Phil Perry

If Patriots trade down, what are the odds they hit on WR and OT?

Moving off the No. 3 pick still would come with plenty of risk.

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Jerod Mayo made it very clear Monday morning: He and the Patriots are open for business when it comes to trading their No. 3 overall draft choice.

They haven't committed to taking a quarterback at this point, he said, and if someone wants to offer "a bag" for No. 3 overall? He and Eliot Wolf are willing to listen. 

There appears to be one team that's made it very clear they'd like to move up in the Minnesota Vikings, who are proud owners of the No. 11 and 23 overall picks. What, then, would be New England's odds of hitting on premier positions like receiver and tackle if they were to trade back with Minnesota -- potentially picking up a future pick in the process as well? 

While championship-level quarterbacks are hard to come by, as my pal Tom E. Curran has pointed out, is it really all that much more likely that a team that trades down nails their picks at other spots? 

I went back over 15 NFL Drafts to look at all first-round receivers and tackles found outside the top 10 (since Minnesota has No. 11) to try to get an idea of the odds of hitting on cornerstone pieces at those positions -- using average career Approximate Value from Pro Football Reference -- if the Patriots move out of No. 3 overall. 

The results might be enough to make you hope the Patriots stick and pick a passer in the top three.

Cornerstone wide receiver chances

There were 43 first-round wideouts taken outside the top 10 in the last 15 years. Seven of them (16 percent) provided what I deemed to be "No. 1 receiver" results.

What's a No. 1, you ask?

Ravens rookie Zay Flowers had a tremendous season in 2023, catching 77 passes for 858 yards and six touchdowns. That yardage total placed him 33rd among NFL wideouts. While his body type probably wouldn't make him a true No. 1 in the eyes of scouts, he produced as a legitimate go-to pass-catcher and, it could be argued, a low-end "No. 1."

In my opinion, if the Patriots got that kind of production from a receiver at No. 11 (or No. 23), they'd be satisfied. That would qualify as a "hit." 

Flowers had an AV of 9 last season. (For reference, first-team All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill had an AV of 18 in 2023.)

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The only first-round wideouts taken outside the top 10 from the last 15 drafts who've reached that figure of 9 as an average AV over the course of their careers? Flowers, Chris Olave, CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, DJ Moore and DeAndre Hopkins. 

Trading down is great in theory, especially in what's considered a deep draft class at receiver. But what if you're far more likely to end up with a receiver who more closely resembles Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker, N'Keal Harry, Laquon Treadwell, Phillip Dorsett, Corey Coleman or Jalen Reagor than you are one who resembles Hopkins?

Even if you drop the satisfactory AV threshold to an 8 -- Washington's Terry McLaurin had more receiving yards (1,002) than Flowers last year but ended up with a lower AV of 8 -- the odds of landing that type of player still aren't great.

Nine first-round receivers taken outside the top 10 over the last 15 years have average AVs of 8 or more over their careers. That means 21 percent of wideouts taken in that range provide McLaurin-ish output, on average.

It's still about four times more likely that you don't find a player of that caliber than you do.

Cornerstone offensive tackle chances

There were 36 first-round tackles taken outside the top 10 in the last 15 years. Ten of them (28 percent) provided what I deemed to be at least "quality starter" results. 

What is a "quality starter" return at that position? 

Pro Football Focus' No. 20-30 graded tackles this year had an average AV of 7.0 in 2023, per Pro Football Reference. Jake Matthews of the Falcons and Brian O'Neill of the Vikings -- two longtime starters for their teams with one career Pro Bowl each -- both came in with AVs of 7 last season. (First-team All-Pro tackle Penei Sewell, arguably the best tackle in football last year, had an AV of 17.)

The Patriots likely would be just fine with getting a player with an average AV of 7 at No. 11 (or No. 23) overall. Especially at tackle. He might not be an All-Pro, but he'll start at one of the most important positions in the sport, and you likely won't have to go looking for his replacement any time soon. That would qualify as a "hit."

How likely is it to find that kind of tackle outside the top 10, though?

Here are the protectors drafted outside the top 10 since 2009 who have average AVs of 7 or more: Anton Harrison, Tyler Smith, Tristan Wirfs, Jonah Williams, Kaleb McGary, Kolton Miller, Ryan Ramczyk, Laremy Tunsil, Nate Solder and Anthony Castonzo. Those names represent 28 percent of the 36 players taken in that range over the last 15 years.

Trading down is great in theory, especially in what's considered to be a strong tackle class. But what if you're more than twice as likely to end up with a player who more closely resembles Mekhi Becton or Isaiah Wynn than you are one who resembles Tunsil (who only went outside the top 10 because of a 30-second gas-mask bong video)?

The bottom line

The moral of the story is that they're all gambles. Every last one of 'em. Quarterbacks, receivers and tackles.

The degree to which you may miss varies. But the odds are significant that you miss at all three, even if you increase your chances of hitting on a player by turning one pick into two (or more).

The reason for taking a quarterback you believe in at No. 3 rather than trying to trade back and build up the roster at other positions would be this: Great quarterbacks have the ability to elevate teams to relevancy in a way that players at receiver and tackle can't.

There are plenty of examples of good quarterbacks taken at the top of the draft, going to bad teams, and helping turn them around. CJ Stroud, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa, Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Joe Flacco -- and if you want to keep going back, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning and Drew Bledsoe -- all went to last-place teams and helped make them relevant.

It's a dart throw, trying to land that kind of player. But they all are. And no gamble offers the kind of payoff that hitting on a quarterback does.

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