On Friday, ESPN’s Seth Walder ranked what he considered the five best trades made during the NFL Draft last weekend — that is, the trades that gave the most surplus value to one of the teams. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Chiefs were on the wrong end of the deal that tied for first place: their first-round trade with the New England Patriots.
1. New England Patriots — Kansas City Chiefs
The trade: Chiefs receive pick No. 21; Patriots receive picks Nos. 29, 94, 121
The value winner: Patriots (acquired 6.4 chart points, gave up 4.1)
Surplus value: Late second-round pick
Unless there’s a quarterback involved, I think it’s important to evaluate trades separate from the players selected at those spots. The trade is the process, the pick is the result. And while I’ll touch on the result in a minute, we should be judging the process — and New England’s process in this trade was very strong.
The overwhelming conclusion of charts based on actual player performance is that the difference in production you get out of a player selected at, say, pick No. 29 is much closer to what you get out of pick No. 21 than trades typically indicate. Yes, the player selected at 21 has a better career outlook, but the difference between them and a player at 29 is substantially smaller than the value of additional third-round and fourth-round selections.
As far as the trade itself, New England absolutely comes out ahead.
Now, did the Patriots squander that value by selecting Cole Strange at No. 29? I would argue yes. One of the clearest errors a team can make is selecting a player long before they need to, and that seemed to be the case with Strange. Our Draft Day Predictor indicated there was a 93% chance Strange would be available at the Patriots’ second-round selection. And while we certainly may have misread the market, the Rams’ reaction tells us it probably shocked teams, too.
But the trade on its own was still a very strong return for the Patriots.
Walder says that “it’s important to evaluate trades [separately] from the players selected at those spots.” I completely disagree.
I would argue that any draft-day trade-up (and in fact, almost any trade-up) cannot be separated from the player the team wants to acquire with the higher pick. Otherwise, why would any team trade up in the first place?
So in this case, the real question is whether the Chiefs paid too high a price to acquire Trent McDuffie — who isn’t even mentioned in Walder’s article.
According to our consensus ranking of 2022 draft prospects, the Washington corner was the top-ranked player at his position. Since then, Kansas City general manager Brett Veach has acknowledged that McDuffie was one of the 16 to 18 players on whom the Chiefs had a first-round grade.
Given the opportunity to do so, Veach did not identify edge rusher George Karlaftis — the player they selected with the 30th pick — as one of those 18 players. It’s also likely that Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II — then the highest-ranked EDGE — was also not among the players Kansas City had graded as first-round prospects. Otherwise, the Chiefs probably would have taken Johnson (instead of McDuffie) with the 21st pick. The same could be said for Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam.
So with what we now know, we can make a decent case that McDuffie was the last remaining player the Chiefs saw as worthy of a first-round grade. If the Chiefs really wanted him, this was their last chance. It was pretty clear that cornerback was among the Buffalo Bills’ top needs — in fact, they selected Elam two spots later — so it was very unlikely that McDuffie would have lasted until Kansas City went on the clock at 29.
So here was Brett Veach’s problem: without making a move to get McDuffie, it’s likely that the Chiefs would have used both of their first-round picks on players they didn’t believe were worthy of them.
With regard to the price the Chiefs paid, I’ll again have to disagree with Walder. I’ll give him credit for one thing: he says he evaluated the transaction on a chart based on Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value (AV) metric instead of the Jimmy Johnson or Rich Hill charts, both of which say the deal gave New England the value of a sixth-round pick.
But according to the recently-released AV-based John Dixon draft value chart, the Patriots gained the equivalent of a mid third-round pick — not a late second-round pick. Walder didn’t identify a reference for what he called “our draft pick value chart” — and it cannot be located with an Internet search — so we can only guess at its specific values. But it’s likely to be pretty close to Chase Stuart’s AV-based model, which makes the deal equivalent to a very early third-round pick.
But as I first noted on Saturday, it’s probable that when they negotiated their first-round trade, the Chiefs and Patriots agreed (at least in principle) to their second-round deal that moved New England up four spots and gave Kansas City the fifth-round pick they used on offensive tackle Darian Kinnard. When evaluated together, the two trades give the Patriots the equivalent of an early fourth-round pick on the Dixon chart.
So was making the move worth paying the extra price? As always, that will depend largely on whether McDuffie really turns out to be worthy of the first-round grade that Veach and his staff gave him. It will be a while before we can evaluate that.
But looking at the whole picture, the Chiefs gave a fourth-rounder to get a player they saw as a first-round talent — and the opportunity to take another player who may turn out to be a starter on the offensive line.