On the first day of the 2022 NFL draft, I’ve decided to re-publish a piece - with some updates - that I originally wrote in advance of the 2020 draft, when Washington ultimately selected Chase Young at #2. My repeated efforts to implore the team to move back and collect more draft capital were ignored then. We’ll see if they’re ignored again this year, but in any case, more folks watching the team seem to be catching on:
There’s no single player I think will be better for Washington than trading back at 11 and getting more picks. 2 picks top 100 in a draft where the strength is 30 to 100. 3 picks in top 150. My top priority would be changing that. Not saying it’s easy but that would be my mission— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) April 28, 2022
It’s draft season, and there’s all sorts of speculation as to what top talent might slip to us at #11, or what WR we might procure to put Carson Wentz over the hump, but this isn’t an article about who we should take at #11, this is a case for offloading that #11 pick for 2-3 Day 1 and Day 2 additional picks to a desirous buyer and continuing to build the core of this team through the draft.
The key is not getting hung up on the specifics of fantastic measurables and the earth-shattering statistics being wracked up by the guys being talked about as the cream of the crop. Detailed economic analyses of NFL draft picking, conducted in successive waves over the past 20 years, have demonstrated that:
“Across all rounds, all positions, all years, the chance that a player [in the NFL draft] proves to be better than the next-best alternative is only slightly better than a coin flip (52%).”
So, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that OT Andrew Thomas goes 5th overall, and OT Tristan Wirfs goes 12th overall. In the aggregate, a guy like Thomas is 2% more likely than chance to outperform Wirfs.
Imagine a scenario in which trading back from 5 to 12 nets Wirfs AND the 8th pick in the second round (the approximate difference in value between the 5th and 12th pick). In that case, the team gets an OT who is very slightly less likely to perform as well as the top OT in the draft AND a pick that could lock up - for the sake of argument - the third best player in the draft at another position, say CB. Even with this second pick, the chance that the first CB in the draft is likely to start more games than the third CB drafted is only 55%. I like those odds. OT2 and CB3 or OT1? That should be an easy decision to make.
Update: Two years into their respective careers, Thomas - who was selected 4th in the 2020 draft - has an “approximate value (AV)” of 11, while Wirfs, who went 13th, has an AV of 28. That’s to say nothing of any additional players who might have been acquired in this theoretical trade back scenario. (and let’s all shed a tear for Dave Gettleman’s departure).
As an additional mention, BiB had a nice article on this very topic before the draft in 2019.
In 2019, before the draft, I did an analysis of the way the best mind in the business handles draft day trades. Comparisons to the Patriots here tend to draw skepticism however, as there is a prevalent, magical belief that the Patriots can get away with things no other team can because of the combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
The reality is, this is the way the best teams in the league operate. Take, for instance, the Baltimore Ravens, the team who, at the end of the 2019 regular season, was the odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl. In 2018, the Ravens traded their first rounder (#16) and fifth rounder (#154) to the Bills for their first rounder (#22) and the first pick of the third round (#65). That’s a slight slide back in the first round for an additional shot at a potentially transformative player. The Ravens then traded #65 to the Raiders for 3 more picks.
In 2019, the Ravens traded their first round pick (#22) for the Eagles’ first rounder (#25), a fourth rounder (#125), and a sixth rounder (#197). For them, basically an inconsequential swap of first rounders yielded two more cracks at eventual, meaningful starters.
Add to this willingness to trade back in the draft a high priority for accruing compensatory picks, as well as other savvy management decisions, and it’s easy to see why the Ravens are consistently one of the best franchises in the NFL. Trading back in the draft - alone - is not a sufficient condition to redeem the Commanders, but it is an important part of the puzzle.
The primary weakness of this approach is that we don’t get our massive dopamine fix from getting to unwrap our bright, shiny present on draft day. Many of us are absolutely convinced, via our weekly exposure to college football games and having read scores of hot takes from the “drafto-industrial complex”, that we know who the next HOF EDGE/WR/QB/OT is and that the Commanders should draft that guy post haste. The reality is that we ALL (even - perhaps especially - professional NFL GMs and scouts) overestimate our unique talent in selecting “The Guy” who is going be the next difference maker in the NFL. Eric DeCosta, the Ravens’ new GM (and protege of Ozzie Newsome), in describing his team’s approach to the draft, perhaps said it best:
We look at the draft as, in some respects, a luck-driven process. The more picks you have, the more chances you have to get a good player. When we look at teams that draft well, it’s not necessarily that they’re drafting better than anybody else. It seems to be that they have more picks. There’s definitely a correlation between the amount of picks and drafting good players.
Trading back in the draft is an exercise in humility. Recognizing our shortcomings and adapting to them has been a persistent weakness of this franchise.
Why it would fit with Washington:
It’s been said time and again, but this team is not “one player away.” And, even if it were, trading back in the draft is the right approach - all the time. The benefits of trading back are based on playing a numbers game, and the best way to win the numbers game is to play more numbers. Parlayed properly, this #11 pick could easily be transformed into 2-3 top 90 picks (the Commanders currently have only two). With needs at WR, FS, LB, and CB, using the draft to help populate those spots, as opposed to free agents - who consume future comp pick capital - is the responsible course of action.
It’s all about probabilities. “Generational talents.” Smartest guy in the room delusions. Concerns about the guy we loved wreaking havoc on us for the rest of his career. Throw all of those things out the window. The draft is a numbers game, and we have perhaps our best chance ever to bolster our draft capital, particularly at the top of the draft. Let’s give the front office an abundance of picks to turn into game changers on the field.
A trade back should net at least two to three 2022 first rounders Day 1 and Day 2 picks (with the potential to pick up 2023 draft capital). Ideally, at least 3 starting-caliber players should be generated from this draft pick. Let’s look past the shiny objects to the responsible choice.
Do you think the Commanders should be looking to trade back in the 2022 draft?
This poll is closed
No, I think they should take the best player available at their original draft position.
Yes, the Commanders should consider it.
Yes, trading back from their first round pick should be a priority.