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Ranking the Top 10 Draft Day Trades in NFL History

The Chiefs moving up for Patrick Mahomes. The Patriots landing Randy Moss. What are the best NFL draft-day trades in league history? We're breaking down the top 10.

The NFL Draft is a hectic event. Not only are NFL franchises attempting to secure their future by finding the next superstar, but general managers and head coaches have to consider potential trades to move up or down the board or to land a veteran player.

What are the most memorable draft-day trades in NFL history? Which moves changed an organization’s hopes or altered the shape of the league? We’re breaking down the top 10 trades from NFL Draft day.

Top 10 NFL Draft-Day Trades in League History

10) Philadelphia Eagles Land A.J. Brown (2022)

  • Eagles acquired: WR A.J. Brown
  • Titans acquired: 2022 first-round pick (No. 18), 2022 third-round pick (No. 101)

The Tennessee Titans weren’t interested in paying A.J. Brown his asking price as he entered his contract year in 2022, so the Philadelphia Eagles swooped in to acquire the veteran wideout on draft night.

While Brown was coming off a disappointing and injury-riddled 63-869-5 line, he’d already shown the ability to work as a No. 1 threat at the NFL level. Philadelphia already had DeVonta Smtih but wanted another weapon for Jalen Hurts as the club’s QB entered his second season as a full-time starter.

The Eagles gave Brown a four-year, $100 million extension as part of the trade, and he’s been well worth it. Brown has 18 total touchdowns and nearly 3,000 receiving yards in two seasons in Philadelphia. He received second-team All-Pro nods in both years, while the Eagles just gave him another new contract.

The Titans used Philly’s first-rounder on fellow WR Treylon Burks, who’s been hampered by injuries and ineffectiveness through two NFL campaigns. Tennessee turned the Eagles’ third-rounder into three players: CB Roger McCreary, OT Nicholas Petit-Frere, and WR Kyle Phillips.

9) Washington Moves Up for Robert Griffin III (2012)

  • Washington acquired: QB Robert Griffin III (No. 2 overall pick)
  • Rams acquired: 2012 first-round pick (No. 6), 2012 second-round pick (No. 39), 2013 first-round pick, 2014 first-round pick

Washington’s trade-up for Robert Griffin III looked like a home run after the former Baylor star’s 2012 rookie season. RG3 was one of the NFL’s most indelible players, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after leading the league in yards per attempt as a passer and runner.

However, after guiding Washington to its first division title since 1999, Griffin tore his ACL and MCL in the club’s Wild Card Round loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He put up mediocre results in 2013, was benched in 2014, left Washington in 2015, and was out of the NFL by 2021.

The Los Angeles Rams moved back again after picking up Washington’s No. 6 selection, exiting the 2012 draft with DT Michael Brockers and CB Janoris Jenkins as extra picks. St. Louis ultimately picked up six more players — RB Isaiah Pead, OL Rokevious Watkins, LB Alec Ogletree, WR Stedman Bailey, RB Zac Stacy, and OT Greg Robinson — by trading the choices it received from Washington

8) Kansas City Chiefs Grab Future HOFer Tony Gonzalez (1997)

  • Chiefs acquired: TE Tony Gonzalez (No. 13 overall pick), 1997 fourth-round pick (No. 110)
  • Oilers acquired: 1997 first-round pick (No. 18), 1997 third-round pick (No. 81), 1997 fourth-round pick (No. 116), 1997 sixth-round pick (No. 181)

Even without considering that they landed Tony Gonzalez via this trade, the Kansas City Chiefs won this deal — at least, according to the Jimmy Johnson draft value chart.

More modern charts have this swap as a victory for the Tennessee Oilers based on surplus value alone, but Kansas City was more than willing to pay a marginal price to walk away with one of the NFL’s greatest all-time tight ends.

Gonzalez was utterly dominant for the Chiefs, earning first- or second-team All-Pro berths in nine of 10 seasons from 1999 to 2008 before being traded to the Atlanta Falcons in 2009. He leads all tight ends in receptions (1,325) and yards (15,127) and ranks second to Antonio Gates in touchdowns (111).

7) Emmitt Smith Convinces Dallas Cowboys To Move Up (1990)

  • Cowboys acquired: RB Emmitt Smith (No. 17 overall pick)
  • Steelers acquired: 1990 first-round pick (No. 21), 1990 third-round pick (No. 81)

The Chiefs weren’t the only team that traded up for an NFL legend during the 1990s.

The Dallas Cowboys gave up just a third-round pick in the 1990 NFL Draft to move up four spots, trading slots with the Pittsburgh Steelers to land Florida running back Emmitt Smith. A unanimous All-American and the reigning SEC Most Valuable Player, Smith quickly established himself as an NFL threat, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year during his inaugural Dallas campaign.

A lynchpin in the Cowboys’ dynasty, Smith led the league in rushing yards four times, was a five-time All-Pro, and ended his career as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Smith eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards each season from his age-22 through age-32 campaigns (and only narrowly missed that mark in his age-21 and age-33 seasons).

6) Atlanta Falcons Strike for Julio Jones (2011)

  • Falcons acquired: WR Julio Jones (No. 6 overall pick)
  • Browns acquired: 2011 first-round pick (No. 21), 2011 second-round pick (No. 59), 2011 fourth-round pick (No. 124), 2012 first-round pick, 2012 fourth-round pick

The Julio Jones trade could’ve ended Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s career.

Bill Belichick, Dimitroff’s former boss with the New England Patriots, told him not to gamble everything on a wide receiver prospect, even one as talented as Jones. By modern trade value charts, Atlanta gave up the equivalent of a mid-to-late first-round pick in surplus value by moving up to take Jones.

But Jones more than proved Dimitroff correct, transforming into one of the NFL’s more productive wideouts and likely a future Hall of Famer. Jones topped 1,000 receiving yards in seven of 10 seasons with the Falcons, grabbing first- or second-team All-Pro nods every ear from 2015 to 2019.

5) New Orleans Saints Give Up Everything for Ricky Williams (1999)

  • Saints acquired: RB Ricky Williams (No. 5 overall)
  • Washington acquired: 1999 first-round pick (No. 12), 1999 third-round pick (No. 71), 1999 fourth-round pick (No. 107), 1999 fifth-round pick (No. 144), 1999 sixth-round pick (No. 179), 1999 seventh-round pick (No. 218), 2000 first-round pick, 2000 third-round pick

Mike Ditka apparently didn’t believe in the concept of leverage.

In 1999, the then-New Orleans Saints head coach announced as early as March’s owners’ meetings that he was willing to trade his club’s entire slate of draft picks to move up for Texas RB Ricky Williams, whom Ditka viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime prospect.

After New Orleans drafted Williams, Ditka compared him to Walter Payton, whom Ditka coached during his run with the Chicago Bears. In August, Ditka and Williams appeared on the cover of “ESPN The Magazine,” with Ditka dressed as a groom and Williams fashioned as a bride to underscore the pair’s arranged NFL marriage.

Williams rushed for 884 yards in his rookie season, but the Saints went just 3-13. Ditka and general manager Bill Kuharich were fired. Williams lasted two more years in New Orleans before being traded to the Miami Dolphins and posting his first All-Pro campaign in 2002.

Washington, meanwhile, made multiple trades after doing this deal with New Orleans. Ultimately, they emerged from the 1999 draft with future HOF cornerback Champ Bailey and longtime offensive line starter Jon Jansen before using New Orleans’ 2000 first-rounder on linebacker LaVar Arrington.

4) New England Patriots Get Randy Moss for Pennies on the Dollar (2007)

  • Patriots acquired: WR Randy Moss
  • Raiders acquired: 2007 fourth-round pick (No. 110)

Heading into the 2007 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders were trying to get rid of Randy Moss, who’d posted just 553 receiving yards the previous season and no longer looked like the superstar he was during his early career with the Minnesota Vikings.

The Green Bay Packers were interested, but the Patriots closed the deal. Belichick detailed the Moss trade during ESPN’s 2024 draft coverage, explaining that New England had tried to acquire the future Hall of Famer for several months. Once the two teams finally agreed to compensation, Moss took a physical and reworked his contract in a matter of hours.

Moss, of course, subsequently posted one of the NFL’s most memorable WR campaigns while playing for one of the league’s greatest squads. He hauled in an NFL-record 23 touchdown passes from Tom Brady, managing almost 1,500 yards while grabbing first-team All-Pro honors and finishing second to his quarterback in Offensive Player of the Year voting.

While the Pats never won a Super Bowl with Moss on their roster, he was lethal for the next two seasons before wearing out his welcome and being traded back to the Vikings. The Raiders used the fourth-round pick they received for Moss on cornerback John Bowie, who appeared in just five NFL games.

3) The Eli Manning-Philip Rivers Swap (2004)

  • Giants acquired: QB Eli Manning (No. 1 overall pick)
  • Chargers acquired: QB Philip Rivers (No. 4 overall pick), 2004 third-round pick (No. 65), 2005 first-round pick, 2005 third-round pick

Sometimes, a trade can be a win-win.

Eli Manning didn’t want to play for the San Diego Chargers, who held the No. 1 overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. So the Bolts worked out a deal with the New York Giants, agreeing to draft Manning and then trade him to New York in exchange for fellow QB Philip Rivers and a package of additional picks.

Manning would go on to become the best quarterback in Giants history, leading Big Blue to two Super Bowl titles, including an unforgettable upset against the undefeated Patriots in 2007-08. Clearly, New York was pleased with its side of this trade.

Rivers, meanwhile, never won a Lombardi with the Chargers, but he was inarguably a better player than Manning. Rivers eclipsed Manning in every imaginable passing metric and won games at a higher clip than the Giants starter.

Manning’s postseason success will get him into the Hall of Fame before Rivers, who remains one of the most underrated players in NFL history.

2) Chiefs Identify Patrick Mahomes (2007)

  • Chiefs acquired: QB Patrick Mahomes (No. 10 overall pick)
  • Bills acquired: 2017 first-round pick (No. 27), 2017 third-round pick (No. 91), 2018 first-round pick

If there’s one person Chiefs fans should be thanking for Patrick Mahomes’ arrival, it’s Brett Veach.

Now Kansas City’s GM, Veach was the club’s co-director of player personnel in 2017. He pushed hard for Mahomes, falling “in love” with the Texas Tech QB after his freshman year before selling Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey on Mahomes heading into the 2017 draft. Veach reportedly called Mahomes’ agent for 94 consecutive days during the pre-draft process, incessantly checking up on the prospect’s wrist injury and mental state.

Nine other NFL teams made selections in the first round of the 2017 draft before the Chiefs traded up to grab Mahomes. The Chicago Bears went with another quarterback, North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, at No. 2.

Kansas City lept 17 spots in the draft order, sacrificing a third and a future first to land Mahomes, who’s already in the discussion among the NFL’s all-time greatest quarterbacks. A two-time league MVP and three-time Super Bowl winner, Mahomes will target his third straight Lombardi in 2024.

1) San Francisco 49ers Trade Up for Jerry Rice (1985)

  • 49ers acquired: WR Jerry Rice (No. 16 overall pick), 1985 third-round pick (No. 75)
  • Patriots acquired: 1985 first-round pick (No. 28), 1985 second-round pick (No. 56), 1985 third-round pick (No. 84)

Bill Walsh was one of the league’s best coaches and a true NFL innovator, but his biggest masterstroke might’ve been identifying — and trading up for — the top receiver of all time.

Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers moved up to grab Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice, who thought the Cowboys would select him with the No. 17 pick. Instead, San Francisco sent a second-round choice to the Patriots to move up 12 spots in Round 1 and nine spots in Round 3.

Rice, of course, went on to set several of the most unbreakable records in sports. No NFL player will ever touch his 22,895 receiving yards or 197 receiving touchdowns. Rice is 5,000+ yards ahead of Larry Fitzgerald and outpaced Moss by 41 touchdowns — both records are uber-safe.

A genuinely transcendent pass catcher, Rice was named an All-Pro in 12 of his 20 NFL campaigns. His 10 first-team All-Pros are tied for the most by any player. Rice posted an absurd 14 1,000-yard seasons; he led the NFL in yards six times, touchdowns six times, and receptions twice.