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What do recent years show about Round 1 trade value?

Andrew Mason Avatar
April 17, 2020

Befitting someone who put his name on a successful string of automobile dealerships, John Elway has not been shy about his willingness to make a deal at draft time.

Last year’s trade down with Pittsburgh from No. 10 to No. 20 allowed the Broncos to gain extra draft capital for this year (a third-round pick) and a second-round pick (No. 52 overall) they used to move up and take quarterback Drew Lock. It marked the fourth draft in which Elway traded his first-round pick, with that deal joining trades in 2012, 2015 and 2016.

One should never take their eye off Elway looking to make a deal. The remote nature of the 2020 NFL Draft will not change that.

But what can other recent pick-for-pick trades show?

Using the draft-pick value chart posted by Drafttek.com, let’s take a look at what first-round trades in the last five years reveal and what it could mean for the Broncos next week.

WHAT WOULD IT COST TO MOVE UP?

Two years ago, the Arizona Cardinals moved up from the No. 15 slot, going to the 10th overall pick to take quarterback Josh Rosen. The then-Oakland Raiders received third- and fifth-round picks (Nos. 79 and 152) to move down five spots and take offensive tackle Kolton Miller.

This year, Cleveland owns the No. 10 pick, which is worth 1,300 points. Denver’s No. 15 overall selection is worth 1,050 points. The Broncos can make up the difference with their initial third-round pick (No. 77 overall, 205 points) and their fourth-round selection (No 118, 58 points), with a manageable 17-point deficit in draft value. A sixth-round choice can be tossed in to equalize matters.

TO DENVER

  • No. 10 overall (1300 points)
  • No. 187 overall (15.4 points)

TO CLEVELAND

  • No. 15 overall (1050 points)
  • No. 77 overall (205 points)
  • No. 118 overall (58 points)

Denver surrenders 1,313 points of value and gains 1,315.4 points of value, leaving a 2.4-point difference. The Broncos can toss in their seventh-round picks and create a deal that has just 0.4 points of difference on the chart.

But let’s say that the Broncos want to have a better choice of offensive tackles or wide receivers. Or maybe a defensive stud such as Isaiah Simmons or Jeff Okudah unexpectedly drops. That could lead the Broncos to the Arizona Cardinals, who sit at No. 8 overall.

Here is a deal that would have reasonable draft-value balance:

TO DENVER

  • No. 8 overall (1400 points)
  • No. 114 overall (66 points)
  • Round 5 pick in 2021 (average R5 value: 25 points)

TO ARIZONA

  • No. 15 overall (1050 points)
  • No. 46 overall (440 points)

Arizona doesn’t have a fifth-round pick this year. Fifth-round selections in the 2020 draft have between 31.4 and 18.6 points of value. Not getting the fifth-round pick is not a deal breaker, but it would give the Broncos 1,491 points if calculating the Round 5 average, with 1,490 points of value going back to the Cardinals.

In this case, the Broncos could send Arizona a seventh-round pick, and it’s a perfect match: a projected 1,491 points of value in each direction.

But realistically, the Broncos could expect to have a slight premium. In the last five years, teams that traded up into the range of picks 8 to 14 lost an average of 28.4 points of expected draft capital per selection that they moved up.

So let’s say the Broncos make a deal with the Cardinals that reflects the average. Moving up 10 slots would entail a deal that left them with a 198.8 point deficit in draft value.

A deal with those parameters could look like this:

TO DENVER

  • No. 8 overall (1400 points)

TO ARIZONA

  • No. 15 overall (1050 points)
  • No. 46 overall (440 points)
  • No. 118 overall (58 points)
  • Round 4 pick in 2020 (estimated value: 50 points)

The Broncos would still have their third-round complement in 2020, but would have to wait 68 selections for their second pick of 2020, barring a trade.

HOW ABOUT MOVING DOWN?

In terms of draft capital, the deal Elway executed last year was one of the best in the last five years of first rounds.

The Broncos gained a projected 117.5 points of capital (assuming that the Steelers’ 2020 Round 3 pick would be of median value). On a points-per-pick basis, the Broncos’ 11.75-point gain for moving back 10 spots is the second-best in the last five years for any pick-for-pick first-round trade that did not involve a team moving up for a QB.

Even when evaluating the deal in terms of the final value — with the No. 83 pick being worth 175 points — the Broncos gained 105 points of value, one point above the value of the 99th overall pick.

Here is one potential trade that could provide a perfect balance in point value:

TO DENVER

  • No. 21 overall (800 points)
  • No. 53 overall (370 points)

TO PHILADELPHIA

  • No. 15 overall (1050 points)
  • No. 95 overall (120 points)

This would give the Broncos two choices in an eight-selection span of the second round. Denver could then stay in Round 2 at pick 53 and trade second- (No. 46) and third- (No. 83) picks to the 49ers for the No. 31 overall selection in Round 1. The 31st pick is worth 600 points; the 46th and 83rd choices are worth a combined 625 points.

If San Francisco throws in its initial fifth-round pick (No. 156 overall), then the Broncos would receive 627.8 points of value in exchange for 625 points surrendered. The Broncos could toss in both of their seventh-round picks (Nos. 252 and 254) and achieve a near perfect point balance — 627 points of capital to the 49ers and 627.8 points coming back to Denver.

This combination of trades would leave the Broncos with the following picks on the first two days:

  • No. 21 (Round 1)
  • No. 31 (Round 1)
  • No. 53 (Round 2)
  • No. 77 (Round 3)

However, if the draft falls a certain way, and a quarterback unexpectedly falls into the mid-teens, the Broncos could be in a better position to dictate terms.

THERE IS A QUARTERBACK PREMIUM

This is where the status of Utah State’s Jordan Love and a potential Tua Tagovailoa slide through Round 1 could affect the landscape if a trade-down is in play.

Here is a potential scenario:

Say that Miami values Tagovailoa, but does not think the risk-reward ratio on his injured hip is ideal at the No. 5 pick. At some point between the sixth and 14th selections, teams select Love and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.

Then, the Broncos could be sitting on a valuable chip.

In the last five drafts, NFL teams made 10 draft-pick-for-draft-pick swaps to move up to take a specific quarterback in Round 1. Even when valuing the picks of future years at the median for their respective rounds, nine of the 10 teams that traded down came out on the positive side in the draft-value change, with seven of them gaining at least 200 points in draft value — or the equivalent of the No. 78 overall pick.

The teams that moved up did so by an average of 8.9 spots, and gave up an average of 309.7 points of draft value — 0.3 points shy of the value of the No. 60 overall pick.

On the extreme end of the scale, the Jets lost a projected 655 points of draft value to move up three spots in 2018 to select Sam Darnold. That point total is 15 points greater than the value of the No. 29 pick in the first round.

But two years earlier, the Broncos moved up five spots to select Paxton Lynch, and lost just 24 points of draft value in the exchange. In other words, if the Broncos move down because a quarterback — or quarterbacks — fall, expect somewhere in between.

If the Broncos are sitting at No. 15 and Miami believes that is the right moment in terms of risk-reward ratio, they could trade down three slots from No. 15 to No. 18. The draft-value chart says the difference between those spots is 150 points, or the equivalent of the No. 88 overall pick.

But the premium on quarterbacks might dictate a slightly heftier price.

A trade could look like this:

TO DENVER

  • No. 18 overall (900 points)
  • No. 39 overall (510 points)

TO MIAMI

  • No. 15 overall (1050 points)
  • No. 83 overall (175 points)

The 185-point gain comes in below average for recent trade-ups to take a quarterback, but is a steal for three mid-round slots. Even trading the No. 77 overall pick instead of pick No. 83 would bring the Broncos a 155-point premium, equivalent to picking up the No. 87 overall choice.

This would also give the Broncos an extra second-round pick before their No. 46 overall selection, and would give the Broncos easy access to move back into the final choices of Round 1. The 39th and 95th overall picks add up to 630 points of draft value; the final four selections of Round 1 range from 640 to 590 points in value.

Also worth noting is the fact that six of the 10 trade-ups for quarterbacks in the past five drafts involved future first- or second-round picks, including four of the five trades to pick quarterbacks from picks 10 to 32.

Even with uncertainty looming over the 2021 NFL Draft if there is not a college-football season this fall, accepting a future high draft choice as part of a premium for a team to move up for a quarterback would be wise. Another option would be to put a condition on a future pick, moving it to 2022 if the 2021 college-football season is delayed, truncated or outright cancelled.

The Broncos don’t yet know what all of their options are. Some could reveal themselves next Thursday night.

But they would be wise to keep their line free for calls — and to listen. They could get themselves another deal like the one they executed last year.

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