Two terms will be ubiquitous over the next four months as we got through our annual draft preparations: '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 expected 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.
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 19th pick every single time:
- In 2010, the Cowboys' draft board had 23 players with first-round grades, eight of which fell to the 19th pick or beyond: Jermaine Gresham (21), Bryan Bulaga (23), Dez Bryant (24), 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 five fell beyond the 19th pick: Tyler Eifert (21), Sharrif Floyd (23), Bjoern Werner (24), Xavier Rhodes (25) and Cordarrelle Patterson (29).
- In 2016, the Cowboys only had 16 players with first-round grades, four of which lasted to the 19th pick: Shaq Lawson (19), Paxton Lynch (26), 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 from No. 18 when the number of available players with a first-round grade started to dwindle. In 2016, the Cowboys tried to trade up to the 26th spot for Paxton Lynch (12th-ranked player on their board) but mercifully failed and drafted Jaylon Smith instead.
With the 19th pick in 2018, the Cowboys will have their choice of multiple first-round graded players. In fact, the 19th pick sits in an area of the draft where you wouldn't expect too much draft day activity, as we saw that there will be multiple first-round graded players left on the board at No. 19.
A strong case can be made for the Cowboys to stay put and simply pick the best player left on their board. Historically, that has been the modus operandi for the majority of teams who've held the 19th pick in the past, but can the Cowboys sit still and let the draft come to them?
The 19th pick has been involved in some kind of trade activity in less than half of the last 25 drafts (and was actually moved twice in the 2009 draft). Here's an overview:
- 14 drafts: no activity
- 5 drafts: 19th pick was used to trade down in the draft
- 3 drafts: 19th pick was used to trade up in the draft
- 2 drafts: 19th pick was included in a trade that involved draft picks and at least one player (including the Cowboys' Joey Galloway trade)
- 2 drafts: 19th pick was part of a package for a future first
If the Cowboys trust their draft board, trading down only makes sense if there are no more first-round graded players left on the board, and we've seen that there's almost no chance of that happening. Picking 19th, staying put and simply picking the best player left on your board might be the best way to maximize the value of that draft pick.
Of course, the purpose of the draft is not to maximize some hypothetical draft value. 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 the draft still a long way off, 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.