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Peter King: Cowboys “could trade down a few spots” for a center in NFL draft, “they love” one player

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Is it 2013 again for the Cowboys in the NFL draft?

Penn State v Michigan
Cesar Ruiz (#51) of the Michigan Wolverines
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

In today’s Football Morning In America, Peter King published this little blurb that will have many Cowboys fans immediately thinking back to the 2013 draft:

17. DALLAS. “It’s too high for a center,” said one personnel wag, “but they love the Michigan center (Cesar Ruiz), and they could trade down a few spots and still be sure of getting him.” Interesting: a plug-and-play heir to Travis Frederick.

In 2013, the Cowboys famously traded down from the 18th to the 31st spot, drafted Travis Frederick, and netted an extra third in the trade that got them Terrance Williams. The trade received much criticism at the time, but it did get the Cowboys two starters for one pick and served them well.

But can the Cowboys repeat that move successfully?

Every team builds their draft board a little differently, but most teams assign grades based on a player’s projected round in the draft. We know 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 17th pick every single time:

  • In 2010, the Cowboys’ draft board had 23 players with first-round grades, 10 of which fell to the 17th pick or beyond: Mike Iupati (17), Maurkice Pouncey (18), 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 17th 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 17th 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, 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 17th pick in 2020, the Cowboys will almost certainly have their choice of multiple first-round graded players. A strong case can be made for the Cowboys to stay put and simply pick the best player left on their board. But historically, that has not been the modus operandi for the majority of teams who’ve held the 17th pick in the past.

The 17th pick has been involved in some kind of trade activity in more than half of the last 25 drafts, sometimes more than once in the same draft. Here’s an overview:

  • 10 drafts: no activity
  • 5 drafts: 17th pick was used to trade up in the draft
  • 5 drafts: 17th pick was used to trade down in the draft
  • 8 drafts: 17th pick was included in a trade that involved draft picks and at least one player

If Cesar Ruiz is indeed the target, the question becomes how far the Cowboys can move down, and what picks they’ll get in return for moving down. The table below summarizes the five trades over the last 25 years in which the 17th pick was used to trade down.

Year Trade Team Trading Down Value Team Trading Up Value Net Value
2010 17 = 43 + 111 Panthers 950 49ers 542 -408
2009 17 = 19 + 191 Browns 950 Bucs 891 -59
2007 17 = 21 + 86 + 196 Jaguars 950 Broncos 974 34
2002 17 = 18 + 158 Falcons 950 Raiders 929 -21
1999 17 = 20 + 82 + 191 Seahawks 950 Patriots 1046 34
1996 17 = 21 + 91 Seahawks 950 Lions 936 -14

Outside of that 2010 trade between the Panthers and 49ers, the trades here all seem pretty equitable in terms of draft value, so in principle that shouldn’t be an impediment to moving down for the Cowboys. And if they were to garner an extra pick or two in the process, those picks might align well with the Cowboys needs, and the strength of this draft class.

  • Wide receiver: Former NFL scout and current NFL Network draftnik Daniel Jeremiah has said this is the deepest group of receivers he’s ever evaluated, adding he’s given 27 (!!!) prospects a top-three-round grade. With these types of numbers, a range of potential WR3/WR4 prospects with upside will still be available way into Day 3 of the draft.
  • Interior defensive line: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein ranks this as the third most loaded position group in the draft (after WR & OT) and explains that “there is a decent amount of future starters to be found on Day 2 of the draft, with above-average depth available on Day 3.
  • Cornerback: Conversely, the strength at cornerback might only be at the very top, Zierlein explains, but there might be value later in draft: “The position usually gets pushed up the board by need, so look for players to be overdrafted in the second and third rounds. There could, however, be some value in Rounds 4 and 5”.

In a draft largely devoid of interior OL talent, grabbing the top center along with a few extra picks, and investing those extra picks into the strengths of this draft class, might be worth a thought or two.

Cesar Ruiz is currently ranked 39th overall by NFL.com, 43rd by PFF, and 42nd by CBSSports. In 2013, the Cowboys dropped to 31st to get Frederick because they wanted the fifth-year option that comes with a first-round pick.

“We wanted to get [Frederick] in the first round because we wanted five years on him. If you get out of that first round, you don’t get it,” Jones said shortly after the draft. “That’s a big year for an interior lineman if he’s a good one.”

Dropping for Ruiz could be an option again this year, but finding the right trade partner may be difficult. The 49ers are sitting at 31 and have no picks in the second or third round, so they are unlikely to be looking to trade up. Green Bay (30) and Kansas City (32) both have their full complement of picks, but would either team be willing to give up a second and third to move up a dozen or so spots in the first round? Highly unlikely.

The most the Cowboys could hope for, like in 2013, will likely be an extra third-round pick (and maybe a late Day 3 pick additionally) for moving down to the bottom of the first round. And they may end up losing some draft value in the process.

Staying put and simply picking the best player left on your board might be the best way to maximize the value of the 17th overall draft pick.

But 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. In terms of pure draft value, the Cowboys overpaid for Travis Frederick in the 2013 trade, but I’m sure a lot of teams would like to draft a Pro Bowl center ‘too early’.

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.