value inherent in different positions -- both on the field and in the draft -- and balancing need versus value are all critical.
In short, you better understand how to work the draft board.
Every front office sports a different philosophy on draft weekend. But who's most likely to move around in the first round come the 2014 NFL Draft? To figure it out, we broke down movement over the past five years in each draft.
The first question I have to answer is: Where are teams picking on average over the last five years? As always, click to embiggen.
The usual draft suspects
The list of teams on the left end shouldn’t surprise. The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots are well-run franchises and always pretty successful. Success is measured on winning the Super Bowl and missing the playoffs for either of those franchises constitutes an absolute nightmare scenario. They don't pick in the top 10 for a reason.
Conversely the Cleveland Browns would be thrilled to catch a whiff of the postseason. The St. Louis Rams are improving -- largely because of Les Snead's draft prowess -- but they've had a bunch of early picks. I wish there was enough time in the day to photoshop the Detroit Lions , Oakland Raiders , Buffalo Bills , Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars on this movie cover. Alas.
As you've probably noticed, teams don't always end up picking from the same spot they were assigned. It's rare for a franchise to simply pick from their slot year after year after year. Some team always wants to fly up a draft board and even if the NFL outlawed trading, Bill Belichick would still find a way for the Patriots to trade down.
That's exhibited when we pair up the five-year average draft selection as well. Caveats could apply here, but it's best explained like this: if the green bar is higher than the blue bar, teams are trading down, if the green bar is lower than the blue bar, teams are trading up. If you see a team's green bar is totally skyjacked (hellooooooooo, Oakland!) it's probably because they did something silly like hand out high draft picks for Carson Palmer .
A few notes here:
I love how easy it is to see Belichick and Ozzie Newsome trading back (to acquire additional picks, obviously).
It's not fair to make blanket statements about a franchise based on five-year averages. My guess is Dave Gettleman won't move much (see: the New York Giants ) for the Carolina Panthers . His predecessor, Marty Hurney, was quite fond of passing out future first-round picks. There's a reason he is no longer employed there.
Look out, Cleveland! The Browns moved down multiple times during this stretch. It's a sound theory but not helpful if you're taking the wrong players. We're also talking about a slew of front-office guys to factor in here.
The Atlanta Falcons were surprising to me; I thought the Julio Jones deal would really mangle their average. But it basically ended up being an even-steven situation.
So which teams move the most?
Atlanta is a great example of how comparing draft averages doesn't tell us the whole story. You'd think, based on looking at this graph, that Thomas Dimitroff sat cooly at the end of the draft and let players fall to him. Not exactly accurate.
To measure how much movement against the average is occurring for these teams, we also created a differential for the original pick and the subsequent pick. Unfortunately it's not as simple as addition and subtraction. Again: teams trade first-round picks for some reason.
It's really, really difficult to measure what the "value" -- from a numerical standpoint -- of moving out of a first-round pick is, particularly when there are so many different ways it can happen. The first-round pick the Seattle Seahawks traded to the Minnesota Vikings (2013, No. 25) for Percy Harvin is most certainly not the same thing as the future first-round pick the Dallas Cowboys gave to the Lions (2009, No. 20) for Roy Williams.
The Seahawks knew what pick they were trading -- the Cowboys did not -- and the Seahawks did not give up a first-round pick for Roy Williams. The Cowboys did. In a fun bit of irony, Percy Harvin was actually taken with the 22nd pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, two selections after the Cowboys should’ve picked.
Trying to arbitrarily assign a number based on Dallas' first pick (No. 69 overall in 2009) doesn’t make sense though. Instead, we circled back to our draft-slot value from Monday’s piece to plug in a reasonable value for additional first-round picks lost or gained via trade. This isn't a perfect solution but it gives us a consistent value for lost and gained first-round picks we can plug in.
Starting from the left side and moving right you basically get an idea of the most aggressive teams in the first round of the NFL Draft over the past five years.
Again, you can't pin an identity on a franchise with these numbers; front-office turnover is all over the place here.
A few things that stand out:
Now we see how aggressive Dimitroff and the Falcons really are. They flew up and grabbed Julio Jones, found themselves without a first-round pick the next year because of that deal and moved up to nab Desmond Trufant in 2013.
Dimitroff still wasn't as aggressive as his friend Les Snead, who overcame a boring first three years from the Rams to guide the good ship St. Louis into first place of our exercise here. He didn't just get more first-round picks; he was aggressive in moving all over the place for them.
The Chicago Bears stood pat the past three years. It's the Jay Cutler deal (executed by a previous regime) and the subsequent loss of multiple first-round picks that puts them this high.
Interesting how conservative Indianapolis looks: Ryan Grigson is an aggressive GM, but couldn't move the first year he was in charge and has three years of Bill Polian drafting on the chart here.
When people say the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers don't trade, they aren't joking.
If you think the Redskins weren’t given enough credit on the graph for their Robert Griffin III trade (and likewise with the Rams) wait until after 2014, when the No. 2 pick changes hands.
Next year the Green Bay Packers will probably fall into the bottom right section of this chart. Ted Thompson moving back into the first for Clay Matthews pushes Green Bay into a more aggressive position.
The downside of this format is the way it treats moving in and out of the first round. On the other hand, when you think about just how ludicrous it is to give up a future first-rounder -- particularly when you don’t know what pick it is -- the aggressiveness makes sense.
It's one thing to give up No. 25 for Percy Harvin. That's aggressive. But it's an entirely different ballgame to offer up the rights to a future first-round pick so you can draft Everette Brown in the second round. (This is a thing that actually happened.)
The Redskins are the best example ever though: the RG3 trade looked smart after Year One, when Washington was "only" sacrificing a pick later in the round. Once Snead and Jeff Fisher acquired the talent they've gotten via the deal and then tacked on the No. 2 overall pick in this deep draft? Yeah, doesn't look so great anymore.
Finally, you'll hear a lot about the Houston Texans moving out of the first overall pick over the next couple of days. It's possible they will, especially if they can get a bounty. But feel free to ask Rick Smith about never moving once in the first round the past five years when that smokescreen starts blowing.
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