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 28th pick in the first round of the 2017 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 a 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 three leaked draft boards (2010, 2013, and 2016) that in those three drafts, first-round graded players fell beyond the 28th pick:
- In 2010, the Cowboys' draft board had 23 players with first-round grades, five of whom fell to the 28th pick or beyond: 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 28th pick.
- In 2016, the Cowboys only had 16 players with first-round grades, only two of which lasted beyond the 28th pick: Jaylon Smith (34) and Myles Jack (36)
Three years, three different approaches: In 2010, despite an abundance of first-round graded players still left on the board in 2010, the Cowboys traded up from the 27th to the 24th pick to select Dez Bryant (who was the 12th-ranked player on their board). In 2013, the Cowboys moved down when the number of available players with a first-round grade started to dwindle. In 2016, the Cowboys tried to trade up to the 27th spot for Paxton Lynch (12th-ranked player on their board) but failed and drafted Jaylon Smith instead.
With the 28th pick in 2017, 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.
Even though the 28th pick sits in an area of the draft where you wouldn't expect too much activity, the pick has been involved in some kind of trade activity in more than half of the last 25 drafts. Here's an overview:
12 drafts: no activity
4 drafts: 28th pick was used to trade up in the draft
3 drafts: 28th pick was used to trade down in the draft
3 drafts: 28th pick was included in a trade that involved draft picks and at least one player
2 drafts: 28th pick was traded for a future first
1 draft: 28th pick was part of the trade that sent Bill Parcells from the Patriots to the Jets
There are a few scenarios here that I don't think are worth looking at. The Cowboys are not going to trade for a new head coach, so that scenario's out. A trade involving a player is too hard to model (you'd have to establish a value for that player in terms of draft points), and trading up remains a hypothetical until you know where to trade up to, which we don't know yet.
That leaves trading down and trading for future picks as two scenarios I'd like to look at a little closer. Here are the three trades that saw a team move down from the 28th spot.
|Year||Trade||Team Trading Down||Team Trading Up||Acquired picks
|1995||28 = 41+63||Cowboys||Bucs||2nd and 3rd
28 = 31 + 127
||49ers||Panthers||1st and 4th|
28, 249 = 37, 105, 178
||Chiefs||49ers||2nd, 4th, 6th
The 1995 trade saw the Cowboys swap their 28th pick for a 2nd and 3rd. That's a deal that should be possible on draft day with any number of teams looking to trade back into the first round. The 2004 trade is reminiscent of the Cowboys' 2013 trade, when they moved down to the bottom of the first round with the express intent of securing the fifth-year option for their 1st-round pick, Travis Frederick. That is certainly going to be a consideration for this year as well, but since the Cowboys wouldn't be moving down very far, an extra 4th is probably all they could get in return. Even the 2016 trade above has some charm: it would give the Cowboys a pick at the top of the 2nd and add two picks in the 4th and 6th.
Of course, any of these three trades only make sense if there are no more 1st-round graded players left on the board for the Cowboys, but we've seen in past drafts that there's a good likelihood of that happening. There's also obviously the alternative of staying put at 28 and simply picking the best player left on your board, regardless of what grade you have on that player.
Or you could make like the Patriots and trade for a 1st-round pick in the next draft. The Patriots have done that twice with the 28th pick.
|Year||Trade||Team Trading Down||Team Trading Up||Acquired picks
|2007||28 = 110 + next year's first||Patriots||49ers||4th + 1st|
|2011||28 = 56 + next year's first||Patriots||Saints||2nd + 1st|
The wide disparity in value here is a little concerning. The 28th pick is valued with 660 points in the trade value chart, a pick in the following year's draft is generally valued like a pick in the middle of the next lower round. The value of the 16th pick in the second round is 420 points, so the Patriots got bad value with "only" 494 points in the 2007 trade, and good value with 760 points in 2011.
Even without the points totals, giving up a 1st for a 4th and next year's 1st doesn't feel like a good deal. And neither does dropping to the bottom of the second round, even in exchange for a 1st next year.
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?
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 any type of trade. But if the Cowboys select another All Pro with their first pick, I couldn't care less.