How Many 1st Round Picks Is Deshaun Watson Worth?
Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Deshaun Watson has officially requested a trade, which means that most GMs across the League should be lining up to inquire about his price. According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans will be looking for "two first round draft picks, two second rounders, and two defensive starters." The Athletic's Joseph Person, meanwhile, reports that the price is three first round picks.
Houston clearly expects a significant haul in return for Watson. So what should teams be willing to pay?
The key question comes down to how many first round picks are worth giving up for the star QB. To get a sense of what a first round pick is really worth—and how many would make sense to trade for Watson—let's look at the actual players that those picks turn into.
While this exploration centers on the Broncos, the takeaways apply to any team that's wondering how much it should consider giving up for Watson.
To get a sense of what the Broncos stand to lose by trading away first round picks, consider their past five selections.
Of course, if the Broncos traded for Watson, their next several selections would likely not include a top five pick or a QB. So we might take a different approach to estimating the value of a first round pick: by looking at the type of player that goes in the middle of round one, at an "average" first round slot.
But we can get even more specific in how we're thinking about the first round picks a team would be offering. Watson is so good and quarterbacks are so important that the team that adds Watson should expect to be in the playoffs going forward, and (hopefully) compete for the Lombardi. So let's look at the sort of players that a playoff team would be passing up on by sending its first round picks to Houston. To be conservative, let's imagine a scenario where things don't go as well as you'd hope, and the draft picks wind up being on the more valuable side of what they might be worth.
You might also be interested in the scenario where the Broncos don't acquire Watson, but current QB Drew Lock makes some strides in his development. Let's imagine he starts playing at approximately the level that the Vikings have gotten out of their QBs the last few years (Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum's awesome season). What would this sort of solid QB play make the first rounders worth?
Here's what the Vikings managed with their picks. (This is particularly relevant because new Broncos GM George Paton had a hand in these selections).
These collections of five first round picks seem liable to produce at least one star player like Justin Jefferson, Jaire Alexander, or Marlon Humphrey. But you probably shouldn't count on getting more than one star. The other selections are likely to turn into a mix of quality starters, and relatively disappointing under-performers.
So, having considered these collections of players to get a sense of what a first rounder is really worth, how many would you be willing to give up for Watson?
Personally, I would make an offer that the Texans couldn't refuse. Watson for two first round picks (and change) is a steal. Three is a bargain. Four is still a nice value. I'd happily send five first round picks (any collection of the above players) to Houston in exchange for Deshaun. It's only at six that I begin to hesitate.
As a reminder, Watson is a superstar at the most important position in sports. He led the league in passing this year. He is 25 years old (one year older than Lock), and playing on a team-friendly contract that extends through the 2025 season ($10.54 million cap hit in 2021). That is more than worth a collection of picks that may well net a star (or two), but that will also likely return a few busts and few starting caliber players.
If I were George Paton, I would set up camp outside of Texans GM Nick Caserio's house with a very large sign that reads:
More than Mr. Caserio ever hoped for to ensure that Deshaun dons the orange and blue next year. And I'd be ready to sweeten the deal if they asked for it—though I imagine that I wouldn't need to.
Adding Deshaun would immediately put the Broncos in playoff contention—for the next decade. With a young offensive core and HC Vic Fangio leading the defense, I wouldn't lose sleep over the draft capital.
Having looked at the type of players that first round picks produce, how many would you give up for the star QB?