Expecting the Unexpected: What if the Steelers traded out of the first round?

PITTSBURGH PA - DECEMBER 19: Head Coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with General Manager Kevin Colbert before the game against the New York Jets at Heinz Field on December 19 2010 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

 

To continue Tim (HSS) and my series about a number of potentially surprising moves the Steelers might make in April's NFL Draft, I'm focusing here on the possibility of the team trading out of the first round altogether. As suggested by many of you in the comments section recently, it would seem likely that the Steelers would trade out of the first round because of the lack of talent that would be available when the Steelers pick at No. 31. While it’s certainly plausible for the Steelers to execute a trade that would take them out of the first round in exchange for additional picks, it should be noted that since the AFL/NFL merger the Steelers have never not made a selection in the first round of the draft. So to say that it would be out of character to do so would be an understatement. But just because they’ve never done it doesn’t mean that they never will. So that is the premise of this article. What if the Steelers traded out of the first round altogether?

Typically when a team decides to trade back it’s because they aren’t in love enough with the available talent and/or another team calls them and offers enough compensation to make it worth trading back. So for instance, when the Steelers are on the clock at pick 31 and decide to trade back and end up taking Ras-I Dowling wherever they land, it’s not so much because they wanted better value for Dowling specifically, but rather that the team they traded with offered more value than Dowling was worth at 31. So instead of trying to decide who the Steelers would specifically trade back for this article will be more about what team would want to trade up to pick 31 and what type of compensation the Steelers can expect to get in return for doing so.

Following the trade value chart below, the 31st pick in the NFL draft is worth 600 points. Let's take a look:

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In my opinion the new draft format implemented last year, where the draft is broken down into three days, will aid the Steelers in getting more value in return for their draft pick. Teams looking to trade up because they are targeting someone specific will be too impatient to wait another day to get him. With the Patriots holding onto the first pick of the second day (pick 33), and knowing they’ll trade it to the highest bidder, some team will get nervous enough to offer the Steelers more than pick 31 is worth to jump ahead of the pick 33 auction for someone they are dying to have. There are several prospects that should be available that won’t appeal to the Steelers but would be very appetizing to other teams. The top of the list would be the available Quarterbacks. There will also be a few fringe first rounders that the Steelers may consider but would likely bypass if the incentive to trade back was right.

There are several Quarterback-needy teams that won’t have a shot at drafting the cream of the 2011 crop which would be Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Auburn’s Cam Newton. Of the next tier of QB’s the players targeted would be Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, Washington’s Jake Locker, TCU’s Andy Dalton, FSU’s Christian Ponder, and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick. The list of teams that are targeting these players includes the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings, and the Miami Dolphins. I’ll exclude the Washington Redskins because even though they desperately need a new QB they also have so many needs it would be foolish of them to trade away any picks and with Shanahan now running the show I expect them to value draft picks a lot more. Below I’ll break down briefly why they have a need and what we could expect to get from them.

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Arizona Cardinals

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The Cardinals (Pittsburgh West) Quarterback situation is a mess. Last year they signed Derek Anderson hoping that a change of scenery from Cleveland would transform him back to his Pro-bowl form of 2007. Unfortunately it didn’t and the Cards find themselves looking for another QB to lead them. They also have 2010 rookies Max Hall and John Skelton on the roster as well. While both of them have had minute flashes of potential Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt can’t be comfortable going into the 2011 season with either of them at the top of the depth chart. Currently they hold the 5th pick in the first round of the draft and could very well take Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton should either of them be available although at this point it’s unlikely. Taking a QB that high in the draft assures that there will be too much pressure to start them right away and Coach Whiz cannot afford another bad season. It’s rumored that the Cards would like to trade for Eagles QB Kevin Kolb or sign veteran Marc Bulger but without a new CBA in place it would be a dangerous gamble to not select a QB if they can get one. In the second round Arizona holds the 38th pick which is valued at 520 points. In addition to that the Steelers would probably also get the Cards 4th rounder at pick 102 valued at 92 points. With the 38th pick in the second round the Steelers would likely have their choice between TCU OG Marcus Cannon and Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling, and with their own second round pick at 63 they could take someone to fill the other need.

Probable trade:
Cardinals get pick 31
Steelers get picks 38 + 102

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San Francisco 49ers

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As with the Cardinals, the 49ers pick early enough, 7th overall, in the first round that they may have a shot at one of the top QB’s but it’s unlikely. While Arizona may have enjoyed some QB stability in recent years prior to Kurt Warner’s retirement San Fran hasn’t been so lucky. Since the Steve Young era the QB position has been in a constant state of flux with the exception of a couple good years with Jeff Garcia. They have a new Head Coach in Jim Harbaugh and it’s time to move on from Alex Smith who is a pending free agent. The 49ers hold the 45th pick (450 points) in the second round, and the 107th (80 points) and 114th picks (66 points) in the 4th round. While the 49ers second round pick is lower than the Cards selection the deal would also come with two 4th round picks, giving the Steelers 3 total picks in that round. The Steelers could wheel and deal two of those 4th round picks for a 3rd rounder, or move all 3 for an additional 2nd round pick.

Probable trade:
49ers get pick 31
Steelers get picks 45 + 107 + 114

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Tennessee Titans

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Unlike a lot of the other teams on this list Tennessee is a team with a lot of talent. If they had a better Quarterback situation they could be perennial contenders. Unfortunately the last few years they’ve been dragged down by Vince Young with Kerry Collins serving as a meager life raft. Regardless of whether or not they take a QB in the 2011 draft it’s likely they’ll have Collins at the helm again for at least one more year, which is a good thing if they do take a QB as he’ll have enough time to learn before being thrown into the fire. The Titans have the 39th pick (510 points) in the draft, one behind the Cardinals in the second round, and the 108th pick (78 points) of the 4th round. It’ll basically be the same deal as the one with the Cardinals only slightly less valuable. The Steelers may be able to get the Titans to kick in a 7th rounder in addition.

Probable trade:
Titans get pick 31
Steelers get picks 39 + 108 + maybe 201

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Minnesota Vikings

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It seems like only yesterday that the Vikings were only a play away from going to the Super Bowl. Not that the Favre era is finally over, and for good this time I hope, it’s time for them to find a QB to move forward with. Tavares Jackson is a free agent and unlikely to be retained which would leave 2010 late round pick Joe Webb as the most viable candidate to start the 2011 season with and that is unacceptable. The Vikings own the 43rd pick (470 points) in the second round, the 105th pick (84 points) in the 4th round, and the 136th pick (38 points) in the 5th round.

Probable trade:
Vikings get pick 31
Steelers get picks 43 + 105 + 136

************

Miami Dolphins:

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The Fins are a tough team to predict only because they had Chad Henne at Quarterback, who they took in the second round, and he’s only 25 years old. If they don’t have a chance at Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert they may forgo taking a QB in the 2011 draft. However they do need someone to compete with Henne, either to light a fire under him or replace him. Now this is where it gets interesting because Miami doesn’t have a second round pick as they traded it to Denver for Brandon Marshall. So if the Steelers decided to trade the 31st pick in the 2011 NFL draft to the Miami Dolphins it would have to be for their 2012 first round pick, with perhaps an additional 4th round pick thrown in for instant gratification which would be pick 110 (74 points). In the last six years the Dolphins have picked at numbers 12, 25, 1, 9, 16, and 2 in the first round so there’s a good possibility that their 2012 first round pick will be a good one.

Probable trade:
Dolphins get pick 31
Steelers get 2012 1st round pick + pick 110

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Final Word:

As I’ve already stated, the Steelers have never traded out of the first round since the AFL/NFL merger. The Front Office’s drafting philosophy is to take the best available player that comes to them or trade up for someone they really want. It seems to have worked so far so why change strategies now? If they do trade back it could be for any number of offers. Of the five I’ve listed I would prefer the Miami Dolphins scenario and then the 49ers next. The Dolphins trade would be very Patriots-like but would probably pay the biggest dividends in the long-term. In addition to the Steelers late-first round selection we would also have a mid-first rounder as well to get an impact player. Looking over the potential top prospects for the 2012 NFL draft we could potentially grab Tennessee Volunteers Free Safety Janzen Jackson (who’s seen by many to be the second coming of Eric Berry) with the Dolphins pick and Nebraska DT/DE Jared Crick with the Steelers first round pick to add youth to the D-line. In the mean time the Steelers could use pick 63 to fill the immediate need at CB and keep their fingers crossed that the O-line has a healthier year in 2011 than they did in 2010. As for the 49ers trade it would bring the Steelers into the middle of the second round, still giving us a shot at Dowling or Cannon, while gaining an additional two 4th round picks with which to add some depth or package together for a trade up. As with any trade or selection scenario I have faith that the Steelers front office will do what’s best and continue to get impact players.

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Expecting the Unexpected Series:

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