It's finally NFL draft week! And as Thursday night's first round nears, it seems like almost every team claims to be open for business -- or willing to listen to potential trade scenarios.
One wrinkle to consider: The apparent general consensus that there aren't as many elite prospects as usual this year. In terms of trades, this can be taken in two different directions, strategically: 1) a team could view this as a good reason to trade down to add more rookies, or 2) it could be motivation to trade up to ensure that a team is landing one of the few (theoretically) safer picks. To me, this means there are a lot of efficiencies to be contemplated and trades to be made. As such, I've put together four potential win-win deals involving first-round picks.
The work below blends my draft prospect rankings, team needs and projected player selection range models to provide competitive analysis for each pick. This piece builds off how I approached my mock drafts, in that its goal is to optimize for wins in the 2023 NFL season. That said, I've also added in a three-season factor for the top five positions according to positional value (quarterback, pass rusher, left tackle, corner and wide receiver), to make the results closer reflect reality.
The goal for the four trades I've identified is to net both NFL teams a higher projected win total in 2023, while taking into account which positions/prospects other franchises are likely to target/draft.
Let's get to it!
- Round 1, 2023: No. 7 overall
LAS VEGAS RECEIVES:
- Round 1, 2023: No. 16 overall
- Round 2, 2023: No. 47
- Round 4, 2023: No. 118 (or a future fourth-rounder)
In the primary value of this move is in Washington's ability to leapfrog ahead of Atlanta at No. 8 overall to select a quarterback -- the versatility to also perhaps nab the first or second cornerback off the board (depending on Detroit's move; my math suggests Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez have separated themselves from other CBs in this class, which is backed up by the front office execs and scouts I've surveyed) or the first offensive lineman at No. 7 is an added benefit. There's belief that the Texans could pass on a quarterback at No. 2 -- which could alter the trade price for QBs later on -- and should the passer the Commanders believe in still be available after the Colts pick at No. 4, Washington brass had better get to the phone.
Vegas is in a great spot here, already possessing a slew of picks, including 11 total on Days 2 and 3; trading down in this scenario nets the Raiders at least an additional second-round selection, with just a slight decrease (by less than 3 percentage points) in their chances of landing an above average contributor at No. 16 vs. No. 7, whether they target either pass rusher, corner, tackle or (even better) a tight end. So, I don't know the Raiders' board, but the added equity would allow them to fairly easily trade back up into the end of the first round, should a quarterback they want to develop -- or a player at another key position who surprisingly falls -- be available. In essence, Vegas has the luxury of moving all over the board to target their priority players.
- Round 1, 2023: No. 3 overall
- Round 1, 2023: No. 8 overall
- Round 2, 2023: No. 44
- Round 3, 2023: No. 75
- Round 4, 2024
So what happens if Houston doesn't select a QB with the No. 2 overall pick? A number of teams will very likely come calling for the Cardinals' choice at No. 3. The reality is, this haul looks a bit lopsided in favor of Arizona, but it's actually one of the most even trades possible, according to the Jimmy Johnson trade chart (and other modified charts). And as in real estate, the best bid wins. Atlanta has publicly talked about 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder being the guy under center, but if the opportunity to select the second quarterback in the draft presented itself, it would seem hard to pass up, given the very smart offseason acquisitions, along with third-year coach Arthur Smith being an exceptional architect for the play-action game (SEE: Ryan Tannehill's improvement in Tennessee). Using play-action is one of the biggest contributing factors in terms of how well quarterbacks have successfully transitioned to the NFL level over the past five seasons. The NFC South landscape is very different this season versus last, and this scenario spells opportunity if Atlanta can get key positions right.
The math changes for the Cardinals if this trade happens, with them still selecting in the top eight but adding a second- and third-round pick. This draft features a lot of flavors at different positions, even key ones. Allowing first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon to stock the shelves with more picks forecasts could shift the coming season by adding more than one win. That's a lot. From the point of view of a team that is not seeking a QB, trading down five spots here is more like trading down only three, with Atlanta and Indianapolis (at No. 4) likely selecting signal-callers, meaning the only real change is lowering the likelihood of drafting one of the first four defenders taken. Plus, they would have already known who the Texans selected at the time of this trade. Further, there are a number of high-probability quality adds for the Cardinals to fill needs with the Day 2 selections (Nos. 44, 75) acquired.
- Round 1, 2023: No. 21 overall
- Round 2, 2023: No. 36 overall
- Round 3, 2023: No. 69
Wouldn't it be fun to see the Rams draft in the first round? That was a bad joke, but we haven't seen them participate in Round 1 since 2016, when they selected Jared Goff No. 1 overall. Corner is a massive need after L.A. traded away Jalen Ramsey this offseason, but with a bunch of teams that also need a corner (Baltimore, Minnesota, Jacksonville, New York Giants) sitting ahead of them, the odds of the Rams getting the kind of starter they would like with their first pick (No. 36 overall) are low. They have the ammo to go all the way up to No. 16 should they be willing to part with both of their third-round picks (to get ahead of Pittsburgh), but if they move to the Chargers' slot at 21, just ahead of the cornerback-seekers named above, they have 47 percent odds of being able to select the third-best CB in this class and 57 percent odds of snagging CB4.
This recommendation hinges on the Chargers keeping Austin Ekeler, who has requested a trade, in the fold for 2023; otherwise, they would be better off using their first-round choice on a prospect who could help make up for the loss of the veteran do-it-all running back. But presuming Ekeler stays, and taking into account the number of contributors who will also be returning from injury, it would make sense for the Bolts to increase their odds of landing players who could help (a well-rounded tight end, perhaps, along with run-stopping D-linemen or linebackers and receiver depth) by acquiring additional picks in the second and third rounds.
- Round 1, 2023: No. 9 overall
- Round 1, 2023: No. 17 overall
- Round 2, 2023: No. 49
I did my master's thesis on the value of offensive linemen. I believe the amount of time I spent studying the trenches -- as well as going back and forth between math experts, computer vision experts and legendary football minds -- makes my models on this subject very strong. This value is reflected in this scenario for the Steelers, who have the opportunity to select one of the top three tackles, with the highest probability of landing No. 2. Swapping with the Bears to jump ahead of the Eagles, Titans and Jets gives second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett the best odds to help his offense add enough complementary value to Pittsburgh's always exceptional defensive strategy. The Steelers also still have No. 32 (the first pick in Round 2) to address high-value needs.
The Bears need to bolster their O-line, as well. However, they have a number of other high-value needs, along with a quarterback in Justin Fields who helps erase some of the flaws up front. This scenario would give them four picks through two rounds -- plus the option to package some of this capital to move around -- changing the Bears' win total projection by a potential 1.8 wins, up from 1.0 win if they were to roll with their current selections. Remember, splitting the ninth overall pick into parts creates more movement options without eroding value.