Part 1 of Trading Up in the Draft

This is the first of a series of 3 fanposts about a potential trade scenario where the Rams move up into the 1st round of the 2023 draft and who they might target. In this first installment, I'll be using the 2014 NFL draft as a example to illustrate how such a trade either could work.

The Rams currently hold 11 draft picks in the 2023 draft. The Ramsey trade has boosted the total draft capital held by the Rams, but obviously it also has created a new hole on the roster. Using the Rich Hill draft trade chart, I added up all the points for those slots. If the picks were bundled together, the Rams potentially could move all the way up to slot 13, which is owned by the Jets. If the Rams only included their 2nd round and 3rd round picks, keeping all of the later picks, the Rams could conceivably get the 24th overall selection, held by the Jaguars.

In this post, I'll be looking at a hypothetical scenario where a team trades up from 36 to about pick 13 in the 2014 NFL draft.

A 2014 Trade

The 2014 draft was abnormally strong at the top and it was deep. The pool was absolutely stuffed with fantastic WR talent. Khalil Mack, who was the 5th overall pick, I though he should have been the number 1 overall selection. Really, any one of the top 6 players in 2014, including Greg Robinson taken by the Rams, were good enough to be number 1 overall picks in most other drafts. So, 2014 was a really good draft class. This cuts both ways in a trade, because on one hand you could get a player at slot 13 who in a different year might be a top 10 pick, but on the other hand the value of what you are giving up is greater, because in a deep draft you could get players in rounds 3 and 4 who should have the potential to be good NFL starters.

Since the Rams could use a guard, let's say that in this hypothetical they traded up to get Zack Martin, the 16th overall pick in 2014. How would the value of Martin to the Dallas Cowboys compare with the picks surrendered if the Rams gave up all of their other picks? Ironically, almost all of the players taken at those slots in 2014 were prospects that I really liked that year. This is the full list:

36th overall: Derek Carr, QB. Expected to be a 1st round pick, Carr slipped to the top of the 2nd when both Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were taken ahead of him. Debatable how to characterize his career from the team's perspective. You might argue that Carr illustrates a danger where you get stuck in the middle, the QB isn't good enough to be an elite QB, but he isn't bad enough that you get rid of him and start over, so you end up giving him a lucrative contract and get an average starter. On the other hand, if you are one of the few Carr supporters, you might contend that he's better than people think, he just has never had a strong enough support structure around him to be more successful. At the very least, we're giving up a chance to get a starting QB, so right off the bat this trade isn't looking so hot.

69th overall: Charles Sims, RB. I fantastic receiving RB, more of a hybrid back than a traditional RB. He had over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his 2nd season (more rec than rush yards), but his career was plagued by injuries, a shame, because I think he could have been a good player. Tre Mason to the Rams was the very next RB pick.

77th overall: Chris Borland, LB. Supposedly too small and slow to be good, he was great for the Niners as a rookie, but then concerned about how concussions might impact his health he suddenly and unexpectedly retired after only one season.

167th overall: Vinnie Sunseri, safety. I thought this guy was a sleeper, because he had high football IQ and special teams ability, but he had durability questions, including a torn ACL at Alabama. He couldn't stay healthy and in his brief NFL career he played almost exclusively on ST.

171st overall: Jordan Tripp, LB. I don't know how many of you remember this guy out of Montana (or the other LB, Brock Coyle) but both of them were very athletic. Tripp had a stunning 3.96 second shuttle time and his strong Combine generated buzz that he might be a Day 2 selection. Tripp only lasted 1 season with the Dolphins. He bounced around on a few other teams, mostly as a ST player.

177th overall: Jeoffrey Pagan, 3-4 DE. A Bama guy, he had a brief career, waived before his 3rd season when he had some type of injury and never played again in the NFL.

182nd overall Antone Exum, DB. Once considered an elite CB prospect, he tore his ACL in college, so it wasn't clear whether he was a S or a CB prospect for the NFL. He was mostly a S in the pros, but tore his ACL in the 2016 preseason, missing his entire 3rd NFL season. The only year he got substantial snaps on defense was in 2018, playing safety for the Niners.

189th overall TJ Jones, WR. A steady, but not dynamic Notre Dame player, he projected as a reliable backup. Drafted by Detroit, he played with Stafford. He was the very next pick after EJ Gaines to the Rams in the 6th round. Battling some shoulder injuries, his most productive year was in 2017, when he had nearly 400 receiving yards.

191st overall Pat O'Donnell, P. With a strong leg, he was regarded as the top punter in the draft. Statistically, he was one of the worst punters in the league in terms of distance, but he had good ball control numbers. A steady player, he's now with the Packers.

223rd overall Brandon Watts, LB. I really liked this guy as a ST and backup player. Outstanding pro day workout. He failed to stick and his NFL career was brief, only 3 years.

251st overall Ken Bishop, DT. One of the last picks in the draft, I don't remember much about him. At this point, we're talking about guys who are practically UDFAs. After a brief NFL career, he later played in the CFL.

Which Side is Better?

So, which end of this trade would you prefer? Would you rather have Zack Martin and nobody else or would you rather have the other 11 players?

We could replace Martin with other players and see if your answer would change. The actual 13th overall pick in 2014 was Aaron Donald. Yeah, I'm not expecting the 13th overall pick in 2023 to turn out to be nearly as good. If we went CB, it could have been Kyle Fuller, but both Darqueze Dennard and Jason Verett were also well regarded CB prospects who might have gone at that slot. CJ Mosley was a great ILB prospect and both Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton Dix were expected to become great safeties. I loved Brandin Cooks, the 20th overall pick. So, Martin would have been far from the only prospect worth moving up for, there were a bunch of players who were outstanding draft prospects in that section of the 2014 draft.

Without hindsight, I wouldn't have traded up in 2014, because at the time of that draft, there was enough depth that it looked like you could get multiple good players by staying put and mining value in rounds 2 through 4. As things actually turned out, however, the best value in that draft was at the very top.

Look at the players the Rams drafted after Donald: Joyner, Tre Mason, Mo Alexander, Gaines, Garrett Gilbert, Mitchell Van Dyk, Christian Bryant, Michael Sam, Demetrius Rhaney. The first 4 names all became starters, but if you added up the total value of all those players, I'd contend that it doesn't come close to the value of a Zack Martin. Even if we subbed in Brandin Cooks, I would rather have Cooks than all of those other players the Rams drafted.

On paper, the group of 11 is attractive if we made them the 2023 Rams class. Carr could be the successor to Stafford, a potential franchise QB. We need a RB and Sims would add a receiving element that complements what the Rams already have with Akers. Borland could slide into Bobby Wagner's spot. Pagan would give us better depth on the DL and might even win a starting spot. Both Exum and Sunseri conceivably could be starting safeties, since Yeast, Fuller and Lake are only late round picks themselves. The Rams appear to need a new punter. So, the total haul lines up fine with many of the current Rams roster needs. The issue is that due to a variety of circumstances, several of those players did not end up being long term solutions at any of those positions.

The problem doesn't go away if we assume the group was just hit by a string of bad luck and subbed in alternative players instead. This is a list of some possible alternative picks:

Ra'Shede Hageman. A big and strong DT, some people thought he was going to be better than the undersized Donald. He was a draft bust.

Marcus Martin. Regarded as one of the best C prospects in the draft, he didn't become even an average NFL starter.

Terrence Brooks. A disappointing S for the Ravens, part of a series of picks by Ozzie Newsome that went wrong and caused the Ravens to lose momentum.

Devon Kennard. There are other players I liked in this area too, but I'll give the Rams Kennard to help out at LB. He eventually became a starter, so he wouldn't have been a bad pick here.

Jared Abbrederis. One of my favorite WRs in that draft.

Zach Mettenberger. To try to get a backup QB, the Rams roll the dice on a player with a big arm, but character flags. If I'm not mistaken, wasn't it suggested on TST years ago that we try to acquire Mettenberger be the starter for the Rams?

Laurent Duvernay Tardif. One of the best 6th round OL picks in recent years, I liked this inexperienced Canadian player, because he was such a good athlete for his size.

Tyler Gaffney. One of my favorite RB prospects.

Zach Moore, Zach Hocker, Seantrel Henderson. There's a bunch of late round guys we could have grabbed, I'll give the Rams my favorite K prospect in that draft, a big, talented OT with character issues and an intriguing small school DE who flashed good pass rush ability.

Even in this "shadow" draft, the outcome is poor, even though a couple of these picks (LDT and Kennard) actually turn out the be pretty good NFL players.

Why am I bothering to compose Parts 2 and 3 of this series, when almost no Rams fans seem interested in trading up? The 2014 NFL draft is a very good illustration of why this scenario is worth pondering.