NFL: The Real Value of Draft Day Trades

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The annual NFL Draft has evolved into an event that is worthy of a slot during primetime television. One of the main reasons for the dramatic spike in interest in the draft are the unpredictable trades that even the most connected league sources don’t see coming. Whether it’s a simple trade of late-round picks or a blockbuster one at the top of the first round, Draft Day gives analysts something to talk about, writers something to write about, and fans a reason to be optimistic — or pessimistic — heading into the new season.

Until the early 1990s, placing a value on each individual pick in the draft was a far more subjective process than it was an objective process. Each individual team had to evaluate whether swapping draft picks was a fair and worthwhile move. It wasn’t until Jimmy Johnson took over as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys that evaluating draft pick trades became an exact science.

In the months after pulling off one of the biggest trades in professional sports history, when he sent running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for eight draft picks, Johnson set out to establish a set of parameters that would easily allow him to evaluate draft pick trades in the future. As a result, Johnson, with the help of his staff, developed what is now known as the NFL Draft Trade Value Chart.

Graphic courtesy of SBNation

The NFL Draft Trade Value Chart (pictured above) places a specific point value on every pick in the draft, down to the 32nd pick in the seventh round. It is a tool that is now used by practically every franchise in the league when evaluating and making decisions on potential Draft Day trades.

Evaluating a potential trade with the NFL Draft Trade Value Chart is simple and straightforward. Teams will simply add up the point value of the draft pick(s) they are giving up and compare that number to the total point value of the draft pick(s) they will be receiving. If the two total values are close, the deal will likely get done. If there is a substantial difference in the two values, then teams will often throw in additional players or picks if they truly want to get the deal.

With that, here is a look at how three of the biggest trades in NFL history played out according the NFL Draft Trade Value Chart.

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1. Dallas Cowboys trade Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings

Dallas Cowboys receive:

  • Round 1, pick 21 in the 1990 NFL Draft
  • Round 2, pick 47 in the 1990 NFL Draft
  • Round 6, pick 158 in the 1990 NFL Draft
  • Round 1, pick 12 in the 1991 NFL Draft
  • Round 2, pick 37 in the 1991 NFL Draft
  • Round 2, pick 38 in the 1991 NFL Draft
  • Round 3, pick 71 in the 1991 NFL Draft
  • Round 1, pick 13 in the 1993 NFL Draft
  • Jesse Solomon (linebacker)
  • David Howard (linebacker)
  • Isaac Holt (cornerback)
  • Darrin Nelson (running back)
  • Alex Stewart (defensive end)
  • Total draft pick point value: 4,893

Minnesota Vikings receive:

  • Round 3, pick 54 in the 1990 NFL Draft
  • Round 5, pick 116 in the 1990 NFL Draft
  • Round 10, pick 249 in the 1990 NFL Draft
  • Round 3, pick 68 in the 1991 NFL Draft
  • Herschel Walker (running back)
  • Total draft pick point value: 672

This trade propelled the Cowboys into becoming a dynasty throughout the 1990s. Jimmy Johnson turned this massive haul of draft picks into multiple impact players, including Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Darren Woodson. The Vikings, on the other hand, weren’t nearly as fortunate.

2. Washington Redskins move up to select Robert Griffin III

Washington Redskins receive:

  • Round 1, pick 2 in the 2012 NFL Draft
  • Total draft pick point value: 2,600

St. Louis Rams receive:

  • Round 1, pick 6 in the 2012 NFL Draft
  • Round 2, pick 39 in the 2012 NFL Draft
  • Round 1, pick 22 in the 2013 NFL Draft
  • Round 1, pick 2 in the 2014 NFL Draft
  • Total draft pick point value: 5,490

Following the 2012 season, it looked as though this trade was going to go down as a win-win for both teams involved. Fast forward two years, and RGIII is now in danger of being outright released by the Redskins if he doesn’t improve in a hurry. The Rams didn’t land any future Hall of Famers in the deal, but there is no doubting that they won this trade — and who could forget their legendary trolling of RGIII in December?

3. New Orleans Saints trade up to select Ricky Williams

New Orleans Saints receive:

  • Round 1, pick 5 in the 1999 NFL Draft
  • Total draft pick point value: 1,700

Washington Redskins receive:

  • Round 1, pick 12 in the 1999 NFL Draft
  • Round 3, pick 71 in the 1999 NFL Draft
  • Round 4, pick 106 in the 1999 NFL Draft
  • Round 5, pick 144 in the 1999 NFL Draft
  • Round 6, pick 179 in the 1999 NFL Draft
  • Round 7, pick 218 in the 1999 NFL Draft
  • Round 1, pick 2 in the 2000 NFL Draft
  • Round 3, pick 64 in the 2000 NFL Draft
  • Total draft pick point value: 4,944

The Saints literally traded their entire allotment of draft picks in 1999 and their first- and third-round picks in 2000 for the right to select Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ricky Williams. It doesn’t take an NFL Draft expert to know that this trade was completely lopsided. Williams turned out to be a solid pro but was far from a franchise-changing player. To make matters worse, the Saints shipped Williams to the Miami Dolphins only three years later. We don’t get to say this very often, but this trade was a major win for the Redskins.

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