They say that we are in the NFL offseason, but really, this weekend was another Super Bowl for us!
That is the case every year for the NFL Draft. Frankly, this is what the fate of organizations rely on. Yes, free agency can help you fill immediate needs, but without consistently adding cost-controlled talent in the draft, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to build a sustainable winner. Remember, the goal of team-building is not to win one Super Bowl, but to remain competitive on a yearly basis, something teams like the Patriots and Ravens have been able to demonstrate.
Generally, draft analysis hinges on an analyst’s opinion on each player. However, with the draft being a relative crapshoot, there is a more optimal way to analyze each team’s performance. Rather than simply focus on the players, we need to also be able to judge the process each team demonstrated. Yes, a team may have passed on a player that you personally would have selected, yet if they still drafted a player in the range he was expected/deserved to be drafted in, should they necessarily be faulted? Now, your analysis is dependent on your individual evaluations of two separate players, greatly increasing the margin for error.
One strong way to analyze the draft is to simply ask: how much did teams reach for a player. With the help of my model projections, which are averaged out with Pro Football Focus‘ draft board to increase the confidence interval is the draft rankings, we can see the difference between the player’s ranking and where he was drafted:
A negative value is preferred, as that means, on average, the player was selected at a higher draft spot that he should have been. Justin Fields, for instance, was selected with the 11th overall pick, whereas the combined ranking would have indicated he should have been the 2nd overall pick. In my eyes, given the value of the quarterback position, that was the best selection in the entire draft, even though the Bears had to give up a future first-round pick to move up to select him.
Another common phrase with draft analysis is looking at who were the top “steals” and “reaches” of the draft. Luckily, we can answer that question here:
TOP SURPLUS VALUE PICKS
When you look at the teams of the players in these two groups, it’s much easier to understand why teams ranked where they did in terms of surplus value obtained. Also, don’t draft special teams players!
Meanwhile, if you take away the final day of the draft, which is generally more unpredictable:
TOP DAY 1/2 SURPLUS VALUE PICKS
TOP DAY 1/2 REACHES
NOTE: Spencer Brown is an OT, not a RB
Finally, a ranking of the first round in terms of surplus value obtained:
I will analyze these players more in depth further, but I think the main distinction between what teams/fans think of their selections versus projection rankings is simply the positional value aspect of it. Running backs, linebackers, and non-elite linemen simply do not provide the value that quarterbacks and perimeter players do, which makes the bar for them to clear much higher. Remember, you cannot be overconfident in your evaluation of the player given the variance of draft success, but what you can control is targeting positions that will provide you the highest pay-off.
In fact, when you look at the average surplus value obtained at each position, it’s clear to see this being that main distinction:
At the very least, edge rushers provide value based on how much they are paid on the open market, but when you’re targeting developmental players without proven production, their “bust rate” is very high. Running backs, linebackers, and interior offensive linemen, on the other hand, generally should not be drafted highly (especially running backs), given a) the lack of value the provide and b) how little they are paid on the open market compared to other positions.
With that addressed, let us analyze each team’s performance in the draft! Taking into the account surplus value, trades, and organizational fit, I graded each selection made in the NFL Draft, and averaging out their performance on Day 1, 2, and 3, was able to calculate each team’s overall grade for the entire draft. Thus, we will go in order from best draft performance to worst.
#1: Chicago Bears
- Average Grade: 94 (A)
- Draft Grade: A
I don’t say this lightly: the Chicago Bears may have just had a franchise-altering draft.
My model, based purely on statistical projections, actually had Justin Fields as the top player in this draft, and the top quarterback prospect of the Pro Football Focus college-charting era. We’re talking about a player that essentially broke PFF’s accuracy charting numbers, is an elite rushing threat, has an excellent track record of production, and has any sort of trait/tool to develop that any coach could ever covet. Yet, for some reason we may never know, the league wasn’t on board with this notion, and the Bears, by trading up the 11th overall pick, secured someone who can change their franchise outlook. Without much financial flexibility, an aging roster, and no major building blocks, they needed a gift like this to get back on track, and the onus is on them to take advantage of it. Fields paired with head coach Matt Nagy suddenly could make them the favorite in the NFC North for years to come, especially with the Packers on the down swing in a hurry.
Trading up for a second time is quite risky, yet it’s understandable. Chicago forfeited a third-round selection to secure tackle Teven Jenkins, who was a clear value on essentially any draft board, and was arguably the last remaining tackle with the combination of production and athleticism to be considered a good bet to be competent immediately. Remember, this isn’t a team with the finances to simply sign a quality offensive tackle, and it would have been dangerous to put Fields, who holds onto the ball longer to rightfully create big plays, behind an offensive line with subpar tackle play.
The Bears didn’t stop there, though. Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr.’s stock was hurt by him opting out, yet his projection indicate he could be a quality #2 cornerback, a major long-term problem for Chicago. Furthermore, interior defender Khyiris Tonga can play an immediate role for them on the defensive line, Khalil Herbert was a rare chance for value at the running back position, while Larry Borum and Dazz Newsome are quality day-three depth picks as well. For a team who doesn’t have the resources to simply sign players to supplement their roster, this is an absolute “home-run” draft. Fields may have been enough, but without a first-round pick next year, there’s more pressure on them to make good with their other selection, and it appears they did just that. If Aaron Rodgers truly doesn’t play for the Packers next year, now might be the time to buy stock into the Bears, which is crazy to think about compared to where they were at the start of the offseason.
#2: Philadelphia Eagles
- Average Grade: 92.3 (A)
- Draft Grade: A
Many have not been a fan of general manager Howie Roseman’s draft history, but, mainly, they are judging off of results. If you analyze the draft based on his process at the time, he has actually had a very sound overall approach, and this year is no different.
I don’t love trading a third-round pick to move up two slots, but we appear to know on good authority that the Giants were going to draft De’Vonta Smith, and for the Eagles specifically, the fact that the draft turned more to trench players after that would be suboptimal for them, given their drastic lack of young perimeter players. Now, we can quibble as to the fact that Justin Fields probably should’ve been who they moved up to select, but at least they’re giving Jalen Hurts a chance to succeed. Assuming Jaelon Reagor can step up in year two without his development being stunted by Carson Wentz’s inaccuracy, perhaps Philadelphia is slowly building the foundation of an exciting offense for the future. Remember, if Hurts doesn’t pan out, they have three first-round picks next year to secure a franchise quarterback, even if it’s unlikely any will project to be as productive as Fields.
Where Philadelphia really came out top, however, was with the rest of their draft. Landon Dickerson is recovering from a torn ACL, but he slots in nicely as the replacement for long-time center Jason Kelce, who is expected to retire after this year. Furthermore, Milton Williams is a freak athlete with the production to complement it, so acquiring him to add needed youth on the defensive line. When you’re greatest reach is by 23 slots at the end of the draft, you know did a good job with your selections. Both edge rushers added at the end of the draft could step as useful rotational pieces based on projections, McPhearson was an undervalued player my model is high on, and even Kenneth Gainwell is a strong use of a fifth-round pick as a receiving weapon- the type of running back teams should actually be looking for.
Even if it doesn’t show this year, the Eagles just made their 2022 roster a lot better. Between adding future contributors on both sides of the trenches, they added a very valuable player in Smith, and, remember, they also secured a future first-round pick by moving down from the sixth overall pick! They are in a transition period right now, but I am very confident on them coming out on the other side of this mini-rebuild as a team much better situated for the future.
#3: New York Giants
- Average Grade: 91.9 (A)
- Draft Grade: A-
This was been a pivotal offseason for the Giants under general manager Dave Gettleman. He is clearly under pressure to win, as he demonstrated by spending big on Leonard Williams, Kenny Golladay, and Adoree’ Jackson. With that in mind, it was reasonable to expect him to prioritize short-terms needs in the draft.
Instead, he did the opposite, trading down with their top-two picks to accumulate future draft capital. That definitely factor into their grade with those selections, though the value was strong with them overall. Is there some concern with how Ka’Darius Toney will be utilized in Jason Garrett’s offense, especially with Sterling Shepard in the slot? Yes, but if you simply analyze the value of him being selected with the 20th overall pick, it’s a strong pick, especially after trading down, and I’m never going to fault a team for adding more weapons for a quarterback they need more information on- the time is now for Daniel Jones to prove himself. When you analyze the other options, where else was there for them to go? You could argue offensive tackle, yet for a team that has invested so many resources in the trenches already, it was refreshing to see them prioritize an offensive playmaker.
Edge rusher Azeez Ojulari had a case for the top player at his position in his class, so to get him in the second round after trading down is excellent business by Gettleman. One of his pro comparisons, Yannick Ngakoue, just secured a $13 million per year deal, and that’s the type of player he projects to be- his pass-rushing production was the best of all the top pass rushers in this draft. Saddled with larger contract, it’s going to be hard for them to invest much in terms of rushing the passer, so between him and a shot on small-school edge rusher Elerson Smith, they made smart, calculated attempts to solve that problem. I would be regretful, however, if I didn’t also applaud Gettleman for his continued reinforcement of secondary depth. Specifically, the consensus opinion of Aaron Robinson is strong in terms of his ability to defend the slot, and that is certainly a very valuable skillset that they’ve lacked on their defense in recent years.
#4: New England Patriots
- Average Grade: 89.333 (B+/A-)
- Draft Grade: A-
Heading into the draft, many were wondering what Bill Belichick to do to address the quarterback position. Would he move up to select his preferred option?
Of course not. Instead, he stuck right to character, allowing Mac Jones to slide to the 15th overall pick. The discussion around Jones has been quite polarizing, but, really, he’s a player who protects to a mid-tier quarterback, and that is remarkably valuable on a rookie contract. He was easily the best available option for them where they were selecting, and not having to trade up is the icing on the cake. Considering how much they spent in free agency this offseason, being able to have a cheap effective starting quarterback is super important for them.
Sticking with the Alabama pipeline, it’s uncharacteristic for Belichick to dramatically overpay to move up in the draft, but it’s much more understandable when you consider the surplus value obtained by selecting Christian Barmore, who projects as a high-end interior defender at the next level and is honestly the non-quarterback I would have selected with the 15th overall pick if Jones wasn’t available. Based on my model rankings and PFF rankings, they secured two top-15 talents with their top-two picks, which is very hard to do.
Although their rest of the draft wasn’t as exciting, there is still some intrigue. They have constantly churned out pass rushers in the middle rounds of the draft, rather than invest in them, and perhaps Ronnie Perkins can continue that pipeline. Furthermore, Cameron McGrone is a limited player, but his limits are hidden in this system, where he can be a downhill player, and they continued to add offensive line depth with William Shermon. Do I wish they looked elsewhere for their perimeter depth, or didn’t perhaps draft a running back as high as they did given their deep backfield? Yes, but compared to some other teams, they did a reasonable job here.
The Patriots are cited as a team that cannot draft well, but a lot of that is variance, and they have generally had a strong overall process. Securing Jones and Barmore amplifies that, and I’d bet on them getting the most of some of the limited defensive players they drafted later on; why invest early on defensive talent when you’re better at developing them than anyone else? They definitely need to continue to add young talent given the state of their roster, and this draft performance will help a great deal in that.
#5: Cincinnati Bengals
- Average Grade: 89.1 (B+/A-)
- Draft Grade: B+
Heading into Joe Burrow’s second year, this was a very important draft for the Bengals to supplement their roster with more talent to build around him. While they didn’t necessarily stand out in terms of dominating the draft with surplus value obtained, they did make relatively calculated decisions that certainly improved their future outlook.
The $1,000,000 question coming into the draft was whether it was best to give Burrow an elite receiver prospect in Ja’Marr Chase or a tackle with Penei Sewell. In the end, they chose Chase, which I believe was the better option. Sewell was ranked slightly higher, yet in Cincinnati’s case specifically, building a three-deep receiving corps is more valuable than one individual offensive lineman, especially since the Bengals have competent tackle play with Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff. Plus, Burrow’s deep-ball numbers were quite subpar last year, and that figures to change with Chase in the picture.
The Bengals could have selected tackle Teven Jenkins, but instead, they received two fourth-round picks from the Patriots to move down eight spots, which is an absolutely massive haul. Even then, they were able to select Jackson Carman right around where he was ranked, and the hope is that he can compete at guard and be a long-term stopgap at tackle. In my eyes, Cincinnati added the elite prospect at the position where being elite is important, while they got an offensive lineman that projects to be average, which is the way it should be. Even with D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill, who are developmental options that may not amount to much, they continued to attack the offensive line with quantity over quality, and that is what every team with offensive line issues should do.
Although they have spent a lot of resources on their defensive line, they still made it a focus in the middle rounds. Although my model is lower on Cameron Sample and Tyler Shelvin, both are fine from a production standpoint and are values based on PFF grade; Sample can be a bigger-body edge defender while Shelvin is a true nose tackle. Meanwhile, Ossai’s production improved a lot when he switched to being a true edge rusher at Texas, and his ability to step in as a developmental rotational pass rusher when Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard move to the interior in obvious passing situations. Regardless, he’s fine value in the third round and does have a role for the future. Picking a kicker in the fifth round is essentially burning a pick, though at least they finished their draft with a quality running back in Chris Evans and productive pass rusher in Wyatt Herbert.
I really wish the Bengals didn’t draft a kicker, and perhaps they spent a little too much on the defensive line when they could have added more reliable quantity on the offensive line or perimeter. Still, they received relatively solid value all around for every selection, made a very strong trade down, and also got strong value on each of their first three selections. We’ll be looking back on this draft as a “Chase vs Sewell”, yet regardless of the results, I think they’ve now done everything in their power to give head coach Zac Taylor a chance to craft an offense around Burrow. Keep an eye on them to potentially exceed expectations this season.
#6: Cleveland Browns
- Average Grade: 89 (B+/A-)
- Draft Grade: A-
If you want to understand the power of a smart front office, look no further than the Cleveland Browns. After years of dysfunction, they’ve completely turned around their franchise, and it all starts with general manager Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski.
Berry’s first draft with the team last year was fantastic, so, naturally, he continued his excellence here. While my model was lower on Greg Newsome II because of his limited track record of production, he’s coming off of a fantastic season, is very athletic, and is held in high regard by most analysts. I’m never going to fault for a team for spending a first-round pick on a defensive back with that profile who is young for the class, and am all on board with the overall process. Furthermore, the fact that Berry was able to trade up in the second round without losing value is impressive, but, of course, he did so to secure a player who was one of the top value picks. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s abilities in coverage are the best in this draft, and while he’s not a typical linebacker, that’s fine! He’ll allow Cleveland to field a defense full of athletic coverage players, and his defensive versatility gives him to ability to fill in at more valuable spots as well (slot coverage, safety). Between Newsome III, Owusu-Koramoah, cornerback Denzel Ward, free-agent signings John Johnson III and Troy Hill, and 2020 second-round Grant Delpit, it’s safe to say that they’ll be proficient when it comes to defending the pass for the foreseeable future.
Of course, the Browns continued to find value later on. Even after trading down to secure an extra fifth-round pick from the Lions, their fourth-round picks were strong value on the trenches; James Hudson is a useful versatile depth offensive lineman to develop and Tommy Togiai was drafted where the value is best for interior defenders. Plus, if it’s true that Richard LeCounte’s athletic testing numbers were hampered due to a motorcycle incident while his GPS tracking data is elite, then I’d simply continue to be in awe of a brilliant front office, while Demetric Felton is a fun offensive weapon at either running back or receiver for them. Even if they should have selected a more complete receiver in the third round, Anthony Schwartz is an exceptional athlete and tremendous yards-after-catch production. Since they have enough depth at receiver, there is tremendous developmental value here for them, especially since his traits can be utilized in an offense that runs a lot of crossing patterns and needs its receivers to thrive after the catch.
We can only judge a draft on the process the front office showed, and, as expected, Cleveland passed that test with flying colors. Simply put, this roster is loaded on talent in valuable areas. I have a hard time to not seeing them compete for Super Bowls in sustainable fashion, which, once again, speaks to the power of the front office. It truly is the most important aspect of an organization, and one year from now, I’d expect to be praising them once again for playing the draft perfectly. This is, in my opinion, the premier front office in the entire NFL.
#7: New York Jets
- Average Grade: 88.35 (B+/A-)
- Draft Grade: A-
With an extensive amount of draft capital, this was going to be a pivotal draft for general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh in New York. Outside of one very questionable decision, they knocked this draft out of the park.
It all started with their quarterback selection, which, to no one’s surprise, was BYU’s Zack Wilson. Do I believe that Justin Fields is a better prospect? Absolutely. The Ohio State product has a much higher floor and is a much safer prospect, though Wilson is a fantastic player in his own right and projects to be a similar player to Baker Mayfield- an outcome Jets fans should be satisfied with.
From there, Douglas made sure to build a supporting cast for Wilson, but his process is doing so was flawed. Trading two third-round picks to move up for Alijah Vera Tucker, who might end up playing guard for them, is a massive overpay. For perspective, the tackle that was available with their original pick, Christian Darrisaw, was rated higher by my model and most consensus boards. Positional versatility is not necessarily a benefit when it means the player is playing a less valuable position, and given the learning curve of interior offensive lineman, Vera-Tucker is by no means a good bet to actually assist in protecting Wilson right away. They definitely helped make up for it by snatching Elijah Moore, who projects as the new starting slot receiver over Jamison Crowder and could have easily been a first-round pick, but I still cannot fathom trading up for Vera-Tucker.
Where the Jets truly dominated this draft, however, was on the third day of the draft. Talk about replenishing your secondary! My model identified Brandin Echols as a major sleeper in this draft, but overall, they got surplus value essentially with every pick. If just a couple of the defensive backs pan out, their secondary is suddenly in great shape with a lot go young depth, and that’s exactly what you should be striving for with a lot of draft picks. I’d also add that it’s humorous that they ended up with a very productive running back in Michael Carter at the top of the fourth round when others scrambled for an answer there earlier on, something I was worried they would do as well.
Everything the Jets do comes down to how Wilson performs. However, by waiting until the third day to attack their defense with depth, completely in the secondary, while continuing to add to their receiving corps, they did a great job supporting him. Had they not traded up for Vera-Tucker, this may have been an “A+” draft, and with two-first round picks next year as well, they may just be getting started.
#8: Denver Broncos
- Average Grade: 88.08 (B+)
- Draft Grade: B
Heading into the draft, the Broncos were seen as a clear destination for a quarterback prospect, and the expectations was that they needed to trade up to do secure one. With Justin Fields available with the 9th overall pick, it appeared they had received an absolute gift, but unlike the Bears, they didn’t capitalize.
Yes, Denver may be looking at acquiring Aaron Rodgers, but I’d rather have Fields on a rookie contact and at 22-years-old than trade three first-round picks for a 36-year-old at his peak value. Thus, even if it keeps their options open, I would have highly recommended selecting him. That’s why I lowered the pick grade for cornerback Patrick Surtain, who actually might have been the best pick if Fields was not available. Even with their defensive secondary being a perceived strength, you can never have enough quality defensive backs, especially with how volatile pass coverage is. Kyle Fuller is only on a one-year deal, after all, while Bryce Callahan has struggled to stay healthy. Thus, if the criticism of the Surtain pick is that he doesn’t fill an immediate need, considering the developmental curve of rookies, I cannot get on board with that sentiment. I see this as a progressive organization continuing to invest on the perimeter, even if none of it really matters without a franchise quarterback.
At least the Broncos drafted the best running back in the draft, but trading up to do so at the top of the second round is a steep price to play. I love Javonte Williams and he’s much better than Melvin Gordon, yet the opportunity cost of trading up and also passing on several perceived first-round talents (Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah, offensive tackles, safety Trevon Moehrig, interior defender Christian Barmore, edge rushers) is notable. However, from there, they absolutely crushed it. First, they received two third-round picks just to move down 22 spots with the Saints, and still drafted a player who would have been a valuable selection with their original pick- center Quinn Meinerz. With that in mind, they essentially received a free pick, and that turned into an athletic linebacker with pass-rush ability in Baron Browning, which is a perfect use of resources. Meanwhile, look at the surplus value of all of their day-three picks. They have two excellent safeties, but safety Kareem Jackson is probably entering his final year with the team, so Jamar Johnson and Caden Sterns can potentially take over for him. Either way, they both are useful in terms of secondary depth, as is Kary Vincent Jr., which is more than enough on the third day of the draft. Wide receiver Seth Williams and edge rusher Jonathan Cooper, to top it off, were selected much lower than expected.
The Broncos had a very deep draft, and made up for trading up for Javonte Williams with several savvy trade downs later on. Nevertheless, it’s hard to pass over the fact they missed out on the chance to draft Fields, something that could legitimately cripple a window with such a talented roster. Surtain is great, yet what difference does he make when your quarterbacks are Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock? On paper, it’s a very impressive class, but not analyzing the opportunity cost would be ill-advised.
#9: Detroit Lions
- Average Grade: 88.05 (B+)
- Draft Grade: B+
In the first draft of a new era with head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes, it was always going to be interesting to see what the new regime’s draft strategy was. After all, they’re on six-year contracts, and with arguably the worst roster in the league, this is going to be quite the long-term rebuild. They demonstrated this by receiving future draft capital for Matthew Stafford and taking on Jared Goff’s contract, and I wondered if they’d trade down multiple times to continue to add to their team for 2022 and beyond.
The opportunity may have not presented itself to trade down, and I don’t blame them for not accepting the Vikings’ trade offer to move up for Justin Fields- it’s generally not advisable to give your division-rival a franchise quarterback, although that happened anyways; if not other teams was aggressively trying to move up, then it makes sense to stand pat. Regardless, with their pick, they got an excellent fit for their organization. The developmental curve of offensive tackles is unpredictable, so Sewell should reach his peak right when the team is ready to be competitive, and he plays a position that is valued extremely well on the open market. For a team with such limited amount of talent, they at least have guaranteed stability at offensive tackle between him and Taylor Decker, which is going to be important for their future franchise quarterback.
Given Campbell’s mindset, it’s not a surprise to see Detroit invest heavily on the defensive line, though Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeil are quite different; the former is more of a three-technique pass-rush threat while the latter is an intriguing nose tackle who is young for this class and was uber-productive this past season. Both were selected right around where they should have been, as was cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu, an athletic defensive back that hopefully can develop into a future starter for them at a valuable position. That being said, I didn’t love their performance on the third day of the draft, which included trading up for Amon-Ra St.Brown and likely reaching on the rest of their picks.
Ideally, Detroit would have trade down to secure more draft capital at any of their picks, and would have had a deeper draft class with more perimeter talent. Still, they did well with their top-three selections, particularly with Sewell, so it’s hard to be overly critical. With two first-round picks in each of the next two drafts, they’re in prime position to solidify their next competitive roster then, especially if they get a top-five pick next year. Thus, this draft was a fine starting point for them.
#10: Seattle Seahawks
- Average Grade: 87.5 (B/B+)
- Draft Grade: B
With just three picks in this draft, the Seahawks were never going to come out with an astonishing haul, which is why you’ll see common draft grades low on them. However, with what they had, they did a fine job.
Did they potentially reach on Dwayne Eskridge, who is already 24-years-old? Yes, but he’s also coming off of a very efficient season and finally addresses a constant issue for them, which is a lack of a third option in the passing game. He rated out well in terms of yards after catch and is very athletic, and not only is an effective third option, but mirror Tyler Lockett’s skillset; Lockett has struggled to stay healthy. Furthermore, cornerback Tre Brown may be undersized, yet he’s very useful secondary depth and demonstrates an improved, less-rigid process by the organization to not simply covet length at the position, as did drafting tackle Stone Forsythe, who is much more refined as a pass protector than the team’s typical mauling run-blocking lineman.
The Seahawks didn’t dominate this draft, yet they showed an improved overall process. Heck, they even added one of my model’s favorite undervalued receiver prospects in Tamorrion Terry, while Cade Johnson is also going to add some needed slot prowess for them. Although one can wish that they could go back and not make the Jamal Adams trade, they made the most of their very limited draft capital.
#11: Tennessee Titans
- Average Grade: 87.36 (B/B+)
- Draft Grade: B+
Few teams have lost as much talent this offseason as the Titans. Gone is receiver Corey Davis, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, tight end Jonnu Smith, and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Moving forward, they’re in a tough position.
On the bright side, they have consistently been a team that has a strong process in the draft, finding value by targeting players with proven production more than the average team. They have never been shy to take a chance on players with injury concerns, and if Caleb Farley’s back issues don’t come to fruition at the pro level, then they’re getting a premier steal in a high-end cornerback prospect. Nevertheless, it’s a risky strategy after essentially burning a first-round pick last year on tackle Isaiah Wilson, who is no longer with the team, and there is a reason why other organizations wouldn’t draft him- there is significant risk that he simply cannot play enough to justify this selection.
Tennessee definitely needed youth at offensive tackle after the Wilson debacle, and the back end of the second round is the perfect spot for Dillon Radunz, who is more of a project coming from North Dakota State, but over time could certainly develop into a starter for them- given his draft position, they likely won’t ask him to start right away. Furthermore, although I didn’t love that they opted for a linebacker in the third round given the strengths of this draft class, Monty Rice wasn’t a significant reach, and they hit a home run with Elijah Molden, who should immediately be able to step in and defend the slot for them. Now, they didn’t do a great job of adding young talent to their receiving corps, as Dez Fitzpatrick was a consensus reach and Racey McMath wasn’t even a starter ta LSU, but they at least continued to find value with defensive players with college production in Rashad Weaver and Brady Breeze.
There is definite risk that the Farley selection blows up in their face, yet I like the process of the Titans draft. Passing on a loaded receiver draft is questionable, but they didn’t reach badly for any players on the first day, and did add depth at critical areas- secondary, offensive line. Hopefully, they continue to strike gold on players who fell for medical concerns, and if that happens, this turns into an exceptional, much-needed draft haul for them.
#12: Los Angeles Chargers
- Average Grade: 87.16 (B/B+)
- Draft Grade: A-
This is a case where my personal draft grade differs slightly from the average grade overall, as I like to judge based on process. Generally, drafts are still defined from performance in the first few rounds as well, which can make average pick grade slightly deceiving.
Luckily for the Chargers, they hit a home run with their top-two selections. There were rumors that they’d have to trade up to secure an offensive tackle, which would have been foolish. Instead, they stood pat and received excellent value with Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater, a player many projected as a top-ten pick. All of a sudden, they have the league’s most improved offensive line with four new starters in place, which cannot be overlooked. However, they still lack young talent in their cornerback room, so, naturally, they land Asante Samuel Jr. Not only was he a first-round caliber player, but his size limitations are less of a concern in head coach Brandon Staley’s off-zone defense, and, as we know, fit is very important when it comes to developing players.
After that, I didn’t love the Chargers draft. Josh Palmer did suffer from poor quarterback play in college, yet gambling on that is still risky with more proven options available at receiver, while Tre’ McKitty profiles as a blocking tight end. Both were major reaches based on my model rankings, which certainly is suboptimal. I’m a fan of Chris Rumph II, who was the most productive pass rusher in the country in 2019, while Nik Niemann is extremely athletic and Mark Webb is an interesting cornerback/safety hybrid, but between Larry Rountree and Brenden Jaimes, they still reached on some players overall.
Even with the reaches taken into account, the value provided by Slater and Samuel Jr. should be significantly. I wish they would have perhaps done better with their draft capital after that, but if they’re right about some of their offensive picks, they pay off is strong. I believe this is one of the more underrated front offices in football and certainly see them as a playoff-caliber team for the foreseeable future.
#13: Buffalo Bills
- Average Grade: 87.1 (B/B+)
- Draft Grade: B
The Bills have always been a forward-thinking organization, and they continued to demonstrate that in this year’s draft.
With their edge rush group being on the older side, they is a lot of room for them to add players to develop over time, which will be the hope with Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. Both were drafted right around where they should be, and are in a great position to be rotational players immediately before stepping into larger roles in the future. Rousseau, especially, could end up being a massive steal potentially, as his stock may have been as a top-15 pick should he taken another developmental leap this year; he’s one of the younger players in this class.
Although I didn’t love the value at all with their tackle options, at least they are taking swings to add quantity to their offensive line. Plus, they made up for it with their other selections. More depth in the secondary? Check. A versatile playmaker in the slot that was undervalued? Check. More interior offensive line depth when you should be targeting it? Check. Switch their tackle picks with players that were better values, and this becomes an incredibly deep draft.
Some may wish the Bills targeted more immediate contributors, but that’s not the point of the draft. They added players at positions valued on the open market, and once again improved their future outlook around Josh Allen. Reaching in the middle rounds was suboptimal, but overall, I appreciated the process they demonstrated.
#14: Miami Dolphins
- Average Grade: 86.111111
- Draft Grade: B+
Sticking with AFC East teams with bright futures, can we give a round of applause to the Dolphins? The amount of draft capital they have accumulated has been remarkably, making them the true example of how to rebuild your roster in a hurry.
It all started by trading down from the #3 overall pick to the #12 overall pick, which netted them two first-round picks and a third-round pick from the 49ers. At the time, it looked like they were setting up incredibly, but they did take a step back by trading a future first-round pick to move back up with the Eagles for the #6 overall pick. That’s especially true in hindsight, as they weren’t able to move back down, and likely wouldn’t have needed to go as high to secure Jaylen Waddle; is the gap of Waddle and De’Vonta Smith worth the extra draft capital? Certainly not.
That said, stuck with the 6th overall pick, I do think Waddle was the best pick for them. There is a case to be made that they needed to solidify competency on their offensive line with Penei Sewell, yet Waddle’s ability to create instant separation accomplishes a similar goal, and similarly to the Bengals, they were chasing the elite prospect at the right position. Where they could have solidified their offensive line, on the other hand, could have been with the 18th overall pick, especially with a highly-regarded player such as Christian Darrisaw available. Yes, many believe Jaelan Phillips was the best edge rusher in this class, but between his lack of track record and concussion history, that’s a very interesting pick for a team that a) has already invested a lot in their defense, b) has been able to scheme up pressure from their edge rushers, and c) could have just as easily landed a quality pass rusher later on to develop given their abundance of picks. Thus, while Phillips could end up being a fine pick for them, it wasn’t quite the direction I would have gone.
That selection also came back to backfire in that it made them feel obligated to trade a future third-round pick to move up for Liam Eichenburg, only to select him higher than they needed to. There were other offensive tackles regarded similar still on the board, so to move up to secure “your guy” doesn’t feel like a proper allocation of resources. On the bright side, Jevon Holland is a fantastic player with deep safety/slot flexibility, and had he not opted out, he likely ends up as a first-round pick; tight end Hunter Long is also a nice addition to their offense.
I will also note that the Dolphins secured a future fourth-round pick from the Steelers for their fifth-round pick, which was certainly a smart trade. Yet, when you look back on this class, I’m not sure it’s quite the “A+” draft some believe it to be. Waddle is a great fit, and they found strong value on day two, but their move up for Eichenburg was puzzling, and I wouldn’t have drafted Phillips as early as they did. Luckily for them, their room for error is significant considering the overall quantity of their draft capital, which they’ll continue to be able to lean on in the future. Now, it’s time for them to see if Tua Tagovailoa is their franchise quarterback, and by adding Waddle and Will Fuller this offseason, they’ll be able to find that out in short time.
#15: Baltimore Ravens
- Average Grade: 85.4167 (B)
- Draft Grade: B+
The Ravens, by virtue of a brilliant trade that netted them a first-round pick for offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., where in an excellent position to continue to revamp a loaded roster. For the most part, they accomplished just that.
From the beginning, Rashod Bateman ending up in Baltimore felt an obvious pick waiting they happen. They weigh production much more with their receiver prospects that the average team, and are thus rewarded for that process generally. Bateman’s ability to win on the outside and produce down the field is immensely valuable, and he simply had no business falling to where he did. He’ll immediately add a needed outside-the-numbers option for them (I still can’t believe they drafted a linebacker over Tee Higgins), and was one of the top value picks of the first round. Now, I wasn’t as high on them selecting edge rusher Jayson Oweh. He didn’t have enough of a track record of proven production for my model to buy into, and although he has fantastic traits that will be developed given their ability to scheme up pressure with their edge rushers, why burn a first-round pick on a developmental edge rusher when you could get similar results later on? There were certainly other intriguing prospects for them that were much better fits (safety Trevon Moehrig, tackle Teven Jenkins, interior defender Christian Barmore, linebacker/safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, another receiver even), so I have to question whether Oweh was the best use of that extra first-round selection.
The “mixed bag” theme of the Ravens’ draft continues. Receiver Tylan Wallace is another reward for them valuing production more than the average team, and sometimes, you wonder if they’re being run by analytically-minded fantasy analysts! Plus, interior offensive lineman Ben Cleveland is a perfect fit for them, while Shaun Wade could be a potential steal should he thrive with a move back to a slot/safety versatile role. However, cornerback Brandon Stephens wasn’t even on many draft boards, Ben Mason is a backup fullback for them, and edge rusher Daelin Hayes wasn’t ranked highly based on my model. For every steal they had, they also had a questionable pick, though that at least is more reasonable later on in the draft.
If you told me the Ravens would be able to draft Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace where they did, I would have assumed they came away with the top draft. Nevertheless, there were still some selections that I wasn’t quite as fond of, as it felt that they didn’t quite maximize their draft capital as well as they should have. On the bright side, they did secure a future fourth-round pick with a trade down with the Cardinals, and the receiver picks are truly what are going to move the needle here. Still, even if it’s partially due to my admiration for this front office, I wonder what this draft class would have looked like with slightly more optimization with their other picks, although they remain in a fantastic spot moving forward.
#16: Minnesota Vikings
- Average Grade: 85.35 (B)
- Draft Grade: B
When you’re paying Kirk Cousins over $30 million per year, your room for error is significant less than other teams. That’s where the Vikings find themselves right now, making the draft of even greater significance for them: they not only need to hit on their top pick, but need to find value elsewhere as well.
If the rumors are true, they were on the verge of trading up to secure Justin Fields, but wouldn’t give up a future first-round pick to do so. While I understand that giving up said pick would be a tough pill to swallow considering they’re locked into Cousins, I personally would have done so. It isn’t just that Fields is a fantastic quarterback. Rather, this is a team that isn’t going to have many opportunities to add a premier young quarterback in the future, and Fields’ potential ability to elevate an offense is something Cousins cannot do. Thus, even if Cousins’ cap hit would be massive for him not to be on the roster, what it’s costing them in terms of other roster talent would be made up for by Fields. Anyways, their plan B was quite strong: trading down nine spots to draft the player they likely would have drafted had they stood pat. For a team with no financial spending power, securing a high-end offensive tackle prospect is huge for them, and to get two third-round picks in the process is the icing on the cake. For perspective, that turned into a free shot on a mid-round quarterback (Kellen Mond) and a potential future starting interior offensive lineman (Wyatt Davis), which highlights the beauty of moving down.
Speaking of Mond, he’s a very interesting selection. While my model isn’t a proponent of his, his skillset is certainly intriguing and probably worth a gamble in the third round. Meanwhile, Davis was excellent value, and is the type of pick a team with their depth issues needs to make. Unfortunately, however, a lot of their other selections were strange reaches, such as the edge rushers they took and undeveloped linebacker Chazz Surratt, making Davis the only player that projects as a potential starter for them outside the first round.
The Vikings aced the first round, but outside of Darrisaw and Davis, this is a rather pedestrian class. Their offensive line is in a much better position, but what about their perimeter talent? Why they felt obliged to spend so much capital on developmental defensive front seven players is confusing, and is something you cannot do after spending an early pick on Mond. In hindsight, I wonder if they feel as though they should have pulled the trigger on Fields, and would not be shocked if it’s something that they will only continue to regret making given the expected direction of their organization.
#17: Arizona Cardinals
- Average Grade: 85 (B)
- Draft Grade: B-
Similarly to the Giants, the Cardinals’ regime appears to be entering a make-or-break season. This was going to be a very important draft for them as one of the last chances to add cost-controlled talent around Kyler Murray with a rookie contract, and even without a third-round pick, they needed to capitalize on two top-50 picks.
Unfortunately, they did not get off to an adequate start with their first-round pick. Zaven Collins is a unique player given his 270-pound frame and coverage production, yet for a thin roster, continuing to invest heavily at the linebacker position, especially when you already have two starters there, is questionable. Remember, linebacker is one of the lowest-paid positions in the league and doesn’t provide much wins above replacement, so to bypass perimeter players and better-regarded prospects to make this selection was quite puzzling. Now, they did compensate for that by capitalizing on the fall of Rondale Moore, but, even then, he’s a high-variance prospect in his own right given his size and limited track record.
Continuing to be a boom-or-bust organization, Arizona traded up for athletic project Marco Wilson, which is questionable, and it appears they may have reached on edge rusher Victor Dimukeje. From there, however, they got excellent value. Cornerback Tay Gowan’s fall is mainly related to opting out this past season, which is a market inefficiency more teams should exploit, and there isn’t any reason to believe he can’t be a starting cornerback- quite the value of the 223rd overall pick. To top it off, James Wiggins and Michael Menet add depth in areas they needed help in badly.
This was a very average draft by the Cardinals. I still cannot quite understand the rationale for selecting Collins as high as they did, but they also ended up with arguably the best surplus value selection of the draft (Gowan) in addition to a first-round value in Moore. In a very difficult division, we’ll see if general manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury have done enough to build a winning team around Murray, something that they are running out of time to do.
#18: Kansas City Chiefs
- Average Grade: 84.6875
- Draft Grade: B
Without a first-round pick due to them trading tackle Orlando Brown Jr., the Chiefs certainly hamstrung themselves in terms of being able to add cost-controlled talent to the roster. Considering how expensive their star players are, that’s going to be problematic, and one should wonder if they’ll suffer the consequences of an all-in approach.
At the very least, it places pressure on them to make the most on every draft pick they can, as opposed to drafting a running back in the first round last year. While many were very high on Nick Bolton, I don’t believe they did that by selecting him with the 58th overall pick. They already burned a second-round pick last year on a player at the position with Willie Gay Jr., who was productive as a rookie, so to do so again seems redundant at a position that isn’t valued highly, especially given Bolton’s limitations. On the other hand, drafting a center that many believed would go much higher is a significantly better allocation of resources, and, at this point, I think it’s safe to say they’ve accomplished their goal of securing enough offensive line depth, especially after taking a gamble on Trey Smith in the sixth round.
This was overall a very strange draft by the Chiefs. Bolton seemed like an unnecessary pick, as did continuing to take shots on developmental edge rushers. Really, outside of more offensive line depth, it’s hard to see what they accomplished. Cornell Powell gives them a needed big-body presence, but why not take advantage of a deep receiver class earlier on? Their wide receiver room is remarkably thin, and is something that concerns me more than their offensive line. What about their secondary? These are more valuable areas to address, and at some point, their inability to do so will likely come back to haunt them.
#19: Atlanta Falcons
- Average Grade: 83.33333 (B)
- Draft Grade: B-
This draft had a common theme of new regimes picking near the top of the draft, but none were picking higher than new general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith in Atlanta. With the fourth overall pick and a thin, aging roster, this was a colossal time for their franchise.
Unfortunately, they were not able to trade down, and restructuring Matt Ryan’s deal makes him locked in for the next two years, thus limiting the edge provided financially by a rookie quarterback. With that in mind, they took the best non-quarterback in tight end Kyle Pitts. He’s the perfect combination of someone who not only plays a valuable position and one that is scarce in talent, and even as a mean projection, him instantly becoming a top-five tight end is relatively likely. The one downside is that, for a team without much financial flexibility, he’ll be one of the highest-paid players at his position, yet that’s not a reason not to draft him. Especially with Julio Jones past the age of 30 and likely to be traded at some point, Pitts is a great pick.
Where Atlanta needed to really perform well was later on- they need to accumulate roster depth. In safety Richie Grant, they perhaps didn’t draft the consensus top safety, but one that should immediately start and help their secondary tremendously. The rest of the draft, however, was filled with what appear to be reaches with developmental players, which felt like luxury picks they cannot afford to make. On the bright side, center Drew Dalman was seen as a perfect fit for a zone-blocking scene and may be an immediate starter for them at a very weak spot (interior offensive line), but they certainly didn’t accumulate much surplus value overall.
I love Pitts, but outside of Grant and Dalman, the rest of the Falcons’ draft is very underwhelming. They rank second-worst in terms of surplus value per pick, and were not able to add depth at valuable spots. Hopefully, some of their mid-round flyers pan out, but right now, they remain a team without much in the way of secondary depth and overall young talent. I think it is more than fair for there to be legitimate concern about their future outlook unless that changes soon; a tear down may be inevitable.
#20: San Francisco 49ers
- Average Grade: 82.92 (B)
- Draft Grade: C+
When they traded up from the 12th overall pick to the 3rd overall pick, surrendering two first-round picks and a third-round pick in the process, the 49ers instantly became the story of the draft. We’d knew they’d select a quarterback, but which one did they deem worthy of such extensive draft capital?
Despite rumors of it being for Mac Jones, San Francisco’s move up was for North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Obviously, this is a better outcome than selecting Jones. Lance’s play-style is much more tailored to success at the NFL given his athleticism and high-end “tools”, yet we shouldn’t just compare him to Jones. They passed on Justin Fields, after all, who not only is as athletic and toolsy as Lance, but also has a strong track record of elite production and significantly better accuracy. Putting your entire future in the hands of a quarterback with one season of performance at an FCS school, while also passing on a significantly better quarterback prospect, is a very poor process, and one I don’t see criticized enough. Sure, perhaps Fields fell farther than expected, but I’d much rather have Jones with the 12th overall pick than invest three first-round picks in Lance, and it isn’t close at all.
To make matters worse, the 49ers then proceeded to reach for an interior offensive lineman, and although they traded down, neutralized that by trading up for a running back in Trey Sermon. During Kyle Shanahan’s time in San Francisco, this organization has a) invested way too much at the running back position and b) haven’t cared much for value on the offensive side of the ball, and that is not a sustainable way to build a roster. In my eyes, they got a better running back in the seventh round in Elijah Mitchell, and with the production he’s gotten from undrafted running backs, why does he consistently feel obliged to invest so much at the position?
I’ll definitely give the 49ers credit for replenishing their secondary. 2020 opt out Ambry Thomas was one of my model’s favorite undervalued players, as were most opt outs, and they got nice value with safety Talanoah Hufanga and cornerback Demmodre Lenoir as well, in addition to Mitchell. Still, I don’t understand their strategy. This was a Super Bowl-caliber team, and although Jimmy Garoppolo is limited, he still is capable of being a very productive player with Shanahan, and can definitely lead a successful offense. If this was due to cost or injuries, Jones would have been a fine cheap replacement with the 12th overall pick, as is Lance. However, it cannot be understated how risky of a maneuver this is. They fate of their franchise essentially is with Lance, and not being without a first-round pick for the next two years is a major problem for a roster that is quite expensive. At the very least, they certainly should have waited until the draft to see this play out; if so, I have a hard time thinking they make this move. Regardless, I feel worse about the state of the organization than I did at the beginning of the offseason, which is reflective of a collection of irresponsible set of decisions that could set them back tremendously.
#21: Carolina Panthers
- Average Grade: 81.95 (B)
- Draft Grade: B
Last offseason, with head coach Matt Rhule on board, the Panthers seemed like the prime team to go through a long-term rebuild to replenish their roster, similarly to the Lions now. Heck, they even seemed like a likely team to get the #1 pick and select Trevor Lawrence. Instead, decisions at the quarterback positions have potentially crippled them.
First, it was signing Teddy Bridgewater to a massive three year, $63 million contract, despite the fact that he had little value for a team that wasn’t ready to compete. Then, it was trading for PFF’s lowest-graded quarterback, Sam Darnold, for a second-round pick, fourth-round pick, and sixth-round pick. I’m all for taking a shot at the quarterback position, but let’s reflect on what they are sacrificing with Darnold. The draft capital is one thing, but they not only have already accepted his lofty $20 million fifth-year option for next year, but passed on Justin Fields in the draft. I’m sorry, what? This is an inexcusable set of actions at the game’s most important position.
To be fair, Carolina’s overall draft class is actually relatively strong, even if their first-round pick was a little confusing. The low grade for Jaycee Horn is mainly reflective of passing on Fields, but that wasn’t the only player they passed on. Even without factoring Horn wasn’t seen as the top cornerback in this draft, they were other offensive prospects that likely would have been better fits, and with teams like the Vikings and Bears attempting to move up, a trade down would have been an exceptionally improved strategy. Imagine having an extra first-round pick, and also drafting, say, tackle Christian Darrisaw That was a valuable alternative, yet teams tend to fixated on getting one specific prospect, which appears to be the case with the Panthers.
On day two, however, Carolina absolutely crushed it. After trading down multiple times, they still managed to land Terrace Marshall Jr., who many saw as a first-round caliber receiver. Between him, tight end Tommy Tremble, and tackle Brady Christensen, who my model saw as worthy of a late first-round pick, they definitely improved their offense in key areas of importance in a way they shouldn’t have been able to do with the amount of times they traded down. Not to mention, their trade down with the Texans – moving down 20 spots from pick #89 to secure a fifth-round pick and future fourth-round pick – was one of the most lopsided trades I’ve seen. That transitions right into day three. Overall, they perhaps could have made even more optimal selections (a long snapper, really?), though they also got great surplus value with interior defender Daviyon Nixon.
The Panthers had a very solid draft haul, but consider the opportunity cost. Their quarterback decisions have been mind blowing, and it’s going to set the back significantly. It was always strange to see them trade for Darnold prior to the draft, as without him on the roster, they probably “win” this draft with Fields leading them for years to come. Instead, they’re without any viable option at quarterback, still have a weak offensive line, and, even with Horn, have major issues with their pass coverage. In other words, I fail to see their direction moving forward.
#22: Houston Texans
- Average Grade: 81.5 (B/B-)
- Draft Grade: C
Thanks to some poor decisions made by previous head coach Bill O’Brien, new general manager Nick Caserio came into this draft with very little resources to add much-needed young talent to a very thin Texans roster.
That doesn’t speak to a team that should spend their top pick on a developmental quarterback. Yes, some are intrigued by Davis Mills, who produced a lot of big plays in a small sample at Stanford, but for a rebuilding team likely picking near the top of the draft next year, what utility does he have for them? Not to mention that he appears to be a reach in terms of value. From there, they took undervalued prospects based on my model projections, yet, even then, there are caveats. They traded extensive draft capital to move up to take Nico Collins, which is not the type of move a team in their position makes. Tight end Brevin Jordan and linebacker Garret Wallow could become future starters based on their projections, meanwhile, but they still made a lot of irresponsible moves up the board on day three, and it’s not like either plays a highly-paid position.
If I were the Texans, I would have been attempting to add as much 2022 draft capital as possible. Instead, they gave up draft picks, in addition to burning their top pick on a backup quarterback. It’s nice to see them identify under-the-radar prospects that have a good chance to overachieve their draft position, yet it’s hard to understand their process. Assuming Deshaun Watson never plays again for them, I think it’s fair to say they are in the worst situation of any team in the NFL- where is the reason for optimism?
#23: Washington Football Team
- Average Grade: 80.69 (B-)
- Draft Grade: B
Outside of the quarterback position, the Washington Football Team quietly has one of the top rosters in the NFL. While they perhaps didn’t utilize their first-round pick properly, they did add a lot of useful depth in a way that adds excitement for the future.
As we discussed in the beginning, based on the developmental curve of the position and its lack of value, the bar to be worth a first-round pick as a linebacker is extremely high. With that in mind, I’m not sure Jamin Davis met it. Although he’s an athletic marvel, he also has only one season of solid production, and that mainly came in run defense, which hasn’t been predictive of NFL success at all. Washington is making the bet that head coach Ron Rivera can develop him into a productive starter, but that’s not the profile of a first-round value. A common comparison for him is Zach Cunningham, and is that pay-off worth a first-round pick, even without accounting for the high “bust rate”?
This placed a lot of pressure on Washington to do better with their other selections, which, to their credit, they did. Had they taken tackle Samuel Cosmi in the first round, I wouldn’t have been against it, and the ability to get a player who projects as a starting offensive tackle in the second round isn’t one that should be available. The same goes for being to add a dynamic vertical receiver in Dyami Brown, whose presence also allows Curtis Samuel to move to the slot and fortifies an excellent receiving corps. I’m really excited to see Brown develop with Ryan Fitzpatrick, and would bet on him developing strongly here. Now, cornerback Benjamin St.Juste may have been selected earlier than any rankings would suggest, yet he does fit their system well and taking shots in the secondary is allows a strong process. On day three, Washington also did well. Safety Darrik Forrest, edge rushers Shaka Toney and William Bradley-King, and receiver Dax Milne all represent opportunities to add players at important areas of depth later on in the draft; Forrest, in particular, is a model darling with his athletic testing numbers and quality track record of production in college. Oh, and we’ll gloss over the long snapper.
While I love some of the value picks Washington made, it has to be mentioned that they had one of the least optimal first-round picks, which is the pick you need to make good of. The opportunity cost of not being the team to gamble of Caleb Farley or adding other highly-regarded prospects (Rashod Bateman would’ve been an exceptional fit) is massive, and it’s hard to see Davis, based on his lack of polish and the position he plays, being worth that investment. At that point, why aren’t you trading up to draft a quarterback, especially with Justin Fields falling? Until the future of the quarterback position is solidified, it won’t matter how much overall roster depth they have, and that collection of talent is the justification you need to sacrifice future draft capital to solve that problem. Overall,, this is a fine draft haul, yet another one where you have to wonder: what if they had gone in a different direction?
#24: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Average Grade: 79.71 (C+/B-)
- Grade: C+
Coming off a Super Bowl title and with one of the best rosters in the NFL, which is filled with young players to continue to build around, the Bucs were in a fantastic spot heading into the draft. It was clear they were going to be able to draft exclusively for the future, so I was excited to see what that flexibility would do for them.
To their credit, every pick made was with the future in mind. Edge rusher, for instance, is certainly a position they could afford to get better at; Jason Pierre-Paul is likely in his final year with the team and they won’t have the money to invest at a highly-paid position. However, based purely on value, Joe Tryon rates as the top reach in the first round. Not only does he have only one year of college production, but that year consisted of a subpar 71 PFF pass-rush grade, which means that he’s a complete project as a pass rusher. That’s generally the profile of a player that you take a gamble on in the fourth round, yet instead, Tampa Bay is investing a first-round pick. Sure, they’re in a position to try to develop more raw players, yet is that justification for not taking more refined players? In my opinion, definitely not.
Backup quarterback might actually be one of the Bucs’ weakest areas, so Kyle Trask is a fine use of second-round pick. He’s coming off of an elite season from a production standpoint, and, at the very worst, should develop into a quality backup option. Even without considering the potential of him becoming more than that, that’s worth the last pick in the second round, and they are the type of team that can continue to take shots on developmental quarterbacks.
Where Tampa Bay’s plans can backfire is if they don’t have enough depth in critical areas, which was the focus later on in the draft. Robert Hainsey is an excellent fit for them as a versatile offensive lineman capable of playing all five positions, and they did add coverage depth later on, even if they perhaps weren’t on the players that seemed like the best value. The premier pick here, however, is North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden. Although he’s undersized, he projects very well as a slot receiver at the next level with his production after the catch and excellent numbers in college. Antonio Brown is far from a sure thing to make it through the full season, and with uncertainty at the position moving forward, it was very encouraging to see them continue to load up on playmakers at a time where competitors weren’t as aggressive doing so.
On some levels, I understand each pick the Bucs made purely from an intention standpoint. Nevertheless, when you look at the overall draft haul, it’s hard to see what they accomplished. Tryon is quite the risky investment with a first-round pick, and although that might not matter this year, it may become an issue later on as future holes start to open up. We’ll see how they navigate a roster that continues to be tougher to maintain moving forward.
#25: Dallas Cowboys
- Average Grade: 78.87 (C+)
- Grade: C-
After extending quarterback Dak Prescott to a massive $160 million extension, the Cowboys were under extreme pressure to add as most cost-controlled talent as possible. After all, they have very little in the way of building blocks or depth defensively, in addition to a thin offensive line; the cracks are starting to show.
That doesn’t speak to a team that should have drafted a linebacker with their top pick. Not only is a linebacker known for his pass-rush ability and run defense not moving the needle nor valued highly on the open market, but this is a team that has already invested heavily at the position. Even as a linebacker, I was totally on board on selecting Micah Parsons in the first round based on his college production at a young age and his freaky athletic testing numbers, yet Dallas may have been the worst fit for him overall given the state of their roster. Remember, you don’t play with three linebackers anymore, and, really don’t need to consistently play with two. This felt like them falling in love with a player as opposed to taking into account value, which is problematic. Yes, their targets at cornerback weren’t available, but rather than trade down just two spots, why wouldn’t you move down further; the Bears surely would’ve offered the same draft capital to move up to draft Justin Fields. A future first-round pick and using the 20th overall pick on Caleb Farley, Christian Darrisaw, or a different player at a valuable position, for instance, would have been huge for them. Even when just judging their selection at pick #12, instead of simply drafting defense, why not just draft for a value and take one of the offensive tackles? There are a lot of issues with Dallas’ thought process here.
The Cowboys’ strange draft didn’t stop in the first round. Despite there being much more refined cornerbacks on the board, they opted to “shoot the moon” with Kelvin Joseph’s athleticism, which is quite the risky strategy given their thin secondary; he has very little in the way of proven production. Furthermore, edge rusher Chauncey Gholston and cornerback Nahshon Wright also appear to be considerable reaches, as were tackle Josh Ball (who has significant off-the-field issues) and interior defender Quinto Bohanna.
To be more positive, there were some quality picks that the organization made. Interior defender Osa Odighizuwa projects to be an immediate contributor, which is well worth a third-round pick. Meanwhile, linebacker Jabril Cox was extremely productive in coverage at LSU, and this is where Dallas’ lone linebacker pick should have come. Furthermore, athletic marvel Simi Fehoko, cornerback Israel Mukwamu, and interior offensive lineman Matt Farniok will add depth in important areas.
For the most part, this was a head-scratching draft by the Cowboys, especially after they dominated in this area last year. It makes sense to add as much talent on the defensive side of the ball as possible, yet they took a lot of chances on unrefined players, and Parsons is a very strange fit. This boom-or-bust “luxury pick” style of drafting is something that they’re not in a position to do, and there is a great chance this draft haul amounts to very little. If so, it could be extremely detrimental for the hopes of winning with Prescott on such a large contract, even if they are the favorites to win the NFC East next season.
#26: Green Bay Packers
- Draft Grade: 78.3333 (C+)
- Grade: C-
By now, I’m sure you are aware of Aaron Rodgers’ displeasure with the Packers organization, which was made public right before the NFL Draft.
Currently, it’s unclear if Rodgers will play for Green Bay, or anywhere, next season, but it’s clear that his status did not factor into the organization’s strategy. To be fair, cornerback Eric Stokes is someone my model was a major proponent of based on his combination of a large sample size of college production and elite athleticism, and the potential pay-off of a starting cornerback is high for a team that has little depth with their cornerback room. Maybe they could have targeted a player that wasn’t so polarizing in terms of his evaluation, as those players are much riskier, but Stokes is a quality selection.
Where the Packers’ draft really fell off was between rounds two and four. Not only was interior offensive lineman Josh Myers, who struggled mightily in pass protection in college, a notable overdraft, but he was selected over a number of much more highly-regarded players at his position. Then, they packaged a future fourth-round pick to move up to select Amari Rodgers, who, even then, wasn’t a great value pick; he’s more of a pure slot, gadget receiver than might be best as a running back. For perspective, simply with the fourth-round pick they had, Jaelon Darden is a player who had better production and more “receiver skills” based on consensus opinion. Potentially reaching for developmental trench players also didn’t help.
On the bright side, the Packers finished their draft quite strong. Cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles adds excellent depth to their slot coverage, while Cole Van Lanen is a versatile offensive lineman that my model was high on. Furthermore, it’s nice to see them not overvalue the linebacker position and wait until the later rounds to select one, and Kylin Hill is much better than some of the other running backs drafted before him.
I like some of Green Bay’s later selections, but they’re really coming away from this draft with one potential starter, and, even then, Stokes is a high-variance pick. They’ve been one of the peculiar teams when it comes to drafting in recent years, and if they continue to not receive contributions there, they could crumble in quite a hurry. Should Rodgers not play for them, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish with one of the worst records in the NFL next season, which would be quite the turn of events.
#27: Indianapolis Colts
- Average Grade: 77.3333 (C+/C)
- Draft Grade: C-
Under general manager Chris Ballard, the Colts have been a very sound team when it comes to drafting and developing young players. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that trend continued this year.
Indianapolis has a dire lack of talent when it comes to offensive supporting cast, which is an issue with Carson Wentz under center. Despite several offensive tackles and a few notable receivers being available, Ballard opted to continue to invest in the team’s pass rush with Kwity Paye. Now, Paye’s an athletic freak who took a step forward with his production at Michigan, and I could easily seeing him being worth the #21 overall pick, and then some. Nevertheless, the opportunity cost to pick him appears to be high on paper. Where I really started to question Ballard’s thought process, though, was in the second round. Not only did he bypass once again on higher-regarded players, particularly on the offensive side of the ball (Terrace Marshall Jr.), but he picked another edge rusher. Plus, Dayo Odeyingbo is coming off of a torn ACL and didn’t stand out in terms of production in college. This is a team that has spent a lot of resources in the top two rounds on edge rushers, so to do so again in extreme fashion seems like a noticeable misallocation of resources.
Meanwhile, what is the benefit of adding Kylen Granson, a third tight end at best, to the roster? Tight ends like this are generally available in any draft, after all, so it’s not like they had to take advantage of his skillset. It was nice to see them get a couple value picks with safety Shawn Davis and quarterback Sam Ehlinger, but unless Charleston product Michael Starchan becomes a very successful development story, Davis is the only one likely to play a role for them in the foreseeable future.
I’m really worried about the Colts after this draft. Maybe their pass rush will be better, but right now, I wouldn’t bank on them producing much offensively next year, and in the future as well. This is still a team without much in the way of perimeter talent, and with some of their key players due for new contracts, they need to accumulate more talent through the draft. Making risky selections without the pay off to justify it is questionable, and it’s unclear what they accomplished; it has been a strange offseason, to say the least.
#28: Jacksonville Jaguars
- Average Grade: 77.014 (C+)
- Grade: C-
With five picks in the top 65, expectations were high for the Jaguars to come away with a fantastic draft haul. In many ways, this was going to define the tenure of general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Urban Meyer.
In my eyes, they appear to have failed. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been marketed as a generational talent, and he’ll provide something this organization has not had in a very long time: stability at the quarterback position. From there, though, Jacksonville butchered this draft. In what world does taking a running back in the first round make sense for a rebuild team, especially one that just got excellent production from an un-drafted one? They essentially lit a first-round pick on fire, which is a shame with so many players at key spots (receiver, tackle) falling into their laps. Even in the second round, they appear to have reached significantly for unrefined players when there were superior alternatives available.
I like safety Andre Cisco, but he’s another very risky pick coming off of a torn ACL and the inconsistency he demonstrated in college. Outside of that, they came away with a rotational interior rusher with no college production, another edge rusher, and players that may not even make the roster. My model did identify Jordan Smith as a potential sleeper, but they also traded up to select him, and it’s hard to overlook his 7.97 three-cone time, nor do I see him getting the opportunity in Jacksonville to showcase his talents. I expected him to be one of the top surplus value picks in the draft, but even then, I wouldn’t be trading up to secure that- the surplus value immediately is diminished.
Simply put, this was a disastrous draft for the Jaguars outside of Trevor Lawrence. Now, as long as Lawrence performs well, a lot of this may not matter, which is the power of a high-end quarterback. That said, this was Jacksonville’s last draft with extensive draft capital, and they essentially threw it away. Trading cornerback Jalen Ramsey for two first-round picks is a great move, but to turn it into a developmental edge rusher in K’Lavon Chaisson and a running back is inexcusable, and they washed all of the gains the previous regime made with this teardown. I was already very pessimistic about this new regime, and am not counting on them leading Jacksonville to prominence anytime soon, unless Lawrence saves them from disaster.
#29: New Orleans Saints
- Average Grade: 73.05 (C/C-)
- Grade: D+
With Drew Brees officially retired and a roster that was depleted due to financial constraints, few teams faced the pressure the Saints did heading into the draft. Even with limited draft capital, they needed to find as much cheap contributors as possible. Instead, they continued with business as usual, and that’s not a compliment.
New Orleans has always prided its ability to develop talent, which is why they take chances on players with athletic tools. At a position like edge rusher, however, that’s not what you’re looking for in the first round. Based on all indications, Payton Turner was essentially drafted a full round before he would’ve been optimal value. Essentially, you’re betting on a four-game sample size of production from this past season, and with polished players at other areas (receivers, tackles, defensive backs) available, this was one of the more confusing picks of the first round. Then, they doubled down in the second round with another unproductive, developmental player in the defensive front seven. Pete Werner could pan out, but given their position, is a linebacker with subpar numbers in coverage where you should be spending a premium pick on?
My model is very high on cornerback Paulson Adebo, who had elite ball production in college, is very athletics and should be a quality player for them. Even then, though, they traded an extra third-round pick to move up to select him, which significantly lessens the surplus value gained bad drafting him. Plus, their third day of the draft was an absolute disaster. I’m not sure Ian Book passes the threshold to be a backup quarterback, so drafting him in the fourth round is egregious given their position. The same can be said about trading up to draft a very limited offensive tackle, and waiting until the seventh round to draft a receiver is a very interesting strategy.
What is the Saints’ overall plan? They have practically zero talent on the perimeter, and they’re coming out of this draft with a developmental pass rusher and a linebacker with their top two picks. Really, Adebo is the only player that helps fix their sins, and I’d much rather they just draft him in the second round rather than feel obligated to move up to select him. It’s a minor win that they didn’t make any over-the-top trades up, but they also seem to have wasted draft capital by reaching for players with very limited pay off, so, at that point, is that even a win? It’s hard to rationalize with them here, and, all of a sudden, they look like potential bottom-feeders in the NFC South; quite the turnaround after such a recent run of success.
#30: Pittsburgh Steelers
- Average Grade: 72.723 (C/C-)
- Draft Grade: D+
Similarly to the Saints, the Steelers have little in the way of financial flexibility, lost a lot of talent this offseason, and no clear answer at quarterback for the future. Also like the Saints, they didn’t exactly respond their problems with a productive draft.
Pittsburgh struggled to run the ball last season, so, naturally, all they needed was a running back, right? Wrong. First off, passing offense matters significantly more than rushing offense, and right now, they don’t project well. Then, even if you wanted to run the ball more effectively, why are you ignoring your offensive line, which lost multiple starters this offseason and is the main reason behind rushing success? Assuming that you’re once again going to have an elite defense, especially when you cut your best cornerback and will face a tougher schedule, is remarkably foolish; passing on quality offensive tackles and defensive backs to select Najee Harris is laughable. This has nothing to do with Harris, as he was fantastic at Alabama. Rather, there is no situation in which a first-round running back, based on their replaceability and the limited amount they make on the open market, is worth it. Well, if that is the case, then what is the reasoning behind drafting one there? Most teams appear to be aware of this, though I guess we can say the Steelers aren’t one of them.
I do want to give credit to the Steelers for dominating the second day of the draft with tight end Pat Freiermuth and interior offensive lineman Kendrick Green, who project as starters at their position and strong values where selected. Even then, though, they don’t play valuable positions, so it doesn’t make up for drafting Harris. Plus, they butchered the final day of the draft:
- Drafted a developmental offensive tackle 269 spots before he’d be considered value. There aren’t 269 picks in the draft?
- Drafted a linebacker with a sub-40 PFF coverage grade
- Traded a future fourth-round pick to select a interior defender, their deepest position, who many didn’t believe would be drafted.
- Over-drafted a defensive back to move him to safety with actual safeties available.
- Drafted a punter
Edge rusher Quincy Roche is a nice pick given his strong production in college, but this is also a team that doesn’t rotate its edge rushers at all, so he’s not likely to see the football field for them much at all during his rookie contract unless an injury transpires. Obviously, that’s fine for the #216 pick, but like their day-two picks, he alone doesn’t make up for some of these bizarre selections.
The Steelers needed to come away with a massive draft haul, and ended up with: a running back, quality tight end, starting center, and rotational pass rusher. When you put it in that perspective, you can really see how little they accomplished. When you’re in a division with two complete teams with elite front offices (Browns and Ravens), in addition to a Bengals team with a young quarterback and talent around him, the bar is extremely high with every decision you make. Sadly, the organization hasn’t adapted to the new era of football in 2021, and although they’ll always have continuity on their side, thinking they can still win “their way” will backfire. In other words, their past success may actually lead to their ultimate downfall, making them completely falling flat next season the best-case scenario for them. Really, though, the most likely outcome is a .500 record and mid first-round pick next year, still without any cap space or pathway to a quarterback. That’s the cost of their strategy, and it’s truly a shame to see with an organization with such a passionate fanbase and a strong history of success.
#31: Los Angeles Rams
- Average Grade: 71.25 (C-)
- Draft Grade: C-
After trading two first-round picks for Matthew Stafford, the Rams will go seven years without a first-round pick, including another two years without one. This isn’t a sustainable process, but since they’ve been able to draft well with their mid-round picks, they’ve been able to stay afloat. It’s unclear if that came to fruition in this year’s draft.
I always saw wide receiver as a key area for Los Angeles to address. Robert Woods is going to be 30-years-old and might be a cap casualty, and the depth behind him on the outside isn’t in great shape. However, Tutu Atwell was a very interesting pick. He’s listed as barely 150 pounds and likely ends up as much of a #4, big-play receiver, and to draft someone in the second round who likely doesn’t end up as a starter is interesting, especially with more polished receivers available. The same can be said for a lot of other selections. Linebacker Ernest Jones was drafted higher than expected and over more refined players at the position, they’ve already invested heavily in nose tackles (Bobby Brown), while cornerback Robert Rochell and receiver Jacob Harris profile as athletic projects that are probably riskier picks than Los Angeles can afford. Meanwhile, the rest of their picks consisted of: a run-defending edge rusher (Earnest Brown), an edge rusher from Concordia University (Chris Garrett), a special-teams player (James Funk), and a receiver that is going 24-years-old and may not make the team (Bennett Skowroneck).
There is a chance the Rams don’t get one starting player from this draft, which is detrimental for an aging, expensive roster. Even with defensive regression, they figure to be one of the better teams in the NFL, but in a few years, I could easily see them bottoming out. That’s the risk you run with an all-in approach, and although they did a nice job trading down and getting more draft capital, you cannot supplement that with boom-or-bust developmental players. However, that is exactly what they did, which puts them towards the bottom end of the spectrum in terms of draft productivity.
#32: Las Vegas Raiders
- Average Grade: 70.56 (C-/D+)
- Grade: D
Over their time with the Raiders, general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden have showed little care for taking into account value when it comes to draft. They hone in on “their guys”, which is a process that has caused them to not find productive players despite having five first-round picks during that two-year span.
Them reaching for a player in the first round was the easiest bet to make the draft, and this year, that player was Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood. The consensus evaluation on Leatherwood was pretty consistent: a player with some intrigue, but one with a lot of room to grow and one that probably projects best on the interior. Even if you’re convinced he’s better than that, that evaluation means he’s likely to be available in the second round, and if not, there were plenty of other offensive tackles available in that range. This was as mind-blowing of a non-running back pick as a team could make.
Ironically, Las Vegas secured a player that many thought was a possibly with their first-round pick in the second round in safety Trevon Moehrig. Even then, the cost to trade up for him was notable, so it’s not as though you can completely just swap the two selections. Naturally, they also proceeded to not gain any surplus value with any picks. My model was high on Malcolm Koonce, yet not 79th overall pick high as a rotational edge rusher, while spending a third-round pick on a safety that needs to switch to linebacker is not ideal. Then, they once again traded up for a safety, but did so for a player with no production in college, and then reached again on a player with cornerback Nate Hobbs. Really, seventh-round pick Jimmy Morrissey was their only non-trade up pick that resulted in receiving adequate value, which is absurd.
The Raiders, frankly, have almost zero young talent to build around, and it isn’t like they have financial flexibility or draft capital to provide hope for the future. Even if Moehrig ends up being a productive player, you need more than a starting safety and rotational players with your draft class. Unfortunately, this has become far too common with this organization, and with every other team on the AFC West on the rise, I don’t see any hope for them moving forward. In my eyes, they’re in as poor of a position as any team in the NFL (even the Texans), and it’s unlikely to get better anytime soon.