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The history of trading up in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft

As it stands today, the Buffalo Bills sit at No. 22 in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, which doesn’t seem too bad at all. There is a possibility that a lot of high-quality talent will still be on the board at that position, like Clemson WR Tee Higgins, LSU WR Justin Jefferson, Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa, and Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos. However, let’s say the Bills don’t want any of these players. They want to go for a home run and trade up for Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb, Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy, or (also from Alabama) WR Henry Ruggs III. Just what exactly would that cost the Bills to trade up in the draft?

It’s worth noting that this is not something that general manager Brandon Beane is afraid of doing, as he traded up twice in the 2018 draft for Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds. He also traded up for Dawson Knox in 2019. So let’s examine some notable times teams traded up in the NFL Draft, how much it cost, and what the end results of each trade were for both teams.

2011: Atlana Falcons trade up with Cleveland Browns to select WR Julio Jones

Here is one that was pretty one-sided in favor of the Atlanta Falcons. At the time, the Falcons were coming off a disappointing playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers where the team only threw for 149 yards. Wide receiver Roddy White was superb for them, gaining close to 1400 receiving yards, and tight end Tony Gonzalez had another Pro Bowl year. Other than those two players, there wasn’t a huge receiving threat to worry about.

So in the 2011 Draft, Atlanta made a deal with the Cleveland Browns to give up the 27th, 59th, and 124th pick in that draft, plus another first- and fourth-round pick in the 2012 Draft to move all the way up to No. 6 to select Julio Jones. Jones has been one of the NFL’s best wide receivers since coming into the league, notching seven Pro Bowls and two First-Team All-Pro selections.

The Browns, on the other hand, were robbed of a future Hall of Famer in Jones. The three 2011 picks they received back from Atlanta netted them nose tackle Phil Taylor who, in four seasons with the Browns, only played one full season and never made a Pro Bowl, wide receiver Greg Little, who was nowhere near Jones’s standards, and fullback Owen Marecic, who never scored a touchdown or even gained ten rushing yards for his career. With the two 2012 picks, they selected quarterback Brandon Weeden, who started for two largely forgettable seasons in 2012 and 2013, and linebacker James Michael Johnson, who totaled 107 tackles and one sack in his four-year career. I’m pretty sure the Falcons would do this trade a million times over again.

2014: Buffalo Bills trade up with the Browns to select WR Sammy Watkins

Here’s one Bills fans remember very well. The year prior, the Bills drafted EJ Manuel to be their franchise quarterback. They wanted to add a dynamic weapon for him to try and elevate his game. So, to do that, the Bills swapped first-round picks in that year’s draft and gave up their first-and-fifth-round picks in the following year’s draft to the Browns to move up to No. 4 overall and select Sammy Watkins.

While on the surface it was only three picks in total, giving up two premium first-round picks to move up in a draft to select a wide receiver when that draft class included other wide receivers such as Odell Beckham Jr, Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry, and Brandin Cooks was way too much. Maybe if Watkins stayed healthy during his time in Buffalo it would be looked at a little differently because, when healthy, he did produce for the team. He gained more than 1,000 yards in 2015—one of only three Buffalo receivers (Stevie Johnson and John Brown are the others) to accomplish that feat in the last ten years. However, the Bills maybe gave a bit too much up in this trade.

2017: Kansas City Chiefs trade up with the Bills to select QB Patrick Mahomes

Okay here’s the one some Bills fans hate to hear. So Sean McDermott just got hired as the new head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Tyrod Taylor just came off of his second year as the Bills’ starting quarterback, and most people would’ve guessed the Bills draft a rookie quarterback at ten to pair with a first-year head coach in McDermott. However the Bills swapped first-round picks that year with Kansas City so the Chiefs could move up to ten and select Patrick Mahomes. The Bills got the 27th overall pick, a third-round pick (which was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Rams), and a first-round pick in 2018.

The trade went pretty well for the Chiefs to say the least. Patrick Mahomes is just coming off of a Super Bowl championship, an MVP in 2018, and is without question one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

The Bills, on the other hand, received a very good haul as well from that trade. With that 27th pick they took Tre’Davious White, who is a first-team All-Pro cornerback, coming off of his first Pro Bowl appearance, and is in the discussion as one of the best players in the league at his position. The following year, Brandon Beane then used that extra first rounder that they had as assets to trade up and draft Tremaine Edmunds, who also is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance, not to mention also grabbing Josh Allen in that first round as well. So all in all, I think both teams should be very happy with what they received in that trade.

Is it worth it?

I respect aggression. If teams have a strong conviction that some player at the top of their board merits trading up, then pull the trigger. However there has to be some calculated risk involved with it, and mortgaging the future on one player sometimes isn’t worth it. With Brandon Beane, though, there seems to be a plan with every trade in the draft that he does. I expect the Bills to sit at 22 and make their selection, but if a player starts sliding down the boards and they have an opportunity to trade up and get him and not pay an expensive price to do it, don’t be shocked if that’s the case as well.