The team, led by general manager Thomas Dimitroff, is reportedly interested in trading up, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter on Twitter, making it the first one known to be willing to do so in a league that is increasingly interested in trading down the draft board to accumulate draft capital rather than risk it all on one player.
RE: @AdamSchefter's tweet: No surprise to see ATL openly acknowledging interest in trade up. Dimitroff implied it at combine.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) March 25, 2014
Trading up can be a fool's errand, however, and no more foolhardy than the Falcons being interested in doing so in 2014. Though, the gambit worked out moderately well in 2011 as the Falcons traded up for wide receiver Julio Jones who has proved to be a superstar and cornerstone for this team.
Yet, since 2011, the Falcons' win totals have been 10-6, 13-3 and then 4-12. The Falcons have gone from a team that looked on the cusp of greatness in 2011 and 2012 to a team realizing they desperately need help at multiple points of the offense and defense.
Like free agency, trading up in the draft is a supposed shortcut to success. Sometimes it works, but other times it leaves the team with smaller short-term gains than expected and long-term problems having mortgaged their future for one player.
More Than Most Years, This Is Not the Draft in Which to Trade Up
Let's look at what the Falcons might need to give up to move up from their first selection in the draft.
Assuming their trade partner is the St. Louis Rams at No. 2, the widely cited trade-value chart sets the No. 2 pick at 2,600 points. The Falcons' No. 6 pick is worth 1,600 points, meaning they would need to come close to 1,000 points of value with the rest of their picks.
Picks in the second round (No. 37, 530 points) and third round (No. 68, 250 points) still likely wouldn't be enough, so let's throw in a fifth-rounder as well (No. 147, 32.6 points) and assume there will be some future high-round considerations or in-round swaps as well.
That's a lot for a few spots of movement at the top of the draft order, no?
In fact, it would need to be just about equivalent to what the Falcons gave up in their 2011 move from 27th overall to No. 6. That move, which was worth 920 points of value on the chart, is actually cheaper due to the way the chart works on a parabolic curve that (wisely) values higher picks exponentially more.
Look at the players the picks from the Jones trade turned into: Greg Little, Owen Marecic, Brandon Weeden and Jarius Wright. I mean, that's a win for the Falcons, right?
Yet the Browns' inability to find players with those picks (and the Vikings with Wright) doesn't mean good players weren't available. The Falcons could've used those picks, potentially, on: Jabaal Sheard, Randall Cobb, Julius Thomas, Riley Reiff and Brandon Boykin. That's a high-level or starting DE, WR/KR, TE, OT and CB—all positions of need for the Falcons this offseason.
Now, look at whom those picks might be in this year's draft. This is one of the deepest drafts in a decade at a bunch of positions and overall. Whereas the move from 27th to sixth in 2014 meant the difference between a solid player and a superstar, the move from sixth to second in 2014 is nowhere near the same.
In Bleacher Report's latest seven-round mock draft, by featured columnist Dan Hope, the Falcons would be giving up: Greg Robinson (OT Auburn) at No. 6, Jace Amaro (TE Texas Tech) at No. 37 and Vinnie Sunseri (S Alabama) at No. 147.
That's ignoring future considerations but still fills massive holes at offensive tackle, tight end and is a core special teams player/possible third safety.
Dimitroff places a premium on explosive players. Trading up to get one will be a possibility for him in every draft.— Jordan Plocher (@StarvingScout) March 25, 2014
Trading three potential players for one can work in theory, but when the first two players in that theory have the potential of Robinson and Amaro, the theory begins to lose some of its luster. Now, that's just one man's (well-informed) opinion of what the draft could look like. Robinson, Amaro and Sunseri might all be off the board and worse picks (or at least worse fits) might be left. Yes, that could be true, but so could the opposite.
In a crowded upper tier of the first round, there's just as much chance that the player the Falcons want at No. 2 falls to them at No. 6 thanks to various quarterback needs and other teams that may shift around to fill those needs.
Some years it makes sense to trade up—it certainly did in 2011—but this year it would be a massive mistake.
Potential Trade-Up Targets Come with Massive Risks
The working theory is that the Falcons would be moving up to acquire Jadeveon Clowney (DE South Carolina). The Falcons have been searching for pass-rushing assistance for some time now and Clowney is the best prospect in that regard for some time.
Maybe they don't like Clowney, but rather Khalil Mack (DE/OLB Buffalo). With the Falcons hoping to use more of a 3-4 look this season (having brought in free agents like defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson to facilitate that), Mack is the better fit as a more versatile player used to more of a linebacker role.
Of course, they may be targeting the very player Hope had falling to them above—Robinson. With the Rams potentially in the market for an offensive tackle as well, and the Browns and Oakland Raiders potentially grabbing the same, the Falcons could be positioning themselves to grab the top tackle on their board rather than risk getting the third.
We know they're not going for a quarterback, and one would hope they're not jumping up the draft board for yet another receiver like Sammy Watkins (Clemson), so those three players are likely the pick.
Yet, each one comes with a pretty big caveat.
We all know the knocks on Clowney, and although I think they're overblown at times, one shouldn't completely discount them. Clowney did not have the massive impact on the game in 2013 that he had in 2012. No matter why that happened (laziness, motor, players around him, opponents game-planning for him, etc.) teams have to hope they're getting the sophomore version of Clowney (or the combine version) rather than what he showcased his junior year.
For Mack, the concerns are much less, but adjusting to the level of competition is certainly a question mark, even if only a minor one. Mack was often the biggest, fastest and strongest player on the field at Buffalo—both for his team and his opponent. Although he tested well at the combine, it wouldn't be unprecedented if he didn't have the major impact on Sundays that he had on Saturday afternoons (or Tuesday nights) in the MAC.
As for Robinson, he's the biggest athletic freak at tackle in this draft, but compared to Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) and Taylor Lewan (Michigan), the polish as a pass-protector isn't there. Tools? Absolutely, but I doubt the Falcons are going to be running the ball quite like Auburn did, and they would be drafting a tackle to protect Matt Ryan, not Steven Jackson.
So, with all of those players having at least some sort of questions around them, why move up to grab one of the three at No. 2 rather than almost be assured of one of them—or Matthews, Lewan or any other top prospect—at No. 6?
Why give up more talent this year and (likely) next when you're essentially trading a ridiculously talented question mark for another ridiculously talented question mark?
The Falcons Are Not "One Player Away"...Not By a Long Shot
The only reason you would answer the previous question in the affirmative would be if you thought the team was one player away and every inclination was that the one player wouldn't be available at No. 6.
While we've dealt with the ideas that this isn't the draft to worry about the player with numerous elite players (all with some question marks) at the top of the draft and that there is too much talent in the later rounds to risk trading away picks, let's look at it from the angle that the Falcons aren't in any position to be making this gamble.
"My roster has no depth. This is a really deep draft. I know, I should trade up!" - Thomas Dimitroff.— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) March 25, 2014
Sorry, Falcons fans, but if you've been agreeing with me up until this point, I may have some harder messages for you now.
As previously noted, the Falcons are coming off of a 4-12 season. Since their 13-win peak of two years ago, the New Orleans Saints have moved past "Bountygate" and reascended toward the top of the NFC, the Carolina Panthers have become a playoff contender and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have found themselves a real head coach and have been big players in free agency for a third straight year.
One big move would indicate that the Falcons are one big move away from getting back into the catbird's seat in the NFC South, but the South has become an arms race that one big move isn't going to be the difference between a last-place finish and winning the division.
The Falcons need multiple big moves.
In free agency, the Falcons hit a couple of base hits with Soliai, Jackson, offensive guard Jon Asamoah and kick returner Devin Hester—OK, that last one may have been more of a bunt single. They didn't make any big home run moves there.
Frankly, they didn't really make any big inspired moves either, missing out after showing interest in players like safeties Louis Delmas and Mike Mitchell, defensive end Antonio Smith and returner Trindon Holliday.
Maybe if the Falcons had made a bunch of huge free-agency moves, a big move up in the draft would make sense. Maybe if the Falcons had had 13 wins last year instead of two years ago and were thinking about another 20-spot move. Maybe if the rest of the NFC South hadn't both caught up and surpassed the Falcons.
Not only is this not the year for the Falcons to make a move like this, the Falcons aren't even close to the kind of team that should be making this move.
Thomas Dimitroff really likes his stars-and-scrubs team, doesn't he?— Tom Gower (@ThomasGower) March 25, 2014
For the Falcons, those middle-round picks given up to trade up even a few spots at the top of the order are picks that Atlanta sorely needs as it looks to get both starting-level talent and depth all across the roster.
Trading multiple potential players for one makes sense for teams like the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots and even Baltimore Ravens that have a few big needs and might not even have space on the roster for all of their draft picks.
That isn't the Falcons. It isn't even close to the Falcons.
If the Falcons mortgage their future once again in the draft process, Dimitroff will not be able to handle that debt load for very much longer as the foundation of the team has crumbled without the supporting picks to build up the core.
Even if the pick the Falcons move up for ends up being a superstar, a trade up in the 2014 draft would have long-lasting and negative ramifications for a Falcons team that would find itself with a host of needs left unfilled in 2014, 2015 and beyond and eventually much closer to rebuilding than the championship it is chasing.