NFL Draft: Trading into the top 5. Is it worth it?

By: Nick Citrone (@Pyrollamas)

The 2016 NFL Draft doesn’t doesn’t start until 8 p.m. Thursday, but draft drama is already in full swing with the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles trading a combined 11 picks to the Titans and Browns to move up to #1 and #2 overall, respectfully.  Both franchises hope to land a franchise QB, and given the humongous amount of value each gave up anything less will be failure. 

Unfortunately for the Rams and Eagles, teams that trade up into the top five almost always lose value overall value by doing so.  Using Pro Football Reference's Draft AV metric, six of the seven teams who have traded their way into a top five draft pick since 2000 have ‘lost’ their respective trades.  Even on occasions when the player grabbed has had NFL success, the combined value of picks given away usually outweighs the contribution.  Below is a breakdown of every top-5 trade since 2000 including which teams were involved, which players were picked and who ended up benefitting most.

Trade 1: 2000 Redskins grab All-Pro Chris Samuels, but with significant cost

The first top-five trade since 2000 could rightfully be viewed as a rare ‘win-win’ trade.  The Washington Redskins dealt the 12th and 24th overall selections in the 2000 draft to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for 3rd overall.  The Redskins used the pick to draft elite Alabama OT prospect Chris Samuels, who had not allowed a sack in his final 41 collegiate starts.  Samuels proved to be a great addition to the Redskins with six pro bowl selections in ten seasons with the team.

On the other side of the trade, the 49ers traded the 12th pick to the Jets for the 16th and 48th overall selections and ended up with three selections in lieu of 3rd overall.  The most successful of the three was LB Julian Peterson, who earned two all-pro selections in his five years with the 49ers.  The below graph shows the players taken as a result of the trade and their career AV added to the respective teams.  The gray line shows the average Draft AV added for players taken at each pick between 1999 and 2009.

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Washington Redskins: 62 Total Draft AV; San Francisco 49ers: 80 Total Draft AV

Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster played a combined 8 seasons on the 49ers, with 19 interceptions and 611 tackles between the two.  Washington fans are smart to remember this trade fondly, but in terms of total production added trading down was the optimal strategy.

Winner:  San Francisco 49ers (Traded DOWN)

Trade 2: 2001 Falcons trade to first overall for Vick, but Chargers nab LT at 5

One of the most exciting players in NFL History, Michael Vick reached the NFC Championship game with the Atlanta Falcons in 2004.  However, his promising career in Atlanta was cut short when he was sent to prison in 2007 for dogfighting.  The Atlanta Falcons traded up from #5 to #1 overall in the 2001 draft for the chance to draft Vick, giving San Diego a 2001 3rd round pick, 2002 second round pick, and WR/KR Tim Dwight in addition to their original #5 overall.  The Chargers used the fifth pick on TCU RB LaDainian Tomlinson, whose illustrious NFL career will surely land him in Canton by the end of the decade.

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Atlanta Falcons: 58 Total Draft AV; San Diego Chargers:

Chargers also Received:

Player Pos AV
Tim Dwight WR 14

Vick had some great moments as QB as the Falcons, but with a generational talent in LT and a solid role player in Tim Dwight,  the Chargers win this trade hands down.

Winner: San Diego Chargers (Traded DOWN)

Trade 3: 2003 Jets trade up and miss at DT, Bears not much better

The first round of the 2003 NFL Draft is one both the New York Jets and Chicago Bears would like to forget.  The Jets traded with the Bears to move up to #4 overall for DT Dewayne Robertson, giving Chicago two first round picks (13 and 22) and their fourth round selection.  Dewayne Robertson never lived up to expectations during his four years with the Jets, but he did contribute more than Chicago draft busts Michael Haynes (DE) and Rex Grossman (QB) combined.Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 12.25.53 PM.png

New York Jets: 31 Total Draft AV; Chicago Bears: 43 Total Draft AV

Ultimately it was the contributions of 4th round selection Ian Scott that pushed Chicago past the Jets onto the winning side of the trade, but it was a hollow victory.

Winner: Chicago Bears (traded DOWN)

Trade 4: 2009 Jets trade up for the Sanchize, Browns land Alex Mack

Having not learned their lesson six years prior (everyone else had no team traded into the top five between 2004 and 2008), the New York Jets traded 17 and 52 overall,DE Kenyon Coleman, QB Brett Ratliff and S Abram Elam to the Cleveland Browns and new coach Eric Mangini in exchange for the 5th pick in the draft.  The Jets drafted Mark Sanchez, who won four road playoff game with the Jets in his first two seasons but failed to develop into a starting-caliber quarterback.   Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 12.27.03 PM.pngNew York Jets: 27 Total Draft AV; Cleveland Browns: 67 Total Draft AV

Browns also received:

Player Name Pos AV
Kenyon Coleman DE 14
Abram Elam S 12
Brett Ratliff QB 0

The Browns traded back two more times in the first round, and ended up with seven players in exchange for #5 overall.  The Browns landed six years of elite center play in Alex Mack, but missed with each of the other picks.  Mack alone outperformed Sanchez, making the production from Coleman and Elam icing on the cake.

Winner: Cleveland Browns (Traded DOWN)

Trade 5: 2012 Rams rob Redskins blind in RGIII trade

Desperate for a quarterback and smitten with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, the Redskins traded the Rams three first round picks (2012, 2013, 2014) and their 2002 second round pick to move up four spots and draft Griffin III.  The Rams traded back further with other teams and wound up with seven total selections in exchange for #2 overall.  RGIII had a great first year in Washington, but knee injuries and feuds with coaches ended the partnership after only four seasons.  Players in bold below are still on the active roster of the team that drafted them.

Washington Redskins: 32 Total Draft AV

Year Pick Player Pos Draft AV
2012 2 Robert Griffin III QB 32


St. Louis Rams: 103 Total Draft AV

Year Pick Player Pos Draft AV
2012 14 Michael Brockers DT 28
2012 39 Janoris Jenkins CB 25
2012 50 Isaiah Pead RB 1
2012 150 Rokevious Watkins OG 0
2013 30 Alec Ogletree LB 19
2013 92 Stedman Bailey WR 7
2014 2 Greg Robinson OT 12

The seven Rams selections have already added three times as much value as RGIII, and with Griffin III’s departure from Washington this offseason the difference will only grow.  Four of the Rams selections remain with the team, including WR Stedman Bailey who is currently recovering from a gunshot to the head.

Winner: St. Louis Rams (Traded DOWN)

Trade 6: 2013 Dolphins trade up to #3 for likely bust Dion Jordan

The Miami Dolphins traded up to #3 overall to draft DE Dion Jordan in what would be GM Jeff Ireland’s last season, sending the #12 and #42 overall picks to the Oakland Raiders to do so.  Jordan has struggled mightily in his three seasons with the Dolphins, and is running out of time to turn it around.  The Raiders two selections have also struggled so far, with promising OT Menelik Watson able to play in only 17 of the Raiders 48 games since drafting him due to injury.

Miami Dolphins: 3 Total Draft AV

Year Pick Player Pos Draft AV
2013 3 Dion Jordan DE 3

Oakland Raiders: 15 Total Draft AV

Year Pick Player Pos Draft AV
2013 12 D.J. Hayden CB 9
2013 42 Menelik Watson OT 6

Both teams still have active players from this trade so the result is not set in stone, but it is unlikely the Dolphins will come out on top.

Winner (so far): Oakland Raiders (Traded DOWN)

Trade 7: 2014 Bills buck trend by trading up for Watkins at 4th overall

In the only top-5 trade since 2000 to favor the team moving up (so far), the Buffalo Bills traded up in the 2014 draft to grab Clemson WR Sammy Watkins.  In exchange, the Cleveland Browns received the Bills 2014 and 2015 first round picks and their 2015 fourth round pick.  Watkins had a forgettable first year and a half before exploding in the second half of 2015, totaling 900 receiving yards and 7 TDs in the last 9 games of the season.  Browns selections Gilbert, Erving and Campbell have yet to produce in their combined four seasons, but there is plenty of time for that to change.

Buffalo Bills: 17 Total Draft AV

Year Pick Player Pos Draft AV
2014 4 Sammy Watkins WR 17

Cleveland Browns: 7 Total Draft AV

Year Pick Player Pos Draft AV
2014 8 Justin Gilbert CB 3
2015 19 Cameron Erving OG 2
2015 115 Ibraheim Campbell S 1

The Buffalo Bills lead this trade two years in, and if it holds the Bills will be the first team in the last fifteen years to trade into the top five and add more value than their trade partner.

Winner (so far): Buffalo Bills (Traded UP)


Of the seven teams who have traded into the top five of the NFL Draft since 2000, four have drafted busts (Dewayne Robertson, Mark Sanchez, Robert Griffin III, Dion Jordan).  NFL prospects are extremely unpredictable, which is why quantity almost always surpasses quality (of pick #) and why teams that trade down typically win trades.  The Rams and Eagles hope to buck the trend in 2016, but even if Wentz or Goff finds success at the pro level they may not ‘win’ their respective trades.

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