Bad Draft Strategies: Trading Down

In last week's edition of Bad Draft Strategies, we discussed the notion of the Chiefs reaching to fill a position of need. Putting aside certain extraordinarily unique circumstances, reaching is a strategy I consider to be a mistake 100 times out of 100. It's just not wise to take that kind of short-sighted approach to the draft and purposely pass on more talented players.

This time around we look at another popular theory. This topic isn't nearly as open-and-shut as last week's issue was, however. When wisely executed, this particular "bad strategy" can actually reap numerous benefits.

Nevertheless, where the Chiefs and their current situation are concerned, I still think this tactic would be a mistake.

Bad Draft Strategy #2: Trading Down

My feeling on this is basically summed up with two facts:

The Chiefs haven't drafted in the top five since taking Derrick Thomas in 1989.

After drafting Thomas, the Chiefs didn't pick in the top 12 over the duration of his 11-year career.

No disrespect for Neil Smith, whom the Chiefs grabbed with the second overall pick in 1988, but as everyone reading this surely knows, things were never the same after Thomas arrived in Kansas City. The Chiefs went from three winning seasons and one playoff berth in the 1980s to recording the NFL's best winning percentage in the 90s.


Derrick Thomas ushered in a new era of winning in the 1990s.
Andy Lyons - Getty

That's the kind of impact an elite franchise player can have. And sure, it's true that teams don't have to draft in the top five to find great players. Tony Gonzalez was the 13th pick the year he came out. Dwayne Bowe was drafted in the 23rd slot last year and certainly appears to be something special.

But the Chiefs have been drafting in those spots – the teens and the twenties – for just under two decades now. If not for the 2002 draft, when the Chiefs started out with the eighth overall pick, they wouldn't have had a single top 10 draft choice in all that time.

It's been 19 years since Kansas City was last in a position like this. Getting a crack at one of the draft's best players has been an incredibly rare opportunity for the Chiefs.

Why pass on it by trading down out of the pick?

Proponents of moving back would simply point out that the young, rebuilding Chiefs need to add more players. By trading down, they would obviously be able to pick up additional draft choices.

That's true, but it's a point that raises two additional questions. One is the issue of impact: which would mean more for the Chiefs, one elite game-changer or a few extra players in the second or third-round?

If Kansas City hit home runs in the middle rounds, that might be the right answer. But let's stop for a minute and consider KC's second and third-round picks over the last two years.

It may be unfair to ask this question so soon, but have any of them proven to be capable starters at this point? Bernard Pollard and Brodie Croyle are starting, but have struggled. Turk McBride and Tank Tyler haven't proven a single thing.

Based on the selections of Tamba Hali and Dwayne Bowe, you have to be more confident in Kansas City's eye for first-round talent compared to subsequent rounds. One elite player would work out better for the Chiefs than a few extra Pollards and McBrides.

The second consideration is the issue of value - would the Chiefs receive equal compensation through a trade, or end up holding the short end of the stick?


Trading down netted the Chiefs Tony Gonzalez in 1997.
Dilip Vishwanawat - Getty

The overwhelming majority of analysts regard six or seven players in this draft as elite, franchise-caliber talents. Some disagree on Matt Ryan, some seem to disagree on Vernon Gholston, but a core of five – Jake Long, Chris Long, Glenn Dorsey, Darren McFadden, and Sedrick Ellis – have been tabbed as big-time players.

With the fifth overall pick, the Chiefs will be able to take one of them. It's really as simple as that. If the Chiefs were to trade back as far as eighth (Baltimore), the chance of grabbing one of those players becomes remote.

Trading down too far means the Chiefs would be passing on the opportunity to draft an elite player. With the number of top prospects changing every year, the oft-used draft trade value chart doesn't take that into consideration.

If Kansas City traded down to pick #10, a deal that perfectly satisfies the value chart would do nothing to compensate the Chiefs for moving out of the elite-player range. In that respect, they'd be getting the raw end of the trade.

The last time two teams in the top 10 swapped picks came back in 2004. The Cleveland Browns, picking seventh, traded up one spot with Detroit so they could take Kellen Winslow. In exchange, the Browns gave Detroit their second-round pick, giving the Lions over five times the value of what the trade chart called for.

Should the Chiefs settle for anything less than what was given up in that trade? I certainly don't think so. In other words, if Kansas City were to trade back just one spot and swap picks with the New York Jets, they should get at least a second-rounder out of it. The further back they trade, the more they should receive in return.

But unless a team is willing to drastically overpay the draft chart like the Browns did, how would the Chiefs be able to get back the value of their pick? Are there even any teams out there desperate enough to pay that kind of ransom?

If there are, and the Chiefs can make out like bandits in a trade, it would be hard to criticize them for taking the deal and moving down. But if they approach the draft like they want to trade down, and end up taking a weak offer so they don't have to pay someone top-five money – well, it wouldn't be as bad as reaching, but it would be pretty close.

It's been almost 20 years since the Chiefs were able to get one of the best players in a draft. This year, they should take the best player at #5, and hope another two decades pass before they draft that high again.

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