If recent trends continue, there will be approximately six first round trades in the 2014 NFL Draft in May. Five day one trades took place in the 2013 NFL Draft. In 2012 an NFL record eight trades occured in the 1st round. In 2011, the year preceding the new rookie wage scale, there were four trades. 2010 featured a then NFL record seven 1st round trades and in 2009 there were six. That’s thirty trades between NFL teams involving a top 32 pick over the last five seasons, or six per year. The Redskins (RGIII trade in 2012) and Colts (Trent Richardson trade in 2013) have already technically completed two trades. There will be at least four trades between now and May 8, probably more.
As it stands teams like the Vikings, Browns, and Jaguars, teams that need to improve their roster by making key positional upgrades, namely
QB, hold the right tools to move and shake: draft picks. They have eight selections to play around with and Vikings’ (8th pick) GM Rick Spielman already came out and said his team is looking to get frisky. Jacksonville (3rd pick) has ten picks and have made it clear they wouldn’t mind trading down. Cleveland (4th pick) also holds ten selections. The Rams (2nd pick) have eight picks, including two in the top half of the 1st round. The already stacked 49ers (31st pick) hold a league leading eleven picks. You’ve also got GMs like Falcons’ (6th pick) GM Thomas Dimitroff and Rams (2nd pick) GM Les Snead, who are not general managers that just wait by their phones. The dirty birds made bold moves upward in the 1st round in 2013 and in 2011. Dimitroff will continue to take every opportunity to find positive expected value (EV) situations for his team via the draft.
The Texans, basically a QB away from contending, have all seven of their picks as well as the first overall pick. New HC Bill O’Brien is somewhat of an offensive guru; they will be looking at QBs in the draft that can take their passing game to the next level. Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel are the likely choices right now according to reporters close with the Texans. I don’t buy it. Don’t get caught in this smokescreen. The Texans are trying to raise the prices on these top three QBs. Never underestimate the lengths to which teams will go to create or alter markets and misdirect their opponents.
General Managers across the NFL are wheeling and dealing as you read this. They are busy having their scouts or assistant coaches leak information to the press. Don’t be so naive people! The NFL is cutthroat business. The best General Managers try to create advantageous situations for themselves, typically by being aggressive. Part of being aggressive, and sneaky, is using the media to your advantage. As a member of the Bill Belichick coaching tree, and after taking over for legendary secret keeper, I mean college head coach, Joe Paterno in the midst of the Penn St. scandal, O’Brien knows how to use beat reporters and the national media to his advantage. Misdirection is an important part of the personnel game, just as it is on the field. As above, so below. You will bear witness to many smokescreens leading up to May. Some reports will try to tell you whether a visit or meeting with a player is or is not a smoke screen. Other stories will have real information that serves a discreet purpose. In 2012 LSU CB Morris Claiborne’s Wonderlic Score was released and it was a very, very pathetic 4. A certain team leaked that information hoping it would lower his stock and he would do a draft day tumble right onto their roster. This game ain’t Yahtzee. Realize at this point in the NFL off season the teams are not busy preparing for game day or scouting opposing teams. The best personnel teams are coming up with creative ways to fuck with the minds of the head coaches and other general managers league wide. This is why you here weird stories like how USC QB Matt Barkley was supposed to go to the Cardinals pick seven last draft. He was selected just 91 picks later. Sometimes it can be very hard to read between the lines. Understand that there is agenda behind every “scout’s opinion” or “meeting” you hear or read about. This is another reason why we always have huge fallers and risers on draft day. Players get hyped who shouldn’t. Teams tend to shut up about the great values likely to be around late round 1 or early round 2. Perception is not reality.
There are a few things we can be sure of as we tread the 2014 offseason. The Rams have been very clear about their intentions with the number two pick. They want to trade down. Judging by the blockbuster move down in 2012 with Washington that netted three total first rounders and one second rounder, and then the trade up with the Bills in 2013 to take Tavon Austin at 8, if Rams’ GM Les Snead wants to
make a move, he will make a move. Since the other GMs know that if an aggressive guy like Snead is completely willing to trade out of the 2nd draft spot, they need to at least put an offer or two in to stay competitive in the draft trade market.
The Jaguars are likely taking a QB with the 3rd pick. Owner Shahid Khan tried made this very clear, saying “I think there’s no mystery that we’re going to be taking a quarterback and maybe two.“ The team does need a QB desperately, but this could be yet another smoke screen to get a team behind them to trade up and give them extra picks.
There is a clear top three at the position in UCF’s Blake Bortles, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater (not necessarily in that order). All three are good, not great, NFL QB prospects. None deserve to be taken first overall, especially instead of future pro bowlers like Clowney, Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews, UCLA LB Anthony Barr, Buffalo LB Khalil Mack, Auburn OT Greg Robinson, and Clemson WR Sammy Watkins, who can each make a case for the number one overall selection. The Jaguars are also not opposed to trading down. If even just one team covets any of those incoming rookies enough, they will have several eager trade partners at the top of the draft. A trade down by one of the top 3 teams (Texans, Rams, Jaguars) seems likely at this point. In fact I will go out on a limb right now and say that two of those teams will trade down. The NFL is too competitive for some of these franchises picking outside of the top three not to roll the dice and move up.
The Browns, Raiders (5th), Vikings, and Titans (11th) are all in desperate need of a legitimate, high ceiling NFL QB. These teams create market for all the early first round trades to happen. If the Browns are not willing give up the goods and trade up two or three places to get their guy, they have to pray the Rams don’t find a trade partner and that the Texans are bluffing because whoever that is might not fall to four.
The Raiders are a big question mark. Incumbent QB Terrelle Pryor isn’t the long term answer, or maybe even the short term answer, but he can move the chains. He’s a stopgap option. Oakland is devoid of talent on both sides of the ball and could use players at every position. With an immediate impact OT likely on the board for them in Auburn’s Robinson or Texas A&M’s Matthews, they could opt to just stay put and take their chances. Oakland could also do something crazy. Their recent track record is full of unorthodox choices. Last draft they traded down, received very little in return, and drafted an already injured raw CB prospect, D.J. Hayden. Anything is possible with the Raiders, but at this point they just have so many needs that it does not make sense for them to trade up and give up their crucial draft picks in order to get a good, not great, QB prospect. If somebody like Bridgewater falls into their lap though, I expect them to pull the trigger on him instead of a stud OT.
The Vikings are in a similar situation to the Browns. The northern division is ripe for the taking. There are already studs in place like Adrian Peterson and Josh Gordon. The offensive lines are relatively solid pass blocking units. New offensive coordinators and head coaches. The Browns hired Kyle Shanahan as the offensive coordinator and he likes to run a zone blocking scheme with lots of play action and west coast passing trees. The QB has been known to rollout from time to time. The Vikings hired Norv Turner to be their OC. You already know though with him. Pass first scheme with deep balls. Lots of them.
After the Texans, Minnesota and Cleveland also look like solid landing spots for a rookie QB. The Vikings absolutely have to trade up if they want to secure a QB. If they don’t find a way to move up they run the risk of seeing the top three QBs taken off the board before pick eight, all having been captured by the other QB needy teams. Then the purple raiders will be stuck either making Derek Carr a top 10 draft pick (gross) or just picking the best player available and rolling the dice in free agency with Mike Vick, Josh McCown, or Josh Freeman. New Vikings HC Mike Zimmer is a defensive guy, and will likely leave the entire offense up to Mr. Turner. Norval is going to want a QB with an arm so look to them as the early favorites to trade up into that top three draft spot.
Former San Diego Chargers OC and Arizona Cardinals HC Ken Wisenhunt is now the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. He brought along with him Chargers Tight Ends coach Jason Michael as the team’s offensive coordinator. Wisenhunt is an extremely successful offensive mind that has led a team to a Super Bowl as a head coach. I expect the Titans offense to look a lot different that last year’s version. This new regime owes no allegiance to lame duck QB Jake Locker If they fall in love with a rookie quarterback and they think there is no chance that one of these guys falls to them at the 11th pick, they have to trade up. Wisenhunt is a QB wizard and he could always opt to go best player available and test his luck with the talented, yet inconsistent, Jake Locker, or one of the aforementioned free agent QBs.
The demand for the top three QBs within the first ten picks, even top five, is there. Four of them could be chosen within the top fifteen. After
the top four QBs, you have guys like Eastern Illinois’s Jimmy Garoppolo, who could end up being the steal of the draft amongst QBs, Clemson’s Tahj Boyd, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, and San Jose State’s David Fales. Expect the teams that miss out on a QB on day one to call these names in the 2nd or 3rd round. If anyone from this group impresses enough at the combine or in their personal workouts and rises into first round discussion, the demand for those top three or four QBs necessarily falls, and the Texans, Rams, and Jaguars, sadly, lose value on their picks.
As it stands now, look at the Vikings, Browns, Titans as the early pre-draft favorites to make a move up in round one of the draft. The Buccaneers and new HC Lovie Smith have no ties to 2nd year QB Mike Glennon, and could opt to make a darkhorse play if they fall in love with a player. Same goes for the Bills, even though they drafted a QB in the first round last year, and the Raiders. First round trades are happening people. Be ready.