I can’t definitively tell you that the Jets would be best off trading down from the third overall pick in this month’s NFL Draft. There are definitely scenarios where keeping that pick would be the team’s best short-term and long-term play. But I would argue that a lot of the analysis on the pros and cons of trading the pick or keeping it miss the mark.
You hear it all the time. The Jets can either take a slam dunk elite pass rushing prospect, or trade down. Trading down could help them to get more quality players, but take them out of the running for a top edge rusher.
I think the evidence shows that this thinking is mistaken, however.
It doesn’t require a top pick in the Draft to get a top edge guy. There were 22 players in the NFL last season to register at least 10 sacks. Only five of them were top ten picks.
Furthermore, the third overall pick is no slam dunk. Nania wrote an article a little while back that looked at the recent history of the third overall pick. He studied the last five years, but a trend is there if you go all the way back to the turn of the century.
2018 Sam Darnold: Fingers crossed; good so far
2017 Solomon Thomas: Disappointing so far
2016 Joey Bosa: Looking great so far
2015 Dante Fowler: Disappointment
2014 Blake Bortles: Bust
2013 Dion Jordan: Bust
2012 Trent Richardson: Bust
2011 Marcell Dareus: Not bad on paper, but the next three picks were A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, and Julio Jones.
2010 Gerald McCoy: Excellent
2009 Tyson Jackson: Way, way overdrafted
2008 Matt Ryan: Excellent
2007 Joe Thomas: Immortal player
2006 Vince Young: Bust
2005 Braylon Edwards: Had a few moments but mostly a disappointing underachiever
2004 Larry Fitzgerald: Immortal player
2003 Andre Johnson: Superstar
2002 Joey Harrington: Bust
2001 Gerald Warren: Bust. Next three picks were Justin Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Richard Seymour. Ouch.
2000 Chris Samuels: Excellent
I am sure every single fan of a team picking third overall at the time thought it had a guaranteed superstar on its hands. But that success rate of that pick has been roughly that of a coin flip since the turn of the century.
Are pass rushers a lock at the top of the Draft? Here are the defensive linemen and edge guys picked in the top three over the last decade:
Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas, Joey Bosa, Dante Fowler, Jadeveon Clowney, Dion Jordan, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, and Tyson Jackson
That is not a terrible group by any stretch of the imagination. But it doesn’t tell the story of a slam dunk either. Four of the eleven names are viewed either disappointments or busts at this point in time (Thomas, Fowler, Jordan, and Jackson).
And while there are some good players, a number don’t quite hit the threshold of elite pass rusher (Clowney).
We aren’t looking for merely good players in the top three. At this spot in the Draft we are seeking elite pass rushers. However, only Bosa and Miller have produced multiple seasons with 10 or more sacks. If you want to throw the young Garrett into that elite mix too because he’s only had two years in the league, I won’t quibble. The point still stands.
I am going to ask you to bear with me now because there is much nuance to the point I am making.
I am not arguing that scouting is irrelevant.
NFL teams do some things really well when it comes to finding elite pass rushers. They do a tremendous job weeding out the guys who are not elite. That list of 22 players with at least 10 sacks in 2018 includes nobody drafted after the fourth round. There was one fourth round pick, Geno Atkins. There were two third round picks. There were five second round picks. The rest were all first rounders.
I am not arguing a lower pick gives you an equal or better chance of finding an elite player than a higher pick.
The hit rate of the third overall pick is still higher than those below it. Over the long run, you will do better picking early than you will picking late.
There are two arguments I would make.
- While NFL teams are generally pretty good at ballparking the ability of edge rushers, they aren’t good at separating the good from the elite.
- While picking high in the Draft gives you better odds than picking lower, the odds of hitting on a high pick are nowhere near as good as many believe.
When I talk with Jets fans online and offline I get the feeling many view Nick Bosa and Josh Allen as 90-95% bets to be elite players. Those odds are simply too high.
There are plenty of reasons to believe these are special prospects, and they might hit those ceilings, but there’s a reason so many picks either underperform or flat out bust. Projecting how guys between 20 and 23 years old will adapt to the NFL with any degree of certainty is impossible. There are too many unknowns.
How will they perform against the best competition they have ever seen? Can they learn quickly? Will they have the motivation to work after being handed millions? Will they suffer a lot of injuries? Will they get the right coaching?
I could be here all day coming up with more questions.
Teams evaluate skillsets and do research on the personalities of these players. This allows the teams to have better odds than they would throwing darts at a board. Ultimately, though, teams make educated guesses. They don’t pick sure things.
There is a cost of trading down from a higher pick to a lower pick. It just isn’t as much as you think. You aren’t giving away a sure thing. There is no sure thing in the Draft.
That makes the benefit of the extra picks you accumulate in a trade down more valuable than you believe.