Analyzing Draft Trades & Current GM Trends

Follow me on Twitter @BradOTC

It is officially peak mock draft season. Everyone is hypothesizing where certain players will go and to which teams. And now that we’re less than one week away from the big day on April 23rd, it has become mock draft trade season.

Everyone wants to know if their favorite team will move up for their favorite target, or trade down to get a few more dart throws. Will they tap into their future draft capital in an effort to bolster their roster ASAP? There are endless possibilities, and while every Draft is always different, we can gain insights into the strategies of certain GMs based on their historical moves.

So, what type of GM does your team have? Who makes a lot of moves and who tends to stand pat? The numbers below cover the 2011-2019 Drafts, since the introduction of the Rookie Wage Scale:

GMs that maneuver Up & Down:

  • Les Snead, Los Angeles Rams (9 Up, 15 Down). Les Snead is always looking to bounce around the NFL Draft in search of value. Sometimes it seems like the Rams and Patriots make trades with each other just to spice things up and keep other teams on their toes. All jokes aside, the Rams have been involved in many of the major trades of the decade. They traded out of pick No. 2 for a huge haul in 2012 when the Redskins moved up for Robert Griffin III. Then their turn to strike on a franchise QB came in 2016, when they moved up to No. 1 for Jared Goff.
  • Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Eagles (10 Up, 12 Down). Howie Roseman wheels and deals around the Draft like nobodies business, accumulating more picks when smart to drop back and making moves up when called for. The Eagles are always a team to keep an eye on in the Draft, and this year is no different. At pick No. 21 in the first round, they’re in a pivotal spot that could call for a move in either direction depending how the board falls.
  • John Elway, Denver Broncos (7 Up, 10 Down). The Broncos had a bit of a funny draw in their Draft last year, trading down from No. 10 for a team looking for an inside linebacker, and then trading up to No. 42 for their potential franchise QB. Usually you’d expect the opposite. Nevertheless, the Broncos have done well to add value via Trade-Downs (they still have Pittsburgh’s 3rd this year as a result of the Devin Bush trade) and have picked their spots to make a move as well.
  • Jason Licht, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7 Up, 4 Down). The Buccaneers have had a smart approach to the NFL Draft: Trade Down from higher up in the Draft when the value (positional value or player value) isn’t there, and Trade Up later on when the price isn’t as steep.
  • Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals (4 Up, 5 Down). The Cardinals made the gutsy (and smart) call in 2019 to draft Kyler Murray No. 1 overall, even after they had just traded up for and drafted Josh Rosen at No. 10 overall in 2018. In general, the Cardinals are not afraid to move up or down early in the Draft. They find themselves in the Top 10 again this year at No. 8, and while the available talent will likely be too good to pass up, I could see them fielding calls hoping a team makes an offer they can’t refuse.
  • Dave Caldwell, Jacksonville Jaguars (4 Up, 4 Down). In this year’s draft the Jaguars hold pick’s No. 9 & 20 in the first round. Furthermore, they are in the process of shopping DE Yannick Ngakoue, who many believe could land them another 1st round pick. In what appears to be a major rebuild, I could see them making a move up for a guy they believe could be a franchise player, or trying to land a handful of solid contributors with a trade back.
  • John Lynch, San Francisco 49ers (4 Up, 3 Down). It’s still pretty early in John Lynch’s tenure in San Francisco, but he has not been a stranger to Draft trades. The 49ers just acquired the No. 13 pick in the 2020 Draft from the Indianapolis Colts, giving them two first round picks (their own is No. 31). However, their next pick isn’t until the fifth round. We see teams trade up into the late first round quite often, don’t be surprised if someone else is choosing at No. 31 on Thursday.
  • Brian Gutekunst, Green Bay Packers (3 Up, 1 Down). It is very early in his tenure, but Gutekunst has certainly broken off from the traditional Packers mold, being aggressive in free agency and making big first-round Trade-Ups in his first two seasons. Gutekunst had a slam dunk Trade-Down with the Saints in 2018 that netted an extra 1st in 2019 along with pick No. 24. He promptly moved back up and nabbed Jaire Alexander at No. 18 overall. He followed that up with a move up to No. 21 in 2019 to take Darnell Savage. Long story short, Gutekunst isn’t going to just wait around for his picks.
  • Mike Mayock & Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders (2 Up, 2 Down). While the duo has only been in Oakland for one Draft thus far, they demonstrated a clear willingness to maneuver in 2019 with four Draft trades over the course of the weekend.

There is value in moving around the Draft and becoming a friendly trade partner with various teams. You can avoid reaching on a player if you are fielding multiple trade offers from teams looking to move up. It can be beneficial if teams know you’re open for business, and perhaps the price can be driven up if teams suspect another club is on Line 2.

GMs that move Up for their favorite guys:

  • Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Saints (10 Up, 0 Down). The Saints don’t mess around in the Draft. If they like a player, they go get him. Since Drew Brees arrived in 2006, the fewest wins they’ve had in a season is 7. They clearly don’t like waiting around until their pick arrives, and Brees is too good for them to ever end up with a Top 10 pick. If you’re a team looking to move up to their spot, maybe save yourself the phone call and reach out to the team with the pick after theirs.
  • Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Falcons (12 Up, 3 Down). Thomas Dimitroff & Co. have followed in the footsteps of their bitter NFC South rival Saints. There are big time rumors swirling that the Falcons are looking to move up in the Draft next week for Florida CB C.J. Henderson… who would be a replacement for CB Desmond Trufant… who they traded up to No. 22 for in 2013.
  • Jon Robinson, Tennessee Titans (8 Up, 3 Down). Robinson has held his position since 2016, and in that time has been pretty aggressive in the Draft. In 2016, the Titans landed a huge haul for the No. 1 pick and the rights to Jared Goff (acquiring picks No. 15, 43, 45, 76, a future 1st, and a future 3rd). Since adding all of that capital, they’ve been going after their targets.
  • Ryan Pace, Chicago Bears (6 Up, 3 Down). Ryan Pace has been running the show in Chicago since 2015 and has made some bold moves in the Draft already during his five year tenure, including two Trade-Ups in the Top 10. The Bears don’t have any first round picks this year, so a trade-up there would be tough. Then again, they’ve also traded future Draft capital in consecutive years (a future 2nd for Anthony Miller in 2018 & a future 4th in 2019 for David Montgomery), so don’t rule it out. On the other hand, they’ve also traded down in the second round three times (landing Cody Whitehair and Tarik Cohen in the process), and have picks No. 43 and 50 in 2020. Don’t be surprised by a move in either direction.
  • Dave Gettleman, New York Giants (5 Up, 0 Down). Gettleman has served as an NFL GM for seven years with two franchises (five in Carolina, two so far in New York), and has never traded Down in either tenure. He doesn’t move much period, though, preferring to stand pat with the picks he was originally given. There are rumblings of a Giants Trade-Down from No. 4, but I wouldn’t count on it.
  • Brandon Beane, Buffalo Bills (4 Up). Beane has only held his role since 2018, so it may be too soon to reach a true conclusion. However, in the two Draft’s he has overseen in Buffalo, he has traded up four times with zero moves back. More importantly, three of these trades were in the Top 40 picks (Josh Allen at No. 7, Tremaine Edmunds at No. 16, and Cody Ford at No. 38). Beane is not afraid to pursue potential impact players.
  • Brett Veach, Kansas City Chiefs (4 Up). Veach has only been GM since 2018, so it may be more fair to put him in the “too soon to tell” category. Although he has been somewhat aggressive thus far, I think any GM with Patrick Mahomes on a rookie contract would do the same.

Trading up is risky business, as you have to “overpay” (according to the Draft Value charts) by larger amounts the higher you move. Nevertheless, clearly some of the teams on this list have had some success. No team has ever been able to consistently “beat” the Draft and outperform others year-over-year, so the thinking is the more picks the better. Eventually you’ll have to spend more in Free Agency to fill out your roster, and if you do miss on guys then you’re really toast. But, on the other end of the spectrum, a strong draft class can go a long way in catapulting a team to success.

GMs that like to move Down and stockpile Draft Capital:

  • Rick Spielman, Minnesota Vikings (9 Up, 24 Down). The Vikings prioritize getting as many dart throws as possible, which has definitely proven successful. In 2012, the Vikings traded down from No. 3 to No. 4 with the Browns. Trent Richardson ended up in Cleveland and the Vikings landed Matt Kalil. Two years later in 2014, the Browns called again looking to move up one spot from No. 9 to No. 8. Justin Gilbert ended up in Cleveland and the Vikings took Anthony Barr. One thing is for sure, if the Browns call the Vikings answer (on the first ring). New Browns HC Kevin Stefanski, formerly the Vikings OC, may throw a wrench in that wonderful operation though.
  • Bill Belichick, New England Patriots (9 Up, 22 Down). The Patriots arguably belong in the first grouping, as they move around the Draft unlike anyone else. But, as you can see, they move back more than they jump up. They also made a lot of these 9 trade-ups in recent years, presumably to keep making Super Bowl runs with Tom Brady. Now that they’re onto their next chapter, I’d expect them to get back to their stockpiling ways that led to so much long-term success in the first place.
  • John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks (8 Up, 17 Down). When you draft Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman all in the 3rd Round or later, what’s the point in trading up anyway?!
  • Chris Ballard, Indianapolis Colts (2 Up, 6 Down). Ballard is relatively new to his position, hired in 2017, but has already made it pretty clear that he prefers to stockpile picks. The Trade-Downs occurred much earlier than the Trade-Ups, most notably when the Colts sent pick No. 3 in 2018 to the Jets for No. 6, 37, 49 & a 2020 2nd which turned out to be pick No. 34. The players taken with those picks look quite promising thus far, perhaps inspiring more of the same from Ballard.

It is probably not a coincidence that the first three GMs in this group have all been in their positions for a decade-plus (Belichick is of course HC, but is also considered the top executive for the Patriots with significant control over personnel decisions). It’s important to point out they are also not averse to moving up to get their guy when they have conviction. They understand that in order to do so without sacrificing their shot at multiple impact players each year, it’s smart to bolster their arsenal beforehand. Trading down often allows you to trade up. They all have about a 2-1 Down-Up ratio, so the extra Draft Capital they accumulate doesn’t go to waste, and they don’t just draft fifteen 7th-rounders every year. They move back when the value isn’t there, and they pounce when they don’t want to wait any longer and risk losing a guy they’re high on.

GMs that like to stand pat:

  • Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers (4 Up). Last year’s move to No. 10 to take Devin Bush came as a complete shock to me, as the Steelers rarely maneuver around the Draft at all. They have not traded back so far this decade, and the other three trade-ups occurred in the 3rd Round or later.
  • Mike Brown, Cincinnati Bengals (4 Up, 5 Down). The Bengals tend to work with the Draft picks given to them, and are also great at earning compensatory picks. It is important to note however, that their Trade-Down moves occur much earlier in the Draft than their Trade-Ups, if they do move at all.
  • Tom Telesco, Los Angeles Chargers (3 Up). The Chargers rarely make any Draft trades, preferring instead to sit tight. Nevertheless, there is a key detail to these three prior trade-ups for 2020 Draft purposes: all three occurred in the Top 50 picks. The one exception Telesco and the Chargers make to their no-trade approach… when they want to add a premier talent. The Chargers have been rumored to be in love with Justin Herbert, dating all the way back to 2019 before he made his decision to return to Oregon. Certainly something to keep an eye on with Detroit’s No. 3 pick.
  • Jerry & Stephen Jones, Dallas Cowboys (5 Up, 4 Down). The Cowboys have also been strong in the compensatory pick game much like the Cincinnati Bengals, and prefer to utilize their own Draft picks. They’ll make rare exceptions, but I wouldn’t count on any early-round trades in most years.
  • Marty Hurney, Carolina Panthers (3 Up, 2 Down). Hurney is now in his second stint with Carolina, and so far has continued his strategy of utilizing the Draft picks his team is awarded from the NFL. Hurney is known for his big hits in the first round, but has had a rough go of it after that. I expected a much different off-season from the Carolina Panthers with an analytics-driven approach, but that doesn’t appear to be the case so far. So, while a few months ago I would’ve predicted a Trade-Down from No. 7 to stockpile picks and kick-start a well-timed rebuild (while three Hall Of Fame QBs in their division approach retirement), I’m not sure what to expect now.
  • Bob Quinn, Detroit Lions (2 Up, 1 Down). Quinn hasn’t been super active with Draft trades since taking over in 2016.

There is nothing inherently wrong with sticking with what you were given and trusting your Big Board. The Cowboys have been very strong drafters for example, but the rest of this list has struggled a bit in the Draft from 2011-2018. You don’t want to reach for players, and that seems somewhat unavoidable if you’re unwilling to move up or down.

Too soon to tell:

  • Chris Grier, Miami Dolphins (hired 2019 season). Grier has been stockpiling picks alright, but not via the Draft. I suspect he is just getting started in Miami.
  • Eric DeCosta, Baltimore Ravens (hired 2019 season). DeCosta is a disciple of longtime Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, but I want to see a few more Drafts from him before making any declarations. In 2019, the Ravens traded down early and then made a move up late. Newsome would have landed in the “maneuver Up & Down” category with 6 Trade-Ups to 8 Trade-Downs from 2011-2018, so DeCosta appears to have picked up where he let off.
  • Bill O’Brien (GM since 2019). While he just recently earned the title of GM, he presumably had some say in personnel decisions beforehand. Since he arrived in Houston in 2014, the Texans have traded up five times and moved back zero. I’d expect more of the same, but we’ll see.
  • Joe Douglas, New York Jets (hired 2020 season).
  • Andrew Berry, Cleveland Browns (hired 2020 season). Berry is a disciple of Sashi Brown, a.k.a. the Trade-Down King. No matter what you do with trades, you just have to scout talent better than Brown & Co. did during his time in Cleveland. If Berry can combine the smart, analytical approach of trading down with quality scouting… watch out NFL.
  • Ron Rivera, Washington Redskins (hired 2020 season).

Now that you know which Draft trade strategies you can expect from some NFL GMs, what have these trends led to in terms of increased/decreased Draft Capital over the years? While many GMs have come and gone over the course of the decade, for this research I took a look at overall team results. I broke down the Surplus Value Gained and Lost for every team from 2011-2018 according to the Jimmy Johnson, Rich Hill, Chase Stuart, and Fitzgerald-Spielberger Draft Value charts:

Draft Pick Value Gained/Lost 2011-2018 (Value as a Draft Pick # in parentheses)

The way I like to describe the difference between these first two Draft charts and the next two is this: The Jimmy Johnson and Rich Hill charts reflect the perceived trade value of each team’s Draft picks based on historical Draft trades. The Chase Stuart and Fitzgerald-Spielberger Draft charts reflect the true value of the Draft picks as players.

There are of course mixed results with any process, and at the end of the day scouting top talent is what matters most. To that end, the two best teams of the decade (Patriots & Seahawks) are No. 2 and No. 3 in Total Draft Value added per the Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart. However, the worst team of the decade is also No. 1 (Browns).

The Browns only had the opportunity to be so high on this list because they routinely started with Top 5 picks in most Draft years, thus providing an opportunity to land a huge haul from QB-needy teams. Don’t be mistaken though, they also traded up to No. 3 and No. 8 over this span, selecting Trent Richardson and Justin Gilbert. Their final huge Trade-Down in 2017 was a success, netting them the No. 4 overall pick in 2018 from the Houston Texans (which they used on Denzel Ward). Unfortunately, they acquired that No. 12 pick by trading down from No. 2 with the Eagles in 2016 (Carson Wentz). And more unfortunately, that No. 12 pick was used on Deshaun Watson. Trading down is the smart move over the long run by a good margin, but you still have to hit on some of your newly acquired Draft picks.

The Draft is just five days away. Be prepared for much more chaos and the rumor mill to kick into overdrive.

Follow me on Twitter @BradOTC for analysis of every Draft trade of 2020. According to many reports, it could be a strange year for Draft trades because of the conditions surrounding COVID-19. Teams may look to unload 2020 Draft picks because they have less confidence in their player analysis as a result of far fewer Pro-Days and in-person visits. Should be interesting!