With all the recent talk being that the Steelers are likely going to take a RB at #24 overall, and with it also being the height of mock draft season, we Steelers fans once again find ourselves trying to talk or wish into reality the Steelers actually trading down in the first round. Even though the Steelers haven’t traded down in the first round in twenty years, going back to a minor move down from #16 overall to #19 overall with the Jets to pick up an extra fourth-rounder to go along with Casey Hampton, we’re hoping that this may be the year they buck the trend. The Steelers seemingly haven’t even entertained the idea of moving back over the past two decades. We like to joke that the Steelers “run to the podium” every year, but for all intents and purposes, that really does appear to be the case—even when a team like the Bengals snag a guy they love in William Jackson III right before the Steelers pick, rather than look to move back and regroup, they just go with plan B (or C, or D) and make their pick.
Somewhat as a result of the pandemic, but over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself really getting into draft season and the prospects coming of school more than ever before, even though I’m not a super college football fan. And naturally, like I’m sure most of you on here probably feel, I’m a big proponent of trading down. The Steelers live and die by the NFL Draft. They historically spend less money in Free Agency than every other team beyond the Packers and Bengals. Why not try to load up on as many NFL Draft lottery tickets as possible then? Trade down, accumulate more ammo, which then also gives you more flexibility to move up and down the board to go after targeted players. Seems only natural, right? Then why are the Steelers so adverse to moving back? Am I wrong for thinking trading down is generally a good decision?
So that got the wheels turning and I wanted to take some time looking at the actual results of teams trading back. The Steelers, fortunately, are often picking in the 20s or 30s (sometimes even 32nd!), so I wanted to look at what the actual results were in recent history of teams that were in the Steelers position, drafting in the 20s or 30s, who made a move to trade down until either later in the first or into the second round, and see if that was really the smart move after all. I did want to avoid some of those moves that involved players in trades just for my sanity’s sake—I just want to look at what happens when a team picking in the 20s or 30s decides to trade down with another team to acquire more picks, and what the ultimate outcome was. I looked at just the past five years because this was already enough time spent. Well gents, here are the results…
New England traded #23 overall to the L.A. Chargers for a 2nd and 3rd round choice.
The results: L.A. traded up to take LB Kenneth Murray, who had an up-and-down rookie year but seemed to play better to finish out the season. The Patriots ended up with S Kyle Dugger in the second and LB Anfernee Jennings in the third. Dugger had a very good rookie season for a guy coming from D-III and looks like a great find. Jennings is a TBD. Overall, I’ll give the nod that the trade back was the best move as Dugger looks like the best player and Jennings could be a positive contributor going forward as well.
Minnesota traded #25 overall to the 49ers for the #31st overall along with a 4th and 5th.
The results: San Francisco moved up to take WR Brandon Aiyuk, who had an excellent rookie season in an otherwise mess of an offensive year for the 49ers. The Vikings drafted CB Jeff Gladney at 31 overall, who really struggled his rookie year giving up 6 TDs and missing over 20 tackles. With the 4th-rounder, they picked up DE D.J. Wonnum, and with the 5th WR K.J. Osborn. Osborn didn’t play, but Wonnum looks like a great find for another potential stud on the Vikings DL. I’ll still give the edge to the 49ers here given Gladney’s struggles and Aiyuk playing so well in such a bad situation.
Seattle traded down from #21 overall to Green Bay for #30 and two fourth-round choices.
The results: Green Bay traded up for S Darnell Savage, a guy who was getting some buzz to be a possible Steeler at the time, and over the past two years he has been a great find and playmaker on their back end. Really impressed with him. Seattle initially double-dipped on the trade down, trading #30 to the Giants for their second, fourth, and fifth-round picks. The Giants moved up for CB Deandre Baker, which let’s face it, has been a disaster given his issues. Seattle traded down AGAIN with Carolina from #37 to #47 and picked up Carolina’s third-rounder to boot. All-in-all, Seattle drafted S Marquis Blair in the second, traded that Carolina third-rounder and a 4th from the initial trade with Green Bay to move up to #64 to draft WR DK Metcalf, traded #114 with the Vikings for #120 and #204 to draft WR Gary Jennings Jr. and RB Travis Homer, and drafted S Uguchukwu Amadi with the fourth from the trade with the Giants and LB Ben Burr-Kiven with the fifth from the Giants. Got all of that? So just from the Packers’ perspective, they moved up 9 spots to draft an electric playmaker for their second, I think they would do that again. For the Seahawks? Ultimately, they used the added ammo to nab DK Metcalf, which is an absolute home run. Marquis Blair, the highest pick of the bunch, looks like a likely bust and has really struggled in coverage. Metcalf is such a freak I’ll give them a slight edge here.
Baltimore traded down from #22 overall with Philadelphia for #25 along with a fourth and a sixth.
The results: Philly traded up for T Andre Dillard. Not going to call him a bust, but he really struggled with playing the big boys in the NFL his rookie year, then he tore his biceps and missed all of last season. Not looking good. For Baltimore? They drafted Marquis Brown at #25, which while not a home run pick, he has been the best WR Baltimore has drafted in god knows how long, maybe ever given their struggles at that position. With the fourth, they drafted CB Iman Marshall and the sixth QB Trace McSorley. Both of those are throwaways at this point: Iman Marshall is their Senquez Golson and has been placed on IR prior to both 2019 and 2020. McSorley sucks. Overall, an easy win for Baltimore at this point although they got nothing from the two extra picks.
Indianapolis traded down from #26 overall with Washington in exchange for their second-rounder and future second-rounder.
The results: Washington moved up for DE Montez Sweat, who has been a stud on that nasty Washington DL. Indianapolis took #46 from Washington and traded down again, this time with Cleveland for #49 and #144. Cleveland moved up for CB Greedy Williams, who flashed well his rookie season but missed all of last year with a nerve injury. The Colts finally drafted LB Ben Banogu at #49, who has been a bust and was a healthy scratch in multiple games his second year, and S Marvell Tell III with #144, who they moved to CB, showed some good play as a rookie but opted out last year. But with the 2020 second-rounder they got from Washington, they drafted WR Michael Pittman, who had a great rookie season this past year. Overall? I’ll say this is a wash. Washington moved up and got a great player for their DL, Indy moved down and ultimately drafted a bust, a decent CB, and a pretty good WR prospect. Gun to my head I’d give the slight edge to Washington, but with how good Pittman looked the second half of last year it’s a wash.
The Rams traded down from #31 and tossed in a sixth with Atlanta for their second and third-rounders.
The results: Atlanta moved up for T Kaleb McGary, who has been a disappointment for sure. With the sixth they ended up with WR Marcus Green, who didn’t make it out of a camp. The Rams traded down again from #45 with New England for #56 and 101 and then traded #56 to Kansas City for #61 and #167. The Pats took CB Joejuan Williams and the Chiefs took WR Mercole Hardeman with those picks. The Rams ultimately ended up with S Taylor Rapp at #61, took CB David Long at #79, and then had multiple other day three trades with New England and others which honestly was too damn much to go through, but ultimately doesn’t look like they nabbed anyone of value. Overall, a good trade down to get a pretty good player in Taylor Rapp and some other lottery tickets (even though it appears they would have been better served avoiding more move downs after the initial trade).
Baltimore traded down from #22 with Tennessee along with a sixth for the Titans #25 overall and a fourth.
The results: The Titans ended up with LB Rashaan Evans, who the Steelers were reportedly trying to trade up to get that draft before settling for Terrell Edmunds. Evans is a pretty solid player but is who he is: a guy who is great against the run, not so much in coverage. With the sixth, they used that to trade back up with Baltimore for their fifth to draft CB Dane Cruikshank. Baltimore ended up with TE Hayden Hurst. They used the fourth in the package to trade up at the end of the first with Philly to draft QB Lamar Jackson. Overall? I’ll give this to the Ravens. Hurst was a solid player who the Ravens ultimately moved as part of a deal that allowed them to draft J.K. Dobbins. Using the extra ammo to get your franchise QB and a stud RB? I’ll take that over Evans any day.
Seattle traded down from #26 overall with Atlanta for #31, a third and seventh.
The results: Atlanta moved up to draft DE Takk McKinley, who I remember personally really liking for the Steelers but didn’t work out. The Steelers ended up with some Watt brother who turned out okay. Seattle took #31 and traded down again, this time with the 49ers for #35 and #187. The 49ers took Reuben Foster, who looked great before the… well, you know. The Seahawks ended up with DT Malik McDowell, who never played a snap after his DUI car wreck. What a mess these deals were. With the other picks, the ‘Hawks took S Lano Hill, S Mike Tyson, and with last pick, they ended up with RB Chris Carson, an amazing seventh-round selection (taken one pick after the Steelers drafted Keion Adams). Overall? Give this to Seattle. McDowell’s career derailed before it started, but they nabbed a great RB in Chris Carson and a depth player in Lano Hill. Atlanta must have been trying to recapture the Julio Jones trade-up magic as both this deal and the move up for Kaleb McGary didn’t work out.
Green Bay traded down from #29 overall with Cleveland for #33 overall and a fourth.
The results: Cleveland moved up to take TE David Njoku, who is a talented guy and has played well at times, but has been an overall disappointment. Green Bay ended up with CB Kevin King, a pretty meh career overall, and LB Vince Biegel with the fourth, who lasted a year before being waived. Overall? Give this one to Cleveland. The Packers could’ve stayed put and drafted two great Wisconsin players in T.J. Watt or Ryan Ramczyk. Njoku at least has flashed some pretty good play. Kevin King? Not so much.
Washington traded down 1 pick from #21 overall with Houston for #22 and a future seventh.
The results: Houston moved up one pick for WR Will Fuller, who when healthy has been an explosive playmaker. The Redskins moved down one spot and took WR Josh Doctson, who was effectively a bust. With the future seventh they took WR Robert Davis who is out of the league now and never played. Overall? Clear win for Houston moving up to get their man in Will Fuller.
Seattle traded down from #26 overall with Denver for #31 and a third.
The results: Denver moved up for Paxton Lynch. Ouch. Seattle drafted T Germain Ifedi with #31, who pretty much busted out. He did lead the league in penalties one year, so there’s that. With the third they drafted TE Nick Vannett, and Steeler fans know all about that guy. Overall? A complete wash with both teams losing. Turd sandwich vs. Giant Douche ala South Park. Bad picks all around.
Kansas City traded down from #28 overall to San Francisco, including a seventh-rounder, for the 49ers second, fourth, and sixth-round picks.
The results: San Francisco traded up for G Joshua Garnett. Garnett was mostly a bust, was injured quite a bit, his 5th-year option declined, bounced around a few practice rosters and is currently with Washington. With the seventh-rounder, the 49ers drafted CB Prince Charles Iworah, who stayed on the roster before being cut, bounced around a ton since then for various practice squads. Kansas City nabbed DT Chris Jones with the second-rounder they got, an absolute stud. With the fourth they took G Parker Ehinger, who was later traded for CB Charvarius Ward, a solid player, and with the sixth CB D.J. White, who was shortly waived and bounced around from there. Overall? Clear win for the Chiefs landing Chris Jones on the trade down, and using the extra ammo to nab another solid player in Charvarius Ward.
So was it better to trade down?
Overall, trading down was the right decision the majority of these trades. In 12 overall trades reviewed, I gave the trade down a slight edge in 4 trades and a notable or big edge in 3 other trade downs, and 2 of the trades a wash. So in 9 of the 12 overall trades I gave the edge to the team trading down or no advantage for the team that traded up. In only 3 of the trades did I give the overall edge to trading up.
The three trade-ups that were the better deal were a slight edge for the 49ers moving up for WR Brandon Aiyuk when the Vikings took CB Jeff Gladney on the trade down who struggled noticeable his rookie year, the Texans moving up one spot to take WR Will Fuller, with Washington moving back one spot for WR Josh Doctson, and a slight edge to the Browns on trading up for Njoku and the Packers trading down to miss out on Watt and Ryan Ramczyk to draft a meh player in Kevin King. One wash was a good wash with Washington trading up for DE Marquez Sweat and the Colts trading down and getting a future second on WR Michael Pittman, as I think both teams are happy with how that turned out, and the second wash was a, well, shitty wash with the Paxton Lynch/George Ifedi move.
The teams that traded down ended up with S Kyle Dugger, WR DK Metcalf, WR Hollywood Brown, S Taylor Rapp, TE Hayden Hurst (with extra picks used as ammo to make moves for Lamar Jackson and JK Dobbins), RB Chris Carson, WR Michael Pittman, and DT Chris Jones. I’ll take that haul all day over the guys who were traded up for, most notably Marquez Sweat and Darnell Savage Jr.
It was interesting to me that many of the highest picks for the team that traded down often disappointed: notably LB Ben Banogu, DT Malik McDowell, CB Kevin King, T George Ifedi, and CB Jeff Gladney. More often, teams that traded down gained the overall edge through the extra ammo they picked up and subsequent moves they were able to make with added flexibility, such as the Seahawks using their extra picks to move back up in the second for DK Metcalf, the Seahawks landing Chris Carson in the seventh as a huge find, the Vikings grabbing DE D.J. Wonnum, who looks very good, especially after their trade down pick Jeff Gladney struggled as a rookie, the Ravens having added flexibility with extra picks to trade back up for Lamar Jackson, or then flipping Hayden Hurst for the second they ended up using on JK Dobbins. The teams that were most flexible and inventive appear to have been the teams that benefited the most.
In conclusion: this all means to me that trading down is a viable winning strategy, especially if a team is willing to be flexible and inventive in how they use those extra draft resources to make even further additional moves. Trading back up into the late first is more often a regrettable decision, especially if you’re the Atlanta Falcons.A1