There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the possibility of the Detroit Lions trading up in order to draft Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. He won't be there at 10, and chances are the Lions will have to make a move into the top five to have a legitimate shot at taking Watkins.
A move like this would likely require the Lions to give up at least a second-round pick to make it happen. Many have questioned the thinking behind giving up picks in such a deep draft, but it's important to remember that the Lions have shown a willingness to be aggressive in hopes of moving into the top five in the past. Specifically, the Lions tried to trade up eight spots in 2011 to draft LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, as noted by Scott Bischoff.
In 2011, Martin Mayhew tried to trade from No. 13 overall to No. 5 overall to get Patrick Peterson. He offered his his No.1, 2 and 4. (1/2)— Scott Bischoff (@Bischoff_Scott) April 14, 2014
No. 1 turned into Nick Fairley, No. 2 turned into Titus Young and No, 4 was traded to acquire Mikel Leshoure. Which side won that deal?(2/2)— Scott Bischoff (@Bischoff_Scott) April 14, 2014
Looking back, would you rather have given up the picks to get Peterson, who has become one of the top young cornerbacks in the NFL, or would you rather have the group of Fairley, Young and Leshoure? In case you're somehow unsure, let me remind you that the Lions decided to not pick up the 2015 option in Fairley's contract, Young is no longer in the NFL and Leshoure barely even played last season. Peterson is the obvious choice.
Granted, if the Lions had used those picks more wisely, not pulling off the trade for Peterson could have turned out to be a good thing. It's not like Peterson was a sure thing by any means, and he struggled mightily as a rookie. However, he was considered an elite talent, and the point is that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew was willing to give up a pair of picks to move up eight spots to get that elite talent.
This year, Mayhew has hinted that there are only five elite players in the draft. If the Lions want one of them, chances are they will have to once again consider making a move up at the cost of at least a couple picks. From MLive:
"I think the depth of the draft is obviously a factor, in terms of you start thinking about trading up, what are you missing out on?" Mayhew said. "But sometimes the guys are elite players who are difference-makers.
"If you're picking 10, and there's five elite players, and you can get one of those guys (in the top five), we think there's value in (doing that)."
On the one hand, staying put and not trading away a pair of picks gives you two extra chances to add players who could make an impact in 2014 and beyond. Sure, you might miss out on a player you believe to be elite, but there's no guarantee Watkins, Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack will turn out to be worthy of that kind of a move a few years down the road. In fact, the players who get picked 10th and 45th overall could become the best players in this draft class. That's not necessarily likely, but we just don't know.
On the flip side, as the 2011 example shows, moving up to snag an elite talent could very well be the right move. If the Lions feel that much more confident about the ability of someone like Watkins than a player who will actually be there at 10, sacrificing a second-round pick may prove to be worthwhile. You don't necessarily want to just start trading away picks because you're not as confident in your chances of finding good players later in the draft, but the Lions would be in a much better place as a franchise with Peterson instead of the Fairley/Young/Leshoure trio.
At the end of the day, making a move up for a player in the top five will come down to how much the Lions value an elite talent like Watkins versus how much they value having additional early picks in what is believed to be a very deep draft. If the Lions decide that a trade is the way to go, they could put together a 2011-like package in hopes of snagging Watkins or Clowney or Mack.
Of course, simply proposing a trade doesn't mean it will actually be accepted. The Lions could get turned down like they did in 2011, but the moral of the story is that they have shown a willingness to move up in the past. That's not to say that they will in fact try to make a move up this time around, but based on how the top of the draft is shaping up and given what happened in 2011, an aggressive move by the Lions to snag one of this year's "elite" players certainly seems like a possibility.