Former Top Draft Picks with Untapped Potential NFL Teams Should Target in Trades
While the NFL trade deadline spotlight zeroes in on the Houston Texans and quarterback Deshaun Watson, the trade block might see some former high draft picks on the move, too.
For the underwhelming players that teams took with premium draft capital, the fit just hasn't worked out. While their production hasn't matched expectations, contenders and rebuilders alike might see some upside that suggests the player could realize their potential in a new environment.
We'll restrict this list to as far back as the 2017 draft to keep things recent and involve former first-rounders on the final year of their rookie deals after fifth-year options.
Here's a look at former first- and second-round draft picks teams should target on the deadline before Tuesday's cutoff.
Kemoko Turay, Edge, Indianapolis Colts
Kemoko Turay is far from a household name, but that would never stop those in NFL circles from keeping a close eye on his availability.
Case in point, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Turay as a name the Indianapolis Colts have received calls about before the deadline.
And why not? Turay, a second-round pick in 2018, has shown brief flashes but has played more than seven games in a season just once as he plays out the final year of his deal. He's had a hard time breaking through the rotation when healthy this year, though, having played just 89 total snaps (35 percent).
Still, Turay has two sacks in that limited playing time and 8.5 in 29 games. It's not the best rate, but a contender like Cincinnati could use rotational pass-rushing help (13th in pressure rate). Almost any rebuilder in the league probably wouldn't mind taking a half-season rental on a 26-year-old player with upside that they could extend if things work out, too.
James Washington, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers wideout James Washington has been a constant in trade speculation since the offseason.
However, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported before the season that Washington doesn't expect to be traded, despite past frustration with his role in the offense.
Prior to 2021, Washington had received more than 60 targets in a season once, producing a career-high of just 44 catches, and he's scored nine touchdowns over 50 appearances to date. Over five appearances in 2021, Washington ranks sixths on the team in targets with just 14, as the Diontae Johnson-Chase Claypool-JuJu Smith-Schuster trio commanded the lion's share of the snaps.
While JuJu suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 5, early returns don't suggest Washington will play a bigger role. In a Week 6 win over Seattle, he had just one target while six others had two or more on a day the offense attempted 40 passes.
Despite the lack of work, Washington has averaged a healthy 14.5 yards per catch for his career and is cheap on the final year of his rookie deal. Contenders that could use a field stretcher like Indianapolis or any range of rebuilders—Houston comes to mind—should pick up the phone.
Clelin Ferrell, DL, Las Vegas Raiders
Clelin Ferrell just hasn't been able to match the expectations that come with being the fourth pick in a draft.
The Las Vegas Raiders selected the Clemson product in 2019, and he's underwhelmed from a statistical standpoint, registering just 6.5 sacks over 32 games.
While he did post a 76.1 Pro Football Focus grade over 11 games last year, placing him in the "starter" bracket, the Raiders went out of their way to beef up the defensive line over the offseason, adding Yannick Ngakoue, Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson. The first two names, plus Maxx Crosby, have shoved Ferrell out of the rotation.
Still, Ferrell has occasionally flashed, and a change of scenery (and unwieldy expectations due to draft slotting) could help him blossom. Contenders that could use rotational depth while hoping for cheap long-term additions to the core, such as Dallas and Tennesse, should have interest in throwing out late-round picks at Las Vegas.
Andre Dillard, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
Offensive line help is at a serious premium in the NFL these days, so teams should be all over the Philadelphia Eagles about Andre Dillard.
Dillard, the 22nd pick in the 2019 draft, started four games as a rookie and missed his entire sophomore year with a biceps injury. Rather than being the left tackle of the future like the team had planned, former seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata has overtaken him.
With the Eagles rolling out its best possible starting five, Dillard has unexpectedly been relegated to backup duty, even taking reps at guard spots. That's a valuable asset for the Eagles to have, of course, but other teams have taken notice and expressed interest, as reported by Rapoport.
The Eagles entered Week 8 as one of three teams with a 2-5 record in the NFC East, so while selling assets that could be of value for the long-term might not make sense, there's also reason to believe they could entertain the idea.
Teams that have poor starting offensive lines, such as contenders like Cincinnati and Tennessee or even rebuilders like Chicago, should attempt to acquire Dillard's services. He's a bit of an unknown as an immediate starter, but he still has the upside of a long-term starter.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku has been the subject of trade speculation for years.
Go figure—Njoku had 148 targets over his first two seasons after the Browns drafted him in first-round pick in 2017. He's received just 60 targets in the ensuing 24 games, and the team has added pieces at his position, such as Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant.
Njoku was Cleveland's leading receiver with 284 yards and added one touchdown through seven games this year, but he ranked tied for fourth on the team in targets. He's received more than three targets in a game just twice and had one appearance with no targets at all.
At this point, Cleveland might be wise to get something in return for Njoku's seemingly inevitable departure, now that he's in the final year of his contract. Would-be trade suitors will know this, though, which could potentially diminish the return.
Regardless, rebuilders with rookie quarterbacks to develop like the New York Jets should be interested in giving Njoku a healthy dose of snaps to see if he's worth extending.