After the transcendent Heisman Trophy quarterback and the generational pass rusher, the fate of this week’s NFL draft hinges on a franchise-defining decision from a franchise defined by its poor decision-making.
For the Detroit Lions, there are no obvious choices at third overall. Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah is the presumed favorite to be the pick, after the Lions shipped away its top cover man this offseason. There’s also freakish Clemson defender Isaiah Simmons or Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown to consider, both of whom could make an immediate impact on one of the league’s worst defenses.
But the most sensible option may be to not pick at all. With top quarterback prospects Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert both expected to be available, the Lions have the leverage to trade down, add picks, and potentially still draft one of the defensive prospects they most desire.
They’re hardly the only team that could look to exercise that leverage on Thursday. A year after the NFL set a record with 40 draft-day trades, we could see just as many deals made over the next three days, even as general managers are forced to deal with their spotty, at-home WiFi.
That tone starts with the Lions, who only need to backtrack to 2018 for an ideal trade blueprint at No. 3 overall. In that draft, the Indianapolis Colts traded the third pick to the New York Jets for the sixth, 37th and 49th picks, as well as a second-round pick in 2019. The Jets chose Sam Darnold with their new top selection, while the Colts drafted three starters, two of whom (Quentin Nelson and Darius Leonard) are already All-Pro players.
Detroit could set itself up for similar success, if it’s able to negotiate a similar, blockbuster deal. The Miami Dolphins, with three first-round picks, have the draft capital to make it happen. The Chargers, at No. 6, are another clear choice, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 9. Beyond that trio looms the Las Vegas Raiders (at No. 12) and New England Patriots (at No. 23), the latter of whom has strong organizational ties to the Lions — and also happens to have an evil trade genius for a general manager.
The Lions may still opt to stand pat, selecting Okudah third overall, and letting the chips fall as they may with the draft’s top quarterbacks. But where quarterbacks fall, trades often follow.
If Detroit doesn’t take advantage, then someone else certainly will.
New York Giants
It’s hard to know for sure if Dave Gettleman even understands the concept of a smokescreen, but the New York general manager may have unwittingly created one this week, when he said the Giants would “very seriously entertain” trading down.
For a team desperate at offensive tackle, it could be a prescient move. The draft is loaded at the position, especially in the top 10, and any team hoping to leapfrog the Dolphins and Chargers for a quarterback could do so at a slightly lower price than the Lions’ pick would cost.
The Dolphins’ stockpile of picks includes five of the draft’s top 56 selections, meaning Miami has more firepower than any other franchise to make a move.
The pertinent question is when Miami might decide to make that move. The Dolphins are believed to favor Herbert and might be content waiting to see if he’s organically available at No. 5. But with so much capital, the safe move would be to unload two second-round picks and slide up the board to No. 3.
Los Angeles Chargers
Tyrod Taylor has the vote of confidence as the Chargers’ starter for now, but leapfrogging the Dolphins to draft Tagovailoa would give the franchise a star to build around as it moves into SoFi Stadium.
Perhaps that’s not worth the price, considering Taylor’s presence and the array of top left tackles available. But if quarterback is the pick, moving up to third or fourth overall seems like the smart choice.
San Francisco 49ers
With just two of the top 155 picks, no other NFL franchise has less capital in the top four rounds. But the 49ers do have two first-round picks to work with (Nos. 13 and 31), and you can count on at least one of those being moved to stockpile more assets.
Considering recent history, the 31st pick may as well be moved already. At least one of the final two picks of the first round have been dealt in every draft since 2012, as teams seek to tack on the extra year of team control that comes with a first-round pick. Expect the 49ers to fall in line.
Some teams just love to trade down. That’s been the case in Seattle for the better part of the past decade, as the Seahawks have traded their top pick every year since 2011.
Whether that strategy has worked for the Seahawks lately is another question.