As we count down the days until the 2017 draft, teams like the Minnesota Vikings aren’t going to see a lot of sunlight from their draft bunkers. They’re honing in on the players they covet.
A funny thing about coveting players. There is a reason why the 11th and 32nd picks in the draft are golden. They are the first and last picks eligible for a fifth-year option at a Tier-2 compensation level.
In 1999, when the Vikings drafted Daunte Culpepper, Dennis Green proudly boasted he had Culpepper as the top player on his draft board – despite being the 11th pick and the fourth quarterback selected. He coveted Culpepper, but didn’t make a move to get him.
Things have changed.
With salary cap blowing up and increasing by at least $10 million each of the last four years, combined with a rookie salary cap that doesn’t make first-round busts an albatross that haunts a franchise for years, the currency of the NFL isn’t the salaries paid to players, it’s the ability to use draft picks to move up or down or trade a pick for a disgruntled veteran from another team.
In most businesses, the mighty dollar is the currency. In the NFL, at least this time of year, the standard unit of measure are draft picks. They carry a lot more weight than one would imagine.
Yet, it’s only when teams are on the clock that their value becomes crystal clear.
As things currently stand, 58 of the first 64 draft picks are under original ownership. Of the six picks that are currently assigned to other teams, they all have realistic explanations.
In the first round, Tennessee has the fifth pick – a harvest reaped in the trade that gave the Rams the option to choose the quarterback of their choice. They opted for Jared Goff – the Nashville gift that keeps on giving.
Cleveland has the 12th pick, which was acquired from Philadelphia so they could take the pride of North Dakota State, Carson Wentz, and let Cleveland’s analytics guys build a dynasty.
The 14th pick – and the reason local media outlets are much less amped up about the draft – went from the Vikings to the Eagles as part of the Sam Bradford deal. At the time, Eagles officials had learned the draft was coming to their town and how could they not have a pick? A willing seller met a willing buyer and business took place.
The 32nd pick was New England putting all their chips in the middle for an aggressive run at a back-to-back title (see below) when they traded their first- and third-round picks to New Orleans for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and the Saints’ fourth-round pick.
In the second round, Cleveland has a pick obtained from Tennessee as penance for the teams exchanging the eighth and 15th pick so Tennessee could land offensive tackle Jack Conklin, which lands the Browns the 52nd pick this year.
The last pick of the second round belongs to Carolina, obtained from the Patriots for Carolina’s third-round pick and defensive end Kony Ealy.
All of those picks make sense and, aside from New England’s all-in posture, they are the result of 2016 trades made for players teams coveted at the time.
The current slate sits at 28 teams having the first-round picks sitting with the teams assigned to them. In the second round, that number swells to 30.
Don’t hold your breath that those numbers will hold true, rendering mock drafts moot because they don’t account for love or coveting thy neighbor’s pick.
In the last five years, there have been 160 first-round picks made. Of those, 54 of them – more than one in three – didn’t end up with the team that was assigned to the pick. In the second round, it’s even more pronounced of outside love for a pick you happen to have. In the last five years, there have been 157 second-round picks – three lost, two from New Orleans due to the bounty-related beat-down they laid on Brett Favre in January 2010 and the other was the risky selection of Cleveland of troubled Baylor receiver Josh Gordon in 2014 supplemental draft – draw your own conclusion on the salience of a decision by the people who brought you Johnny Manziel.
Of those 157 second-round picks, 64 (a whopping 41 percent) end up with someone other than the team assigned to the team that earned that pick.
Front-office types are huge on mock drafts. Who goes where and why is the key to equation. But, one trade starts a domino effect that creates its own phantom Mandela effect.
If we’re going to use the numbers, a five-year sample size tells us that of the 317 picks made in the first two rounds, 118 of them didn’t end up with the team that was assigned the pick.
We’re 11 days from the start of the draft and only six of the 64 assigned picks are going to be made by a team not assigned to it. Expect that number to grow … a lot … on the Thursday and Friday of draft weekend.