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Cowboys 2011 Draft: Best Options For Trading Down?

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Earlier this week, I took a look at the consensus blue-chip players in the draft, and what the Cowboys might do to acquire one. Looking at the top available players, its readily apparent that most of them, other than Patrick Peterson, Nick Fairley, and perhaps Marcell Dareus, don't fit Dallas in terms of either scheme or need. So, if those guys are off the board, I wondered, what might Dallas do? Pick a top player at an already-stocked position? Reach for a need? Panic and start guzzling Red Bull? Perhaps, but a more viable option would be to trade out of the ninth spot somewhere into the teens.

Indeed, this seems a productive strategy. A recent FanPost asked us to reconsider famed "draft value chart" pioneered by the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys in the early 90s.  To substantiate this claim, the poster, PhilipKDick, refers us to a book titled "Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played And Games Are Won," in which the authors, a finance professor and a writer for Sports Illustrated, attack conventional sports wisdom in myriad arenas. In a chapter on the draft value chart, they turn to two eminent behavioral economists who, dumbfounded by the trades they saw in the 2004 draft, crunched some numbers that revealed the entire league overvalues the top picks in the draft--and all because of Jimmy Johnson's chart. The chart doesn't reflect the true value of draft picks; consequently, the teams that trade down consistently get better value from the trade:

For a franchise willing to ignore conventional wisdom and depart from the chart (or improve it), the payoff can be huge. A team that discovered the chart was flawed--that it overvalued top draft picks--could trade its high picks for many more lower picks. It wouldn't be taking the sexy picks...but as Massey and Thaler's research shows, , it would field better teams and win more games. If you look at the teams that did trade down in the draft or traded current picks for a greater number of future picks, the researchers showed that those teams improved their winning percentage significantly over the four years after each trade.

Over the last decade, two teams in particular went "off the chart," as it were, and created a new model, placing less value on the top picks: the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. Not surprisingly, those two teams have two of the top winning percentages...since 2000.

To download Massey and Thalen's article, go here. Its terrific stuff; I know it convinced me that the optimal strategy, by far, is to trade down--and repeatedly. That said, until NFL teams catch up to the Pats and Eagles (just as the league did to Dallas in the 90s) by adopting their strategy, trades will likely happen according to the old value chart. After the break, I'd like to use that antiquated chart to look at some potential trade down scenarios for the Cowboys. Hopefully, these will be situations in which they can get great value and, ultimately, improve their winning percentage.

I took a look at all the trading partners between 10 and 19. I stopped at 19, figuring a team drafting in the 20s would have to give up the farm to get to #9--either a second and third or a future number one. Unless a team is sold on one of the quarterbacks and needs to jump the Redskins to get him (Cam Newton, anyone?), or finds a blue-chipper at their only position of need still on the board, its unlikely that they’ll trade that far up, given that the talent is more or less evenly distributed throughout the middle of the round.

So, lets look at general possibilities. The closer teams are to the Cowboys pick, the less they’ll have to give up. According to the DVC, the ninth pick is worth 1350 points. I’ve used this useful pick value calculator to figure potential draft pick swaps, assuming that the Cowboys will trade back only if the trade gives them at least a slight points advantage. I’m also assuming that Dallas won't accept a trade involving future draft picks. 

Teams in the middle of the first round will have to give up either a fourth, a third, or a second to get to # 9, as follows:

First and a fourth:

Washington 10 + 141+ 172 (1359.1 points) for Dallas 9 (1350 points)
Houston 11 + 104 + 173 (1359.2) for Dallas 9 (1350)

First and a third:

Detroit 13 + 75 (1365) for Dallas 9 + 210 (1358.4)
St. Louis 14 + 78 + 111 (1372) for Dallas 9 + 171 (1374)
Miami 15 + 79 + 110 + 143 (1353.5) for Dallas 9 (1350)

Note: Minnesota, who owns the 12th pick, has no third rounder, which makes a swap significantly more difficult to engineer.

First and a second:

Jacksonville 16 + 49 + 177 (1431.6) for Dallas 9 + 109 (1426)
New England 17 + 60 + 92 (1382) for Dallas 9 + 171 (1374)
San Diego 18 + 62 + 82 (1364) for Dallas 9 + 202 (1361.6)
NY Giants 19 + 52 + 83 (1430) for Dallas 9 + 109 (1426)

Which of these scenarios is most likely?  This is a tough draft to figure. On one hand, reports have scouts struggling to agree in terms of the grades they are giving players. Consequently, a team might see tremendous value in a guy that others don’t, and engineer a trade way up the ladder to get him. On the other, if most of the guys in the 10-20 range grade out fairly evenly, it seem unlikely that a team is going to give up a second rounder to get a guy with the same grade of the player they could have drafted had they stayed put.

So, I’d bet that the most likely trading partners are the teams in the "third round" tier. Of these, the least likely to trade with Dallas is Miami. The Dolphins don't own a second round pick, and thus would be giving up almost their entire draft (a third, fourth and fifth) to swap firsts. Will either of the other two squads want to move up to # 9? Lets try to correlate Draftek’s team needs for Detroit and St. Louis with the prospects most likely to be on the board when the Cowboys go on the clock.

STL: WR, 4-3 DT, 4-3 OLB, 4-3 DE, FS, CB, OG, OC, SS

Looking at this, its hard to foresee a trade with the Lions taking place. Its unlikely they'd trade up for one of the stud defensive linemen and, although wide receiver is a need, its a low enough priority that I doubt they'd sell out for one when they already have a budding superstar at the position. No middle linebacker or guard would go that high. That leaves CB, OLB and OT as positions for which they might trade up. But its hard to see Dallas passing on the players at those positions that would be worth trading up for: Patrick Peterson, Von Miller and, if his workout gets him into the top ten, Tyron Smith. Indeed, the point of this exercise is to develop contingencies should those guys NOT be available.

The Rams, on the other hand, appear to be a perfect fit. Its easy to envision that they'd want to give up some premium picks to land either one of the top two receivers, A. J Green and Julio Jones, to give Sam Bradford a shiny new weapon, or a top defensive tackle. Its even possible that they'd be interested in trading up for a dropping Robert Quinn or Da'Quan Bowers. In any draft, a staggering variety of trading possibilities exist. If I were a betting man, however, my money for the 2011 edition would be on a Dallas move to # 14. It just makes the most sense.