Two terms make the rounds annually as we begin our draft preparations: 'blue chip prospects' and 'first round grades'.
Blue chip prospects are truly elite talents that are projected to have an immediate impact at the NFL level and are likely to become some of the best players at their position. Depending on your exact definition and the talent available in a given draft, there are roughly between five and nine of these prospects every year, and usually all of them get picked within the top 10 picks of the draft.
As every team starts building their board for the draft, they assign grades to every prospect. We know that the Cowboys usually assign a little over 20 first-round grades per year, and this number also varies according to talent level.
With the fourteenth pick, the Cowboys are sitting somewhere in between the two scales. Unless the Cowboys trade up, the true blue chip prospects will likely all be gone by the time the clock starts ticking for the Cowboys on draft day. At the same time, some of the prospects being discussed as options for the Cowboys might be considered a reach at number 14.
Could this be an early indication that the Cowboys could make some moves on draft day? After the break, we look at historical precedent for trades involving the 14th pick.
The Trade Value Chart, sometimes referred to as the Jimmy Johnson draft chart, is the tool of choice for all draftniks contemplating trades, and teams are reported to use very similar versions of this chart. The chart assigns a point value to each draft pick, making it easier to compare the relative value of draft picks in different rounds. Using the logic of the value chart, the number 14 pick is worth 1,100 points. In case of a trade, the Cowboys should - in principle - look to get an equivalent value from another team in return for the pick.
Fast forward to draft day. The Cowboys are on the clock and the phone is ringing. Norv Turner is desperate for a linebacker. He knows the Eagles, who draft right after the Cowboys in 15th, have their sights set on the highest rated ILB, Luke Kuechly out of Boston College. Turner and the Chargers propose the following trade:
Hypothetical trade scenario
- Dallas trades its 14th pick (value 1,100 points).
- San Diego trades its 18th pick (900 points) & the 79th pick (195 points) to Dallas.
- Dallas gives 1,100 points and gets 1,095 points. Depending on how desperate the Chargers are, the Cowboys could potentially get them to include their 4th or 5th round pick to sweeten the deal, but in this scenario they are happy that somebody stuck it to the Eagles.
Teams try to get an equivalent value in draft day trades, but that doesn't always happen as neatly as in the example above. There are many considerations influencing the value of a pick, from supply and demand, draft strategy, available talent through competitive considerations and many more.
So let's look at how teams have historically valued the number 14 pick, and if that is reflective of the trade value chart. Since 1990, there have been four trade downs from the 14th spot. That's a little thin, so I've added all trades from the 13th spot as well:
|Year||Trade||Team Trading Down||Value||Team Trading Up||Value||Net Value|
|2010||13 = 24, 70, 84||1,150||Eagles||1,075||-75|
|2005||13 = 16, next 3rd*||1,150||1,070*||-80|
|2003||13 = 14, 193||1,150||1,115||-35|
|1997||13, 110 = 18, 91, 116, 181||Oilers||1,224||1,118||-106|
|1996||13 = 18, 83, 201||1,150||Bears||1,087||-63|
|1993||13 = 19, 75||1,150||Eagles||1,090||-60|
|2007||14 +191 = 25, 59, 164||1,116||1,057||-59|
|2002||14 = 15, 110||1,100||1,124||+24|
|2001||14 = 21, 51||1,100||1,190||+90|
|1991||14 = 17, 110||Cowboys||1,100||Patriots||1,024||-76|
[*"next 3rd" is a pick in the following year's draft. These picks are usually valued about one round lower, in this case I've valued the pick at 70 points, the equivalent of a mid fourth-round pick. Here's a nifty online draft pick calculator that can make your life a lot easier if you're into calculating these scenarios.]
The key takeaway here is that historically, trading down from a spot in the early teens (13th & 14th) has mostly resulted in a loss of point values - at least according to the draft value chart. Outside of the two positive trades in the table above, the net point loss historically has been the equivalent of a mid fourth-round pick.
Since 1990, the 13th and 14th picks have been used ten times to trade down, but only five times to trade up. The table summarizes those five trades, and with one big exception, they were all fairly even in terms of trade value.
|Year||Trade||Team Trading Up||Value||Team Trading Down||Value||Net Value|
|2006||12 = 13, 181||1,170||1,200||+30|
|2003||13 = 14, 193||Patriots||1,115||Bears||1,050||+35|
|2003||4 = 13, 22, 116||Jets||1,992||Bears||1,800||-192|
|1994||12 = 13, 144||Jets||1,184||Saints||1,200||+16|
|1993||11 = 14, 83||Broncos||1,275||Browns||1,250||-25|
Of course, a multitude of factors influence the value of a given trade, and the purpose of the draft is not to maximize some hypothetical draft value chart. Trade value does not win games. If you believe you have identified the players that will make a difference to your team, go get them. Make the deal. Do not get hung up on trade value.
With more than 100 days left to go before the draft, we have no idea whether the Cowboys have already set their sights on a couple of football players they believe will make a difference to this team. But once the Cowboys have identified those players, if getting those players means trading down or trading up, so be it.
Just don't let those players get away.