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The Short History Of The Cowboys 4th Pick In Draft-Day Trades

The Cowboys' 2015 football season has come to a close, so it's time to begin preparations for the draft, starting with a look at the Cowboys' number 4 pick.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

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 4th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, there should be multiple blue chip prospects waiting for the Cowboys on draft day, and there might even be a player with a first-round grade available to the Cowboys with their 34th overall pick.

Every team builds its draft board a little differently, but most teams 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) and other information that has made its way out of Valley Ranch over time, that players with first-round grades occasionally fall out of the first round.

  • In 2003, the Cowboys had a first-round grade on Jason Witten but took him in the third.
  • In 2009, at least two players with a first-round grade fell out of the first round: Max Unger (49) and LeSean McCoy (53).
  • In 2010, the Cowboys' draft board had 23 players with first-round grades, two of whom fell beyond the 34th pick: Sean Lee (55) and NaVorro Bowman (91).
  • In 2013, the Cowboys had 18 players with first-round grades and none fell to the second round, with Cordarrelle Patterson (29th) coming closest.

With their No. 4 overall pick, the Cowboys are in a great position to select a blue chip player. But the Cowboys could also very well find themselves in a situation where they receive some interesting trade proposals from teams eager to move up in the draft.

The Cowboys have been involved in draft day trades in 25 of their 27 drafts under Jerry Jones. You may not like it, but the Cowboys are going to move around in the draft, that's almost a given. The only two years in which the Cowboys managed to keep their feet still on draft weekend were 2000 and 2011.

To get a better feel for the value of the Cowboys' 4th overall pick, we look at the historical precedent for trades involving the 4th 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 4th pick is worth 1,800 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 4th pick is the relative absence of trade activity for this pick. In the 26 drafts since 1990, it has only been involved in trade activity in four drafts, a fairly low number. Here are the four trades involving the fourth overall pick (Note that I've only looked at pick-for-pick trades on draft weekend):

Year Trade Team Trading Down Value Team Trading Up Value Net Value
1992 4 + 58 = 6 + 28 + 84 Bengals 2,120 Redskins 2,430 +310
2003 4 = 13 + 22 +116 Bears 1,800 Jets 1,992 +192
2012 3 = 4 + 118 + 139 + 211 Vikings 2,200 Browns 1,902 -298
2014 4 = 9 + 115 + next 1st* Browns 1800 Bills 1,884 +84

*A pick in the following year's draft is generally valued one round lower. In this case, I've valued it with 420 points, the value of the 16th pick in the second round.

Based on the very small sample size of just four drafts, it looks like the fourth overall pick is not a popular trading commodity. For one thing, it's a fairly expensive pick, netting two first-round picks in each of the three instances where teams traded up to the fourth spot. Another aspect is that the teams picking fourth overall are pretty sure they are drafting a blue-chip prospect, and no amount of hypothetical draft value is going to outweigh that.

And while there isn't too much to be gleaned from the last 26 drafts in terms of trade activity, it is interesting to see which positions were picked with the fourth pick since 1990:

Positions picked with No. 4 overall pick since 1990
Position WR
Number of picks 6 6 4 4 3 1 1 1

It doesn't make a lot of sense for the Cowboys to pick a tackle with their top pick. Which leaves WR (Laquon Treadwell?), DE (Joey Bosa?), and LB (Myles Jack?) as the historically most likely positions for the Cowboys. Then again, if you look at some of the guys historically drafted at the other positions like DB (Charles Woodson) or QB (Philip Rivers), nobody would object to getting that type of quality either.

Every draft class is different, and a multitude of factors influence the value of a given pick. The Cowboys are starting their self-evaluations this week, and with almost four months to go until 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, so they could well move around during the draft. But we also know that there are bound to be some pretty good players available if they stay put.

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