Quantity or Quality: Is it better to trade back for more picks?

DeCosta-Ozzie

The Ravens have always valued their draft picks as true capital.  Ozzie Newsome learned long ago, the best way to build a club is through successful draft picks, and free agency signing to complement the picks, and not the other way around.  One of the hallmarks, at least in Ozzie’s last few years, has been looking for ways to restock his draft capital by trading down from his pick as it approaches and accumulating more picks to use for depth.  Usually, it’s a value move: The Ravens find that there are several players ranked similarly available and aren’t “settled” on any particular one, so if a team comes calling looking to move up, the Ravens look to slide back a few picks, and also pick up another pick in a later round to fill with depth.  The more draft picks you take, the more you are likely to hit on a couple, thus making your draft a success.

 

But, does passing on a higher talent pool and focusing on quantity over quality of draft picks really lead to success?  Here are a few recent Ravens examples, with takes on how the trade worked for the team:

 

2016 – Ravens held pick 36 in the draft.  They traded it to Jacksonville for pick 38 and pick 146, who in turn used it to take Myles Jack.  At pick 38, the Ravens made another deal, this time to Miami, for picks 42 and 107 (Miami took Xavien Howard).  In the end, the Ravens netted 3 players instead of pick 36.  Those players are Kamalei Correa, Chris Moore, and Matt Judon.  On the surface, Correa’s lack of development at two different positions in two seasons would lead this trade to look like a bust, especially when stacked up against Myles Jack, who started all 16 games for the Jaguars, recording 66 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 fumble recoveries.  Similarly, Xavien Howard is a 16 game starter for Miami, with 4 interceptions, 42 tackles, and 13 pass breakups in 2017.  What saves this deal a bit is the successes of Judon and Moore.  Judon posted 8 sacks in 2017 with 50 tackles and 2 forced fumbles.  Chris Moore also contributed heavily in 2017, finishing as the 3rd best WR for the team and leading in kick return yardage.

 

VERDICT – Judon and Moore probably equal out Jack and/or Howard.  If Correa manages to develop, it would end up as a Ravens advantage.

 

2012 – Ravens held pick 29 in the draft.  They traded it to Minnesota for pick 35 and 98.  Minnesota selected Harrison Smith.  With pick 35, the Ravens selected Courtney Upshaw.  With pick 98, they selected Gino Gradkowski.  Upshaw developed into a starting LB for the Ravens, but never became the pass rushing specialist the Ravens hoped he would become.  He didn’t re-sign once his rookie deal expired and went to Atlanta, where he has contributed sparingly over the last two seasons.  Gradkowski was given a chance to start at Center following Matt Birk’s retirement in 2013, and the results were less than stellar.  He was traded to the Broncos in 2015, along with the 144th pick in the 2016 draft, for pick 130 in 2016.  Baltimore turned pick 130 into Alex Lewis, and Denver selected Connor McGovern with pick 144 (Gradkowski was actually cut by the Broncos before the 2015 season began).  Harrison Smith, meanwhile, has made 3 straight Pro Bowls as a Free Safety.

 

VERDICT – Clearly, this trade favored the Vikings.  The Ravens weren’t in the market for a Free Safety in 2012, as Ed Reed was still starting for the Ravens, alongside hard hitting strong safety Bernard Pollard.  However, one year later, Ed Reed was moving on, as was Pollard, and until getting Eric Weddle, the Ravens struggled to find a reliable safety to play in their defensive backfield.  Both Upshaw and Gradkowski failed to live up to their expectations.

 

2010 – Baltimore held the 25th pick in the draft.  With pick 24, the Patriots traded with the Cowboys, who selected Dez Bryant, widely believed to be the player the Ravens would’ve taken at 25.  As a result, the Ravens traded pick 25 to the Denver Broncos, in exchange for picks 43, 70, and 114.  The Broncos used the 25th pick to select Tim Tebow.  The Ravens used their picks to select Sergio Kindle, Ed Dickson, and Dennis Pitta.  Ed Dickson had a mostly mediocre career with the Ravens, but did play a sizeable role  in 2011, catching 54 balls for 528 yards and 5 TDs.  He went on to play for Carolina for 4 years after his time in Baltimore, experiencing a career resurgence in 2017 when Greg Olsen went out with an injury.  Dennis Pitta had to retire early due to his recurring hip deterioration, but had better seasons than Dickson in 2012 and 2016.  Tebow had an exciting run as a starting QB in Denver in 2011, culminating in a playoff win over Pittsburgh in OT, then losing to the Patriots.  Tebow was replaced when the Broncos obtained Peyton Manning in 2013, and he bounced around the AFC East as a backup QB before switching to baseball.

 

VERDICT – Mostly a wash, but the Ravens got far more production out of Dickson and Pitta than the Broncos got from Tim Tebow.  Dickson and Pitta allowed the Ravens to move on from Todd Heap as a cap casualty in 2011.  For Kindle and Pitta, unfortunate injuries derailed their careers, though Pitta’s career undoubtedly contributed to the team’s Super Bowl run.  His resurgence in 2016 allowed the Ravens to remain competitive despite losing Steve Smith Sr. as a receiving option.

 

 

Final Thoughts: While this paints a murky picture of trading back as a bit of a crap shoot (Ravens would’ve clearly won the 2010 trade has it not been for unfortunate injuries, would win the 2016 trade if the highest taken player finds a consistent spot), it does seem that when the Ravens have little to no strong options on the board for their pick, it does make more sense to go ahead and move back.  Not included in this study was the case of 2008.  In 2008, the Ravens held the 8th pick and were all in on getting a QB.  When they failed to get Matt Ryan, the team opted to trade back to 26.  In the end, they traded back up to ensure they got their 2nd rated QB, Joe Flacco.  They also traded back in Round 2, but still managed to get Ray Rice.  The draft picks they got with those trades, however, ended up washing out.  That said, the player picked 8 only lasted 3 seasons in the NFL.  The player taken with Baltimore’s original 2nd round pick?  John Carlson, who finished with less career receiving yards than Ray Rice, who was a running back.  So, even more evidence that the Ravens can get good value from trading back when their board shows a lack of value with the pool of players available.

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