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Why the Panthers Should Trade Down From the 8th Pick

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With the inexact science that is the NFL Draft, the best approach is to err on the side of quantity.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

"Go west, young man," was the advice Horace Greeley gave to those seeking fortune in 1865.

"Trade down, G-man," is the advice I would give to Panthers GM Dave Gettleman as he seeks to reverse the Panthers fortunes with the 8th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

In general, I’m a "trade down" within the first round advocate (not out of the first round), especially if doing so will yield additional picks in Rounds 2-4. Here’s why:

1. At a macro level, there is as much quality available late in the first round as there is early in the first round.

2. Starters on rookie contracts are the most valuable asset in the NFL, so more is better.

3. Dave Gettleman drafts well.

Late First Round Quality

Most teams hope their first round draft picks develop into elite players. One way to define an "elite" player is one who makes the Pro Bowl at least twice in his career.

When reviewing players drafted in the last 12 years (2005-2016), a total of 168 players have made the Pro Bowl at least twice per pro-football-reference.com.

Of those 168 players to be selected to multiple Pro Bowls, 91 (54%) were drafted in the first round. Another 29 (17%) were selected in the second round, 17 (10%) in the third round, and the remaining 31 (18%) were drafted in the fourth round or later.

The vast majority of elite players will be selected in the first round. This seems like common sense, and the data backs it up.

But what is really interesting about the first rounders who became multiple Pro Bowlers is this:

Since 2005, players drafted at the end of the first round are just as likely to be selected to multiple Pro Bowls as those drafted at the beginning of the first round.

Multiple Pro Bowlers Drafted Since 2005 - 1st Round

Draft Position Multiple Pro Bowlers Percentage
1-10 29 32%
11-20 34 37%
21-32 28 31%

Based on the last 12 drafts, it really hasn’t mattered if teams select at the beginning or the end of the first round when predicting the likelihood of snagging a player who will make multiple Pro Bowls.

That's why I advocate trading down in the first round, but not out of the first round.

The Value of Rookie Contracts

If the Panthers can trade the 8th pick for something later in the first round with an additional pick (or picks) in Rounds 2-4, the payoff could be huge if they draft wisely.

Good players are still available in the Rounds 2-4. Not only can they make the roster and contribute rather quickly, but their salary cap numbers are incredibly low, making them some of the most valuable assets in the NFL.

For example, here are the salary cap figures for the Panthers 2016 second and third round draft selections, per Over the Cap.

Name Drafted 2016 2017 2018 2019
James Bradberry 2nd Rd $720,152 $900,190 $1,080,228 $1,260,266
Daryl Worley 3rd Rd $645,724 $775,724 $865,724 $950,724

Both Bradberry and Worley were major contributors as rookies in 2016 and appear to have bright futures.

In the 2019 season, Carolina could potentially have two fourth-year starting CBs with a combined cap hit of just $2.2 million.

That’s huge.

Landing starters on rookie contracts, especially those selected after the first round, opens up a ton of cap space to address roster needs elsewhere. The more draft picks the Panthers have to find players like Bradberry and Worley, the better, especially with GM Dave Gellleman leading the process.

Dave Gettleman Drafts Well in Rounds 2-4

Gettleman has an excellent track record of finding solid players in Rounds 2-4.

Here is a summary of all of the picks Gettleman has made in Rounds 2-4 since taking over as Carolina's GM in 2013 along with the 2016 salary cap figures for each player.

Name Year Drafted Position 2016 Cap Hit Status
James Bradberry 2016 2nd Rd CB $720,152 Started as rookie, led team w/10 passes def.
Daryl Worley 2016 3rd Rd CB $645,724 88 tackles as a rookie ranked 4th on team
Devin Funchess 2015 2nd Rd WR $1,254,748 844 rec yds and 9 TDs in first two seasons
Daryl Williams 2015 4th Rd OT $664,280 Filled in as starting RT in 2016 with OL injuries
Kony Ealy 2014 2nd Rd DE $967,318 76 tackles, 14 sacks, 6 FF in 3 seasons
Trai Turner 2014 3rd Rd OG $753,620 2 Pro Bowl selections in 3 seasons
Tre Boston 2014 4th Rd S $701,367 16 starts, 108 tackles in 3 seasons
Kawann Short 2013 2nd Rd DT $1,473,289 2015 Pro Bowler, 22 sacks in 4 seasons
Edmund Kugbila 2013 4th Rd OG N/A Waived in 2014 after 2 yrs on IR, never played

Between 2013 and 2016, Dave Gettleman has drafted nine players in Rounds 2-4. Eight of these players have become starters or regular contributors, and two have made the Pro Bowl. The only player who did not pan out was the injury-plagued Edmund Kugbila.

The total cap hit in 2016 for these eight starters/contributors drafted in Rounds 2-4 in the Gettleman era?

Just $7.2 million.

That’s the type of value that allows teams to sign their studs to contract extensions or bring in free agents while still having ample roster depth.

Carolina should be trying to acquire additional picks in Rounds 2-4 to give Gettleman more opportunities to find another Trai Turner or Kawann Short.

What Can Carolina Get By Trading Down?

Again, the ideal for me is to trade the 8th pick for a mid-to-late first round selection while acquiring additional picks in the second, third, and/or fourth rounds.

So just what can the Panthers potentially get by trading down in the first? Here are some examples from 2016 draft day trades:

The Cleveland Browns traded the 8th pick and a sixth round pick to the Tennessee Titans for the 15th pick, a third round pick (76th), and a second round pick in 2017.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded the 9th overall pick to the Chicago Bears for the 11th pick and a fourth round pick (106th).

The Seattle Seahawks traded the 26th pick to the Denver Broncos for the 31st pick and a third round pick (94th).

By trading back just a couple of spots in the first round, Carolina could still wind up with a pick somewhere between 10th and 15th while acquiring an additional pick (or picks) in the second, third, or fourth rounds.

With Gettleman’s eye for finding value in Rounds 2-4, I’d take that deal in a heartbeat.

The Caveats

With all of this being said, if on draft day the Panthers are on the clock with the 8th pick and they are relatively certain a player is available who will become a franchise cornerstone, then you draft the franchise cornerstone with the 8th pick!

Luke Kuechly was drafted 9th overall in 2012. If a Kuechly-caliber player is available 8th overall this year, then the Panthers should take him without trading down.

In the Cleveland-Tennessee trade example above, Cleveland traded the 8th pick to Tennessee who used the pick to select offensive tackle Jack Conklin who became an All-Pro as a rookie. If a Conklin-caliber player is available with the 8th pick this year, then the Panthers should take him.

But the challenge with the draft is the whole process is an inexact science. Drafting is educated guesswork. There are no guarantees. The more guesses (picks) a team has, the more likely they are to guess correctly.

This is especially true for teams that tend to draft well, like the Panthers have recently done.

So unless another Luke Kuechly is available 8th overall, then trade down, G-man.

Trade down.