O’Neil: Busting myths about Seahawks and trading down in NFL Draft

Apr 21, 2020, 1:08 PM
Seahawks DK Metcalf, Pete Carroll...
Trading down allowed Seattle to get DK Metcalf and additional picks in the 2019 draft. (Getty)

Are you going to be one of the people who’s hopping mad when the Seahawks trade down or even out of the first round on Thursday night as so many of us expect?

Schedule: Catch 710’s special Seahawks coverage during NFL draft

OK. Do me a favor. Write down the name of the player you would have picked there. You can email it to me at [email protected] or text it in to our show on Friday. I just want a record of the guy you would have wanted. Then we’ll have a fair way of judging whether it’s a mistake because I don’t think there’s anything Seattle has done under general manager John Schneider that’s more misunderstood than the team’s habit of trading back.

Wide receiver DK Metcalf is the reason Seattle trades back in the draft. Seattle chose him along with three other players who saw the field for the Seahawks last season by moving back 26 spots in the draft from No. 21 to No. 47.

Running back Chris Carson was acquired with a pick Seattle gained by trading back. So was defensive end Rasheem Green, and safeties Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill as well as more than a few other guys who never made much of an impact, but the point isn’t that trading back in the draft always pays off. It doesn’t. The point is that sometimes it does pay off in a very significant way, which is why it is pretty much standard operating procedure for the Seattle Seahawks. We’ve even compiled a list for you of what Seattle has gained by trading back in the first round over the past eight years.

They always trade out of their first-round pick. At least they have in each of the past eight drafts under general manager John Schneider, a trend that very well may continue on Thursday where Seattle holds the 27th pick of the first round. Not all that many people expect the Seahawks to use it. They haven’t kept their own first-round pick since 2011 when they chose James Carpenter with the 25th overall selection.

And if Seattle does trade back, there will inevitably be people who bemoan the move and say the Seahawks should have stayed put and picked the best guy on their board. Heck, the draft hasn’t even started and there are already people arguing for the Seahawks to do just that, and by people I mean our very own Jim Moore:

“How about not being cute this year and just picking the player you think is the best of the bunch that’s available to you at No. 27? Oh wait, I know, you still think you can get that player at No. 33 and get added picks from the team you traded with. Sounds great in theory, but what if that player you’ve zeroed in on gets picked at No. 29?”

Jim’s right. That is a possibility, but he’s wrong to assume that will be true, and that’s just one of three common misconceptions that makes it easy for people to minimize the benefits of Seattle’s approach without understanding the merits.

Myth No. 1: You wind up with a worse player when you trade back.

Maybe you will, but this is hardly a given.

First off, this ignores the reality of how prospects are graded. A team doesn’t rank players in numerical order, it has levels or tiers, and there are often multiple prospects with the same grade. The most common scenario for a team moving back is that it either has no one on its board valuable enough to merit that specific pick or it has multiple players who are evaluated as being equally worthy. The rule of thumb I’ve been told is that if a team has two players ranked equally, it can move back three spots and be fairly confident that one of those two prospects will be left on the board. If there are three players ranked equally, the team can move back six spots and believe it will get one.

The second thing is that there’s absolutely no guarantee you’ll wind up with a better player with an earlier pick. There’s even a not-exactly-small chance you’ll end up with a better player. That’s because the draft is wildly unpredictable. There are busts. There are surprises, but the one thing they all share is that the moment they were picked, the team that chose the player believed he was the best option. We don’t know which of those decisions are going to be wrong, but history tells us that more than a few of them will be.

Just look at the lists of first-round picks over the past few years. It’s not a uniformly downward slope in terms of the results. Will the 27th player picked this year be better than the 33rd? Maybe, and if forced to say which has a better chance I think we’d all lean slightly toward the earlier pick, but I’m not even sure I would say that’s probably going to be the case. The 27th pick in last year’s draft – defensive back Johnathan Abram – suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on a hit he was fined for in Oakland’s season-opener. The 33rd pick last year – former Washington corner Byron Murphy – is gearing himself up for a huge step forward.

Myth No. 2: Seattle would have had (insert good player’s name) had it stayed put.

This is an exercise in hindsight in which someone cherry picks the best player that was chosen either with Seattle’s initial pick or one of the selections that followed and contrasts it against the guy the Seahawks ended up with. A prime example was 2012. The Seahawks held the 12th overall pick that year, which they traded to Philadelphia, who used the pick to select Fletcher Cox. The Rams chose Michael Brockers with the 13th overall pick. Seattle selected Bruce Irvin at No. 15 and then used the fourth- and sixth-round choices acquired for trading back to choose Jaye Howard and Jeremy Lane, respectively.

Irvin was a solid pick for Seattle, though he never panned out as the high-end pass rusher the Seahawks hoped he would be, and Lane turned out to be a steal in the sixth. Cox became one of the league’s very best defensive tackles, but there’s no guarantee the Seahawks would have chosen him at No. 12. All signs point to the fact that had no one wanted that pick – with the available players – Seattle would have taken Irvin in a heads-up choice with Cox. In other words, staying put doesn’t automatically mean Seattle would have made a different decision.

Myth No 3: The Seahawks will ALWAYS trade back if possible.

We know that’s not the case. In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks held the No. 6 and No. 14 overall picks. After picking offensive tackle Russell Okung at No. 6, the Seahawks were preparing to make their second first-round selection when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up in the draft order to No. 13. Schneider was certain the Eagles were coming for safety Earl Thomas. Philadelphia had lost Brian Dawkins that offseason, and Schneider began making contingency plans. If Thomas was gone, he was trading back. He had the deal lined up. Thomas was the last player available Schneider felt was worth the No. 14 overall pick. Philadelphia chose defensive end Brandon Graham, and the Seahawks aborted the trade so they could pick Thomas. The point is that Seattle will stay put if they feel they’re getting a player who’s worth that pick and they don’t have multiple players of the same grade.

Whether the decision to trade back will pay off is a question that will take years to answer, and it’s complicated by the presence of multiple players. Last year, the Seahawks held the 21st overall pick, which they traded to the Green Bay Packers, who used it to choose defensive back Darnell Savage. The Seahawks traded back twice more before choosing safety Marquise Blair with the 47th pick. In moving back 26 spots, the Seahawks turned that one pick into the selections used to take Blair, Metcalf (second round, No. 64), wide receiver Gary Jennings (fourth round, No. 120), cornerback Ugo Amadi (fourth round, No. 132) and running back Travis Homer (sixth round, No. 204).

But if the same thing happens this year, let’s be ready. And if you’re going to be someone howling in anger when the Seahawks trade down in the first round, write down the player you wanted them to pick at that moment. Then we’ll actually be able to see if you were right.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

More on the Seahawks and the NFL Draft

Clayton: Why Seahawks have found success with draft-day trades
What if top RB Swift is available for Hawks at 27?
What can Hawks do in the draft to maximize Wilson’s talent?
Moore: Six pieces of draft advice for Seahawks GM John Schneider
Tom, Jake & Stacy: What do you want Seahawks to do and what they do need?

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O’Neil: Busting myths about Seahawks and trading down in NFL Draft