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Analyzing The Rams-Titans Trade, And What It Might Have Cost The Browns

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We use a data-driven draft chart to look at the Rams-Titans trade, and estimate what it might have cost the Browns to move up instead.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was a bit of a shocker. In case you missed it, the Los Angeles Rams just traded for the first overall pick in this year's NFL draft. In return, they sent quite the haul of picks to the Tennessee Titans. I'm going to take a quick look at the value of the picks moving each way, and then break down what a similarly valued trade from the Browns may have looked like.

Analyzing The Trade From The Rams' Point Of View

First let's look at the picks moving each way in this deal, per Ian Rapoport:

Now let's see how that adds up using my favorite draft value chart. To be clear, this is not the famous Jimmy Johnson chart, which as far as I can tell is based more on gut feeling than anything analytical. The chart I am using was created by Chase Stuart of Football Perspective, and is based on some work he had previously done at Pro Football Reference. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, this chart uses historical data to come up with a draft chart based on Approximate Value (AV), which is similar to Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from baseball. The chart doesn't use straight AV, but rather uses AV above some marginal value, which Stuart places at 2 AV per year. It also only accounts for the first five years of a player's career, when they are on their rookie contract. I strongly recommend you read the articles linked above if you're interested in the methodology that led to these values. So with that out of the way, let's see how this trade breaks down. Here is a list of the picks going each way with their corresponding values. For future picks, I placed their value at the top pick from the next round. For instance, a future first round pick was valued the same as the 33rd overall pick. I did this because NFL teams historically value future picks as one round lower than current picks, but this is a pretty rough estimate.

Titans receive:

Pick Value
15 17.4
43 10.6
45 10.4
76 7
2017 first 12.3
2017 third 5.5
Total 63.2

Rams Receive:

Pick Value
1 34.6
113 4.5
177 1.6
Total 40.7

So the Rams gave up way too much, right? Maybe, but maybe not. Remember, those numbers up there are historical averages, they aren't projections of the actual players likely to be picked in this specific draft. The Rams are likely drafting a quarterback first overall, so they're hoping to vastly exceed the average expected value. If we take the total value sent to the Titans, and subtract the value of the two late picks sent to the Rams, we see that Los Angeles needs to draft a player worth 57.1 AV above the marginal value. Since this AV is spread out over five years, and the marginal value is 2 AV per year, that means the Rams need to draft a player worth roughly 67.1 total AV in the first five years of his career to make the trade "worth it." That seems pretty steep, let's see how it compares to recent history. The following is a table of all quarterbacks drafted since 1980 who compiled 60 AV in the first five years of their careers:

Rank Name Start End Drafted Team AV
1 Cam Newton 2011 2015 1-1 CAR 83
2 Peyton Manning 1998 2002 1-1 CLT 76
3 Dan Marino* 1983 1987 1-27 MIA 76
4 Jeff Garcia 1999 2003 SFO 75
5 Matt Ryan 2008 2012 1-3 ATL 73
6 Russell Wilson 2012 2015 3-75 SEA 70
7 Aaron Brooks 2000 2004 4-131 NOR 64
8 Daunte Culpepper 1999 2003 1-11 MIN 64
9 Andy Dalton 2011 2015 2-35 CIN 61
10 Boomer Esiason 1984 1988 2-38 CIN 61
11 Joe Flacco 2008 2012 1-18 RAV 61
12 Jim Kelly* 1986 1990 1-14 BUF 60
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/14/2016.

So that's not a lot of quarterbacks. Whatever QB the Rams choose will likely have to be a no-doubt franchise quarterback to make this deal worth it. But that's the idea from their end, right? They made this deal because they think the player they're going to draft is a future franchise quarterback, or it never would have happened. And that player doesn't even need to hit this particular standard. If they're an above-average starter for the next decade, the Rams will likely look at this deal as a win, even if it takes a couple of seasons before their pick hits that level. I would be inclined to agree with them.

So What Would A Similar Trade Have Looked Like For The Browns?

This trade kind of stinks for the Browns, assuming they wanted a quarterback. This means they don't get their pick of the top two. If the Rams don't take the one they want, great. But if the Rams grab the guy the Browns had their hearts set on, well, things just got complicated. So how much would it have cost the Browns to move up to first overall, instead of the Rams?

If we assume the Titans would have asked for the same total value, quite a bit. The second overall pick (30.2 AV) plus this year's second rounder (12.5 AV), third rounder (8 AV), and a future first (12.3 AV) would come out to 63 AV, which is almost exactly what the Rams sent in terms of value. The Browns would be giving up a high second and third round pick and a future first in return for a fourth rounder, a fifth rounder, and moving up one spot in the first. That seems like a ton, but honestly, if I thought it was the difference between a decade of playoff runs and a few more years of obscurity, I might do it. I'm not certain that's the scenario we're looking at here though. I don't think I would have complained that much had the Browns made this trade, but I don't think it was necessary. The Rams are swinging for the fences here, and while I can normally get behind that approach, I think in the end this would be a little too risky for my taste.