With under a week until the 2022 NFL Draft, the anticipation is palpable. In fact, I can almost see the flowing fountains of the Bellagio already.
Draft season is always uber enjoyable for fans who project the future and are invested in their team’s roster construction, but it feels especially meaningful for Steelers die-hards this year. The team will almost certainly look to find its long-term successor to Ben Roethlisberger in addition to plugging several noteworthy voids on the depth chart.
In other words, Kevin Colbert’s last draft is likely to go out with a bang.
Knowing how important April 28-30 will be in the franchise ledger, Colbert will do his best to position the team for success under a new general manager. Considering the heightened importance of 2022 and how much rests on the upcoming draft class, Colbert very well may look to be aggressive and assertive to land future franchise cornerstones.
One doesn’t need to read the tea leaves to see how infatuated the Steelers have been with Malik Willis; however, there are several other premier players that the team has been linked to, including LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr..
What would it cost the Steelers, situated at #20 overall, to move up the ranks to land Stingley, someone else or potentially Willis? Utilizing recent history as well as value charts, let’s prognosticate the parameters of a potential monster shake-up.
Note: This article is not advocating for the Steelers to move up or to stay put. Rather, it is simply assessing the cost that it would likely require the team to acquire better draft positioning. Also, this does not factor in trading players (e.g. Diontae Johnson).
Last year’s draft gave us two excellent examples of packages that teams configure in order to snag franchise signal-callers.
In the days leading up to the draft, the San Francisco 49ers stunned nearly everyone by sending a haul to the Miami Dolphins in order to move from #12 to #3 overall. The full package was as follows: the #12 overall pick, a 2022 first-round pick, a 2022 third-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick.
The Dolphins ultimately repurposed the #12 overall pick as well as some of their original selections in order to attain the #6 overall slot from the Philadelphia Eagles, but the first leg of the trade very much emulates something the Steelers could do this year.
During draft day itself, the Bears also climbed the pecking order, swapping picks with the Giants to land Justin Fields. Chicago yielded the #20 overall pick, a 2021 fifth-rounder, a 2022 first-rounder and a 2022 fourth-round pick for the #11 overall slot. Both the 49ers and Bears advanced nine picks, and both paid humongous prices.
Another instance of a team towards the bottom portion of the draft order rocketing up boards was the Chiefs in 2017. KC gave the Bills the #27 overall pick, a 2017 third-rounder and a 2018 first-round pick for the #10 overall selection five years ago (wow, has time flown by!). Given today’s more pass-happy league, this compensation seems retrospectively low for a 17-spot move-up, but Brett Veach still mortgaged significant assets in order to secure Patrick Mahomes.
In these three aforementioned situations, teams traded either into or on the precipice of the top 10, but there exists a reality in which the Steelers want to be in better position by just a handful of slots. What might those hypotheticals look like?
Take 2020, in which the Packers moved from #30 to #26 to draft Jordan Love; in order to do so, Green Bay had to give the Dolphins a fourth-rounder.
In non-quarterback terms, the Eagles swapped firsts with the Cowboys in last year’s draft, the former going from #12 overall to #10 overall at the cost of a third-rounder in 2021. Even a one-spot trade-up will cost extra picks: ask the Buccaneers, who had to give the 49ers a fourth-round pick in order to move up one pick. The swap ended up being quite worthwhile, as Tampa Bay drafted superstar right tackle Tristan Wirfs.
What can we glean from these recent deals? First, gaining entry into or near the top 10 will indubitably cost a future first-round pick and more, if not multiple ones. Additionally, if the Steelers want to move up just a few picks, they will need to be willing to part with a mid-round pick – likely at least a fourth-rounder, something which is valuable to a team with a bevy of needs.
Draft Value Trade Charts and Possible Team Fits
When reading the trades above, it was probably hard to grasp whether a trade was fair based on the pure numbers themselves. Seeing all the selections next to each other is inherently confusing, and the value of the picks is somewhat nebulous to begin with; we know #1 overall is better than #263, but the line between #16 and #17, say, becomes blurry.
A methodology that can help allocate worth to specific draft picks are draft pick value trade charts. The original table was devised by Jimmy Johnson in the 1990s and is frequently used as a benchmark in order to assess the parity of transactions. It should be noted that there are comparable yet adjusted charts, including this one by Brad Spielberger and Jason Fitzgerald.
As an example of how the chart works, let’s analyze the Bears-Giants trade in 2021.
Per the chart, the Giants’ #11 overall pick is worth 1250 points. The Bears gave up Pick #20 (850), Pick #164 (26), their 2022 first-round pick (#7 overall; 1500) and their 2022 fourth (#112 overall; 70). In essence, the Giants started with 1250 points and wound up with 2446 in return; in a binary sense, New York easily won the trade from a draft pick value standpoint.
It goes without saying that any team trading future picks, especially first-rounders, is banking on those slots being lower in order for the eventual transaction to be as even as possible in value. In the case of the Bears, the team probably didn’t expect for its 2022 first-rounder to be higher than #11 overall to begin with, but such a gamble was requisite to pick Fields.
If Colbert and the Steelers want to play their odds in a similar fashion, what could some exchanges with relatively fair value look like? Here are two scenarios.
In the first, the Steelers want to move ahead of the Seahawks and thus trade with the Falcons, who own #8 overall. The 8th overall pick has a value of 1400 points, so Pittsburgh would have to send a package near or even greater than that number — teams are frequently unwilling to deal unless they see immediate payout from the squad trying to move up.
One option for the Steelers could look like this: #20 overall (850), #52 overall (380), 2023 first-rounder and 2023 second-rounder. In terms of base value, this trade is worth a minimum of 2090 points: the Steelers’ 2022 picks correspond to 1230 alone, while the lowest first- and second-rounders are 590 and 270, respectively. This may appear lopsided, but it’s on par with what the 49ers surrendered in 2021.
What if Colbert wants to jump the Saints and move up to #15, tantamount to 1050 points? A shipment to the Eagles could include #20 overall (850) and #84 overall (170).
If the Steelers do elect to move up, as they did for Devin Bush in 2019, they need to be content with betting on themselves to perform well in future years and thus reduce the value of the initial deal.
In fact, if the 49ers and Bears have taught us anything, Pittsburgh may need to tolerate giving up much more than it wants to stomach to land its primary target – then again, there might not be a price that’s too steep to land a game-changing talent for years to come.