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The Value Of The Cowboys' 2015 Draft Pick: The History Of The 27th Pick In Draft-Day Trades

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108 days to go until Thursday, April 30, 2015. On that Thursday three months and 18 days from today, the 2015 NFL Draft will be held at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. With the Cowboys' 2014 football season having come to a close, it's time to start preparations for that event, starting with a look at the Cowboys' number 27 pick.

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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.

With the Cowboys owning the 27th pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, those blue chip prospects are out of reach of the Cowboys - barring a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious meltdown in the war room.

Every team builds their draft board a little differently, but most of them assign grades based on player's projected round in the draft. We know that the Cowboys usually assign around 20 first-round grades per year, a number that will vary with the specific talent level of each draft class. We know from the Cowboys two leaked draft boards (2010 and 2013) that in those two drafts, first-round graded players fell beyond the 27th pick:

  • In 2010, the Cowboys' draft board had 23 players with first-round grades, five of whom fell beyond the 27th pick: Jared Odrick (28), Kyle Wilson, (29), Jahvid Best (30), Sean Lee (55), NaVorro Bowman (91).
  • In 2013, the Cowboys had 18 players with first-round grades, and only Cordarrelle Patterson (29th) fell beyond the 27th pick.

Interestingly, despite an abundance of first-round graded players still left on the board in 2010, the Cowboys moved up from the 27th to the 24th pick to select Dez Bryant (who was the 12th-ranked player on their board). And in 2013, the Cowboys moved down when the number of available players with a first-round grade started to dwindle.

With the 27th pick in 2015, the Cowboys could very well find themselves in a situation where the supply of players with a first-round grade is rapidly drying up, which might prompt the Cowboys to make moves on draft day once more - in either direction.

To get a better feel for the value of the Cowboys' 27th pick, we look at the historical precedent for trades involving the 27th 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 27th pick is worth 680 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.

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, competitive considerations and many more.

The most remarkable aspect of the 27th pick is the relative absence of trade activity for this pick. In the 25 drafts since 1991, it has only been involved in trade activity in eight drafts, a fairly low number. Here are the two instances in which teams traded down from the 27th pick:

Year Trade Team Trading Down Value Team Trading Up Value Net Value
1999 27 = 39, 70, 142 Dolphins 680 Lions 785 105
2004 27, 159 = 40, 71, 103, 138
Titans 709 Texans 860 151

Note that I've only looked at pick-for-pick trades on draft weekend. There were two trades with the 27th pick involving a player trade (2000: Keyshawn Johnson from the Jets to the Bucs) or future picks (2011: Atlanta traded multiple picks to move up for Julio Jones) that are simply too hard to quantify in terms of value.

Based on the very small sample size of two drafts, trading down from the 27th spot has been favorable for the team trading down, at least according to the net points from the draft value chart. 105 points are the equivalent of the 99th pick in the draft; 155 points equal the 88th pick. Just as important, each one of those trade downs netted two extra picks for the team trading down.

Might that be an option for the Cowboys this year, or should they instead be looking to trade up? Since 1991, the 27th pick has 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
1999 24 = 27, 134 49ers 719 Dolphins 740 21
2003 16 = 27, 92, 200 Steelers 824 Chiefs 1,000 176
2010 24, 119 = 27, 90 Cowboys 820 Patriots 796 -24
2011 21 = 27, 70 Browns 920 Chiefs 800 -120
2012 21 = 27, 93 Patriots 808 Bengals 800 -8
2014 20 = 27, 91 Saints 816 Cardinals 850 34

Perhaps more important than the net values in this table is the fact that (with the exception of the 2010 Cowboys/Patriots trade) the team trading up had to give up more picks than the team trading down.

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 too much. Remember how the Cowboys supposedly overpaid for Travis Frederick in the 2013 trade? Yeah, right. Here's a Redskins fan commenting while watching Frederick playing against the Saints

"And everyone was clowning on them for taking Frederick "too early". I wish we would draft a Pro Bowl center 'too early'."

The Cowboys are starting their self-evaluations this week, and with a little over three months to go before the draft, we have no idea whether the Cowboys have already set their sights on a few football players they believe will make a difference to this team, but we know that they are not averse to draft-day deals, just as they can be content to stay put.

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. But if the Cowboys select another All Pro with their first pick, I couldn't care less.