In these pre-draft days we are constantly besieged by mock drafts. Proposed selections vary all over the map. But most of the mocks don't make a lot of sense because, among other things, the rules typically don't allow trades ... which simplifies the mocker's task but doesn't represent reality. While some folks like to claim that draft pick trades are rare, the fact is that they do occur virtually every year.
The focus of this post is questioning what the Niners should do with Pick #2 in the upcoming draft. Normally a top-3 pick in the draft is used to select a prospect for one of the most important positions ... QB, LT or Edge-rusher. The Niners' biggest current need by far is a starting QB. But, we are not going to solve the starting QB issue in the 2017 draft ... quite simply there are no QB prospects in this draft who will be nearly ready to start in the NFL before 2018, at the very earliest, and most not even then. Accordingly, it makes absolutely no sense to me to waste the #2 pick in the entire draft on a high-risk developmental QB when you're trying to completely rebuild a team. That might make sense if we had a stacked roster except for the QB need and could afford to invest the high pick for payoff sometime in the future. But that is not our case ... we have needs virtually everywhere. Further, there is not a large difference in the state of development and readiness as between the top half-dozen QB prospects in this draft class ... a prospect obtained in the third round may have every bit as much potential of becoming a "franchise QB" as the guy picked first.
"OK, IF I buy that, how about selecting a prospect at some other impact position at Pick #2? Sombody like ILB Rueben Foster or WR Mike Williams or RB Leonard Fournette or even S Malik Hooker?" Not everyone will agree, but I don't think that any of those guys, individually, is worth the second overall pick either. Top-10? Yeah. #2? I don't think so ... that pick has more value than any of the available prospects not named Myles Garrett ... and I assume that he will be selected as the top pick in the draft.
"Well hell, we have to do something with the pick ... what other alternatives are there?" To address that, let's look first at alternative draft strategies. Many folks just seem to arbitrarily adopt the "pick the best prospect available" approach, regardless of circumstances. Certainly there are times when that strategy is appropriate ... typically in the lower rounds of a draft ... but it seems to me that that approach is less appropriate in the earlier rounds.
Not only do team's needs change from year to year but the characteristics of each individual draft class should have an impact on the selection of the appropriate draft strategy. As a long-time student of the process I have formulated some thoughts about drafting and draft trade strategies:
- The NFL draft is really no different than any other investment opportunity ... the name of the game is to maximize return on investment. How much player value can a team acquire for the draft picks invested?
- The extent of roster needs should dictate whether to focus on a "select-for-need" or "select-best-prospect-available" approach to a draft ... if there are only a few needs, focus on them; if there are many needs, lean toward the "best-prospect-available" (but only for positions of need) approach.
- If a draft class is "typical" or "normal" with respect to quality and depth of talent, go with the picks that you have.
- If, however, the draft class has a limited number of premier prospects and is generally lacking in depth, try to trade up (using lower round picks) to access as many of the better prospects as possible.
- If the draft class has a very deep base of premier prospects with narrow differences in talent level, try to trade down ... to access as many of the picks in the second through fourth rounds as possible where you can get prospects who would otherwise be ranked higher up in a "normal" draft class. (With this type of draft class it is not unusual to find prospects in the third (or even fourth) round that would be a selected in the second round of many other draft classes.)
- Contrary to popular opinion, trades can always be made ... it's simply a question of price and whether one is willing to pay it; and, willingness to pay is a function of severity of need.
- Contrary to Baalke's claim, the draft is not a crap-shoot ... drafting success is usually a function of the level of intelligence, diligence, skill, and guts of the selector. The smartest, most well-trained, hardest-working player personnel people are the ones that seem to "win the crap shoot" more often than others. Luck does play a role, but it is not nearly as big a role as a lot of people seem to believe.
- Whether you're trading up or trading down you should always be targeting a specific impact prospect.
So, the "right" draft strategy differs for each team depending upon their needs and the appropriate draft strategy should also depend upon the characteristics of the draft class in question. How does that play out for the Niners in the 2017 draft? Let's examine:
Yes! With one of the weakest rosters in the entire NFL the Niners have needs at almost every position. Let's just arbitrarily narrow it down just a bit.
On the offensive side we need QB, WR, and RB, and possibly interior OL and a receiving TE. Oh, and with Kyle's system we'll need a fullback ... but let's look to free agency for that ... there are several very good FBs possibly available in free agency.
On the defensive side we need an Edge-rusher, a nose tackle, and two linebackers (middle and SAM).
In summary, the cupboard is pretty bare! Dare I say it? Thanks Baalke!
2017 Draft Class Characteristics
The 2017 draft class is a classic case of a deep draft class ... maybe one of the deepest ever ... especially at certain positions. This is really good news for the Niners ... it means that they should be able to select some prospects in the fourth- and even fifth-round who, in a more typical draft class, might be selected in the third round. Accordingly, it's important to take maximum advantage of this opportunity.
This particular combination of circumstances almost forms a perfect storm for the Niners:
They have many, many needs which would argue for obtaining more picks, if possible.
The draft class is very deep which means that better talent should be available deeper into the draft.
Bingo! IMO the right strategy for the Niners in the 2017 draft is to trade down to gain more picks to access additional good prospects available in the middle rounds.
Let's evaluate some potential trade-down options:
Option #1: Trade Pick #2 to Cleveland ... allowing them to select BOTH Myles Garrett AND any QB (or other prospect) of their choice with the second overall pick. In return we could net Picks #12, #33, #52 and a couple of picks in the 2018 draft. Even after making such a trade Cleveland would still have 10 picks in this draft. Our prospect target at #12 would likely be WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan) before he might be selected by Arizona (Pick #13) or Philadelphia (Pick #14). Picks #33 and #52 would likely also give us two more near-term starters. I would love this option if it were doable ... but it is now sounding as if Hue Jackson may prefer to try to obtain Jimmy Garoppolo as his starting QB (using Pick #12) rather than a developmental QB like Trubisky, Kizer or Watson. But it certainly wouldn't hurt to pursue the possibility ... they can't hurt us other than to say "no".
Option #2: Trade Pick #2 to the other team that has two first-round picks ... Tennessee (Picks #5 and #18). While this trade could be great for the Niners it doesn't make sense for Tennessee ... this draft sets up perfectly for them just as it is. They're looking for a CB and a WR (and possibly DL and TE). They may be able to get BOTH CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State) at #5 and WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan) or WR John Ross (Washington) at #18. Accordingly, Tennessee has no motivation to want to make a trade.
Option #3: Trade Pick #2 to Buffalo ... allowing them to select ANY developmental QB of their choice, assuming that they elect to part ways with Tyrod Taylor. At #10 they certainly would not get access to their first choice of QBs ... maybe that is important enough to cause them to trade up. Previously they've struck out when trying to draft a QB in the first round but not up top (Manuel). In return we could net Picks #10, #42, #74 and a first-round pick in the 2018 draft. Our prospect target at Pick #10 could again be WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan) or Edge Derek Barnett (Tennessee) or LB Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt). This trade has possibilities for us but depends completely upon how badly Buffalo wants to choose their first-choice QBOTF, if they move on from Taylor. Very outside chance at the most.
Option #4: Trade Pick #2 to the New York Jets ... allowing them to jump ahead of Tennessee to select CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State) to replace the troubled and waning Darell Revis. Or, maybe they would want to jump on their QB of choice before Chicago can select him first. In return we could net Picks #6, #38, and a second-round pick in the 2018 draft. Our prospect target at Pick #6 could be LB Rueben Foster (Alabama), WR Mike Williams (Clemson) or even RB Leonard Fournette (LSU). This looks like it might have possibilities if the Jets are motivated.
But the problem with all of these trade possibilities is that they don't address our biggest need ... a starting QB for now and the future. Is there any way that we could leverage a trade into a starting QB? (Let me just say right here that I do not think that there is any way that Kirk Cousins leaves Washington this year ... and probably not anytime in the near future. I'm past that wishful thinking.)
Kyle has indicated that he liked Jimmy Garoppolo second only to Derek Carr in the 2014 draft ... well ahead of first-rounder Johnny Football, who Cleveland actually selected against Kyle's wishes. Let's just assume that Kyle still values Garoppolo and sees him as "the right guy" to start our rebuild with. (By the way, former 2-time NFL GM Charlie Casserly thinks that Garoppolo is better than any QB prospect in the 2017 draft class.) But would we really consider trading Pick #2 (obviously a better offer than the #12 that Cleveland might offer) to New England for Garoppolo? I don't know about you, but my answer would be 'absolutely not' ... not for a QB who has as little experience as Garoppolo has, even if Kyle thinks that he's "the guy". On the other hand, if we don't make such a trade, we're looking at finding our starting QB (and bridge to a QBOTF) through free agency ... with such exciting prospects as Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, Matt Schaub, etc. Gulp!
Isn't there something else that we could do to address that problem? Good question ... it's pretty convoluted, but let's look at yet another possible trade option.
Option #5: IF Kyle's preferred QB solution in both the short- and long-term is Jimmy Garoppolo, structure a trade that could bring Garoppolo to Santa Clara ... but without using Pick #2 directly.
First, a few background facts:
- Having won the Super Bowl, New England will be picking last in each round of the 2017 draft. Their three biggest needs are LB (to replace Jamie Collins, who they traded to Cleveland), TE (to eventually replace the frequently-ailing Rob Gronkowski and/or free agent Marcellus Bennett), and Edge-rusher (to replace Chandler Jones, who they traded to Arizona). Obviously at Pick #32 they are not going to get access to the very top prospects at any of those positions. But, if they had Pick #6 in the draft they could select LB Rueben Foster (Alabama), TE O.J. Howard (Alabama), Edge-rusher Derek Barnett, or others.
- Before trading LB Jamie Collins to Cleveland last October, Bill Belichick tried to trade Collins to the Houston Texans in an exchange deal that would bring WR DeAndre Hopkins to New England ... he wanted to add a WR who could stretch the field.
- WR Torrey Smith has substantially under-performed his contract with the Niners ... largely because of weak QB play; Smith's contract is the Niners' fourth largest (behind only Kaepernick, Staley and Bowman) and has a cap hit of $9.6 million per year for the next three years; Smith is exorbitantly expensive and producing little for a team languishing at the bottom of the League.
Given that background, here is Option #5:
So, how would that trade work out from a relative-trade-value standpoint? Obviously, that's difficult to compute because there are two players involved ... and there is no good way to really value them. But, let me give it a try from New England's prospective:
- First, execute the Option #4 trade ... trading Pick #2 to the New York Jets in exchange for Pick #6 plus Pick #38 plus a second-round pick in the 2018 draft (perhaps useful in trading up to select a developmental QB from that much stronger QB class).
- Second, trade Pick #6 (acquired from the Jets) plus WR Torrey Smith to the New England Patriots in exchange for (1) QB Jimmy Garoppolo, (2) Pick #32, and (3) Pick #64 in the upcoming draft.
- The difference in traded-draft-pick values is 740 value points in New England's favor ... Pick #6 (1600) versus Pick #32 (590) plus Pick #64 (270) or a total of 860
- As for the players involved, it's easier to value Garoppolo because, in theory, New England could acquire Pick #12 from Cleveland for him. That pick is worth 1200 value points.
- If we were trying to balance the value of the trade, that would value Torrey Smith at 460 value points, as follows:
To the Niners: Pick #32 (590) plus Pick #64 (270) plus Garoppolo (assumed value of 1200) = 2060 value points
To New England: Pick #6 (1600) plus 460 (the resulting assumed value of Torrey Smith from above) = 2060 value points
460 value points would value Torrey Smith as a mid-second-round draft pick (Pick #44), which would seem to be reasonable (Interestingly, Smith was actually drafted with Pick #58 in the second round of the 2011 draft).
"But wait, why would the Patriots want to do that rather than just trade Garoppolo to Cleveland for Pick #12?" If the Patriots traded Garoppolo to Cleveland in exchange for Pick #12 (as has been rumored) they would have access to some very good draft prospects ... but not likely LB Rueben Foster (Alabama) to replace the traded Jamie Collins; with Pick #6 they probably could select Foster. And, they could provide Brady with a desired speed receiver to go with the likes of Edelman, Amendola and Hogan. For New England, this deal would be like acquiring Rueben Foster and Torrey Smith for the 32nd and 64th picks in the upcoming draft, plus Garoppolo, who they will likely lose one way or another anyway ... unless they were willing to franchise tag him, which would be, in addition to Brady, a huge financial commitment to the QB position. If Brady played for very much longer we're talking really big bucks.
"OK, but what if we made the trade with the Jets and then couldn't close the deal with New England for Garoppolo and picks?" We still have Pick #6 to select Foster, Williams, Corey Davis, or whoever. The obvious downside would be having to to settle for a free agent QB bridge to the QBOTF. But, we'd have extra picks in 2018 to trade up to select that QBOTF.
Oh, and IF we were able to close the trade with New England, here's how I might use the resulting draft picks:
Via the use of Pick #2 ......................... QB Jimmy Gaaroppolo (Eastern Illinois)
Pick #1/32 (New England) ....................Edge Taco Charlton (Michigan) or Charles Harris (Missouri)
Pick #2/34 (Own) ..................................LB Jarrad Davis (Florida)
Pick #2/38 (New York Jets) ..................WR Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington)
Pick #2/64 (New England) ...................TE Bucky Hodges (Virginia Tech)
Pick #3/66 (Own) .................................RB Joe Mixon (Oklahoma) ... a first-round talent with off-field issues
If that bothers you ............................NT Elijah Qualls (Washington)
Pick #4/~107 (Own) ............................QB Davis Webb (California) ... Note A
Pick #4/~144 (Comp) ..........................NT Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA)
If NT Qualls taken at #3/66 ..............RB Brian Hill (Wyoming)
Pick #5/~148 (Own) ............................WR Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M)
Pick #5/~163 (Washington) .................SS Josh Harvey-Clemons (Louisville)
Pick #6/~188 (Own) .............................K Zane Gonzalez (Arizona State)
Pick #6/~206 (Denver) .........................P Austin Rehkow (Idaho) ... Note B
Pick #7/~224 (Cleveland) ....................CB Jeremy Clark (Michigan) ... Note C
Pick #7/~225 (Own) .............................OG Sean Harlow (Oregon State) ... Note C
A. If we were unable to acquire QB Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade with New England, I would target QB Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) in the second round of the draft. Webb may not develop as fast as Mahomes but with Jimmy Garappolo on board as the starter (and Hoyer or Schaub as the backup) the developmental pace is less important.
B. I know, you guys are going to razz me for mock-drafting a punter ... so Baalke-like. However, Rehkow is the best punter is college football, is already a better punter than Pinion, and he is also a very good placekicker ... nice to have a qualified backup if a K gets injured.
C. Candidates for the Practice Squad.
Um! Seven starters plus three significant contributors ... not a bad haul in the first year of a complete rebuild. Most importantly, we got a "franchise QB".
So, the important question is, what do you think? Should we trade down? If so, which trade option would you prefer?