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Trade Up or Trade Down? A 1st Round Analysis

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When it comes to discussing trades and the draft, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots come to mind.  No other team in the NFL works the drafts boards like the Patriots, so much so that I believe when Belichick is done coaching, a huge part of his legacy will be how other GM's and coaches try to incorporate his draft strategy and mentality.  As Michael Lombardi has recently commented, Belichick not only believes in measuring the value of each pick and the players available, but because he never falls in love with a prospect, he can support his belief in value and trade around the draft boards and while many teams believe in value - too often a team will become enamoured with a prospect or essentially, not have the guts to trade down for fear a prospect will be off the board.

In the 2011 NFL draft, the Patriots hold two picks in each of the first three rounds of the draft.  Here, I will focus on the first round picks to analyse what options the Patriots may have to either trade up or down or indeed the likelihood of this happening...

Round 1, Pick 17

Trade Up?

Firstly, we need to consider how Lombardi described the way Belichick works when he approaches the draft: value.  The Patriots will grade a number of prospects for this position.  So, for example on their draft board they may have Anthony Castonzo, Tyron Smith, Robert Quinn, J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan and Julio Jones graded out at roughly the same level.  If the Patriots feel one of these prospects will fall to 17, they will stand pat.  Or, if they don't but feel there is value in trading up a few spots to get one of these players, they will do so.

Trade Partners?

Dallas Cowboys (9th Overall Pick) - A team the Patriots have had some recent trade activity with but I doubt Jerry Jones wants to move as far back as 17 since his likely targets will be off the board at that point. It would take both 3rd round picks or a 2nd rounder and 4th rounder to move up.

Washington Redskins (10th Overall Pick) - Shanahan and Belichick have a good relationship and the Redskins have no 3rd round picks.  Clearly something could be worked out but the move up would likely include having to trade both 3rd round picks to the Redskins.

Minnesota Vikings (12th Overall Pick) - The Vikings may want their 3rd round pick back from the trade for Randy Moss.  This is another team who the Patriots have recently dealt with.  The Vikings need a quarterback but may feel 12 is to rich for Jake Locker or Ryan Mallet but perhaps 17 would be a better spot?

Chances of Trading Up?

I think the Patriots will feel pretty good that one of these players will fall to the 17th spot, so they probably won't trade up.  However, if there are a few surprise selections with the early choices, I would look for a trade with the Minnesota Vikings as the most likely scenario but it would require something like the 74th and 159th picks, something the Patriots will be reluctant to do.

Trade Down?

I can see the Patriots trading down a few spots if either of the following scenarios present themselves:

  • 1. the Patriots are caught cold and all their targets they grade out at the 17th pick are gone or if;
  • 2. three or four of those targets are still on the board, they can trade back knowing they will still have a shot at getting one. People may not like this method as you may be left with no choice but one player, but it's the way Belichick works and it does seem successful.

Trade Partners?

Kansas City Chiefs (21st Overall Pick) - They Chiefs may want to jump ahead of the Chargers for an Outside Linebacker and obviously, Pioli and Belichick have a little history.  The Patriots could swap 1st round picks and pick up a 3rd rounder for the trouble.

Philadelphia Eagles (23rd Overall Pick) - Since taking over as GM last year, Howie Roseman has shown himself to be an aggressive player on draft day, willing to deal picks where he and Andy Reid see fit.  Philly needs a offensive linemen and they may be willing to make the trade to jump up and nab someone like Mike Pouncey.  Again, the Pats could swap 1st rounders and pickup a 3rd round pick (85th overall).

Chances of Trading Down?

I can't see the Patriots being caught cold first of all.  Of the targets the Patriots deem worthy of the 17th overall pick, I can see many of them being off the board at that stage with perhaps one or two remaining (difficult to predict not knowing how the Patriots have graded players).  Therefore, I think the Patriots would stand pat and make the pick, rather than trade down.

Round1, Pick 28

Trade Up?

The general sentiment is that the 28th pick is the most likely spot where the Patriots will trade down, since they could potentially receive terrific value from a team desperate to land one of the remaining quarterbacks for example.  I would agree with this sentiment, however not without exception.  The Patriots know they need to address their right defensive end position at some point in the draft.  If they go with an offensive lineman with the 17th pick, the only blue chip RDE I can envision still on the board at 28 would potentially be Cameron Heyward.  Knowing that interested parties for Cam Heyward would be the Falcons at 27 and the Jets, Steelers and Packers who all sit waiting between the 28th and 33rd spot, I could see the Patriots making a move up.  As hoodie recently said: "I think you really have to wait until draft day, kind of see how it all plays out...We'll do what's best for the team. So, we'll evaluate those opportunities."  In this case, perhaps a trade up for a player like Heyward, where there is a potentially considerable talent drop off after him for his position, would be justified as what's best for the team.

Trade Partners?

Seattle Seahawks (25th Overall Pick) - Seattle has already opened up to offers to trade down, so could be a willing trade partner.  They are a team with quite a few draft needs and they currently don't have a 3rd round draft pick.  To move up however, the Patriots could package their 28th and 125th draft picks, which would represent fair value.

Baltimore Ravens (26th Overall) - The Ravens also have opened up to trade offers, although given their system and the fact that some of their draft needs would seem to alight with those of the Patriots, they may be in the market for the same kind of players and so a deal may be tricky.

Chances of Trading Up?

In the example I provided where the highest rated player from a positional group of players remains, then I could see the Patriots trading up to acquire that player, with the Seattle Seahawks being perhaps the most likely team to broker a deal.

Trade Down?

The Patriots will already have received calls from interested parties making conditional offers for the 28th overall pick.  It will be a hugely important selection to many teams, particularly those who do not want to wait until day 2 as competing teams will be clamouring to move up to the top of the 2nd round.  Therefore, the Patriots could expect to receive compensation which is much higher than the draft value chart, and a potential future 1st round pick.

Trade Partners?

Cincinnati Bengals (34th Overall Pick) - If the Bengals don't take a quarterback in round 1, they would be big players to trade up.  Given the fact they only sit at 34, they may not give up that future 1st rounder.

Tennessee Titans (39th Overall Pick) - The Titans also need a quarterback of the future and have the ammunition to trade up.  However, perhaps the quarterback which fits their system the best would be Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, who they may feel will fall to 39.

Minnesota Vikings (43rd Overall Pick) - With no 3rd round pick and a lack of quarterback, the Vikings would probably need to give up that future 1st round pick to make this move.

San Francisco 49ers (45th Overall Pick) - The 49ers are an unknown entity with new GM Trent Balke and Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, so it's difficult to say how aggressive they will be.  However, Harbaugh knows his quarterbacks and if there is one who he feels he can win long term with, you can bet he will be campaigning for a trade up.

Chances of Trading Down?

High!  The Patriots know they can receive terrific compensation for this pick and since it is so close to the 33rd pick, some of the players they value at this spot should still be available at 33, presenting the ideal situation for Bill Belichick.  The only downside to a trade in my opinion is the fact that both the Seahawks and the Ravens are also open to trading down, meaning the market is open somewhat and therefore the compensation may not be premium.