2015 NFL draft trade grades: Early winners of last year’s deals
Get all of Chris Burke’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
For the most part, the NFL is awfully stodgy about trades compared to its fellow major sports. The exception occurs during (and leading up to) the draft, when picks are shifted around in short order.
The Rams and Eagles took the riskiest leaps this year, to No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Behind them, the Titans (after first trading down), Bears, Texans, Broncos, 49ers, Jaguars, Dolphins, Bills, Packers, Buccaneers and Saints all moved up at one point during Rounds 1 and 2 of this year’s draft.
How well will those aggressive actions work? It’s too early to tell. The answer still may be unclear a year from now, though we’ll undoubtedly have a better lay of the land by then.
That brings us to the 2015 draft. A little more than a year removed from those festivities, what do the trades orchestrated within the first two rounds (plus a few bonus trades from Rounds 4 and 5) look like now? Which side stands out as the "winner" of those deals, a good 12-plus removed from the action?
A note before we dive in: Trades that occurred far in advance and happened to include a 2015 pick are not included below. So the Bills-Browns deal that landed Sammy Watkins in Buffalo and gave Cleveland an additional ’15 first-rounder is excluded, as is the Buccaneers-Patriots swap surrounding Logan Mankins.
Let’s put the rest of the key 2015 draft trades under the microscope ...
The Picks: Chargers select Melvin Gordon (15). 49ers select Arik Armstead (17), Blake Bell (117) and Ronald Blair (No. 142, 2016).
The Early Returns: Within a new system and behind a bruised offensive line, Gordon scuffled through a 641-yard rookie season and then underwent microfracture knee surgery in January. An important year awaits, but Gordon hardly looked like a first-rounder—let alone someone worth sacrificing extra picks over—in his debut.
Armstead didn’t exactly hit the ground running, either, although he was viewed as far more of a project in the first place. By the end of the season, he had cemented himself in the starting lineup (now alongside former Oregon teammate DeForest Buckner). Bell also could see more reps this season at a thin position, while Blair offers pass-rushing upside.
The Winner (So Far): San Francisco. If he’s healthy, Gordon could be in line for a bounce-back season. Right now, though, the scale clearly tips in the 49ers’ favor.
The Picks: Broncos select Shane Ray (23). Lions select Laken Tomlinson (28) and Antwione Williams (No. 169, 2016).
*Detroit packaged pick No. 143 to Minnesota for pick No. 80 (Alex Carter).*
The Early Returns: The Broncos had the benefit of easing Ray into duty last season behind DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. He produced 4.0 sacks despite limited playing time and a knee injury, and he is primed to take on a larger role for 2016. The Lions, on the other hand, leaned on Tomlinson, and he turned in a predictably up-and-down effort (more of the latter than the former).
Ramirez wound up playing in all 16 games for Detroit last season (seven starts), holding his own as a veteran option. How this trade grades out down the line, though, could hinge on whether or not the Lions get anything out of Williams or Carter.
The Winner (So Far): Denver, but only barely. If Ray becomes the next Ware, obviously that’s a huge score for the Broncos. But the 2016 Lions should benefit from Tomlinson’s trial by fire.
The Picks: Saints select Stephone Anthony (31).
*Seattle packaged pick No. 112 to Washington for No. 80 (see below)*
The Early Returns: The “grading” gets a little trickier starting here, with picks that were moved multiple times. While the Saints have yet to find a red-zone replacement for Graham, they still boasted a top-10 offense last season with Unger helping to stabilize the line. And Anthony, despite being hung out to dry a bit on a putrid defense, showcased himself as a long-term piece.
Meanwhile, Graham’s first Seattle season was a colossal disappointment. He caught a career-low two TDs, then suffered a torn patellar tendon that could sideline him into the 2016 season.
The Winner (So Far): New Orleans, despite the asterisk-marked footnote above—pick 112 eventually helped the Seahawks land Tyler Lockett.
The Picks: Giants select: Landon Collins (33). Titans select: Dorial Green-Beckham (40), Jalston Fowler (108) and Tre McBride (245).
The Early Returns: Collins proved to be a bit rough around the edges in pass coverage last season. Despite that, he led the Giants in tackles with 112 and was a bright spot on an underachieving unit. Some serious defensive talent came off the board beyond where New York would have picked, at No. 40 (Hau’oli Kikaha, Eric Kendricks, Ronald Darby). It’s still hard to imagine GM Jerry Reese second guessing himself on the trade up.
Tennessee had to wait awhile before Green-Beckham found a connection with Mariota, but he finished with two 100-yard showings (and one zero-yarder) over his final five games. The Fowler pick makes more sense now, coincidentally, thanks to the arrival of his ex-Alabama teammate, Derrick Henry, and a power-run focus.
The Winner (So Far): New York. Green-Beckham should be Tennessee’s go-to target this season, but he has to close ground on Collins.
The Picks: Panthers select: Devin Funchess (41). Rams select: Rob Havenstein (57), Sean Mannion (89) and Bud Sasser (201).
The Early Returns: Funchess was supposed to be a complementary piece to Kelvin Benjamin not a replacement. Benjamin’s August knee injury shifted the expectations some, which is part of why Funchess’ numbers (31 catches for 475 yards and five TDs) came off as underwhelming. He did close strong, with all of those touchdowns occurring from Week 8 on.
Havenstein, taken 16 picks later, turned out to be one of the draft’s biggest steals. His work paving the way for Todd Gurley more than offsets that the Rams essentially punted their two extra picks. Sasser, forced into retirement by a heart condition, joined the team’s front office.
The Winner (So Far): Los Angeles. Havenstein would be a starting RT for a huge chunk of teams, including the Panthers, who were undone off the edges during their Super Bowl loss.
The Picks: Texans select: Bernardrick McKinney (43). Browns select: Nate Orchard (51) and Malcolm Johnson(195).
*Houston packaged pick No. 229 to the Jets for No. 70 (see below). Cleveland traded pick No. 116 to Arizona for Nos. 123, 198 and 241 (see below).*
The Early Returns: A lot was made of the Browns’ new "Moneyball" approach this year, but they didn’t exactly stay put throughout the 2015 draft. They flipped picks 43 and 229 for three draft choices, then turned one of thosepicks into three more. The return on it all was ... well, there is a reason the front office changed hands.
Orchard did generate a little momentum headed into his second year. Ditto McKinney, who made 63 tackles last season despite missing time with a concussion.
The Winner (So Far): Push. McKinney may be an inch ahead of Orchard at the moment. Factor in the terms of this trade, plus the additional deals made by each team, and it more or less moves everything back to even.
The Picks: Eagles select Eric Rowe (47) and JaCorey Shepherd (191). Dolphins select Jordan Phillips (52), Bobby McCain (145) and Tony Lippett (156).
The Early Returns: An awful lot of defenders came out of this trade—two cornerbacks on each side, plus the big-bodied Phillips. At least one of those CBs will be expected to start in Miami and Philadelphia this coming season: Rowe shifting permanently outside from safety; McCain in the slot. Phillips and Lippett will spend the next few months pushing for first-team jobs, too. The former picked up a handful of starts as a rookie.
The Winner (So Far): Miami. Rowe generated the most hype headed into the draft. None of the players listed really has emerged yet, so the Dolphins win by volume.
The Picks: Ravens select Maxx Williams (55). Cardinals select: Markus Golden (58) and Shaq Riddick (158).
The Early Returns: The Williams fit seemed ideal for Baltimore. We have seen time and again, though, that rookie tight ends have a brutal time producing and that was the case here—Williams caught 32 passes for 268 yards and one TD. Golden did not deliver huge numbers himself (4.0 sacks), but he played more of a role.
The Winner (So Far): Arizona. In hindsight, Golden would have been a better play for the 2015 Ravens, who lost Terrell Suggs to an Achilles tear.
The Picks: Buccaneers select Ali Marpet (61). Colts select: D’Joun Smith (65) and Clayton Geathers (109).
*Tampa Bay packaged pick No. 128 to the Raiders for No. 124 (Kwon Alexander)*
The Early Returns: As things stand right now, it is Geathers and not Smith—taken 44 spots earlier—who stands to be the impact pick for the Indianapolis defense. Geathers produced 34 tackles last season and is slated to be a 2016 starter; Smith missed all but four games and recorded one tackle as a rookie. Neither locked into place the way Marpet did as a guard for the Buccaneers.
The Winner (So Far): Tampa Bay. Marpet’s ascending arrow would give the Buccaneers the nod anyway, but factor in the later trade up for Alexander and it is no contest.
The Picks: Seahawks select Tyler Lockett (69). Redskins select: Matt Jones (95), Arie Kouandjio (112) and Kyshoen Jarrett (181).
*Washington traded pick No. 167 to New Orleans for pick No. 187 (Evan Spencer) and a 2016 sixth-rounder (Nate Sudfeld)*
The Early Picks: The Seahawks swiped Lockett from the rest of a napping league at pick 69, and he promptly produced 1,900 all-purpose yards as a rookie. That said, Washington did rather well with the extra picks, landing a potential starting RB (Jones), a multi-positional starter in the secondary (Jarrett) and a developing guard (Kouandjio). Hopefully, Jarrett can come back from the serious neck injury that ended his 2015 season.
The Winner (So Far): Seattle. Lockett was one of the most dangerous playmakers in football during his Pro Bowl rookie season.
The Picks: Texans select Jaelen Strong (70). Jets select Lorenzo Mauldin (82) and Jarvis Harrison (152).
*New York packaged pick No. 229 to Jacksonville for No. 103 (Bryce Petty)*
The Early Returns: Strong caught all of three passes over the Texans’ first 12 games and finished with 14 grabs for 161 yards. He also was arrested in February on a marijuana charge, two months before Houston used multiple 2016 draft picks on the receiver position. While Strong’s role is up in the air, Mauldin is on track to start at outside linebacker. The Jets’ second-year defender barely topped 250 snaps as a rookie, yet flashed great potential.
The Winner (So Far): New York, regardless of whether Harrison finds any playing time.
The Picks: Chiefs select Chris Conley (76). Vikings select B.J. Dubose (193).
*Minnesota traded pick No. 80 to Detroit for Nos. 88 and 143 (see below)*
The Early Returns: The best should be ahead of Conley, who scored during a playoff win over Houston and caught five balls vs. New England the next week. Trading up for the deep threat remains a bit of a mystery given that the Chiefs don’t have much of that element in their game plan, but there is plenty to like in Conley nonetheless. Dubose was a practice-squadder for most of the 2015 season.
The Winner (So Far): Kansas City. The Vikings’ real mid-round score came in what they did after moving back to pick 80. Which was ...
The Picks: Lions select Alex Carter (80). Vikings select Danielle Hunter (88) and MyCole Pruitt (143).
The Early Returns: Bad luck is part of the equation, so docking any GM for a player injury is a bit unfair. Still, moving up eight spots to select Carter, who missed the entire season with an ankle ailment, hardly went down as a proud Martin Mayhew moment. Making matters worse for the Lions, their divisional rival uncovered a potential star in Hunter, who notched 6.0 sacks as a rookie.
The Winner (So Far): Minnesota, in a rout.
The Picks: Browns select: Xavier Cooper (96) and Hayes Pullard (219). Patriots select Tre’ Jackson (111) and A.J. Derby (202).
*New England traded pick No. 147 to Green Bay for Nos. 166 (Joe Cardona) and 247 (Darryl Roberts)*
The Early Returns: Many mid-round trades wind up looking like this, with a player or two who could evolve into a linchpin starter ... and at least a couple picks who fight against a fade into obscurity. Both Cooper and Jackson saw decent run last season, with Jackson even claiming a starting job along New England’s line for nine games prior to suffering an ankle injury. Both will have their hands full in training camp fighting for integral roles.
The Winner (So Far): Push. The Patriots got more use out of Jackson than the Browns did out of Cooper or Pullard (who is now on Jacksonville), but the jury is out across the board.
And a few noteworthy trades from beyond Round 3 ...
Browns trade No. 116 to Cardinals for Nos. 123, 198 and 241
The Picks: Cardinals select: Rodney Gunter (116). Browns select: Vince Mayle (123), Randall Telfer (198) and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (241).
The Early Returns: Oof, Cleveland. Ekpre-Olomu was worth the risk at pick 241, even though he missed his entire rookie season (as expected) following a devastating knee injury. Mayle didn’t even last on the roster until the 2015 season started, and Telfer never saw any game action.
The Winner (So Far): Arizona. TKO. Gunter turned out to be a gem, starting 11 games at nose tackle on a Super Bowl contender.
Vikings trade No. 137 to Falcons for Nos. 146 and 185
The Picks: Falcons select Grady Jarrett (137). Vikings select Stefon Diggs (146) and Tyrus Thompson (185).
The Early Returns: It remains the opinion here that Jarrett will be a very good NFL player. He should command much more attention as a prospective starter in year two than he did as a rotational rookie. Jarrett may be viewed as a steal in the long run. Diggs holds that title already, off a 52-catch, 720-yard rookie season.
The Winner (So Far): Minnesota. Diggs emerged as Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target last season and should benefit in 2016 from Laquon Treadwell’s arrival.
Jets trade No. 142 to Bears for WR Brandon Marshall and No. 224
The Picks: Bears select Adrian Amos (142).
*New York traded pick No. 224 to St. Louis for RB Zac Stacy*
The Early Returns: A March trade, pushing the limits of this premise a bit. But a noteworthy trade, to be sure, and one that paid off quite well on both sides. Marshall led the league in touchdown catches last season (14), to go with 109 catches and 1,502 yards. Those numbers certainly point toward the Jets getting the better of this deal, given the terms. Amos closed the gap significantly, far outplaying his 142nd slot.
The Winner (So Far): New York. Emphasis on "so far." The 32-year-old Marshall may be facing a QB change, while Amos appears anchored as a long-term starter in Chicago.
Vikings trade No. 149 to Dolphins for WR Mike Wallace and No. 232
The Picks: Dolphins select: Jay Ajayi (149). Vikings select Edmond Robinson (232).
The Early Returns: The Vikings pulled off a couple heists trading back last year. This does not fall under that category. Wallace was utterly lost in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s scheme, en route to career-low numbers (473 yards, two touchdowns). Ajayi managed just 277 total yards as a rookie, but he is on track to be the Dolphins’ No. 1 back this season.
The Winner (So Far): Miami. Ajayi has a lot to prove, lest this turn out to be a wash.