There was a time, not too long ago, when NFL front offices wouldn't part with draft picks for anything. Want to trade for a starting-caliber quarterback? Better not ask for a first-round pick in exchange for him.
Case in point: The San Francisco 49ers acquired Jimmy Garoppolo, a highly coveted quarterback who was on the last year of his rookie deal, for a second-round pick. That's it, because the 49ers and every other team weren't willing to part with first-round picks even though a multitude of football minds knew Garoppolo was a starting quarterback. First-round picks were kept at all costs, and this was October 2017.
Then something changed. NFL teams started sending picks off for players at a high rate. Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach helped start the trend by sending late-round picks in exchange for formerly highly valued players such as linebacker Reggie Ragland (acquired for a conditional 2019 fourth-rounder) and offensive lineman Cameron Erving (acquired for a 2018 fifth-rounder).
The idea of sending Day 3 draft picks for players who were either proven or had high potential in their pre-draft reports took off. We still see moves like this today, as evidenced by the Los Angeles Rams trading a 2021 fifth-rounder for center Austin Corbett, who was the No. 33 overall pick in the 2018 draft.
Why, though, has the NFL become more trade-friendly in the last few seasons?
Former Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner believes it's because of the miss rate in the draft: "With teams only hitting on 50 percent of first-round picks and virtually no team without cap room, the value of a proven veteran has gone up and an unknown draft pick has gone down. When cap was tight, teams needed to hit on cheaper draft picks to be able to afford veterans. Now you can build a much higher percentage of your team with established players."
The Rams are attempting to load up for a Super Bowl run with this mindset. The Chiefs traded for cornerback Kendall Fuller and defensive end Frank Clark as huge parts of their defensive identity. The Cleveland Browns traded for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in a massive move.
Even though the results haven't been immediate, these remain some of the NFL's most promising teams. They’re shifting into win-now mode by being aggressive in the trade market.
They're able to do that because a good number of young and aggressive general managers are viewing draft picks as risky. Would you rather be the Rams with two late first-round picks that might not make huge impacts or the best young cornerback in football, Jalen Ramsey, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars?
For many general managers, taking the proven asset over the unproven value of a draft pick is the way to go. Which begs the question: Who is next?
Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams is the object of many teams' affection, but the front office has, to date, expressed no interest in trading him. The same is true for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, who will be a free agent after the season. A few teams (the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, most likely) would be interested in Green, but the Bengals say they aren't trading him.
Some teams would like to be buyers at the deadline, and already we're seeing reports that the Miami Dolphins would be willing to trade impending free-agent running back Kenyan Drake. But the current expectation from league insiders is that the big deals are done unless the Redskins or Bengals change course as the Tuesday deadline looms.
The Scout's Report
—Speaking of trades, the Los Angeles Rams had a quick but effective makeover this week by adding Jalen Ramsey, Austin Corbett, Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-rounder in exchange for Marcus Peters, a 2020 first-rounder, a 2021 first-rounder, a 2021 fourth-rounder and a 2021 fifth-rounder.
As mentioned above, this is the new-age thinking of flipping late-round picks for players (Young, Corbett) who were highly valued in their pre-draft process.
Corbett was the No. 33 overall pick in 2018 and graded No. 40 on my Big Board. He wasn't able to crack the lineup in Cleveland, but a different offensive scheme might fix what has kept him off the field. Similarly, Young has been a healthy scratch at times in Baltimore, but he was drafted No. 122 overall in 2018 (graded No. 291 on my board) and has athleticism at a position of need in L.A.
The Ramsey addition is obvious. He's 24 years old and arguably the best cornerback in football. Whatever the cost, the Rams were unlikely to find a cornerback of that caliber in the late area of the first round, where they expect to be selecting.
—What's the trade value of Gardner Minshew II, should the Jacksonville Jaguars want to replace the rookie quarterback with veteran Nick Foles when he returns from injury?
"Why would they do that?" is how a former general manager responded when asked. When pushed to play along, he replied, "if you're going to trade someone, you'd trade Foles. Even though his contract is bigger, he's proven and you know what the return is, so there's value in that. If Teddy Bridgewater is being traded for a second-rounder, Foles would get at least that back."
Said a current director of pro scouting: "With Gardner, we really need to see more. Is he Matt Cassel or is he Garoppolo? I think he's the latter, but only time and reps will tell that story."
—Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake, as mentioned earlier, is on the trade block according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Drake, who will be a free agent after this season, is an intriguing three-down option but also a player who has struggled to stay healthy or emerge as a featured back.
Teams looking for depth could be interested, but the clubs currently in playoff position don't have needs at running back, and teams on the outside have no incentive to trade for a future free agent. Drake's market might be very limited heading into the trade deadline.
—Quote of the Week: An AFC area scout sent this over while watching Alabama game tape: "Jerry Jeudy is a glitch."
Jeudy is indeed a cheat code for Alabama at wide receiver. He should be a top-five selection.
The Mock Draft
1. Cincinnati — QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
2. Miami — EDGE Chase Young, Ohio State
3. Washington — WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
4. Atlanta — CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
5. New York Jets — EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
6. Jacksonville — LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
7. Cleveland — OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
8. Miami (from PIT) — QB Joe Burrow, LSU
9. New York Giants — WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
10. Los Angeles Chargers — WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
11. Tennessee — QB Jordan Love, Utah State
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
13. Denver — CB CJ Henderson, Florida
14. Arizona — OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
15. Dallas — S Grant Delpit, LSU
16. Jacksonville (from LAR) — CB Kristian Fulton, LSU
17. Detroit — DT Derrick Brown, Auburn
18. Indianapolis — WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
19. Oakland (from CHI) — WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
20. Carolina — OC Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
21. Philadelphia — CB Paulson Adebo, Stanford
22. Oakland — LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
23. Baltimore — LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
24. Minnesota — OT Austin Jackson, USC
25. Miami (from HOU) — OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
26. Buffalo — WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan
27. New Orleans — DL Marvin Wilson, FSU
28. Seattle — EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
29. Kansas City — OG Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin
30. Green Bay — TE Brycen Hopkins, Purdue
31. San Francisco — CB Trevon Diggs, Alabama
32. New England — DL Raekwon Davis, Alabama
6. Game of the Week
This one is worth clearing your schedule for: Oregon vs. Washington, with senior Justin Herbert going against a very talented and very aggressive defense, and on the other side, Washington's Jacob Eason facing the Ducks defense. Both quarterbacks figure to get their best test of the season so far in this rivalry game.
Herbert has thrown just one interception on the year and looks crisp in an offense he's now mastered. Eason, on the other hand, has been a bit erratic after a red-hot start. In a quarterback class still seeking clarity, both players could benefit greatly from a big showing on Saturday.
5. Stock Down
Sometimes, a player's stock can drop, and it's through no fault of their own. That's the case this week with talented Virginia senior cornerback Bryce Hall, whose season is ending due to an ankle injury.
Hall came into the year with big expectations from some scouts we spoke to over the summer and did play somewhat unevenly before the injury. It's very unlikely we see him in the Senior Bowl, and he probably won't appear in the NFL Scouting Combine.
Missing those two events can be devastating to a player's stock. We're wishing the best for Hall, but the timing and severity of the injury aren't good.
4. Stock Up
Welcome to the show, Austin Jackson.
The USC junior left tackle was impossible to miss while watching tape of the Notre Dame game earlier this week. A 6'6", 310-pound athlete with quick feet and a bit of a mean streak, Jackson looks the part of a Round 1 tackle based on the four games reviewed following his performance against the Irish.
This draft class has several good tackle prospects, but Jackson belongs with them as a legitimate top-32 candidate.
3. Sleeper of the Week
Wisconsin is mauling folks offensively, but a big part of the Badgers' undefeated start is the defense. That unit is lead by senior edge-rusher Zack Baun, who has been electric in every contest.
Baun, who has six sacks to go along with two forced fumbles and an interception this season, has lived in opposing backfields. He's frustrated and pressured the best the Big Ten has to offer and seems to be hitting his stride as conference play rolls on.
2. Tailgate Tour
Our Stick to Football tailgate tour was recently announced. If you get a chance to come out, these tailgates are free fan events with no ticket to the game required:
Oct. 27 — Rams vs. Bengals; O'Neill's Irish Pub & Bar (Carnaby Street, London)
Nov. 9 — LSU at Alabama; The Quad (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)
Nov. 23 — Cal at Stanford (Palo Alto, California)
1. Stick to Football is back in-house this week with our podcast episodes now also available on YouTube as a video series. Check out the podcast and subscribe if you haven't already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.