The Eagles, you might have noticed, are about as antsy as any team on draft day. Because they're almost always good in the regular season, they almost always have a pick in the bottom third of the first round -- and they're always working, it seems, either to move up or move down. Most years, they cannot sit still.
They will tell you that they're always looking for an advantage, and always looking to maximize value. And as they sit there with the 23rd pick in tonight's draft, here are some of the realities that they face.
Let's look at the draft from 2004-2008, a 5-year period that has been given a little bit of time to age so that we can more fairly do our evaluation. We're going to look at the league as a whole. We're going to divide things up in groups of 10 -- picks 1-10, 11-20, etc. And we're going to measure those picks by two standards: home run picks (that is, multiple Pro Bowl selections) and sold, long-term starters. This is my evaluation, but most of it is based on the available numbers. Anyway, here goes:
Picks 1-10, you have a 22 percent chance of hitting a home run and an 80 percent chance of finding that long-term starter.
Picks 11-20, 18 percent home runs, 66 percent starters.
Picks 21-30, 14 percent home runs, 66 percent starters.
Picks 31-60, 8 percent home runs, 50 percent starters.
You can analyze this stuff a bunch of ways. You can measure the degree of the crapshoot however you want. But now you need to add another reality into the mix: salaries. I don't agree with much of what the owners are saying in this labor business, but everybody knows that the NFL rookie salary scheme is currently a mess. It does affect how every team operates, and it should.
The 23rd pick last season, Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga, was guaranteed $8.76 million in his rookie deal (according to published reports). The 33rd pick, St. Louis tackle Rodger Safford, was guaranteed $3.9 million. The 45th pick, Denver guard Zane Beadles, was guaranteed $2.7 million. And down it goes from there, quickly.
So here are the realities. If you keep the 23rd pick, you get one flip of the coin and 66 percent of the time you're going to come up with a reliable starter to whom you will guarantee about $8 million. But you could also trade the 23rd pick for the 44th and the 60th pick -- which is approximately what you could get, based upon the NFL draft value chart that many people use. That would give you two flips of the coin: 25 percent of the time you would end up with two reliable starters and 75 percent of the time you would end up with at least one. So by trading down, you would measureably increase your odds of succeeding -- oh, and instead of $9 million in salary guarantees to the one guy, the two lower picks would be guaranteed less than half of that amount.
And as for the home run potential? You keep the 23rd pick and you have a 14 percent chance of finding that multiple Pro Bowler -- about one in every 7 years. You trade down and collect that extra pick and you will hit the home run about once in every 6 years.
It is why trading up into the top half of the first round, or out of the bottom half, makes sense. It is why the Eagles do it so often.