The case for not trading down in draft

Everyone wants their team to trade down.

I get more e-mails at this time of year asking me about the possibility of the Jaguars trading out of the No. 10 spot in the NFL draft in hopes of getting more. The same kinds of questions come from Titans fans hoping their team will opt out of selecting 16th overall. Texans fans (No. 20) and Colts followers (No. 31) aren’t averse to the idea of trading down, either.

So I am here to tell you, while trading up is often too expensive, trading down is often overrated.

For starters, to get down, you need a team that wants to move up.

“Sitting in the draft room for many years, I think those are conversations that always come up: 'Well, wouldn’t it be nice to move back and pick up a couple other picks?'" Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “Well in that 10 minutes or whatever you have before that pick, if you’re not a hot commodity at that time and nobody wants to talk to you, you better be ready to do business.

“I think it’s probably a hell of a lot easier said than done.”

Said Jacksonville GM Gene Smith in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders: “My mindset is to acquire picks. If we’re able to do that, I’ll have a smile on my face.”

But even if you have a lot of needs, like Smith, is that the right route?

Let’s look at the recent trade-down history of our four teams and then assess. We’re considering just picks-for-picks trades, not moves that include veteran players.

In the last six years, with the help of Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information and prosportstransactions.com, here are first-round trade-downs in the division.


2008 -- Traded with Baltimore

Gave: No. 18 in first round (quarterback Joe Flacco)

Got: No. 26 pick in first round (offensive tackle Duane Brown), a third-round pick (86th overall, running back Steve Slaton) and a sixth-round pick (173rd overall, defensive back Dominique Barber)

Value chart says: Ravens, 900-883.2 points

Assessment: Baltimore got its quarterback and Flacco is clearly the most valuable player of all of these. The Texans got their left tackle (Brown), a skill player who’s had one great year and one terrible season (Slaton) and some shaky secondary depth (Barber).

2005 -- Traded with New Orleans

Gave: No. 13 in first round (offensive tackle Jammal Brown)

Got: No. 16 in first round (defensive tackle Travis Johnson) and a third-round pick in 2006 (66th overall, offensive tackle Eric Winston)

Value chart: Texans, 1,260-1,150. (That link is to an NFL-style draft value chart like the ones teams use to measure trade values.)

Assessment: Brown has been a Pro Bowler twice and an All-Pro once. Johnson underachieved and was traded. Winston is a very solid starter, but the Saints got more bang here, I think.


Sidenote: The Colts gave up their 2008 first-rounder and their 2007 fourth-rounder to get the 2007 second-rounder from San Francisco they used to draft offensive tackle Tony Ugoh. That can be classified in different ways. I see it more as the Colts going up to get Ugoh, so I don’t use it as a trade-down scenario here.

2004 --Traded with Atlanta

Gave: No. 29 in the first round (wide receiver Michael Jenkins) and a third-round pick (90th overall, quarterback Matt Schaub)

Got: No. 38 in the second round (traded to Steelers for a second-round pick, 44th overall, Bob Sanders and fourth-round pick, 107th overall, linebacker Kendyll Pope), a third-round pick (69th overall, linebacker Gilbert Gardner), and a fourth-round pick (125th overall, cornerback Jason David)

Value chart says: Colts, 845-780

Assessment: A double-trade down netted the Colts Sanders. He may miss way too many games due to injuries, but he won a defensive player of the year award and keyed a Super Bowl team. But Schaub sure proved to have value for Atlanta when Houston came calling a couple years later.


2007 -- Traded with Denver

Gave: No. 17 in first round (defensive end Jarvis Moss)

Got: No. 21 in first round (safety Reggie Nelson); a third-round pick (86th overall, traded to Baltimore for a fourth-round pick, 101st overall , a fifth-round pick, 166th overall, and a sixth-round pick 203rd overall); and a sixth-round pick (198th overall, traded to Atlanta as part of package for a fifth-rounder, 149th overall, guard Uche Nwaneri). Punter Adam Podlesh and defensive tackle Derek Landri came out of that trade with Baltimore, with the 203rd pick also going to Atlanta in the trade that got Jacksonville Nwaneri

Value chart says: Jaguars 973.2-950 (not factoring in trades of other picks involved)

Assessment: They did OK, but if Nelson continues on his current course, we'll remember them failing with another first-rounder.


2004 -- Traded with Houston

Gave: No. 27 in the first round (defensive end/outside linebacker Jason Babin) and a fifth-round pick (159th overall, traded to Jacksonville)

Got: No. 40 in the second round (tight end Ben Troupe), a third-round pick (71st overall, defensive tackle Randy Starks), a fourth-round pick (103rd overall, defensive end Bo Schobel), and a fifth-round pick (138th overall, guard Jacob Bell)

Value chart says: Titans, 860-708.8

Assessment: On draft day, it looked like a monster win for Tennessee and in time, because Babin busted, it still leaned their way. But for the Titans, only Bell was a consistent performer. It’s easy to look back on drafts and play what if, I know, but what if the Titans or the Texans had used No. 27 on Sanders or Karlos Dansby or Chris Snee?


Let’s emphasize this is not scientific and it's not a very big sample size.

Still, these five deals produced just one player we’d rate as stellar, and Sanders has major injury issues. They also yielded AFC South teams a left tackle who still has to prove himself (Brown), a defensive tackle who busted (Johnson), a free safety whose second year was very poor (Nelson) and a tight end who’s out of the league (Troupe).

Trading down doesn’t always produce the yield everyone imagines. One very good player is better than a couple who rank a notch below. The chance at that player is typically better where you are, not lower than that.

So if the Jaguars see someone they like a lot at 10 or if the Titans see someone they like a lot at 16, they should jump, not dump.