As part of an occasional series, Fanspeak will offer tips and best practices for its wildly popular and first-of-its-kind On The Clock draft simulator.
Today’s topic: The good and bad when it comes to trading down.
See if this scenario sounds familiar.
Your team desperately needs a player at a certain position. This player either needs to be a walk-in starter or, at the very least, needs to be a major contributor his rookie year.
In other words, you need to draft that player in the first round.
But when it’s your turn to draft, the only players left who fit that bill have either been drafted already or are Day 2-type players.
Further complicating matters: A really solid prospect has slipped to your spot in the draft, but it’s not at a position of need. In fact, drafting that player might be considered a luxury, given your other needs.
This type of scenario plays out every draft, and the 2020 NFL draft is no different.
In fact, the much-ballyhooed wide receiver class could really complicate matters. Take Dallas, for example, which has the No. 17 pick in the first round.
Dallas needs a cornerback after Byron Jones signed with Miami in free agency and with Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie in the final years of their contracts. The team also needs a safety, a defensive end (after Robert Quinn signed with Chicago) and a defensive tackle.
But you figure the Cowboys could find a starting safety or tackle in the second and even third rounds. Because cornerback is the more premium position, Dallas then sets its sights on C.J. Henderson of Florida. Yes, LSU’s Kristian Fulton, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs and the local player, TCU’s Jeff Gladney should all be available, too, but … pick no. 17 overall is probably too high for that trio.
Then disaster strikes.
Atlanta, with pick No. 16, drafts Henderson.
But, there’s a consolation prize, and it’s a big one: still sitting there, at pick No. 17, is none other than “Amari Cooper clone” Jerry Jeudy, the star Alabama receiver.
This is a fairly realistic possibility, too, as Henderson has been mocked to Atlanta by multiple draft analysts, while the Alabama receiver may be slipping – and Jeudy has been a popular pick for Dallas recently in #drafttwitter.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) March 3, 2020
Dallas could still land a probable Day 1-starter in Fulton, Diggs or Gladney. You can throw in a few other names at pick 17, too, like Clemson’s A.J. Terrell and Auburn’s fast-rising Noah Igbinoghene.
But taking any of those players over Jeudy might cause a riot among Dallas fans.
These types of scenarios are among the reasons why we love playing Fanspeak’s On The Clock draft simulator.
In reality, though, these are the types of scenarios that can get a general manager fired.
The easy answer, of course, is to trade down to pick up more draft capital. Yes, that’ll mean passing up Jeudy, but you’d be getting a starting CB for better value while picking up more draft picks.
That’s always the quick and easy answer, at least, when playing the OTC simulator. Back to reality: Trading down isn’t easy.
For one, you need a willing trade partner, and the return needs to be good enough to justify the move.
So, for example, if New England signs a solid Tom Brady replacement – Teddy Bridgewater? – the Patriots may be interested in trading all the way up to No. 17 to take a receiver.
Going by Drafttek’s NFL Trade Value Chart, the best return for both teams has Dallas sending its pick at No. 17 to New England for pick No. 23 and its two late third-round picks, nos. 98 and 100 overall.
So, going by the Fanspeak-Jake big board, Dallas would essentially be trading Jeudy for Alabama CB Trevon Diggs, Utah DL Leki Fotu and Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam, while still leaving the possibility of drafting a defensive end (Boise State’s Curtis Weaver) and a safety (Texas’ Brandon Jones) in the second and third rounds.
Despite losing Jeudy, this still sounds like a solid return, right?
— WMG (@wmg21) March 17, 2020
The problem, though, is New England (or another team) has to be willing to make that trade, or at least a comparable one.
The other problem with the trade-down is the risk it presents. Now armed with New England’s pick at No. 23, say Dallas plans on taking one of those “tier 2-but-still-starting-caliber-cornerbacks” in round 1: Diggs, Fulton or Gladney.
However, the three teams above them – Jacksonville at No. 20, Philadelphia at No. 21 and Minnesota at No. 22 — have all been linked to a cornerback in round 1. Translation: Don’t assume any of them are still available when Dallas goes on the clock.
Now, Dallas is left without its preferred starting CB and potentially passed on a future Pro Bowl receiver, all to pick up a couple of late third-round picks.
When this situation comes up while playing On The Clock, you have to carefully weigh the return you’re receiving versus the value of the player or players you’re passing up. Are three players better than one? Not if two of those players barely play while the player you passed up flourishes.
However, if the talent gap for a player at a position of need isn’t that substantial between rounds 1 and 2 – and you’re confident you can still land one of those players at a position of need – then the trade down should be considered.
You also need to consider why a highly ranked player is slipping. For every Aaron Rodgers and Warren Sapp who falls in the draft, there are far more players like Arden Key, Randy Gregory, Robert Nkemdiche and Sharrif Floyd.
Bottom line? There’s usually a good reason why a player is falling in the draft.
So even if a highly ranked player falls to your slot in the draft but doesn’t play at a position of need, it’s probably a safe – and maybe smart – move to trade down, as long as the return is fair.
Jake Rigdon covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.