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One Buc Mailbag: On the Move

Posted May 1, 2014

This week's mailbag goes fully back into draft mode, with questions about trading up for Sammy Watkins, trading down for value and ranking the needs at receiver and guard


STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Should the Bucs consider a bold move up the draft to land Clemson WR Sammy Watkins?
  • Jason Licht seems willing to trade down, so who are the potential trade partners and what would the Bucs get?
  • Which is a bigger need for the Bucs in the early rounds: Wide receiver or guard?
Each week, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans.  Last week, the arrival of the NFL schedule brought some variety to the mailbag, but this week, with Round One just seven days away, it's once again all about the draft.  Trade up to get Sammy Watkins, no matter the cost?  Trade down and add value for the remainder of the draft?  Target a receiver or a guard in the early going?  All good questions.  Let's discuss!

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.

A note from the author: A thanks to all the fans who submitted questions via Twitter on Thursday morning.  I wasn't able to get to all of them, at least not yet, and many of them covered the same topics as the ones below.  Please continue to submit any questions you have and in the coming weeks I'll try to get to as many of them as possible.



You know, it really is amazing how high Sammy Watkins' stock has climbed since the end of the 2013 season.  He's always been at the top of everyone's receiver rankings in this year's draft class, but the intervening months have revealed a much deeper fascination in his talents among the collective NFL consciousness (at least among the analysts and fans; we don't yet know for sure what the G.M.'s think).  Many, many mock drafts have Watkins coming off the board at #2 – either to the Rams or a team trading with the Rams – under the notion that Tyler echoes up there: He's a legitimate game-changer.

That would put Watkins in a pretty exclusive club, as only five other receivers have been taken with one of the first two picks of the draft since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger: Lam Jones (#2, 1980), Irving Fryar (#1, 1984), Keyshawn Johnson (#1, 1996), Charles Rogers (#2, 2003) and Calvin Johnson (#2, 2007).  It is to Johnson that Watkins is often compared, though he doesn't have Johnson's size; Johnson is listed at 6-5 and 239 pounds while Watkins measured in at 6-1 and 211 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.  Watkins does have the same sort of power in his game, and he combines it with world-class speed, soft hands and…well, just about everything you'd want in a receiver.  He seems like a sure-fire, can't-miss superstar prospect.

He isn't, of course.  No one is.  Repeat: No one.  Do I think Watkins will be a star in the NFL?  I really do, though expecting him to be the next Calvin Johnson, who is doing things no one has done before, might be setting the bar a bit too high.  I just want to make it clear that there is some risk involved in trading up for Watkins – or any player – because no prospect is an absolute sure thing.  Atlanta mortgaged the house to get Julio Jones a couple years ago, and I think you'd have to say they're happy about that.  I don’t think New Orleans, however, has fond memories of giving up the farm to get Ricky Williams in 1999.

Here, check out this analysis of Watkins by Greg Bedard of the MMQB site.  Bedard is clearly a big fan; he even thinks it's possible that Watkins will change the way teams evaluate receivers in the future.  Yet even he allows some doubt to creep into his mostly glowing prediction for Watkins' NFL future.

Still, let's say you're the Bucs, you've done all the scouting you can do and you've decided that you believe Watkins is worth trading up from #7 to land next Thursday.  What's it going to cost?  Well, the short version is: A lot.

You've probably heard of the famous draft value trade chart, developed by Jimmie Johnson's Cowboys in the early '90s.  That chart became gospel around the league for years, though it is has come under scrutiny more recently.  No less than the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective tore it down in 2011, calling the point values for each pick "completely arbitrary" and using player career-value data from Pro Football Referenceto come up with its own chart.  For example, the Dallas chart values the first-overall pick at 3,000 points and the last pick of the first round at 590 points.  The Harvard chart puts those two picks at 494.6 points and 200.3 points, respectively.  That's a huge difference; in the first chart, the first pick is worth roughly five times the 32nd pick, while in the second chart it's about 2.5 times as valuable.

But you know what?  It doesn't matter if NFL teams keep using the first chart.  I'm not suggesting they do treat it like gospel, but I think it's still a rough framework to which many teams refer.  If Team B wants to trade with Team A, it doesn't matter if Team B thinks those chart values are meaningless if those are the values Team A is working with.  I say all of that to justify using the original chart here when we discuss what it might cost the Bucs to move up to get Watkins.

Let's start with this assumption: A team will probably have to trade up to the #2 spot to get the Clemson receiver.  Sure, you could wait to see if he falls to #3 or #4 and then try to make a move, but if you don’t want to let Watkins get away under any circumstances, you probably aren't willing to take that gamble.  It only takes one team that wants him more than you to trade with the Rams and snag him first.

On the draft value chart, the #2 pick is worth 2,600 points and the #7 pick (where the Bucs are) is worth 1,500 points, so we have to make up a 1,100-point difference.  That happens to be the value of the 14th overall pick…but the Bucs don't have the 14th overall pick.  To make up that point difference with the picks they do have, the Bucs would have to give up all of their remaining picks, and they'd still come up 285.1 points shy.  That underscores a little bit how silly that chart can be, especially as you decline through the rounds (the Bucs' fifth-round pick, for instance, is only valued at 34 points, or about 100 times less valuable than the first overall pick).  I don't honestly think that the Rams would demand all of the Bucs picks, but you can see from the above that they would definitely want Tampa Bay's second pick, and probably more.  Perhaps it would cost a second and a fifth this year and a second in 2015.  Alternately, the Bucs could give up their first-round pick in 2015 to complete the deal.

My question to you, Tyler, and you, Newton, is whether you would want the Buccaneers to do that?  It's possible that Jason Licht and Lovie Smith are willing to do something like that – they certainly seem unafraid of the bold move – but you're asking the question of me, and my opinion is, no, it's not worth it.  I have felt all along (and it would be kind of fun to be proven wrong next Thursday) that a trade up is unlikely for the Buccaneers because we're already a little short on draft picks this year.  Now, if we were the 49ers and we were holding both 11 picks (including six in the first three rounds) and an existing roster that has been good enough to make it at least as far as the conference championship game the last two years, then I could see a move like the one you're proposing.

You ask, 'Why not' make that bold move to go up and get Watkins.  I think I've given you one reason above.  Here's another one: The Bucs would probably not be alone in trying to make that move.  It sure seems like the Rams could move back a bit and still fill one of their needs, such as offensive tackle, so I imagine they're going to be taking any phone calls they get next Thursday night.  The Lions have already been rumored to be interested in moving up from #10 to get Watkins and they have eight draft picks to work with.  The Jaguars (#3 pick) or Browns (#4 pick) might be in love with Watkins and wouldn't have to move nearly as far, making it a more palatable deal for them and a shorter and safer move back for the Rams.  And the Rams could use another receiver, too, even after taking Tavon Austin at #8 last year, so they don't have to feel pressured into a move.  They could simply take Watkins themselves.

The point is, there will be competition for that pick, and I don't think the Buccaneers want to get into a bidding war.

Actually, you asked, 'Why Not?' and, really, the answers I've given are more about why I don't think it will happen.  On the other hand, I share your feeling that getting Watkins would be the absolute best possible outcome for the Buccaneers in this draft.  I would be just as excited as you, Tyler, if they found a way.

A trade up to land Clemson WR Sammy Watkins would probably come at a steep price, but could be worth it

I still remember the 2007 draft, when the Bucs had the fourth overall pick and Calvin Johnson was sitting there, so enticing.  It was clear even then that Johnson wasn't going to fall to the fourth pick, so the Bucs would have had to make a deal to get him, and it probably wouldn't have been cheap.  I have no idea of Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden tried to swing a deal with Detroit, and I suspect that the Lions never seriously thought about giving up the chance to get Johnson.  Still, if the Bucs had made a blockbuster deal on that draft weekend in 2007, I think anything we gave up at the time would now feel perfectly acceptable, as Johnson has become the superstar so many expected.  That's what I'll keep in mind if the Bucs shock me next week and do what you're asking, Tyler.



A trade down?  Now that is something I could definitely see happening.  On Tuesday, during the pre-draft press conference with Licht and Smith, Licht said this: "[T]hat’s definitely something that we would look into and we’ve already reached out to teams and if our player isn’t there we would be open to conversations in moving back and picking up picks.”

So the Bucs are already laying the groundwork for potential move-back deals if they don't like the way the first six picks fall.  That means that there are some teams that are more likely trade partners, as Chad asks.  Since Mr. Licht is not going to share those teams with me, for obvious reasons, we'll have to speculate who they might be.

I have said before that I think the Bucs' best bet to move down is if a team becomes enamored with one of the quarterbacks, and it would obviously have to be a quarterback the Bucs did not want.  Let's say that Johnny Manziel, whose stock seems to be making a last-minute climb, goes in the top five, to Jacksonville, Cleveland or Oakland.  If you believe the collective mock-draft wisdom, the Vikings are a threat to pounce on Blake Bortles with the #8 pick.  And there are the Buccaneers, conveniently sitting at #7, right where a team would have to jump to if it wanted to beat the Vikings to the punch.  (Even the Vikings would be a trade candidate in that scenario, giving up something to move up one spot just so some other team couldn't usurp them.)

What teams might those be?  Other than the Vikings, how about a trade down to #11 with Tennessee, which might be ready to give up on Jake Locker.  That's a four-spot move for the Buccaneers, which under the aforementioned trade value chart would be worth roughly a high third-round pick.  In this case, that sounds about right.  I looked back a few years to find a comparable trade – somewhere around the 7th pick and a move down of four or five spots – but couldn't find a good match.  However, two teams moved down eight spots from that range in the last two years and they essentially netted second-round picks.  The Bucs traded down two spots from the #5 overall pick two years ago and got a fourth round pick.  So let's split the difference and agree with the chart on a third-round pick.  Small problem there: Tennessee doesn't have a third-round pick.  Whoops.

Okay then, how about the Arizona Cardinals?  Now we're talking about a move of 13 picks, which is going to bring nice value.  In the mock draft I did with my old Captain's Blog collaborator Andrew Norton on Wednesday, I predicted a quarterback for the Cardinals, but I admitted that this might be a reach.  I guess it's even more of a reach to think they would trade up for their eventual Carson Palmer replacement rather than just wait and see if Bridgewater or Carr falls to 20. So maybe this particular one is a longshot, but if it happened it would probably net a second and something else, perhaps a fourth.

Now, if you want to talk real long shot, but a scenario I really like, what if Houston takes Jadeveon Clowney first overall but still thinks it can get its new franchise quarterback this year.  Is it completely out of the question that they would try to make a huge move up to get Bortles?  I don't think so.  When Atlanta made their move to get Julio Jones in 2011, they gave up a second and a fourth that year plus a first and a fourth the next year.  That was a move of 21 spots, from 27 to six.  Houston would be moving 26 spots, from 33 to seven, so let's add a little extra premium and say that costs their third this year (#65) plus their first and second next year.  The Bucs could drop to #33 and still get a good receiver, then pick again five spots later and fill another need, like guard,  linebacker or end.

Of course, we don't have to restrict this just to teams that would like a quarterback.  The Bucs appear to be in prime range to nab a top offensive tackle if they wish.  One of the trio of Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan will almost certainly be there at #7, and maybe even two of them if the Rams trade out of the #2 spot and/or the Falcons land a pass-rusher at #6.  This opens up some potential trade partners, such as the Bills at #9, the Steelers at #15 and, especially, the Dolphins at #19.  Remember, Miami's new General Manager, Dennis Hickey, just left the Bucs' organization and his new team has glaring needs up front.  As with Arizona, this would probably cost the Dolphins a second round pick and something more, such as a fourth-rounder.  That seems like a really nice scenario for the Buccaneers, too.  And if the Bucs' targeted player (Mike Evans or Khalil Mack, maybe?) is not there at #7, a little move back to #9 with the Bills could net a fourth-round pick and be just the first of several jogs back down the order.

There are undoubtedly other trade partners and scenarios that could emerge (or are already in the works), but there are a couple for you to chew on, Chad.



Well, this might not be as definitive of an answer as you'd like, Angelo, but I think those two needs are pretty close to equal, and very high on the team's list.  I guess I would give a slight nod to the receiver position, as I don't think there is an obvious #2 on the roster to pair with Vincent Jackson, while there is a possibility that a combo of Carl Nicks and either Jamon Meredith or Oniel Cousins would end up working out.  I don't want that to sound like a dig at Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins, Chris Owusu or any of the other receivers on hand who very well could emerge as a #2.  I just don't think it would be objective analysis to predict that one of them definitely will.  Looking at everything on paper, it definitely appears like a #2 receiver is at or near the very top of the Bucs' need list.

I think the more important question is which position is more important to draft first.  And that doesn't necessarily return the same answer.  The receiver position is so deep this year that it's almost a certainty that an attractive option will be there at pick #38, especially if the team has deemed that players such as Davante Adams, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson and Bruce Ellington are essentially as promising as Kelvin Benjamin, Marqise Lee and Brandin Cooks.  So you could consider receiver a bigger need but guard a higher priority in the draft.

That said, I don't see it falling out that way unless the Buccaneers either (a) trade down or (b) believe one of the better tackle prospects can start his career at guard.  Otherwise, it doesn't look likely that the seventh overall pick would be a guard.  Then you have two possible scenarios.  One, the Buccaneers take a receiver at #7 and go for a guard at #38, where there should be a very good player available at that position, such as David Yankey or Gabe Jackson.  Two, the Buccaneers take a different position entirely at #7, dip into that second tier of receivers mentioned above at #38 and go for a guard in Round Three.  There is usually still depth at that position in the third round, which is where teams have found such starters as William Rackley (Jags), Jon Asamoah (Chiefs), John Jerry (Dolphins), Shawn Lauvao (Browns) and Louis Vasquez (Chargers) in recent years.

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