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The virtue of trading down in the draft


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2005 was a lost season for the Green Bay Packers. After losing their two starting offensive guards in free agency, the team struggled on offense as they failed to protect their quarterback. No team can survive the loss of a pair of Pro Bowl offensive linemen without a back-up plan in place, and the cheeseheads didn't have one of those. The end result was a disastrous 4-12 season frequently punctuated by cries of "Brett Favre should retire!" The reality was that the team's defense wasn't bad. They were 6th in the NFL in yards allowed, but they were 20th in scoring defense due to the frequent short fields the offense/special teams left for them. The whole situation was hopeless, at least on the surface. How did Green Bay address the issue? They drafted brilliantly.

Rebuilding always starts with the draft.

The NFL compensates teams who lose quality free agents to other teams, so the Packers already started the draft with a pair of supplementary picks. Those two selections hardly made up for an entire season without Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, but it was a start. The team also found itself dealing with a frustrated but talented player in Javon Walker. On draft day, they decided to trade him to Denver in exchange for the #36 pick. So, the Packers had the #5 overall selection in the draft due to their struggles. They also had three additional picks on Draft Day due to a trade and some compensatory pick. And everyone chronicling the team's struggles agreed the team needed an upgrade on the offensive line.

Now is as good a time as any to point out that the Falcons are going to have a pick in the late 30s or early 40s as the completion of the Matt Schaub trade. They also are likely to have a pair of compensatory selections for losing free agents Patrick Kerney and Justin Griffith this past off-season. As for our offensive line...well, you know. The situations are quite similar in all of these areas. So, we have a blueprint in place for how they fixed their issues of need in short fashion. How did they do it? They traded down. A lot. I'm sure you have all heard the phrase, "They make it up in volume." That theory holds in the NFL as well.

Green Bay got the ball rolling by trading its second-round (No. 36) pick they received for Javon Walker to New England for the Patriots' second- (No. 52) and third-round (No. 75) picks. Green Bay traded a pick worth 540 points for two worth a combined 595 points in this instance, demonstrating that the NFL Draft Value Chart is a guideline more than ironclad law.

They then took advantage of our team's goodwill. Green Bay traded its second- (No. 37) and fifth-round (No. 139) picks to Atlanta for the Falcons' second- (No. 47), third- (No. 93) and fifth-round (No. 148) picks. We wanted Jimmy Williams just that badly. It's hard to believe now, I know. Green Bay traded two picks worth 566.5 in value to us for three worth 590.2. Again, they came out ahead on the value chart. More importantly, they once again turned the picks they had into additional picks. At this point in the draft, Green Bay had taken three picks they had and turned them into five picks. They weren't done yet, either.

Green Bay traded its third-round (No. 93) selection it had just acquired from us to St. Louis for the Rams fourth- (No. 109) and sixth-round (No. 183) picks. Then, they traded that shiny, new #109 pick they got from St. Louis to Philadephia for the #115 and #185 selections. This is the NFL equivalent of making money using other people's money rather than your own. The #93 pick they didn't have to start the draft was traded for the #109 and #183. Then, the #109 pick they didn't have to start the draft was traded for the #115 and #185. They turned the #93 pick -- OUR #93 PICK -- into the #109, #115, #183, and #185 selections. I know the math can be a bit tricky, and this works almost like 3 Card Monty in a way, so let me break it down more easily for you. Green Bay somehow snookered teams into giving up four picks in exchange for a selection that was not even theirs at the start of the draft.

If this were a stock transaction, the Wall Street Journal would be writing a feature column on the wizardry of it. Imagine taking someone else's money and getting a factor of four return on investment on it without owing anybody anything. That's what Green Bay did here. How did it work out for them? Take a look.

The team traded three picks of its own (remember that the #93 and #109 were not theirs to begin with) to other teams in return for seven picks. How does this matter? Simply look at the players that were selected by the other teams as opposed to what Green Bay selected with their picks:

Other teams:

#36 Chad Jackson

#37 Jimmy Williams

#93 Dominique Byrd

#109 Jason Avant

#139 Quinn Ojinnaka (this example is not pretty for Falcons fans)

Now consider that the #93 and #109 selections were not ones they had at the start of the day. Had Green Bay stayed where they were and made their three selections, their draft would have looked something like this:

#36 Daryn Colledge

#37 Greg Jennings

#139 Ingle Martin (or Will Blackmon?)

The supposition is that with 30 selections between #37 and their next pick at #67, they would have been forced to choose the two highest rated players on their board. It's just a wild guess that the guys they took at #47 and #52 qualified, but this logic fits for our purposes. With regards to #139, with the difference in ratings so small on players in that area, the supposition fits for Martin as well. I think it's unlikely Blackmon would have slid any further. So, Colledge, Jennings and Martin would be their draft selections had they not traded down four times. After they did, they wound up with the following.

Green Bay:

#47 Daryn Colledge

#52 Greg Jennings

#75 Jason Spitz

#115 Will Blackmon

#148 Ingle Martin

#183 Johnny Jolly

#185 Tyrone Culver

Jason Spitz, Will Blackmon, Johnny Jolly and Tyrone Culver were all "free", as it were. These were players they would not have selected had the team not demonstrated tremendous patience on draft day. The end result is that this should have been their 2006 draft:

A.J. Hawk, OLB

Daryn Colledge, OG

Greg Jennings, WR

Abdul Hodge, MLB

Cory Rodgers, WR

Ingle Martin, QB

Tony Moll, OT

Dave Tollefson, DE

Thaks to trades down, they also brought in:

Jason Spitz, OG

Will Blackmon, CB

Johnny Jolly, DT

Tyrone Culver, FS

Every one of the four "free" players is still on their roster two years later. Their roster was four players deeper due to their patience in the draft, and one of the four, Spitz, has even won a starting job. There is one other note about this draft that Falcons fans should like. With Colledge, Spitz, and Moll, the team took three offensive linemen among their 12 draft picks. You can target one unit for the purposes of depth when you have this many selections. And Green Bay managed to do all of this while still keeping their top 5 pick. They did nothing else out of the ordinary except for the fact that every team another team called with a trade offer, the Packers gave the offer due consideration and oftentimes said yes.

The end result is that a 4 win team two years ago has dramatically upgraded their offensive line with two starting guards in Colledge and Spitz while also improving their overall depth on both sides of the ball. The Falcons face a draft with similar needs to what the Packers had in 2006 (OL, DL, LB and WR were their primary needs that off-season). We will have a similar number of draft picks to what they ended up with, and we can have even more if we demonstrate the same patience in moving down a couple of times. This team needs depth in a big, bad way. The blueprint is out there to make this happen if we are willing to duplicate it.

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this is exactly why i dont understand why mckay wants to be so active in free agency. you have just proven that building through the draft and adding much needed depth is one of the largest reasons that the packers are 10-2 now. and mckay has always preached that we should build through the draft too. so why are we flip-flopping now?? this should be the year that he should be preaching that more than any (and id consider myself a part of the choir...).

in any event, very good read and one that did not go un-noticed by myself either. i had to break down how the packers draft went for a bunch of my friends (who are packers fans, im in minnesota so... there are bound to be some) and i was floored by how patient they were and how they took advantage of both the patriots (who are widely considered to be a great management group, which id say they are) and ourselves, when i thought mckay was smarter than that. in any event, they drafted extremely well and look where they are now? and colledge and spitz are both starters. ;) and obviously aj hawk is ridiculous.

great post.

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I remember when the draft was over and front office officials of the Packers commenting that things just seemed to work out. If I'm not mistaken, they wound up selecting 13 players that year.

I think most draft pundits favor the 'trade down' when it makes sense and the value is close to equal. (1 2nd does not equal 4 5th's).

I don't think we should disregard FA entirely, but I'd hate a reckless approach.

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The only thing I would say is that they also had a few misses with Hodge and Rodgers in rounds where a team with that bad of a season doesn't want to miss. But you're totally right about trading down, Spitz and Jolly have both played well and they got them for free. Just remember, too, that they stuck around in the first to grab an elite talent in Hawk, and I think we should do the same, but I definitely agree with the Green Bay way of drafting.

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I think McKay has realized that as well, because he did it last year. He traded our 5th round pick for 3 6th round picks. We selected Trey Lewis (excellent, excellent value), David Irons (I think he's going to at the very least be a great nickel and special teamer), and Daren Stone (also a great special teamer, has the benefit of learning to see if he can take over for Lawyer). He added great depth and special teams players in Irons and Stone (by the way, how cool would it be if these guys became starters and we had a secondary made out of "Irons and Stone"?) and he grabbed us an excellent nose tackle to replace Grady. Trey Lewis and Jamaal Anderson are already 1/2 of the future of our defensive line. And he did it by selecting the elite prospect (although not as NFL ready as Hawk) and by trading down like Green Bay did. He needs to do the same thing this offseason. I'd say stick around in the 1st and 2nd, then trade the 3rd for a lot of later round picks.

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Richard Nixon (12/8/2007)
Wait, yeah, I got those two years mixed up, I'm bad about that sort of thing. Those were not great picks, but I got them in the wrong season.:D

I wouldn't call Rodgers a bad pick though, he played pretty well in relief of Favre and he's had the benefit of not only learning from a good coaching staff, but a Hall of Fame quarterback. He'll be ready to take over, I think.

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And with any trade you have to have a team to trade with, and give you what you want. you can also trade your way right out of a very good player for three sorry players. More is NOT always better. The right players in the right system is always the better way to go.

Trading away picks for more picks is stupid IF you do not get the players you want.

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