The draft is three weeks away, and teams are in the process of finalizing their player ratings and draft boards. Part of this process involves slotting players into draft ranges, trying to ascertain in what spots other teams will select individual players.
This is when teams identify what players they really want and figure out how much they have to move from their current draft position in order to get them. Some of this is done by referencing a draft value chart, which assigns point values to each pick. In theory, teams want to get equal point value in return for the spot they are trading. But if a team really covets a player, as Atlanta did a year ago with Julio Jones, the chart takes on less importance. In fact, over the past few drafts many more teams have been more willing to sacrifice draft chart value to trade up and land a coveted target. And of course the teams with the desired picks have no problem taking more than the charted value, even if it means missing out on a player another team feels that strongly about.
Washington already made a signature trade, moving up from #6 overall to #2 in order to jump the line and secure St. Louis’ pick so they will get Robert Griffin III. That move cost the Skins their first round picks in each of the next three drafts, plus their 2nd round pick this year at #39. Using the trade chart, #6 and #39 equal 2110 points, while #2 has a value of 2600. Considering the lowest first round pick has a value of 590 points, Washington obviously felt strong enough about RG3 to blow away the value chart. It could cost them as much as 2000 extra chart points if they don’t make the playoffs in 2012 or 2013. Atlanta gave up nearly 400 points in the Jones trade, and other teams (Carolina for Jeff Otah, Jacksonville for Derrick Harvey) have made similar chart-busting maneuvers in recent seasons. The new salary structure makes high first round picks less punitive, and that could create even more trades at the top of the draft.
That makes forecasting the trade market a little more difficult. It also reinforces the need for teams to have clearly defined stratification of prospects and specific targets in specific ranges, a process that some teams do better than others. And this year’s draft features more specific targets for trading up than just RG3.
Ryan Tannehill is one such target. Even though many have reservations about his lack of experience and propensity for throwing interceptions at the worst possible time, Tannehill is going to be a top 10 overall pick. The key is figuring out where, and which team (if any) is willing to make a jump up to ensure they get the former Aggies QB. That involves divining just how serious Cleveland is about Tannehill at #4 overall. If a team like Miami at #8 or Buffalo at #10–both of whom appear to have interest in Tannehill–want to guarantee they get him, they have to move up to #3, where Minnesota is open for business. How far Minnesota is willing to slide is open for speculation, but moving down will almost certainly cost them any chance at Ryan Kalil or Morris Claiborne, the two most credible targets for the Vikings. Will they feel good enough about the options at #8 or even #11, where Kansas City could have interest in Tannehill as well? How much more value over the draft chart will the Chiefs or Dolphins have to provide to get Minnesota’s attention? Is Cleveland really serious about taking Tannehill at #4, or can a team like Miami call the bluff and wait it out? Will a team like Philadelphia make a giant leap from #15 in front of Miami, perhaps with Jacksonville at #7? This is what is going on behind closed doors as staffs work 20-hour days, drinking pots of coffee and eating bad Thai takeout delivered by glossy-eyed interns.
There are some other trade targets to watch. As my colleague Brad Clark pointed out in his excellent “What If” article, if the Vikings opt to pass on Matt Kalil at #3 (or trade the pick), Tampa Bay is going to get offers at #5 from tackle-needy teams (think St. Louis, Buffalo, Philadelphia). If a team covets Quentin Coples or Melvin Ingram, they’re going to want to move up ahead of Carolina at #9, where either is a strong possibility to come off the board. As Miami holds that pick and is basically a lock to take Tannehill, a scenario could play out where a team like the Jets moves up from #16 to get Ingram at #7 from Jacksonville. If Trent Richardson falls beyond Tampa Bay at #5, an aggressive team (Chicago? Philly? Cleveland?) could jump up to Carolina at #9 or Buffalo at #10 to snatch him up.
Cleveland holds two first round picks, as do Cincinnati and New England. This makes these teams very likely trade partners, as nearly every team that enters a first round holding multiple picks winds up trading at least one of them, typically the later pick. Expect the picks at #17, #22, and #27 to be traded. The Bengals could extract a 2nd round pick this year and a first rounder in 2013 for that #17 pick. Just maybe this is the year where Bill Belichick decides to value draft quality over quantity and package some of New England’s cadre of picks to move up, not down for lesser talents and even more picks. The Patriots hold picks #27, #31, #48, and #63, which gives them the firepower to make a dramatic move upward to take an impact player like Michael Floyd or Dre Kirkpatrick should they choose that route. Teams in the 10-15 range will certainly be open for business for a move like that. And even though Oakland doesn’t pick until #97, don’t rule out the Raiders trading some 2013 picks to jump back into 2012. Even with Al Davis resting in peace, Oakland is still open for business.