2014 NFL Draft: Teams Most Likely to Swing a Draft-Day Deal in Early Rounds
Trades are as much a staple of the annual NFL draft as the picks themselves.
If history is any indication, most teams will be involved in at least one trade on draft weekend. Last year’s draft included 26 trades between 28 total teams, according to ESPN.com’s trade tracker; the 2012 draft featured 27 deals between 28 franchises.
Many of the draft’s trades come in later rounds and are quickly forgotten (if ever noticed in the first place), but despite them rarely being projected in mock drafts, you can count on every draft to include at least a few significant splashes in the early rounds as well. Last year’s draft included two trades within the first eight picks, while the No. 3-7 picks in the 2012 draft all changed hands on draft night.
Given the prevalence of trading in recent drafts, it wouldn’t come as of a much shock if any team—save probably the Houston Texans at No. 1 overall—makes a move up or down the board. But based on draft position, needs and number of picks, the following seven teams are among the most likely to make a move in the early rounds.
St. Louis Rams
The most obvious potential spot for a blockbuster trade in this year’s draft is the No. 2 overall pick, which the St. Louis Rams hold as a result of acquiring it from the Washington Redskins as one of four picks they received in exchange for the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft.
Considering the incredible return value the Rams have gotten out of that year’s No. 2 pick, it comes as no surprise that the team might look to move down this year. During a press conference at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, Rams general manager Les Snead said moving down from the slot is “definitely an option,” as can be heard in this video from 101 ESPN.
Whether the Rams trade down from the second overall pick should ultimately come down to whether a team in this year’s draft is willing to give up a package with equivalent value to the three first-round picks and one second-round pick St. Louis received in 2012.
Even if the Rams do not receive an offer of ample value and end up selecting for their own team at No. 2, they could still end up making a first-round trade. St. Louis’ own first-round pick is at No. 13 overall, and should the Rams draft a player with the No. 2 overall slot, it would come as little surprise if they then looked to move down from No. 13 in an effort to add more chips to their table.
In his first two drafts as Rams general manager, Snead has shown no hesitancy in maneuvering the board. After moving down from No. 2 to No. 6 prior to the 2012 draft, St. Louis moved down again, to No. 14, on draft night. In 2013, the Rams traded out from both of their picks, first moving up from No. 16 to No. 8 to select Tavon Austin and then moving down from No. 22 to No. 30 before selecting Alec Ogletree.
When the Oakland Raiders didn’t have a player they wanted to select with the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft, they jumped out of the spot, picking up the Miami Dolphins’ second-round pick in exchange for dropping nine picks down the board.
Depending on how the board falls prior to their No. 5 overall pick this year, their best bet might be to do the same.
The Raiders could be in the market for a quarterback with their top-five pick, while South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney might be the ideal selection for Oakland, if he is still available at that point. There might not be a clear-cut option for Oakland, however, if its top quarterback choice(s) and Clowney have already been selected.
Considering that, the Raiders would be smart to explore the option of moving down if the right player does not fall into their lap. Oakland has one of the most talent-strapped rosters in the NFL and a number of needs on both sides of the ball, so it would be smart to pick up as many selections as it can get.
Buffalo edge defender Khalil Mack and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins are among the options that would make sense if the Raiders stay put, but a deep draft class might allow the Raiders to get better value and still obtain a much-needed playmaker—or franchise quarterback—by moving down.
With a major quarterback need, an extra third-round pick and a general manager who has never been hesitant to make moves in the draft, the Minnesota Vikings stand out as a team who could move either up or down the board early on.
The Vikings’ trade activity, or lack thereof, could revolve around who they target to address their quarterback situation. If the Vikings are able to land their top-ranked quarterback at No. 8—whether that be UCF’s Blake Bortles, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater or Fresno State’s Derek Carr—they might have no reason to make an early trade.
It’s possible Minnesota could move up from No. 8 to secure its top quarterback choice, too.
It’s perhaps more likely that if the team’s top-rated signal-caller(s) are off the board, it could trade down from No. 8 to get better value on a quarterback such as Carr, who might still be available outside the top 10, or another player. The Vikings could even trade back up into the late first round, address another position with its first pick and then select one of the top quarterbacks that may slide down the board.
Even if the quarterback situation is resolved early and without a trade, it would come as a surprise if general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikings are not aggressive in their trade efforts on draft weekend.
Last year, the Vikings traded four picks to obtain a third first-round draft pick (No. 29 overall), and with that pick they selected dynamic offensive playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson. In 2012, the Vikings added three extra picks in exchange for moving down just one spot from No. 3 to No. 4, and they then gave up a fourth-round pick to move up from their early second-round slot to the No. 29 overall spot, where they drafted safety Harrison Smith.
San Francisco 49ers
No one has stockpiled draft picks more aggressively over the past two years than the San Francisco 49ers, who have moved up and down the board frequently while adding picks in future drafts under the guidance of general manager Trent Baalke.
With 11 draft picks already in tow for 2014, this year’s selection meeting should be no different.
Holding a trove of picks that includes two selections in both the second and third rounds, the 49ers will have plenty to work with should they key in on a wide receiver or defensive back and choose to move up to address a need. That was exactly what San Francisco did last year, when it traded a third-round pick—one it had previously acquired from the Carolina Panthers—to move up 13 spots in the first round and add free safety Eric Reid.
While San Francisco is certainly well-equipped for another move up should it deem a targeted player worth the cost, don’t expect Baalke to stray far from a strategy that has been largely successful. Especially as the draft moves into the middle rounds, expect the 49ers to keep the lines open for any and all offers and look to continue their trend of adding selections in future drafts.
The 49ers have made four trades in each of the last two drafts.
Kansas City Chiefs
One of San Francisco’s 11 picks this year comes from the Kansas City Chiefs, who gave up their second-round pick as part of last year’s pre-draft trade for quarterback Alex Smith. While the 49ers could be a candidate to use their extra assets to move up, the Chiefs could look to move down to acquire an extra Day 2 draft choice.
As is the case for just about every team who might consider trading down, whether it does so comes down to whether the right players fall to that pick. For the Kansas City Chiefs, the slide of a player such as Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or USC wide receiver Marqise Lee would be hard to pass up at the No. 23 overall selection.
Should the top safeties and wide receivers be off the board, however, the Chiefs might be smart to considering moving down the board, even if only slightly.
By trading down to a lower spot in the first round or an early spot in Round 2, Kansas City should still be able to get a very solid player such as Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner or Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews, while also adding to its depleted selection total.
Trading down makes sense for the Chiefs, but it would be against the team’s nature. Despite a regime change last offseason, Kansas City is the only team who has not made a trade during either of the last two drafts.
On the other end of the spectrum from the 49ers are the Baltimore Ravens, who currently hold the draft’s least amount of picks, with just four total selections. Possessing just one Day 3 pick (Round 6), the Ravens are very likely to look to trade down at least once to acquire more selections.
Trading down from its first-round pick, No. 17 overall, could be a possibility for Baltimore.
The Ravens are likely to be in the market for a wide receiver, tight end or offensive tackle in the first round, but they are at risk of missing out on the draft’s top players at all of those positions. Unless a player such as Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan or North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron falls to the second half of Round 1, moving down would allow Baltimore to get better value on a player at a position of need.
If they stay put in the first round, expect the Ravens to look to move down from at least one of their second-day selections.
As Baltimore could also be in the market for some reinforcements at all three levels of its defense, the team could really use picks in Rounds 4 or 5, where they sent their picks to Jacksonville in exchange for offensive tackle Eugene Monroe. If the Ravens are going to obtain more assets, they are likely going to have to give up their position at least once in the earlier rounds.
New England Patriots
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the New England Patriots, who have been the league’s exemplar for smart draft-weekend trading throughout Bill Belichick’s coaching tenure. Trading down, specifically, has been a near-annual tradition for the league’s most consistently successful team of the century.
The New England Patriots hold the No. 29 overall pick in this year’s draft, the same pick they had last year when they traded out of the first round in exchange for four picks from the Minnesota Vikings.
It would come as no surprise if the Patriots move down for a package of picks again, considering that this year’s draft has been lauded for its depth. Specifically, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said during a February conference call, per Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk, that this year’s draft class is the “deepest and best” he has seen in a decade.
Moving down seems likely for the Patriots, not only due to their history but also due to their positions of need. Expected to target a defensive tackle and a tight end early on, New England could move down into the second round without losing much value—barring an unlikely fall for North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman to the end of the first round.
The Patriots' drafts are known for their unpredictability, and they have also shown a willingness to move up for players they covet, such as they did twice in the first round of the 2012 draft.
If there’s one safe bet on the Patriots’ draft, however, it’s that they won’t likely go long before making a deal on draft weekend. New England has made a trade during the first round of every draft since 2007 and has made a draft-day trade within the first two rounds in every year since 2004.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.