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Trading Down in the Draft: An Idea So Good Everybody Wants To Do It This Year

Jeff Ireland may want to trade down on draft day, but he'll be facing a lot of competition to do so

Expect the Unexpected on Draft Day This year
Expect the Unexpected on Draft Day This year

In the lead-up to the NFL draft, fans of all 32 teams have been debating the merits of trading up or trading down, and that's gone on here at the Phinsider as well. Criteria like "value," "depth of talent at certain positions," and "how 'elite' the top prospects are" come into play when making the decision, and fans have been using the prototypical draft value chart to design potential trades.

The "consensus" on the Dolphins' future draft day moves this year has constantly changed. As recently as 2 weeks ago, the conventional wisdom was that the Dolphins wanted to trade up to get an offensive tackle - either with the Browns to secure Lane Johnson or with the Raiders to secure a top-2 OT (likely Eric Fisher). Around that time, I wrote that while a tradeup was possible, a brief review of Jeff Ireland's draft-day tendencies since 2008 shows that Ireland historically hasn't traded up in round 1, even when pursuing a quarterback (Joe Flacco in 2008, Ryan Tannehill in 2012). Ireland has been active in rounds 2-7, but he has either kept his original spot in round 1 (4 times) or traded down (once).

Since then, rumors have spread of an impending trade for Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert that, depending on who you ask, is either a done deal (per John Clayton of ESPN and Ian Rapoport of or has stalled for the past few days due to Albert's contract demands (per Chris Mortensen of ESPN and Jason Cole of Yahoo! News). Those Albert rumors have led to reports that the Dolphins are "seriously exploring" trade down options.

While there is a widely used draft pick value chart that trades roughly follow, there are unique characteristics of each draft class that affect trade prices.

A major driver is QB quality because that's one of the positions that teams most frequently trade up in the first round to address. Last year, the big story was the the QB class, which had 2 elite/"can't miss" prospects as well as several high-potential prospects. Between the Colts' Andrew Luck, the Redskins' Robert Griffin III, the Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill, the Browns' Brandon Weeden, the Seahawks' Russell Wilson, the Eagles' Nick Foles, the Broncos' Brock Osweiler, and the Redskins' Kirk Cousins, there could be up to 8 franchise QBs in that class. Three of those QBs have already led their teams to the playoffs and made the ProBowl as either a starter (RG3) or an alternate (Luck and Wilson). A fourth (Tannehill) has been mentioned by national media such as ESPN and CBS Sports as a quarterback who is likely to show tremendous improvement with an upgraded set of receivers. A fifth and a sixth (Foles and Cousins) each had some good moments filling in for injured starters and could be traded to other teams to become starters down the line.

This year's QB class? NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock says no more than 1 quarterback should be drafted in the first round (Geno Smith), and even Smith is considered a bit of a project. NFL Network analyst and former quarterback Kurt Warner recently said he watched film of Ryan Nassib (considered by some to be a top-3 QB in this class) and said he can't see how Nassib could possibly be viewed as a round-1 worthy QB. Denver Broncos VP and Hall of Fame former quarterback John Elway, in response to a question about the QBs in the draft, remarked:

"I’m just glad we’re not in that market. Let’s put it that way."


And that theme of the draft class lacking elite talent is present at other positions teams have historically made trades to address. Most draft experts feel that Dee Milliner is the only cornerback truly worthy of a top-15 selection (though Mike Mayock prefers D.J. Hayden). The consensus second best pass rushing prospect in this draft (Ziggy Ansah) had fewer than 5 career sacks in college yet is almost certain to go in the top-10. The only wide receiver widely considered worthy of a top-15 selection (Tavon Austin) is a slot receiver with size concerns, and the best safety in this class is viewed as a top-20 selection. This could be the first draft in decades in which no running backs are selected in round 1 with none viewed as worthy of top-20 selections. In other words, it's a bad year to be looking for elite prospects at positions other than offensive line and defensive tackle.

The lack of elite talent has led to reports of up to five teams in the top-12 in draft order looking to trade down - Eagles (4th), Lions (fifth), Browns (sixth), Bills (eighth), and Dolphins (12th). Those are 5 GMs who have looked at the top of this draft class and decided that they don't mind trading down instead of making a top-12 pick.

Trading down for the Dolphins makes sense if they're serious about trading Branden Albert to fill the only vacant starting spot (OT) in exchange for a draft pick, and Ireland's previous round 1 trade was a trade-down to reacquire a second round pick given up for Brandon Marshall. However, with so much competition in the "trade-down" market, the Dolphins would be unlikely to get an attractive pick in exchange for trading down.

As a result of all this, there are 3 scenarios:

First, the Dolphins could simply stay put at #12 if somebody they like falls to 12.

Second, the Dolphins could trade down but would likely get a lower return from trading down than usual due to combination of less desirable talent at the top of the draft and 4 competing teams also trying to trade down.

Third, the Dolphins could trade up and take advantage of trade-ups being cheaper than most years. This last option makes sense if the Dolphins really believe in any of the few "consensus elite" prospects in the draft. If I had to guess, I would say that a Dolphins trade-up would likely in pursuit of an offensive tackle or a cornerback , depending on whether the Branden Albert trade is successful. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the Dolphins have "shown some willingness" to move up, even as they make calls about trading down.

Something to watch is whether those predictions of lower-than-normal prices for trades come true in two days.