One of the most enjoyable things to watch (for some who are cynics about the whole concept, like me) leading up to the NFL Draft is how mocks can be rendered out-of-date with a trade. That happened again when the Kansas City Chiefs shipped their first-round pick, among other things, off to the Seattle Seahawks to acquire Frank Clark. It also immediately leapfrogged the recent contract the Dallas Cowboys signed DeMarcus Lawrence to, something that our own R.J. Ochoa detailed earlier. Now, the Chiefs join the Cowboys, the Chicago Bears, the New Orleans Saints, and the Cleveland Browns in having to sit out the first round.
Funny thing about that list. None of the teams looks to be headed in the wrong direction. All but the Browns made the playoffs last year, with both the Chiefs and the Saints getting to the conference championship round. And the Browns are widely seen to be on the rise as they finally have an answer at quarterback in Baker Mayfield, and used that first-round pick to bring in Odell Beckham Jr. to give him a better weapon. That is reminiscent of the Cowboys’ own use of their first-rounder to get Amari Cooper, which paid immediate dividends last season.
Trading away first-round picks was mostly seen as something teams did when they were desperate for answers, such as the deals both the Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles made to get Jared Goff and Carson Wentz in 2016. But none of the teams that have moved out of the first round this year fit that description. Instead, they used that large bit of draft capital to improve what were already good rosters, or at least that is the plan. Chicago and Dallas both have to be happy with their acquisitions (Khalil Mack for the Bears), while the value of Marcus Davenport of New Orleans is still to be fully determined. But pass rushers like him often need a season or two to hit their stride, so he can hardly be called a failure at this point. And Beckham and Clark both have some impressive résumés to give their teams a good deal of confidence.
This seems to be a subtle shift in the perception of the value of a first-round spot. It seems like a notable increase in the number of teams that are making such moves, and based on what we know so far, these seem to have a much higher hit rate than such moves in the past. There have been some real misses before, particularly involving quarterbacks, but none of these moves look bad at all.
We may see even more teams trade out of the first round - there have been rumors that the New England Patriots are considering trading away the 32nd overall pick, for instance - but already the list is unusually long.
In the cases of the Browns, Chiefs, and Cowboys particularly, the timing of the moves seem to reflect their evaluation of this year’s draft class. It is seen as fairly shallow in legitimate first-round talent. The consensus is that there are less than 20 true first-round talents this year, but a very deep group that merit second round consideration. Only the Browns traded away a pick that was likely to see real first-round talent available (17), and it is hard to argue that Beckham, like Cooper in Dallas, is not clearly better than any receiver coming out this year. It helps in the calculations to trade a pick away when it is in the latter part of the round, and the other four teams would have picked at 24 or later if they had stayed in the first.
That makes getting a more known quantity than a prospect out of college more attractive, and it looks like some pretty good organizations are taking that route. The real value of a pick is to improve your roster, and given the landscape of this draft class, it is arguable that all five of this group have done better than they could have with the picks they traded away.
We still have to see how it all plays out, of course, but right now, this looks like smart football talent acquisition. The Cowboys obviously didn’t break new ground with this, but they seem to be closer to the front of a positive trend than not.
On a side note, this is why the draft is so riveting even when you have to sit out the first day until your team gets a chance. There may well be a flurry of trades still to come, and the ripples will travel through the league.
For now, we can gain some optimism. The Cowboys are in some pretty good company in being spectators Thursday night.