Why NFL teams should trade down and salivate over extra third round picks

The reason I rose to power as dictator of Trade Down Island is because I know how to properly value then leverage my assets. When it comes to the NFL draft, one of the most undervalued assets savvy teams can leverage by smartly trading down are third round picks.

Here at TDI we covet third rounders. We salivate over them. When our favorite teams smartly trade back for an extra third rounder, we roast a pig and celebrate with family and friends.There are three main reasons why third rounders are nearly as delicious as cold TDI pina colada:

  • Good drafters can find legitimate starters in the third round.
  • The cap hits for third rounders are teeny tiny.
  • Teams that trade down don’t need to give up very much for an extra third round pick.

Good drafters can find legitimate starters in the third round
As we state in TDI’s Glorious Constitution, realistic expectations for third round picks should be, “capable starters, can develop into quality starters.” Football Reference lists how many seasons individual players are considered to be the primary starter at their position. When looking at players drafted in the third round between 2009 and 2014, 79 of 170 players (46.5%) have started two seasons or more in their careers.

By contrast, second rounders have produced 100 of 157 (63.7%) players who have started two seasons or more. Fourth rounders drop to 58 of 179 (32.4%) who have started at least two seasons.

Nearly half of third round picks go on to be multi-year starters in the NFL. If you trust your GM and scouts to draft solid players, you should want them to have more chances in the third round to find starters.

The cap hits for third rounders are teeny tiny
An NFL player’s value isn’t measured by comparing his stats or productivity to people playing the same position. An NFL player’s value is measured by his performance relative to his cap hit. For example, a wide receiver who puts up 50-650-5 with a $1.5 million cap hit is more valuable than another receiver who puts up 65-850-8 with a $6.5 million cap hit. Teams can find more value for $5.0 million in cap space than the 15-200-3 difference between these two players.

Knowing roughly 50 percent of third round picks develop into multi-year starters, let’s now lust over their cap hits. In 2018 the first player drafted in the third round was OT Brandon Parker at No. 65. His cap hit will range from $744,000 to $1.3 million over his four-year rookie contract. The last player selected in the third round in 2018 was LB Dorian O’Daniel at No. 100. His cap hit will range from $670,000 to $985,000 during his rookie deal. Finding young, productive starters with cap hits less than $1 million is the biggest salary cap value the NFL has to offer.

Teams that trade down don’t need to give up very much for an extra third round pick
Teams that employ a strategy of smartly trading down don’t normally need to give up very much in order to pick up an extra third round pick. For example, in 2018 the Ravens moved back from No. 16 to No. 22 and gained the No. 65 overall pick (the first selection in the third round.) The Raiders moved back from No. 41 to No. 57 and picked up No. 89. The Redskins gave up No. 44 (2nd) and No. 142 (5th) for No. 59 (3rd) and No. 74 (3rd).

Teams can often smartly trade down a few spots in the first and second rounds for an extra third round pick. Knowing that third rounders have about a 50 percent hit rate (starting two or more years) and often have cap hits below $1 million, what’s not to love?

Look, I led TDI’s rag-tag militia into battle and miraculously overthrew our trade-up overlords because I know how to value assets. Smart NFL teams will know that making small trades early in the draft for extra third rounders will lead them to glory, just like I have attained.

–Benevolent Dictator


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