Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Looking Back at Notable Draft Moves, Part One

Something that always generates buzz on, or just before, NFL draft day is when a team makes a move up the board. Every time the likes of Chris Berman or Rich Eisen announce that somebody has traded up in the first round, the talk starts to focus on the top players still on the board and who everyone expects to be the pick.

When a team makes a move up the board, it can have different reasons for doing so. The trick, though, is to ensure you don't give up too much in return to move up the board for a particular player, because you don't want to chase after a player at the risk of hurting chance to improve your depth.

Generally speaking, the best time to move up the board is when you enter the draft with a lot of picks and your depth is in good shape going into the season. And in such cases, it doesn't matter if some of those picks are compensatory picks that can't be traded, because you are most likely using those for depth, anyway. An example: You enter the draft with nine total picks, your regular seven picks you get each year, plus two compensatory picks in the fifth round. Your depth is good, but you have a strong need at one position. So it makes sense to deal your own fifth-round pick -- or even your own fourth-round pick -- to move a few spots up the board in the first or second round, because those two compensatory picks you have in the fifth round still give you the chance to further help your depth.

It becomes riskier to make moves up the board when you don't have many picks, or when you are depleting your depth. Enter the draft with six picks, for example, and trading away two of your later picks to move up the first round can come back to haunt you, because you miss the chance to improve your depth.

Let's take a look back at some of the most notable moves up the board, on or before draft day, in recent years. We'll start by going back 10 years ago, to 2005. I kept the focus on the first round of the draft, and graded moves as either a good move, a bad move, or indifferent, based on the following factors: What the player in question did for the team, how much the team who drafted gave up to move up the board, how many picks the team had when the draft was completed, and what became of the team from that point.

2005: Raiders make multiple draft moves for the 23rd overall pick.

An important point to make first: The Oakland Raiders entered the draft with no first-round pick, having sent that to the Minnesota Vikings the year before to acquire Randy Moss. So they had to do plenty of wheeling and dealing to get back into the first round. They made two trades, two days prior to the NFL draft, to do this.

The first trade was with the New York Jets, in which the Raiders sent their second-round pick, a pair of sixth rounders, and tight end Doug Jolley, to get the Jets' first-round pick (26th overall) and a seventh-round pick. Next, the Raiders took the 26th overall pick they just acquired, sending it and a fourth-round pick, to the Seattle Seahawks to get the 23rd overall pick. After all those moves, they selected cornerback Fabian Washington. When the draft was over, the Raiders had made seven draft selections.

The 2005 season was not a good one for the Raiders, as they finished 4-12, and it wasn't until 2010 that they finished with at least a .500 record. Washington lasted three seasons before being traded to the Ravens, and while Washington was a solid player, he was far from being an impact player. 

Although the Raiders made seven draft selections in 2005, the only one who panned out was linebacker Kirk Morrison. So it's hard to argue that the moves benefited the Raiders to any degree. Thus, there's only one to grade this wheeling and dealing: Bad move.

2006: Steelers trade up for the 25th overall pick.

The Pittsburgh Steelers moved up seven spots in the first round, getting this pick from the New York Giants in exchange for the Steelers' first-, third-, and fourth-round selections. The Steelers finished the draft with nine selections. And the player they drafted is one you have probably heard of: wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

The rest of the story goes like this: The Steelers finished the 2006 season 8-8, but two years later, won the Super Bowl. As it turns out, the player they traded up for -- Holmes -- was the Super Bowl MVP, making headlines for keeping his toes inbounds for the game-winning touchdown. Holmes got better in each of his four seasons with the Steelers, catching 79 passes for 1,248 yards in his final year with the team. That was when Holmes made it clear he wanted a new contract, and the Steelers decided to trade him to the Jets for a fifth-round pick. Holmes might not have been an impact player, but the Steelers got plenty out of him, and as for the rest of the 2006 draft, they got a few good years out of offensive guard Willie Colon.

I lean toward this move working out for the Steelers, as they got a fair amount in return and didn't put themselves into a bad situation with the move up the board. Good move.

2007: Jets trade up the 14th overall pick.

The New York Jets were frequent draft-day moves during the Mike Tannebaum years, and 2007 was no exception. On draft day, the Jets sent their first-, second, and fifth-round picks to the Carolina Panthers for Carolina's first- and sixth-round selections. When the draft was over, the Jets made four draft-day selections, and their first-round prize is another guy you probably know about: cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Tannebaum's propensity for moving up the board didn't always work out for him (we'll get to more of that later), but the Jets finished 4-12 that year, then had three straight winning seasons, two with trips to the AFC title game. Revis turned into one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, but became known for wanting to maximize his contract value, which ultimately led to the Jets dealing him to Tampa Bay for a first-round pick in 2013. Things have come full circle, though, as Revis signed with the Jets as a free agent this offseason.

As for the rest of the 2007 draft, the Jets got plenty out of linebacker David Harris, so it wasn't as if that draft really decimated the Jets' long-term prospects. So I lean toward this being a move that worked out for the Jets. Good move.

2007: Broncos trade up for the 17th overall pick.

The Denver Broncos were entering their final years under Mike Shanahan, and the longtime Broncos coach was desperate to get back into the playoffs. So he sent first-, third-, and sixth-round picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars to move up in the first round to select defensive end Jarvis Moss. After the draft was over, the Broncos had made four selections.

The events that unfolded make this draft-day move one of the worst moves -- if not THE worst move -- up the board in Broncos history. The Broncos endured two mediocre seasons before Shanahan was fired, housecleaning ensued under Josh McDaniels (who had one mediocre and one bad season before departing), and history told everyone that the Broncos were only just a few players away from being a playoff team because the AFC West as a whole was mediocre to begin with. Moss had just 3.5 sacks in his first three seasons with Denver, and he played nine games in 2010 before being cut.

The rest of the 2007 draft didn't go so well, either, as offensive tackle Ryan Harris was the only player who became a key contributor. Marcus Thomas did provide us with this highlight as a depth player, but the long-term effects of Shanahan's draft-day move make it clear there's only one grade to give: Bad move.

2008: Jaguars trade up for the 8th overall pick.

The two draft-day moves for 2008 I'll review are related, as each involve the Baltimore Ravens. They provide an exercise of the difference between good teams and bad teams.

Let's get back to the Jacksonville Jaguars: They sent the 26th overall pick, plus two third-round and one fourth-round pick, to move up for the top-10 pick. Smith's selection was defensive end Derrick Harvey. The Jaguars finished the draft with five selections.

The Jaguars were coming off an 11-5 season, so no doubt they were thinking they were just a few players away from a Super Bowl. Instead, the Jaguars finished 5-11, and since that time, have had one .500 season and losing seasons otherwise. Harvey never became an impact player, getting just eight sacks in three seasons with the Jaguars before being waived. On top of that, they got nothing out of their other five picks, other than a fifth-round pick in a 2010 trade for 2008 second-round selection Quentin Groves.

The evidence is clear on this one: Bad move.

2008: Ravens trade up for the 18th overall pick.

So let's go back to that trade the Baltimore Ravens made with the Jaguars: The Ravens moved down from the eighth spot to the 26th spot in the first round, then made a deal with the Texans to move up to the 18th spot. The Ravens sent the 26th overall pick, one of the third rounders they acquired from Jacksonville, and their own sixth-round pick. Once again, the player selected is one you probably know: Joe Flacco. The Ravens made 10 total selections in the draft.

The Ravens went the opposite direction of the Jaguars. They went from 5-11 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008 and have not had a losing record since. Oh yeah, they also won a Super Bowl to close the 2012 season. One can argue whether or not Flacco is an elite quarterback, but he's certainly proved to be a QB the Ravens can build around. And the Ravens did get some mileage out of their 2008 second-round pick, Ray Rice.

The Ravens' wheeling and dealing in the 2008 draft is an example of how good Ozzie Newsome usually is in manipulating the draft board. He got plenty in return for a move down the board, and it allowed him to safely move back up the board for a player he wanted. This one is easy to judge: Good move.

(Note: More reviews of draft day moves in Part Two.)

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