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The Value Of The Cowboys Number Nine Pick

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C.J. Spiller was the number nine pick in 2010. Will the Cowboys stay in the ninth spot in 2011?
C.J. Spiller was the number nine pick in 2010. Will the Cowboys stay in the ninth spot in 2011?

Many draftniks are finding themselves in somewhat of an awkward situation this year as they think about about the Cowboys' number nine pick. The true blue chip prospects will likely be gone by the time the clock starts ticking for the Cowboys on draft day, while none of the prospects at the positions that many feel the Cowboys should target - like O-line and safety - seem to merit a top ten pick.

Granted, all of this is based on very early and very preliminary draft boards, and with slightly less than 100 days to go until the draft, many a prospect can still move up and down the draft boards significantly. Stephen Jones assured fans that the Cowboys will draft the best player available. But after the season-ending win over the Eagles fans also heard Jerry Jones say that a couple of draft spots may not make a difference for the Cowboys: 

“I would rather have the positive of the last game win than three or so slots in the draft. We may end up with the same player anyway.” 

Who might that “same player anyway” be? Is this a hint that Jerry is already thinking about trading down, and if so, what is the historical precedent for the value of the number nine 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 nine pick is worth 1,350 points. In case of a trade, the Cowboys should 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. Jacksonville wants to move up from the 16th pick to get to a quarterback ahead of the Washington Redskins, who draft in the 10th spot. They propose the following trade:

Hypothetical trade scenario

  • Dallas trades its 9th pick (value 1,350 points).
  • Jacksonville trades its 16th pick (1,000 points) & the 49th pick (410 points) to Dallas.
  • Dallas gives 1,350 points and gets 1,410 points. The Cowboys have a slight advantage in the deal, but takes advantage of the fact that the Jaguars absolutely had to move ahead of the Redskins.

This hypothetical example illustrates two points. One, teams strive to get an equivalent value in draft day trades. Two, that doesn't always happen. There are many considerations influencing the value of a pick, from supply and demand all the way through potential savings in signing bonuses that can go into the millions.

So let's look at how teams have historically valued the number nine pick, and if that is reflective of the trade value chart. Since 1980, there have been only two trade downs from the ninth spot that involved draft picks only and not any players - an important consideration given that player trades will not be possible without a new CBA in place. To beef up the base data, I have therefore added all draft-pick-only trades from the 8th and tenth spot as well:

Year Trade Team Trading Down Value Team trading up Value
2008 8 = 26, 71, 89, 125 Ravens 1400 Jaguars 1127
1992 8 = 19, 46, 104 Patriots 1400 Falcons 1401
1991 8 = 17, next 1st* Packers 1400 Eagles 1550
1996 9 = 17, 48, 109 Oilers 1350 Raiders 1446
1981 9 = 20, 52, 105 Redskins 1350 Rams 1314
2000 10 = 15, 45 Broncos 1300 Ravens 1500
1995 10 = 30, 94, 119, next 1st* Browns 1300 49ers 1400
1980 10 = 16, 71 Bills 1300 Seahawks 1235

*"next 1st" indicates picks in the next year's draft. These picks are given in lieu of a pick one round lower in the current season. A 2011 2nd rounder = a 2012 1st rounder, a 2011 3rd rounder = a 2012 2nd rounder, and so on. They do not have a value in the draft value chart, and in the example above I have valued them at 600 points, the value of the 31st 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, there have been significant differences in how these picks are valued. The draft value chart is a good first indicator, but many other factors can influence the value of the trade. If the Cowboys do trade down, don't judge the trade by draft value alone.

The purpose of the draft is not to maximize some hypothetical draft value chart. The purpose of the draft is to make sure you get the players you want and that give you the best chance of winning. 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. Trade value does not win games.

The Cowboys went after the players they wanted last year, trading up twice to get Dez Bryant and Sean Lee. The Cowboys may already have their eyes set on a couple of football players they believe will make a difference to this team. If that means trading down, so be it. Just don't let those players get away.