Why the Washington Football Team should trade down in the 2021 draft

Tulsa EDGE/LB Zaven Collins. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Tulsa EDGE/LB Zaven Collins. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

At the No. 19 pick, the Washington Football Team is in a difficult spot. And with every passing day, trading back looks like a more and more appealing option.

News broke a few days ago that Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman posted a blistering 40 time at a recent combine. Take that however you want, but you can be pretty sure that Rashod Bateman’s draft stock just skyrocketed. I mention this because I am about to say that the Washington Football Team should absolutely, positively trade down in the upcoming NFL Draft.

But there are caveats. There are always caveats.

The main one is this: If the Washington Football Team becomes convinced that Rashod Bateman is the next bonafide No. 1 wide receiver, then they should take him with the 19th pick, assuming he is still available. If there is a player you are completely sold on, then you grab him when you have the chance.

Otherwise, you trade back.

Trading back acknowledges several realities about football in general, and specifically about football in 2021. It acknowledges that football is the ultimate team sport. In any given game, a minimum of 22 players figure prominently into a team’s chances for success. And realistically, that number is often 30 or above. There is no other major sport like that (I’m not counting the tug-of-war we had at camp when I was 12, even though it did feature 50 boys to a side. We had Jimmy Kopinsky, and he could have probably beaten the Blue Team all by himself).

Second, trading back acknowledges that no matter how good your scouting is, no one is a sure thing. No one is right all the time. Raw athletic skill can be measured, but raw athletic skill is only a fraction of what determines ultimate success. Desire, intelligence, discipline, luck. The right fit. Injury. There are far too many variables to rely on any one player. That is why famous NFL trades (Herschel Walker, Ricky Williams, and – avert you eyes if you must – Robert Griffin III) always benefit the team that acquires more picks.

Finally, ever since the salary cap became a thing, smart teams have recognized the importance of restocking their rosters with cheap younger players. There is a reason why New England, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore are consistently good, and it’s not only about “lucking” into a quarterback.

Like any football-obsessed nerd with high-speed internet, I have run about a thousand mock drafts on Pro Football Network’s Mock Draft Simulator. Obviously, there are no guarantees here. Player values change. Team needs, and related trade proposals, change. I keep drafting North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt in the fourth round, while I actually think it is likely Surratt will be gone before that.  But if you run enough of these simulations, you do begin to notice some likely trends. The main thing I have noticed is that actively trading back yields the best results.

Here’s who I was able to get in my last three trade-back simulations.

Simulation 1

OT Jalen Mayfield (21), LB Zaven Collins (54), WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (62), TE Brevin Jordan (74), WR Elijah Moore (100), QB Kellen Mond (124), OG David Moore (139), CB Deommodore Lenoir (159), CB Shaun Jolly (243), LB K.J. Britt (245)

Simulation 2

LB Zaven Collins (29), TE Pat Freiermuth (51), OT Dillon Radunz (62), WR Elijah Moore (74), LB Chazz Surratt (82), S Divine Deablo (134), CB Benjamin St-Juste (164), OG Robert Hainsey (184), WR Marlon Williams (204), CB Bryan Mills (243), WR Jonathan Adams Jr. (245)

Simulation 3

LB Zaven Collins (35), OT Dillon Radunz (41), S Richie Grant (56), WR D’Wayne Eskridge (74), LB Chazz Surrat (82), WR Tutu Atwell (124), CB Robert Rochell (127), OG David Moore (141), QB Jamie Newman (149)

What can we learn from this? Well, aside from the wild fluctuation in draft positions (I got Zaven Collins at 29 and I also got him at 54), we can see that this is a fairly deep draft, especially at key positions for the Washington Football Team. You can get quality wide receivers in virtually every round.

In Sim 3, I went small and got two blazingly fast receivers in the mold of Tyreek Hill. I don’t expect either Eskridge or Atwell to ever be as productive as Hill, but I feel pretty good about at least one of them becoming a very dangerous weapon for the Washington Football Team in his first year.

In Sim 2, after taking a different smaller receiver (Elijah Moore) early, I had enough draft capital to grab two bigger receivers in Williams and Adams toward the end. Again, I am not sold on either, but I like the odds of at least one of them proving to be a valuable bigger complement to Terry McLaurin and another guy like Elijah Moore.

The other takeaway is that in every draft in which I keep a seventh-round pick, I end up with either Shaun Jolly or Bryan Mills. I have a thing for late-round corners from small schools. I believe this is an official APA-recognized fetish.

Just as importantly for the Washington Football team is the fact that there is a lot of depth at offensive tackle as well as at wide receiver. Though not as top-heavy as 2020, when four tackles went in the first 12 picks, you can get quality into the second or third round.

So the basic idea here is to move back and double up on positions wherever possible. If you had one of the top five picks in this year’s draft, maybe you would approach this differently. But beginning with 19, the Washington Football Team should do everything it can to maximize its picks. Maybe they can’t patch every hole in a single draft. But they can go a long way toward building a very strong roster.

My favorite of these three drafts is the third, in which trading back allowed me to cluster nine picks between 35 and 149 (Full disclosure, I did give up a 2022 sixth-round pick, which I would try to get back next year). I was able to continue building an offensive line with Radunz and Moore (I think David Moore will be a steal – the kind of tough, mean player who was built to be an NFL guard).

Eskridge and Atwell may be limited to a degree, but both are dynamic playmakers who will scare defenses. Collins and Surratt will revitalize the thin linebacking corps. Grant and Rochell add plenty of athleticism to the back end of the defense. And I got my developmental quarterback in Jamie Newman.

The other sims offer similar benefits. High-upside players. Good depth. And volume.

The NFL is a volume business. You need depth at every position. You need young guys constantly stepping in to challenge your older, higher-priced veterans. It is too hit-or-miss to rely on any one guy.

When a player like Brandon Scherff proves his value, you do what you can to lock him up long term. But I expect Detroit and Jacksonville are regretting not trading out of the positions that landed them Jeff Okudah and K’Lavon Chaisson in the first round of the 2020 draft. And I know that is true for Tennessee and Isaiah Wilson. The Titans are walking away from first-round pick Wilson after one season.

Next. WFT 2021 post-Super Bowl mock draft: Landing a QB. dark

Nothing in the NFL is a sure thing. Volume helps mitigate that reality. Trading back in a deep draft is one of the best ways to create volume. No matter how many Rashod Bateman, 4.4 40-style caveats you want to consider.