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Are big Draft trades worth it?

Every couple years we see a team give up a large quantity of picks in order to move up to one of the top spots in the draft, but is it worth it? We look back and see if these risky moves paid off.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Watching the Bengals draft is like watching somebody fishing on a Sunday afternoon. It involves a whole lot of sitting around with nothing happening, and then all of a sudden there is a great catch.

The Bengals are not the most active team in the NFL Draft when it comes to the wheeling and dealing that we see from other teams in the first round, jockeying to move up and get their guy. In fact, you have to go back over two decades, to the 1995 draft, to find the Bengals trading up in the first round. They gave up the fifth overall pick and the fourth pick in round two, to move up to the first overall pick and select Ki-Jana Carter. That move obviously failed, and perhaps scared them off from moving up in the top five?

Since then, the Bengals have only traded in the first round in two other drafts, and both of those involved downward moves. In 2012 they traded down from 21 overall to 27, and acquired an extra third round pick which was used on Brandon Thompson. In 2004 they traded down twice. First they dropped from 17 to 24, and acquired Delta O’Neal and a fourth round pick, which became Robert Geathers. Later in the round, they traded down from 24 to 26 in the infamous move to pass on Steven Jackson and select Chris Perry. They acquired a fourth round pick in this swap also, which resulted in Stacy Andrews.

While the Bengals may not be active draft day jumpers, there are other teams who are. In the 2016 NFL Draft, there were a pair of big profile trades, involving the first two selections of the draft. In the trade for the top overall draft pick, the Rams gave up six total picks with two first round selections, two second round selections, and two third round selections to the Titans, who in turn gave up the top overall pick, plus a fourth and sixth round selection. In the second big trade, the Eagles gained the second overall pick, and a future fourth round pick from the Browns, but gave up a pair of first round picks, a second, a third, and a fourth round pick in doing so.

Only time will tell who the winner will be in these prominent trades – the team who acquired a large addition of draft picks, or the team who acquired a very high selection. But we can look back at the previous trades involving very high draft picks and ask as fans of a team who sits idly by and watches the trades – are the big moves up to top draft spots worth it?

2013 Dolphins trade up to #3 overall

The Dolphins traded #12 overall (first round) and #42 (second round) to the Raiders.

The Dolphins wanted a pass rusher, and apparently weren’t enamored with the prospect of waiting on Ezekiel Ansah, Barkevious Mingo, or Jarvis Jones to fall to them, and traded up to get their man – Dion Jordan.

Jordan missed the entire 2015 season due to a suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. Prior to that he was a bona fide draft bust, accumulating only 3.0 sacks in his first two seasons, and failing to secure a starting spot.

The picks which the Raiders received ultimately became cornerback D.J. Hayden and offensive tackle Menelik Watson. Like Jordan, Watson did not play in the 2015 season, while Hayden has become a serviceable starter.

None of the three picks involved in this trade appear to have become very good players, but Oakland slightly wins by virtue of having acquired a player, Hayden, who actually played in the NFL last year.

Winner: Team that acquired more picks

2012 Redskins trade up to #2 overall

The Redskins traded #6 overall (first round), #39 overall (second round), 2013 #22 overall (first round) and 2014 #2 (first round) to the Rams.

After suffering thru seasons of Rex Grossman, John Beck, and Donovan McNabb past his prime, the Redskins wanted a franchise quarterback. They lost out on the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes by finishing 5-11, which was three games away from a chance at the top pick. Much like the Eagles this year, they gave up many high picks to get the leftovers at quarterback, whoever was not selected first overall.

Griffin had a great rookie campaign, finishing with a 102.4 quarterback rating and leading the Redskins to a playoff appearance. Unfortunately he regressed when the Redskins tried to move him into a more conventional offense, which was not something he displayed the ability to play in. Ultimately he was benched for all of the 2015 season, and has since landed in Cleveland, where mediocre quarterbacks go to see their careers die.

There are two ways to look at what the Rams got in return for the RGIII pick. First, we can see who those picks became – Morris Claiborne, Janoris Jenkins, Desmond Trufant, Greg Robinson. Another way to look at the return is to see who the Rams actually ended up with in exchange for those picks. They traded away the Claiborne pick (#6 overall) for #14 and #45, but traded #45 for #50 and #150. So ultimately, the Rams ended up with: Michael Brockers, Isaiah Pead, Rokevious Watkins, Janoris Jenkins, Desmond Trufant and Greg Robinson.

Either way, the Rams seem to come away as the clear winner. Jenkins and Brockers became solid multi-year starters, and Robinson has done something that RGIII failed to do – play in 2015.

Winner: Team that acquired more picks

2012 Browns trade up to #3 overall

The Browns traded #4 overall (first round), #118 overall (fourth round), #139 overall (fifth round), and #211 overall (seventh round) to the Vikings.

Sometimes draft day causes some silliness, and when you aren’t a team known for drafting well, that silliness can lead to absurdity. Such is the case with Ohio’s other football team. The Browns gave up four picks to move up one spot, all to grab a player who was likely going to be there when they selected anyway. Even if another team had traded up to the third spot and grabbed Richardson, the Browns still would have had their pick of the best players. Instead they were reaching to fill a need and gave up four picks to ensure they could draft for need.

After a solid, though unspectacular first season, Richardson has fizzled to a career 3.3 yard per carry mark. He is on his fourth team since being drafted, and failed to get in a single game last year. He is a bust on a Ki-Jana Carter level, but possibly worse, because his demise was not due to injury, but just an inability to play the position.

The Vikings used the draft picks to select Matt Kalil, Jarius Wright, Robert Blanton and Scott Solomon. While none of those players are great, Kalil is a serviceable starting tackle, and Wright is a decent wide receiver. Even the other two picks played in more games in 2015 than Richardson.

Winner: Team who acquired more picks

2011 Falcons trade up to #6 overall

The Falcons traded #26 overall (first round), #59 overall (second round), #124 overall (fourth round), 2012 #22 overall (first round), and 2012 #118 overall (fourth round) to the Browns.

It was rumored that a similar package was offered to the Bengals at #4 overall, who passed on the trade to select A.J. Green. The Browns, who always need help on draft day, accepted to trade. Julio Jones instantly became a stud in the NFL. He finished his rookie year with 959 yards and eight touchdowns. That was only a foretaste of things to come, as he followed that up with three Pro Bowl visits, and a 2015 All Pro selection after leading the league in receptions (136) and yards (1871).

The Browns, being the Browns, did their best to squander those picks. Ultimately those five selections became Jon Baldwin, Greg Little, Owen Marecic, Brandon Weeded, and Jarius Wright. To make the pick even worse, the Browns traded the #26 pick to the Chiefs, along with the #70 pick to move up and select Phil Taylor. Taylor was decent, but that #70 pick became Justin Houston. The Browns also traded away the #118 pick, which was included in the 2012 deal moving up for Trent Richardson.

If another team had received those picks from the Falcons, perhaps the results would have been different. But the Browns were the team who wasted all of those draft picks, and so by that measure, the team moving up in the draft was the easy winner.

Winner: Team that moved up for a high pick

2009 Jets trade up to #5 overall

The Jets traded Kenyon Coleman, Brett Ratliff, Abram Elam, #17 overall (first round) and #52 overall (second round) to the Browns.

Sanchez never did turn into a very good quarterback, but he did reach the playoffs twice, with a 4-2 career record. He started four years with the Jets before becoming a backup for the Eagles, and now the Broncos.

The #17 pick was traded away for the #19, which then was traded for the #21, which became Alex Mack, who is a very good center in the NFL. Ultimately, with those trades, the Browns received Kenyon Coleman, Brett Ratliff, Abram Elam, Alex Mack, Coye Francies, and James Davis. The Browns ultimately got three starters, with one of them being very good.

The winner of this trade really depends on how much credit you give Mark Sanchez for the Jets’ playoff appearances. If you think he was the reason they got there and won, then the Jets won the trade. If you think the Jets did what they did despite Sanchez, then the Browns won.

Winner: Push


Going back further you can consider the trades for Ryan Leaf or Ricky Williams, and the aforementioned Ki-Jana Carter deal, which turned out to be very bad trades for the teams moving up in the draft. If history plays out, the moves up to acquire Jared Goff and Carson Wentz could also prove to be bad trades, but only time will give us an accurate evaluation.

Ultimately it seems that trading up into one of the early picks generally does not pay off, with the one exception being if you trade with the Browns, because they will just waste the picks you give them. So the Bengals’ strategy of sitting back and letting the fish come, while not exciting or dramatic, seems to be a better tactic than giving away many picks to move up and "get your guy".