Draft day trades are an enigma. The packages, deals, and strategy all play out live on the air but also have a presence of spontaneity. Teams are incessantly shopping and jockeying during a 72 hour period to land the best talent they can in a marquee event. It’s what makes the NFL Draft the NFL Draft.
By spreading the draft out to three days, the NFL has created periods of inflated value to spark trades and general interest. One of these inflation points is the beginning of the second round. General managers have had an entire night to regroup, evaluate the available players on the draft board, and work with other general managers to cobble together possible trades.
As a fan, there’s certainly an in-the-moment bias to dislike trading down in the draft. The notion you are purposefully taking a ‘lesser’ player doesn’t immediately sit well. But when you consider the draft more of a lottery than a selection process, you’ll begin to see that teams who can actively and continuously trade back in the draft to amass picks for future drafts tend to find success more frequently.
From a front office perspective, a general manager loves nothing more than value. Telling your fanbase that you got a first rounder at the price of a second rounder soothes the throats of wailing fans across the country. Value is the great lozenge of sorts for general managers.
If two players out of every draft class make it through their first contract, a GM can consider that a solid draft. Sounds pathetic, but consider that the Texans only have three guys left from their 2019 class, two guys likely leaving via free agency from the 2018 class, and Deshaun Watson is the only guy left from the 2017 class. You’ll realize the hit rate is far more rare than you might think.
Conversely, there are simply only a handful of talented players each draft that have the raw skillset to make it in the league. Trading back essentially gives you a worse shot to land one of those prospects, but this year’s draft will be one of deepest in history. 50 or so players stayed an extra year in college due to COVID-19 and improved their draft stock. This will be the most veteran-laden draft we’ve had in probably two decades. Patience could be well rewarded this year.
In terms of draft capital, teams place a point value associated with each draft pick. For example, the Texans’ 3rd overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft has a 2,200-point value, while their second-round pick has a 530-point value. This allows Houston to calculate the points they’ll receive if they make a trade. A good rule of thumb for a GM is that if you are going to trade back, you want to have a net gain of points to offset the potential lost in a player.
As I’ve written about previously, the opportunity to trade the third overall pick is much easier than the second-rounder. Sure, you’ll naturally get less, but it’s easier to stomach for general managers. The only problem this year is that there’s no elite quarterback teams are clamoring for, which means no one will want to trade up to high early in the draft unless someone believes Evan Neal is the next greatest lineman of all-time or Kayvon Thibideaux will be better than Von Miller.
Here are several trades that have occurred at the beginning of the second round in recent years:
- 2021: Denver Broncos (No. 35 and No. 219) – Atlanta Falcons (No. 40 and No. 114) - Atlanta moved back for 566 draft points for Denver to move up five spots for 552 draft points
- 2021: New England Patriots (No. 38) – Cincinnati Bengals (No. 46, No. 122, No. 139) New England secured the year’s best defensive lineman and only lost 6.5 draft points in the process. The Bengals went for two offensive linemen and one defensive lineman.
- 2020: Indianapolis Colts (No. 41) - Cleveland Browns (No. 44, No. 160). The Colts moved up to secure Jonathan Taylor, while the Browns’ consolation prize was Grant Delpit.
- 2019: Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 35 and No. 109) - Oakland Raiders (No. 38, No. 140, and No. 235) The Jaguars took offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor. Jacksonville received 626 draft points while Oakland received just 557.
- 2019: Carolina Panthers (No. 37) - Seattle Seahawks (No. 47 and No. 77)
- 2019: Buffalo Bills (No. 38) - Oakland Raiders (No. 40 and No. 158). Buffalo landed one of my favorite linemen of the draft in Cody Ford.
The Raiders-Jaguars trade is the most interesting, as it’s seemingly the biggest blowout. The Jaguars essentially moved up twice at the cost of a fifth round pick and an early seventh. That’s the type of value the Texans will look for. The Broncos’ trade last year also seams quite plausible; they attached one of their sixth or seventh rounders to their second round pick in return for a pick in the 40s plus an early third.
Overall, if the Texans are to move back from their second round pick, they’ll likely aim to get at least one pick in the fifth round (where they don’t have any selections) and a pick in the nineties to early 100s.