Which teams can maximize trading down

Trading down in the NFL draft to acquire additional picks sounds good in theory.

Sometimes, it's tough finding a trading partner. Other times, sacrificing quality for quantity hurts a team's prospects.

But in every case, making an effort to trade down requires a team to trust its ability to find quality players later in a draft -- often in the middle rounds.

2012 NFC West Picks by Round

This is the range where the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll and John Schneider have fared well since taking over the team before the 2010 draft. The team has used seven fourth- and fifth-round choices during that time, most in the division. Those picks have produced a Pro Bowl safety (Kam Chancellor), a very good starting cornerback (Richard Sherman), a starting linebacker (K.J. Wright) and two players coming off injuries (Kris Durham, Walter Thurmond).

I would expect Durham to make a push for playing time in 2012 and make it tougher for Mike Williams to keep a roster spot.

Arizona has also done well drafting in the fourth and fifth rounds. Sam Acho came on strong as a pass-rushing outside linebacker last season, collecting seven sacks, the second-most for a Cardinals rookie since sacks became an official stat in 1982. Another outside linebacker, O'Brien Schofield, gained momentum as the 2011 season progressed, finishing with 4.5 sacks. Anthony Sherman met expectations as a starting fullback while John Skelton finished the season with four fourth-quarter comeback victories.

I've included in the chart below information for St. Louis, but the Rams have new leadership, so those choices tell us nothing about the team's ability to maximize draft choices in the middle rounds. The San Francisco 49ers have used only two picks in the fourth and fifth rounds since 2010. They have one in each round this year.

Overall, I'd say Seattle and Arizona have done well enough in the middle rounds recently to consider trading back in the draft to acquire additional picks in that range. It's a little early to make any declarations about the 49ers or Rams along those lines.

Hitting on picks in this range provides insurance against the occasional whiffs early in a draft, while also building critical depth.

2010-2011 NFC West Drafts: Fourth-Fifth Rounds