The Yannick Ngakoue trade did not work out. After giving up a second-rounder to get him, the Minnesota Vikings got five sacks and one win before their Week 7 bye. That, coupled with Danielle Hunter‘s surgery, caused them to pull the plug. They flipped Ngakoue back to the AFC for a third-rounder (there was also a 2022 fifth that the Vikings gave up and got back).
Now that we know the NFL draft order in full, we can quantify that cost. The Vikings’ second-round pick, now held by the Jacksonville Jaguars, is 45th overall. The third-round pick they got from the Baltimore Ravens is 90th.
So the Ngakoue debacle, the final misstep in an utterly mystifying offseason, cost the Vikings 45 draft slots on their second-round pick. Per Rich Hill’s draft chart, that’s akin to losing a late third-rounder in value. In other words, the expectation for the player selected with that pick should be cut nearly in half. But the draft trade market doesn’t follow historical value. Utilizing that inefficiency could get the Vikings back into the second round.
The league’s trades more closely follow the older Jimmy Johnson version of the trade chart. If you compare the differences, you’ll notice that the Jimmy Johnson version values draft position much higher, while the Rich Hill version values the total number of picks. This inefficiency is well-documented. Teams always fall in love with someone that they’re willing to overpay for. If the 10th best player in the draft is available at pick 20, you’ll pay the Jimmy Johnson price to move from 25 to 20. You’d better hope you’re right, however.
If trading down is a good way to extract more value out of picks, that leaves us with one efficient way to get back into the second round: trading down in the first. It takes two to tango, however. So who can partner up with the Vikings to trade up? That comes down to several things, including the potential trade partner, the players on the board, and the picks those teams can offer.
Who wants to trade up?
The draft board changes year to year, and so do the talent cliffs on that board. Drafts don’t turn out perfectly linear. The difference between the first player and the second player won’t match the difference between the second player and the third player, and so on. Sometimes, there are groups of similar quality players with large gaps in quality to the next group. So if players 10-15 are about the same, trading down from pick 12 to 14 might not carry much cost. But your trade partner still has to pay the market price.
Grinding The Mocks can help us sort this year out. This evolves over the course of draft season, but it provides us a window into the current consensus view on draft prospects. Relevantly, there seems to be a big clump between picks 17 and 21. All of those players (Alijah Vera-Tucker, Rashod Bateman, Kwity Paye, Gregory Rousseau, and Greg Newsome) are averaging roughly the same position in the aggregate. That means trading down to 17 and trading down to 22 will get you a player whose consensus value is considered very similar.
Teams in that clump will likely want to climb out of that talent cliff, so pick 14 may be a good target for them. The Tennessee Titans have pick 22 and may look to trade up to help re-build their secondary. The Indianapolis Colts and Washington may have reason to get aggressive as well. But they’d have to fall in love with someone.
Who are they trading up for?
If Indianapolis, Washington, and Tennessee are our established trade partners, they have to trade up for somebody. There’s always the unlikely scenario where a blue-chip player falls and everyone clamors to move up for him. Barring that, who is likely to be left at 14? Using Grinding The Mocks as our proxy again, Mac Jones, Jaycee Horn, and Micah Parsons all seem likely enough. Christian Darrisaw averages just above 14th, and Caleb Farley averages 11th but is plummeting thanks to back surgery.
Washington is currently set up to bring along a young quarterback, but they pick 19th. Trading up for Mac Jones, if he’s there, would be a no-brainer for them. Even if Jones goes higher than anticipated (his stock will probably rise after his pro day), there could still be a surprise quarterback like Justin Fields or Trey Lance available.
The Colts seem to be relying on the draft for their Anthony Castonzo replacement. Darrisaw is an awkward scheme fit for them, but Rashawn Slater is in play, and even Penei Sewell is experiencing a suspicious decline. Tennessee is in dire need of secondary help, which puts them in play for Jaycee Horn or Caleb Farley. So if one of those four players falls to 14, we may be able to strike a deal or two.
The trade terms
Let’s consider three universes, one where we get a call from each team about a trade. Would those terms work out? Turning back to the draft charts, we can calculate the value. We’re looking for trades that look fair on the Jimmy Johnson chart but advantage the Vikings on the Rich Hill chart. We also need to get that second-rounder back. Since we’re the party trading down, that should be doable.
Trading to 19 with Washington on the Jimmy Johnson chart should cost them about a third-round pick. On its own, that’s not quite enough movement to get their second-rounder, pick 51. For 19 and 51, the Vikings would have to throw in pick 78. On the Jimmy Johnson chart, that more or less checks out. On the Rich Hill chart, the Vikings come out ever so slightly ahead. It’s a done deal. The Vikings trade back five spots in Round 1 to move a Round 3 pick up to Round 2. They may be willing to pay even more since we know they’re angling for a quarterback.
Indianapolis has a later pick at 21, so there should be more to extract. On the Jimmy Johnson chart, picks 21 and 54 come out close to pick 14 and one of the fourth-round picks. Pick 119 gives us the best chance. If they say no to that, tossing in a sixth rounder could be Even if you do that, the trade heavily favors the Vikings on the Rich Hill chart. They just need to be convinced that their next franchise LT is on the board.
Going one pick further at 22 will be more difficult. While the picks work out roughly the same, there could be two cornerbacks on the board in Jaycee Horn and Caleb Farley. Tennessee needs to be in love with one and out on the other, or they’ll wait until one gets taken to trade up. After all, if you like both, why overpay when you can only pick one anyways? If only one is left, or if the Titans are out on Farley’s back injury, for instance, picks 14 and 125 for picks 22 and 53 work out.
What to pick down here
Personally, I prefer the Colts and Titans trades. Turning a fourth-rounder into a second-rounder is a good prize for that first-round swap. But we have to quantify the cost. Who do the Vikings miss out on? They traded down in the first twice last year, ultimately not missing out on much. But they may not be so lucky this time.
Gregory Rousseau has been mocked often to the Vikings at pick 14 as Andre Patterson’s latest pet cat. He’s going around pick 22 on average and should still be there if they trade back. Kwity Paye is another name with similar draft stock and a similar connection to the Vikings. If they still need help on the offensive line come draft day but don’t want to resort to the bottom of the barrel, Samuel Cosmi should be available and fits the Vikings’ typical preferences. Trevon Moehrig is the best safety in the class but is typically mocked around picks 24 or 25.
The difference between, say, Cosmi and Rashawn Slater may be too much to bear for a second-round pick. But if the Vikings choose an edge rusher, they may still have their pick of the litter. And if they have a dire need at safety, Moehrig at 22 is a better value than Moehrig at 14. Plus, the second round is likely going to see a number of quality guards selected. Wyatt Davis, Creed Humphrey, and Landon Dickerson could be the pick at the Vikings’ newfound second-round position.
So is the difference between Samuel Cosmi and Rashawn Slater worth the difference between Dru Samia and Wyatt Davis? If it is, then pull the trigger. If not, keep looking or bite the bullet and reach. But knowing Rick Spielman, he’ll be looking for opportunities to extract as much value as possible. And as always, that means wheeling and dealing.