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The Value Of The Cowboys' 2014 Draft Pick

The Cowboy will pick either 16th or 17th in the 2014 draft. We take a look at the history of those picks in terms of draft-day trades and wonder whether the Cowboy should stay put or not.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There are exactly 129 days to go until Thursday, May 8, 2013. On that Thursday four months and eight days from today, the 2013 NFL Draft will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York. With the Dallas Cowboys 2013 football season having come to a close, it's time to start preparations for that event, starting with a look at the Cowboys' 2014 draft pick.

As we begin our annual draft preparations, two terms will continually make the rounds: '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 of the term - 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.

Since Baltimore and Dallas finished with the same record and the same strength of schedule, a coin flip at the combine will determine which team gets the 16th and which team gets the 17th pick. With either of those picks, the Cowboys are probably out of reach of a true blue-chip prospect, because not only will the blue chippers all be long gone by the time the clock starts ticking for the Cowboys on draft day, but also because trading up into the top ten will likely be prohibitively expensive. At the same time, the Cowboys have never been averse to making moves on draft day as we saw once again last year.

To get a better feel for the Cowboys' 16th/17th pick, we look at the historical precedent for trades involving those two picks.

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 16th/17th picks are worth 1,000/950 points respectively. In case of a trade, the Cowboys should - in principle - look to get an equivalent value from another team in return for the pick.

But the reality of draft-day trades is that teams don't always get an equivalent value for their picks. There are many considerations influencing the value of a pick, from supply and demand, draft strategy, different trade value charts, available talent through competitive considerations and many more.

So let's look at how teams have historically valued the number 16 and 17 picks, and if that is reflective of the trade value chart. Since 1993, there have been only nine trade downs from the 16th/17th spot.

Year Trade Team Trading Down Value Team Trading Up Value Net Value
2004 16 = 28, 58 49ers 1,000 Eagles 980 20
2003 16 = 27, 92, 200 Chiefs 1,000 Steelers 824.4 175.6
2001 16 = 19, 111, 181 Steelers 1,000 Jets 967 33
1994 16 = 20, 89 Packers 1,000 Dolphins 995 5
2009 17 = 19, 191 Browns 950 Buccaneers 891 59
2007 17 = 21, 86, 198 Jaguars 950 Broncos 973 -23
2002 17 = 18, 158 Falcons 950 Raiders 929 21
1999 17 = 20, 82, 191 Seahawks 950 Patriots 1,046 -96
1996 17 = 21, 91 Lions 950 Seahawks 936 14

Note that I've only looked at pick-for-pick trades on draft weekend. There were a couple of trades with the 16th and 17th picks involving player trades or future picks that are simply too hard to quantify in terms of value.

One takeaway here is that historically, trading down from a spot in the high teens (16th & 17th) has generally been favorable for the team trading down, at least according to the net points from the draft value chart. Importantly though, each one of those trade downs has netted extra picks for the team trading down, and not once did the team trading down trade out of the first round completely.

Also note that there are four trades here where a team moved down by three or four spots - likely staying within the ranks of the first-round graded players - and got an extra third-rounder in return. Might that be an option for the Cowboys this year, or should they instead be looking to trade up? Since 1993, the 16th and 17th picks have been used six times to trade up. The table below summarizes those six trades.

Year Trade Team Trading Up Value Team Trading Down Value Net Value
8, 71 = 16, 46, 78, 222 Rams
10 = 16, 49
12 = 16, 48
2008 15, 76 = 17, 66, 136 Chiefs 1,260 Lions 1,248 -12
2003 6, 37, 102 = 17, 18, 54 Cardinals 2,222 Saints 2,210 -12
1996 9 = 17, 48, 109 Raiders 1,350 Oilers 1446 96

Perhaps more important than the net values in this table is the overall price in terms of picks required to trade up into the top twelve: Every single trade required the team trading up to give up its second-round pick, similar to the Cowboys' trade up for Morris Claiborne in 2012 (6 = 14, 45). That's probably too high a price to pay for a team like the Cowboys, who need every available pick (and more) to shore up a team short on talent.

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.

The Cowboys are starting their self-evaluations today, and with a little over four months 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 we know that they are not averse to draft-day deals. In 2010 the Cowboys went after the players they wanted, trading up twice to get Dez Bryant and Sean Lee. In 2011, they stayed put and let Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray come to them. In 2012 they moved up for Claiborne and last year they were rewarded for trading down by getting the Travis Frederick/Terrance Williams combo.

Historically, the late teens have not seen a lot of trade activity. Perhaps because they are in a position where the first-round-graded players are beginning to thin out, so trading down can be risky. At the same time, trading up into the ranks of the blue-chippers is probably too expensive. Absent a clearer understanding of which players will be available at which spots come draft day, it's hard to make a case for or against trading either up or down. Though if the Cowboys could swing a deal that nets them an extra third-rounder for moving down a handful of picks, that may be the best option for a team that needs more draft picks, not less.

Then again, the 16th and 17th picks have been good for the Cowboys. The five picks they've had in those spots have netted them two Hall of Famers (Mel Renfro, 1964; Emmitt Smith, 1990), a five-time Pro Bowler (LB E.J. Holub, 1961) as well as All-Pro CB Kevin Smith (1992) and DT Kevin Brooks (1985).

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