As mock draft machines continue pumping out scenarios with May 8 mercifully almost two weeks away, there’s an important fact to remember: the draft board in its current form is a filthy lie.
Since the introduction of the rookie wage scale through the 2011 CBA, trading up to grab the draft darling of your choosing has been far more affordable. Last year that resulted in eight trades on the opening night of the draft, and the 2012 draft was utter chaos. Including the trade that eventually landed Washington Robert Griffin III two years ago, only four of the top 10 picks were used by their original owners.
The constant jostling for the right player and draft value throws more mud on a process that’s already pretty dirty and difficult to predict. There are always trading hot spots, with some obvious and others not so much. As I see it there are five right now, and they’re driven by the likelihood of a falling quarterback (or falling quarterbacks), and Jadeveon Clowney lust.
Texans at No. 1: During an appearance on PFT Live yesterday draftnik godfather Gil Brandt floated the idea of a draft-and-trade scenario here, with the Texans selecting the player another team desires, under the condition that team then selects their guy and the two are immediately swapped. The effect is the same as trading down, but the uncertainty of not knowing if the prospect Houston wants would still be around is eliminated (in theory).
That’s what happened with the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade back in 2004, and this year it would make the end game for Texans general manager Rick Smith just a little more complicated. He should be either selecting Jadeveon Clowney or trading down, and how exactly he does the second part remains anyone’s guess. The most likely and pass rusher needy trading partner is still Atlanta, but a leap up from their No. 6 perch may be a little too pricey.
Rams at No. 2: The number of teams interested in attending an early swap meet rests with Clowney’s potential (and brief) fall, and the true level of interest in the top three quarterbacks. If the Texans opt for a quarterback — and Brandt also said they’re high on Manziel — then by default there will be a flurry of activity around the Rams one slot later, a pick they inherited from Washington after the Robert Griffin III trade. Clowney is an absolute freak job, but with their 53 sacks in 2013, selecting a defensive lineman in the first round for the third time over the past four drafts isn’t a priority in St. Louis.
Raiders at No. 5: If Sammy Watkins is gone and the Raiders are rightfully confident they can still get a fine quarterback either by trading down in the first round or even waiting until the second, they’ll look to drop back. Finding a willing trade partner could be challenging, but if the Buccaneers are high enough on Mike Evans — and nervous enough — they could be ready to make a sacrifice to ensure their new head coach and quarterback don’t flounder immediately.
Cardinals at No. 20: The Cardinals have needs, because every team has needs. But there’s no one, truly glaring need, which is the sort of need usually addressed in the first round. Sure, the possibility of selecting Carson Palmer’s successor or competition exists if the right name falls. But Arizona has even less motivation to invest a first-round pick in a quarterback. This is a team that won 10 games on the strength of its defense, while getting by with Palmer’s play somewhere between OK and alright. So they too could look to capitalize on quarterback thirst elsewhere late in the round, and accumulate more draft capital.
Browns at No. 26: If they don’t select one early (at No. 4) the Browns will likely keep this pick to catch one of those falling quarterback. Alternatively, like the Cards they could auction the second of their many early round picks — five over the first three rounds, and 10 in total — and then choose from the likes of A.J. McCarron or Jimmy Garoppolo early in the second round. Of course, if selecting a quarterback in the first round is continually given the plague treatment, finding a trading partner will get impossible fast.