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2013 NFL Draft Analysis: Premium Positions will Fly on Thursday

Mike Mayock had an interesting quote during NFL Network’s Path to the Draft on Monday, when he concluded that perhaps only one quarterback might be drafted in the first round.

I’m not getting the same read on things that Mayock is, however.  I think it’s just the opposite: premium positions (quarterbacks, edge pass rushers, versatile defensive interior lineman, big, physical corners, any tackle who has the feet and hands to protect against edge rushers) will fly off the board on day one just due to simple scarcity.  My sense is that with the exception of the Bills and perhaps the Jets, trades are going to determine where the top prospects at premium positions play next season.  I think there will be something of a run on quarterbacks at the end of the first round, the issue being that the teams that currently hold those picks aren’t really in the market for quarterback talent.

Early on though, it’s not the quarterbacks who are going to drive the activity in the draft, it’s going to be the offensive tackles.  Both Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher, the top two offensive tackles and perhaps the top two players in the draft, will be gone no later than the third pick in the draft.  The top five or six pass rushers: Bjorn Werner, Tank Carradine, Barkevious Mingo, Jarvis Jones, Dion Jordan, and Ziggy Ansah, will go in the top 20, maybe 25 picks.  And every other offensive tackle with a first-ish round grade (Lane Johnson, DJ Fluker, Menelik Watson, and Justin Pugh) could easily be gone by the end of the round.

The trickiest thing to predict right now is probably where players in the secondary will get selected, given a couple of factors.  First and foremost, it is a really deep draft at both corner and safety (probably not as deep at corner as it was last year, however).  Secondly, not every scheme considers cover corners and safeties to be premium positions.  Some schemes put an incredible premium there, others do not.  While it’s easy to predict that guys like Xavier Rhodes and Dee Milliner will get drafted in the first round because they are top ten, top fifteen talents, it’s harder to predict the market for a guy like Desmond Trufant, a top twenty talent who may be just the fourth CB drafted in a year where theres a ton of talent at the position.  He may be a great example of the type of first round talent available on the second day of the draft, if not enough teams consider corner to be a premium position, then it’s easy to conclude that supply in this draft exceeds demand.

But that’s also why I expect the quarterback market to heat up late in the round.  In the absolute best case scenario for these quarterbacks, up to three could go in the first thirteen picks.  This scenario isn’t likely — but Geno Smith is in play for the Raiders and the Eagles right off the bat, and while the Raiders and Jags are looking to trade down for value, things will really heat up when the Bills and Jets pick later in the top ten.  The Bills are expected to go quarterback with the 8th overall pick, and in the event they decide to make Matt Barkley the pick, I think that that puts Ryan Nassib in play for the Jets.  So in that scenario, three quarterbacks get drafted in the top 13, and then as we get late in the round, the market for EJ Manuel and Tyler Bray will heat up because they are best available at the quarterback position.

The more likely scenario is that Geno Smith does not go in the top five, but remains in play for the Jets at the 13th pick.  The Bills then decide between Nassib and Barkley with the 8th pick.  So in this scenario, we have two quarterbacks going in the top half of the round, with one guy (Nassib, Barkley, or Smith) falling to the lower half of the round.  With the demand equation a bit different, Manuel’s market might not head up until the second day of the draft.  Still, I see no fewer than three quarterbacks getting drafted in the first round, wildly different than Mayock’s prediction of just one guy getting selected.

Three versatile defensive lineman will get selected in the first round: Star Loutulelei, Sharrif Floyd, and Sheldon Richardson.  None of these players will be a great value at the time they are selected.  Although they are clearly the cream of the crop in the class of defensive linemen, there will be values to be had at the position on day two and day three, so we won’t see any teams trading up to get these guys.  They will all be the top player on the board of some team picking in the first round, and will go in the top round without much of a doubt, and should have long, productive careers.

By my count, the first round selections in some order must include: 3-4 QBs, 6 OTs, 3 interior DL, 6 pass rushers, and 5 DBs.  Then likely first rounders just based on raw grades for players at a non-premium position include 3 WRs (counting Tavon Austin), a tight end, a middle linebacker, and 2 interior linemen.  By my count, that’s 29 of 32 first round picks that I can publish below as a prediction/cheat sheet for Thursday.

Consider this section the LiveBall Sports, team-independant mock draft

  1. OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
  2. OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
  3. OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
  4. DT Star Loutulelei, Utah
  5. OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
  6. CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
  7. OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU
  8. QB Ryan Nassib, Buffalo
  9. WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
  10. DE Ziggy Ansah, BYU
  11. OT DJ Fluker, Alabama
  12. TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
  13. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
  14. CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
  15. OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
  16. S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
  17. DE Tank Carradine, Florida State
  18. DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
  19. G Chance Warmack, Alabama
  20. QB EJ Manuel, Florida State
  21. DE Bjorn Werner, Florida State
  22. WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
  23. CB D.J. Hayden, Houston
  24. DT Sheldon Ricardson, Missouri
  25. WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
  26. S Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
  27. OT Menelik Watson, Florida State
  28. QB Matt Barkley, USC
  29. WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
  30. OT Justin Pugh, Syracuse
  31. G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
  32. LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
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2013 NFL Draft Rankings: the Quarterbacks

I was reading last year’s draft article in preparation for writing this year’s draft article.  Overall, I felt I was pretty on-point in my evaluations, although I clearly did not believe in Russell Wilson as a starting NFL quarterback, which makes a pretty accurate year look a lot worse than maybe it really was.  Draftink protip: you don’t want to be giving a scouting report on an offensive rookie of the year candidate in the same paragraph as one on Jacory Harris.

This year is obviously not the class last year was, and it doesn’t need to be.  I’m making one main change this year, which is that I’m not going to give a single draft comparable for each quarterback because looking back on it, I feel like it detracted from what I had to say on them.

There are three quarterbacks receiving first round grades from me in the 2013 NFL Draft.  I don’t feel as great about my grades in this class as I did about last year’s, but considering I had six QBs with top two round grades last year and five this year, it’s really not the barren wasteland for quarterbacks that some are making it out to be.  It’s just a mediocre draft where you have to do your homework on prospects, starting at the top.

*Non-bolded player = film study not complete

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia, Top 10 Grade

Revisionist history says that Robert Griffin III is awesome and was always awesome, and in most ways that’s accurate, but I think there’s something of a double standard going on here.  The Leach/Holgorsen Air Raid QBs are getting dinged up in the evaluation process for the general lack of success they’ve had in the pros, and some of the backlash against Smith stems from the total distrust of statistics generated by those systems.  I think the criticism is rooted in merit, to an extent.

Now, Art Briles is not an Air Raid guy, but in so many more ways, the offense that Robert Griffin ran at Baylor (like the one that Kevin Kolb ran for Briles at Houston) is even less rooted in modern NFL concepts than the air raid is.  NFL teams are running all the air raid plays already, although 1) they typically save them for third down and long, and 2) they emphasize the tight end in a way you don’t see in college.  What Briles system did was put Griffin’s arm and deep ball ability on display on a week to week basis.

The “tricky” evaluation when it comes to Smith is a matter of nuance: football teams are not as unique and diverse in the passing attack as the NFL would like to have you believe.  However, in spite of this, it sure seemed like observers had come around to Griffin at this time last year in a way they simply have not on Smith.  With that said, their passing profiles are not dissimilar: they have many of the same comparables.  You see Aaron Rodgers, Sam Bradford, and Philip Rivers when they play with confidence.  You see a lot of scrambling and reliance on athleticism when they aren’t getting a clear picture of the defense.

Griffin is a cut above Geno Smith because Griffin’s got a number of rare traits in terms of his decision making.  Griffin is just as lethal in the read option game as he is spreading you out and throwing it and it makes him impossible to defend, because the Redskins can attack you out of two back base personnel in any down and distance just as easily as they can spread the field five wide.  Geno isn’t that kind of player who can line up in the two back pistol on 3rd and 7 and give you the whole playbook as an option to pick up the first down.  He’s not Griffin or Colin Kaepernick.  But as a thrower of the football, he’s pretty similar, and is probably more advanced in basic pocket mechanics.  And I think that’s getting lost at times in his evaluation: he’s going to be a top ten passer in the NFL relatively soon.

2. Zac Dysert, Miami (OH), mid-first round grade
3. Tyler Bray, Tennessee, mid-first round grade

Okay, this is not only where my player evaluation separates a bit from conventional wisdom, but it’s also where my idea of where this QB class will be in four years deviates from what people are expecting.  Most evaluators have maybe one or two quarterbacks who they project as starters and everyone else as deep-roster development projects.  But after watching Dysert and Bray in great detail over the last few months, I project them both as starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

Zac Dysert is more of a late riser for me based on the fact that I didn’t pay a ton of attention to him early in the draft evaluation process.  It wasn’t that I thought he was limited in any way, but like most prospects there was a clear upside and a clear downside, and there wasn’t a ton of rallying support around Dysert as a player you can invest your team’s future in.

The crazy thing was that the more I watched Dysert, the more I saw a player who simply hadn’t grown into an improving physical skill set.  Dysert was always an efficient MAC QB through his four years as a starter, but it’s easy to overrate prospects who fit that build and I’ve been guilty of it many times in the past (like supporting Dan Lefevour as a day two draft selection).  But what stuck out about Dysert in 2012 is that he rarely left plays on the field and even the couple of plays that were left on the field, Dysert has enough room for improvement to be one of the highest upside players in the 2013 draft at any position.  Is that enough to overcome a sack rate that was over 8% in the MAC? We’ll see.  Dysert is not an elite athlete, but he’s one of the more athletic QBs in this class, and used a lot of different types of footwork in the passing game.  The passes almost always came out on time, which is not what you expect from players with high sack rates.  He was better on a play by play basis than Ryan Nassib, who will also be high on this list on the strength of a strong senior campaign.

I think a lot of people feel deceived in their evaluation of Tyler Bray by the conundrum of a player whose overall college production never matched the physical skill set.  To some degree, Bray earned the underachiever title that has been thrust upon him by the masses, but the tag better belongs on the Tennessee program.  Now, Bray does have bad habits that defensive coordinators picked up on when playing against him, and were about to use to keep Bray from winning consistently at the college level.  So as Bray transitions to the pros, that will be the most important thing for the team that drafts him, break him of his bad, gunslinger habits — at least the ones that can be attacked by defenses.

The argument for Bray isn’t as complicated as his detractors want to make it out to be, and it’s rather Parcellsian in nature.  There’s a limited handful of people on the planet that can do what Tyler Bray can do on a football field, make it look as effortless as he does, and under the conditions he works under, have some of the best college games by a quarterback in recent college memory.  The argument against Bray is that there’s few — if any — examples of players with his statistical profile and bad college habits who go on to achieve success in the NFL.  But what can’t be disputed (so it doesn’t get brought up) is that if you’re championing other quarterbacks like Mike Glennon, Tyler Wilson, or EJ Manuel, you’re taking an ability hit in trade for either college production or coaching polish.  Bray leaves some easy plays on the field because his mechanics are inconsistent and he’s robotic in response to quick pressure (the ball is coming out blind), but his college numbers still come out stronger than other draft eligible quarterbacks.

The reason I can’t rank Bray any higher than this isn’t because he’s not talented enough, but because like a lot of the players who I rate below him, he’s always going to be somewhat dependent on his environment to turn his abilities into pro-bowl production.  We saw at Tennessee how he was unable to crack the 60% passing glass ceiling in that environment, which is generally a negative indicator of future success (though Bray isn’t that far off…he’s essentially NC State Russell Wilson as a passer).  Bray could play and win immediately in a great environment, but if he’s drafted into a circus, we’ve got three college seasons to foreshadow how his pro career will end.

4a. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse, second round grade
4b. Matt Barkley, USC, second round grade

Nassib and Barkley must both play early in their pro careers to have value.  If you project six, seven, eight years down the road, it’s not hard to see either of these guys as journeyman backup/starter swingman who offer quality quarterback play, the ability to learn new systems on the fly and mentor other players.  But to achieve that designation in the NFL, both players must first provide value to the teams that pick them in the short term.  And that means they both have to win their way onto the field quickly.  The longer either Nassib or Barkley stays buried on the depth chart, the shorter their overall NFL career will be.  That’s not necessarily true in the case of Geno, Bray, or Dysert.

I like Nassib just a bit more than Barkley, but it’s too close to say more than there’s a 4a and a 4b.  Nassib went on the map for me in the season opener against Northwestern, when he was just chucking the ball all over the field getting his team back into a game they would eventually lose.  He’s not necessarily consistent down the field, but I like his throwing ability more than I liked Ryan Tannehill’s from a year ago.  He makes really quick decisions, offers a running element to his game, and maybe most impressively, combines the two skills of running and passing really well.

Nassib is not an elite thrower, however, and is more the kind of prospect that does a bunch of things well rather than excelling in one area.  Andy Dalton comparisons are inevitable, but the player I see most with Nassib is the Notre Dame version of Brady Quinn, who had great feet and a quick release with a non-elite arm that ran hot and cold (the Quinn who played quarterback for the Chiefs had a much different throwing profile than Quinn the first round draft choice).

Matt Barkley would have likely been my fourth rated QB if he came out last year (after Luck, Griffin, and Foles), and it says something that he ranks in the same place in an overall weaker class.  I’m not entire sure what it says.  Barkley’s overall passing efficiency in terms of point and yard didn’t decline in any meaningful way in 2012 vs. 2011, but his turnover rate spiked, and maybe more concerning was how willing USC was to take the ball out of his hands on early downs.  That’s not what Barkley returned to school for.  There is a logical answer (which can’t be proven by an outsider — only suspected), which is that the Trojans were trying to compensate for a player who was playing hurt all year, even prior to the UCLA game where a hit ended his college career.  Barkley suffered a separated shoulder, but it’s unclear if he was 100% healthy prior to the UCLA hit, as well as it’s unclear if he’s 100% healthy now.

If/when Barkley is healthy enough where he can throw the ball like he did in 2011, then he’s really underrated throwing on the run, and makes really good decisions in throwing route concepts: that high turnover rate will regress in the pros — provided he will be healthy again.

6. Sean Renfree, Duke, third round grade

Renfree, a David Cutcliffe disciple at Duke, profiles best as an NFL backup quarterback, but should be drafted high enough where a QB needy team can start him in a pinch.  As a pure passer, he was excellent at Duke.  He lacks rare throwing traits, but makes up for it with sound accuracy, and performs well under pressure, which is what you want in a quarterback.  Lacks a couple of the characteristics in terms of growth of some of the players I have rated above him.  He’s likely not going to be a better thrower in the NFL than he was in college, where most of the players in this class at least have this potential.  The other risk factor here is he goes to the NFL and gets coached by someone who isn’t as detail-oriented as Cutcliffe, and his performance suffers.

7. Matt Scott, Arizona, third round grade

Sat the vast majority of his college career behind Nick Foles at Arizona on losing teams, so was very much off the radar heading into this season.  Was coached by Rich Rodriguez in his one season as a starter, and lead Arizona on a huge comeback against Nevada in their bowl game this year.  That performance may have put Scott on the radar of scouts, but it also was the top tape to grade Scott on: he’s not yet a consistent thrower of the football, but he’s got a lighting quick overhand release, and moves really well for a player of his slender build.  A true dual threat prospect in the NFL who has the arm to use the whole field.  He’s just an inconsistent down to down player with limited college tape to figure out why that may be.  Someone will take him in the middle rounds for his attributes.

8. Landry Jones, Oklahoma, fourth round grade

If Landry Jones had come out after his sophomore year, he would have been an interesting NFL projection at that point.  Right now, Jones’ flaws were too exposed over the last two years to put him squarely in someones future plans.  With that said, it’s worth pointing out that Jones has long been on the radars of NFL teams, and may go a lot higher than you would think.  He never showed the ability to make consistently good decisions with the football, which is perhaps emphasized by the fact that Oklahoma had a package to take him out on the goal line as a junior and senior.

Jones is heavily lacking in some of the movement-throwing skills that are a basic necessity for pro quarterbacks in the NFL…and really, Big 12 QBs to an extent.  From the pocket, he’s fine.  Not dynamic, necessarily, but does a good job seeing most of the field and throws down the field as well as he throws screen pass after screen past.  He’s not limited as a thrower, but his ability to handle pressure has long been questioned and probably emphasized by his inability to throw while moving.  Mechanically, he’s a bit inconsistent.  But three years from now, no one is going to remember his college career, at which point, you’re left with an interesting pro quarterback prospect who has the physical skill set to play at the next level and a ton of experience to go with it.

It may be ten years too late, but if you squint hard enough, you can see USC-era Carson Palmer here.

9. E.J. Manuel, Florida State, fourth round grade

Manuel has been a late faller for me, not because of anything on his tape, but just because I like a lot of other players a lot better.  Manuel throws the ball pretty well, but not as well as Matt Scott or Landry Jones.  He moves as well as anybody in this class, but this is overall a non-athletic QB class, and Manuel doesn’t move as well as some of the best prospects from other years like RG3 or Colin Kaepernick.  He has experience throwing NFL style route combinations, but overall is pretty cautious with the football.  He’s not a poor prospect, but he fits neatly into the concept of a NFL backup quarterback, where I think some of the other seconds and thirds in this draft show a trait here or there that reminds me of a pro starter.  Manuel’s calling card is his athleticism and NFL arm, and the NFL has a ton of those guys.  He might be the guy benefiting the most from the draft class hes in.

With that said, he should be employed as an NFL quarterback for 6-8 seasons, and the NFL is generally moving in a direction where his skill set is more valuable.  Can come off the bench and will complete passes in the NFL.

10. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas, fifth round grade
11. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota, fifth round grade

After Manuel, we get to the part of this list where we’re looking at players whose upside is between a number two and number three on an NFL depth chart.  With Wilson and Gray, as well as a couple of other guys on this list, you are looking at prospects that will be 24 year old NFL rookies, and you will know within a year whether you have a player who can hang around on an NFL roster fighting and clawing to get a couple of NFL starts, or someone who spends a year or two on practice squads before moving on to do something else. Wilson and Gray are tragic figures at their universities, tough customers whose greatest attribute is their ability to pop right back up and keep throwing with hardly any performance dropoff.  That was mostly on display for Wilson against SEC opponents this year, as you had to find the Big Ten network to see Gray play this year.  I think Gray has the better arm, but Wilson might be the more athletic of the two in the functional mobility/throwing on the run category.  Gray added a running element in the open field, with some ability to make Big Ten defenders miss him when running.  Wilson throws a better ball, Gray’s offense asked him to run first.

Either Wilson or Gray would be stretched as an NFL starter, but both can handle the rigors of a long season at the position.

12. Colby Cameron, Lousiana Tech, fifth round grade
13. Mike Glennon, North Carolina State, fifth round grade
14. Collin Klein*, Kansas State, fifth round grade
15. Brad Sorenson, Southern Utah

I put an asterisk by Collin Klein because I think he’s a fifth round talent who will not play a single snap of quarterback in the NFL.  I think he’ll get drafted as a quarterback, but might spend a year listed as a quarterback (plus) on a roster before playing receiver or tight end in the NFL, and I think he’ll play well.  As an aside, I opted not to list Denard Robinson with the quarterbacks, but he’s on the fringe between third and fourth round prospect for me right now.  I really like him.

Colby Cameron is a bit lacking in terms of his physical stature, but understands his limitations and throws a very catchable ball.  He won’t have an issue completing passes in the NFL on command, but benefitted greatly from knowing where Quentin Patton was, and getting him the football based on the defenses look.

Glennon looks like a big time prospect based on his arm and throwing ability, but the more I watched of him, the bigger the gulf got between his raw abilities and those of Tyler Bray.  If you just watch their throwing highlights, they look like identical players.  Then you watch more, and more, and more, and Glennon looks less and less long for the NFL.  Now, with that said, down here in the fifth round, he rated near a bunch of players who lack his throwing ability, and it would mean that if he was drafted this low, there would be some real potential of outperforming his draft status and getting on the field early, not unlike Ryan Lindley with the Cardinals last year (for what its worth, Glennon is simply a better thrower than Lindley was last year).

16. Ryan Griffin, Tulane, priority undrafted free agent projection
17. Alex Carder, Western Michigan, priority undrafted free agent projection
18. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt, priority undrafted free agent projection

I really like Alex Carder, but you have to go back a couple of years to find the film that I thought made him a legit pro prospect.  His profile as a MAC quarterback makes him a decent value on a full year tryout basis, but probably not quite enough to get him drafted.  He’s a dual-threat prospect in the NFL with a unique throwing motion and a competitive streak.

Jordan Rodgers is not really a pro prospect in most senses of the term.  He will be in an NFL camp, and perhaps a seventh round pick in the NFL because his brother is Aaron Rodgers, but there’s not a whole lot here to work with.  He might be a better prospect than Jordan Palmer was coming out of UTEP, however, and Carson’s brother was in the league longer than you remember him being in the league.

19. Ryan Katz, San Diego State, UDFA
20. Matt McGloin, Penn State, UDFA

21. Matt Brown, Illinois State, UDFA
22. Graham Wilbert, Florida Atlantic, UDFA
23. Ryan Radcliffe, Central Michigan, UDFA
24. James Vandenberg, Iowa, UDFA

Dwayne Bowe vs. Calvin Johnson, Six Years Later

The Detroit Lions selected Calvin Johnson with the second overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, one pick after the Raiders took JaMarcus Russell.  Based on his remarkable consistency the last two years, it would be easy to suggest that Johnson has been the best player to come out of that draft.

The 2007, which produced very little to assist NFL passing games, produced Johnson, Darrelle Revis, Joe Thomas, Patrick Willis, and Adrian Peterson in its first 15 picks.  Those are the NFL’s premier players today.

The question regarding the Lions: was there a better selection out there that could have accomplished what Johnson did?  By and large, this this was one of the most accurate years for drafting as a whole: of the top 20 players selected in the draft (by approximate value), 12 were selected in the first round, 5 more were selected in the second, 2 more were selected in the third round, and Brent Celek was the draft’s “steal” in the fifth (though that’s probably not fair to Ahmad Bradshaw, a top 30 player drafted in the 7th round).  Every one of the “top 20” players in terms of performance received a contract extension with their current team or following a trade (Marshawn Lynch) or UFA deal (Paul Posluszny).  Half of the first round made it in the league and is still going strong.

WR Class of 2007

Player Name Age Position Rating College
Johnson 28 39 Georgia Tech
Bowe 29 24 LSU
Jones 29 22 San Jose State
Jones 29 19 Lane College
Rice 27 15 South Carolina
Meachem 29 14 Tennessee
Robinson 28 12 Illinois State
Breaston 30 10 Michigan
Naanee 30 9 Boise State
Sims-Walker 29 7 UCF
Ginn 28 7 Ohio State
Hill 28 6 Washington State
Smith 28 6 USC
Weems 28 4 Bethune-Cookman
Stuckey 30 3 Clemson
Willis 29 3 UCLA
Logan 32 2 South Dakota
Clowney 28 1 Virginia Tech
Gonzalez 29 1 Ohio State
Holley 29 1 North Carolina
Price 28 0 Charleston Southern
Stanback 28 0 Washington

The problem, I suppose, for the Lions is that Calvin Johnson’s selection didn’t immediately translate into wins.  In fact, if you want to be critical, it didn’t immediately become the kind of production that you expect from a hyped receiver prospect.  Johnson deserves credit for turning himself into a player commiserate with his selection, but the Kansas City Chiefs ended up getting another great player in Dwayne Bowe, who just signed a five year extension with the team.  They were able to get Bowe with the 23rd overall pick – one selection after the Browns took Brady Quinn.

And while you could argue that Bowe’s contract broke the bank ($35.75 million in the first three years), he’s simply not in Calvin Johnson’s pay grade.  Might it be conceivable to argue the Lions would be better off flipping contracts with the Chiefs, and getting Bowe’s production at Bowe’s price over Calvin Johnson?  Johnson is getting paid at roughly a $20 million/year rate, which is on par with Peyton Manning’s current contract.

One major factor in the structure of their respective deals is that Johnson’s contract is not the kind of contract you can give to someone without Johnson’s character.  I know this because the Redskins tried to give it to Albert Haynesworth once.  They’re paying a ridiculous cap penalty because of it.  But if Johnson wanted to stop working hard, there’s not a damn thing the Lions could do about it.  They’d just have to suck it up and keep throwing him the ball.  Bowe is going to get about $12 million/year for the life of the deal, and if the Chiefs really wanted to get away from the contract after 2014, they could.

When the Chiefs drafted Bowe, they were coming off a playoff season that followed an excellent season where the Chiefs missed the playoffs at 10-6.  But here’s the thing: that Chiefs team that Bowe was drafted onto was old and not any good.  It wasn’t any different from the Millen-built team that Johnson was picked onto: both players were essentially becoming the first piece of a rebuilding effort.  Each team has produced one ten win season since, making the playoffs just once.  If they had just swapped draft picks in 2007, would the Lions be better off?

Calvin Johnson’s college quarterback was the infamous Reggie Ball.  Bowe’s was the more infamous Russell.  In college, however, having Russell throwing the passes was seen mostly as a positive.  Bowe had to share looks with Early Doucet and Buster Davis in college.  Johnson was more or less the entire Georgia Tech offense.

Remarkably, they scored at about the same frequency in college, which caused me to predict before the draft that Bowe would have a similar career to Johnson at a fraction of the cost.  That hasn’t exactly proven true (Johnson has clearly been better), but the other half of that statement is what we are examining here: the cost.  Bowe didn’t have an 1,000 yard season in college, but his senior year was arguably just as impressive as Johnson’s final (junior) year.  Johnson caught 15 TDs in more targets, but Bowe got 10 TDs.

Bowe and Johnson began their careers with nearly identical paths: promising rookie campaigns leading to breakout second seasons on awful teams (the Lions went 0-16, but the 2008 Chiefs might have been a worse team) as lone bright spots.  Injuries got the best of each in their third seasons, but Johnson was more durable leading to the slightest of edges through their developmental seasons.

Bowe’s Chiefs had a charmed season in 2010, winning the AFC West division, as Bowe himself took his place among the game’s top receivers  probably moving ahead of Johnson that year, although Johnson quietly put it together after some early career consistencies, making his first pro bowl

And when we talk about player upside during the draft, a great example is trying to project the difference between two seemingly identical careers five years in.  Bowe had established himself as an elite player, but the Chiefs have done him no favors in the past two years.  Meanwhile, since 2011, Matthew Stafford has thrown for more than 9,000 yards, with Johnson on the receiving end of 3,645 of those (and you thought he could learn nothing from Reggie Ball).  He’s led the NFL in receiving yards both years.  He’s the most uncover-able player in the game today.  Bowe is largely believed to be the same guy he was in 2010, but he’s turning 29 now, and rather than taking the next step, he’s getting paid at that $12 million/year level.  He did not command Larry Fitzgerald-type money.

We can capture that in 2010 (with Johnson under the radar and Bowe playing for a division champ), they were pretty much the same player.  It would have been an excellent time for the Lions to get an extension done with Johnson, as he probably would have signed for $12 million/year.   The Chiefs waited with Bowe, and were not penalized significantly by the market for doing so.

However, the bigger concern for the Chiefs is the efficiency numbers haven’t been there.  In 2011, the Chiefs had to go to greater lengths get Bowe his numbers.  And although Bowe was banged up a bit in 2012, he never reached those numbers even when healthy.  Bowe is a decent bet to rebound in 2013, but the Chiefs now appear to be paying a 2010 rate for Bowe who may not be exactly the same player he was then.

I would prefer to have Johnson, even with the bigger contract.  What did I miss on in 2007? Age.  Johnson is a full year younger than Bowe, making it more impressive than I originally gave him credit for that he matched Bowe’s college statistics.  That’s why when in 2010 when they would have been valued equally by the market, and neither team was able to work an extension out at that time with their receivers, Johnson had more value for the future remaining.  At this point, Johnson is likely where Bowe was in 2010: he’s had his best pair of seasons: now it’s about maintaining this level as long as he’s can.  Bowe is fighting an upwards battle against age to get back to his 2010 production.

What happens to teams with declining receivers is that they invest too much of their offensive resources into having them hit their numbers (more targets = more receptions = more yards = more TDs), which is by definition offensively inefficient.  I don’t know if the Lions have found this point with Calvin Johnson yet: he seems to get better with more use.  They likely will find that point soon, but it means much more worth the money when the team can’t find the efficiency limit of how often they should go to a receiver.  For the Chiefs, they’ve clearly forced the ball to Bowe too much over the last two years.  They can enjoy his work as a number one receiver, but  115-120 targets and about 65 catches over 16 games is right where Bowe should be.  Johnson can be a 170 target, 95 catch guy.  At those rates, neither contract looks bad.

Would the Lions change anything with this draft to do over again?  Who knows, they might select Willis or Revis or Peterson instead, but with Johnson, the only thing the Lions needed to do differently was extend Johnson at the open market rate following the 2010 season at $12 million per year.  They will struggle with this contract on the back end of it: it is massive.  And unlike the Chiefs, they can’t simply get out of it by releasing the player.  But on the positive side, it should be easy to see Johnson’s decline from both a tape and a statistical perspective, and restructuring Calvin Johnson’s mega deal should be easier than it was to agree on his long term value in the first place.

Matthew Stafford vs. Josh Freeman, Four Years Later

March 6, 2013 1 comment

Prior to the 2009 NFL draft, and not long before I began this internet hotspot, I was unable to discerne much of a difference at all between two committed underclassmen from the college ranks who had strong 2008 seasons, came from an Elite 11 pedigree, and were primed to be selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Given the benefit of hindsight, not a whole lot has changed.  The following table shows the results of the 2009 quarterback class, graded by total career Approximate Value (position rating).  And the two players that were fairly indecipherable before the draft have remained as such four years into their pro careers.

QB Class of 2009
Player Name Age Position Rating College
Freeman 25 37 Kansas State
Stafford 25 34 Georgia
Sanchez 27 29 USC
Painter 28 2 Purdue
Hoyer 28 2 Michigan State
McGee 28 2 Texas A&M
Bomar 28 0 Sam Houston State
Willy 28 0 Buffalo
Brandstater 29 0 Fresno State
Davis 26 0 Ball State
Daniel 27 0 Missouri
Carpenter 27 0 Arizona State
Wilson 28 0 Alabama
Cantwell 26 0 Louisville
Harrell 28 0 Texas Tech

In fairness to history, my top rated quarterback in this draft was Ball State’s Nate Davis, who was rostered by the San Francisco 49ers for the 2009 season, had a virtuoso performance in the NFL preseason in 2010, got ripped in the post game press conference by his head coach (Mike Singletary) for reasons that are still unclear, and disappeared off the face of the earth.  Davis’ semi-public learning disability issues are the argument I still use to comment about modern quarterback intangibles, because he’s the test case to prove that it the NFL doesn’t understand something, it can just pretend it never existed in the first place.  This analysis will take after the NFL and assume Davis never existed.

That leaves my top two quarterbacks from that draft as the top two performers through four years.  Off memory, I put solid second round grades on both Stafford and Freeman, a third round grade on Graham Harrell, a fourth round grade on Mark Sanchez and Drew Willy, and remember clearly having Painter, Hoyer, Bomar, and Carpenter in the ranks of the undrafted.  I don’t remember where I had anywhere else, and one of the reasons I began this blog in the first place is issues with documentation of my draft ranking history.

It’s remarkable how very little quarterback depth has come out of this draft.  The fourth best QB has pretty clearly turned out to be Davis Chase Daniel of the Saints (he originally signed with the Redskins as an undrafted free agent), who has looked good in incredibly limited action.  The NFL views him as a backup.  It’s more of an indictment of the class that the third best QB…was Sanchez.

In getting away from what this draft didn’t produce, it did produce Freeman and Stafford.  Those two quarterbacks are a good case study for the value of analytics in the NFL.  Stafford was much more highly regarded prospect coming out than Freeman was, even though they had really similar backgrounds (Freeman grew up in a football family in the Kansas City area, Stafford grew up in the affluent Arlington, TX area).  They would both incredibly young QB prospects: no quarterback as young as either Stafford or Freeman has been drafted in any round since 2009, and you have to go all the way back to 2005 (Alex Smith) to find a younger QB who was drafted in the first round.  And while the common belief was that Stafford’s arm was a grade above Freeman’s, that hasn’t necessarily been true in the NFL.  Stafford and Freeman are both mechanically inconsistent players.  Stafford, at times, is intentionally inconsistent with his mechanics.  Stafford has been very underrated as an athlete in the NFL though, while Freeman has been more or less as advertised.

Statistics in the college days

Stafford — boosted no doubt by having a freshman AJ Green to throw to — completed 61% of his passes and threw for 9.0 yards per attempt as a senior.  That will get you noticed.  Freeman also had a very nice year as a junior, completing 58% of his passes for 7.7 yards per attempt.  That wasn’t seen as a year on par with Stafford because Freeman played in the defense deficient Big 12.  However, he also played for Kansas State in the Ron Prince era.

But what got lost was the relative issues with a one year sample size at the college level  (Mark Sanchez says “hi”).  If we expand the sample to include their respective Sophomore years, Freeman becomes a 61% college passer who maintains a 2:1 TD:INT ratio.  Stafford becomes a 59% passer.  And without Green for the whole time, he trends back towards 8.0 YPA.  Freeman hangs in just above 7.0 YPA.

Stafford was a more prolific college player, but the more we isolate the quarterback from the team (by including multiple years in our analysis), the more identical that Stafford and Freeman look as collegiate prospects.

Statistics in the NFL

What’s remarkable is that this comparison holds very tight at the next level.  It hardly matters what statistical category you judge on, they’re neck and neck in yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, sack rate (duh), TD rate, rushing average, everything down to INT rate, which favors Stafford in part because of the high percentage of screens in the Detroit offense.  What’s most shocking is perhaps the volume: Stafford has thrown just ten fewer passes through four years than Freeman has.  And they’ve been approximately worth the exact same.  They both play on teams with elite NFL receivers, and annoyingly inconsistent defenses.

DVOA, for what it’s worth, prefers Stafford by a comfortable margin, but EPA (the base for QBR), and most stat analyses see practical equals.  I checked to see if the opponent adjustments were creating the big difference and they were…in 2012 only.  The Panther, Falcon, and Saint defenses were pretty big jokes this year and Stafford had to face the Bears twice.

Conclusion

Four years later, the conclusion to be made is that there wasn’t a concrete reason to prefer Matthew Stafford as the first overall pick in 2009.  It’s not as if he hasn’t been worth the pick — he clearly has and will receive a big money extension in the near term future — but every issue Stafford has had in the pros was identifiable in his college performance.  Stafford’s mechanical inconsistencies have led to a lot of missed opportunities for the Lions.  Like most passers (and Freeman in particular), Stafford is capable of running very hot and cold at times, looking both like a bust of a pick and a franchise quarterback within the last two seasons, sometimes even week to week.

As with Freeman (and Joe Flacco — who mirrors Freeman’s career path strongly), he’s been largely unable to sustain consistent gains.  Freeman benefits from a vertical option in Vincent Jackson, and didn’t always take advantage of him.  To his top three receiving targets: Jackson, Mike Williams, and Tiquan Underwood, Freeman completed just half his passes.  He suffers from many of the consistent accuracy issues that Stafford does.

Despite the equivalent ages, Freeman’s improvement must be more prompt.  Stafford can flounder again in 2013, and likely keep his job into 2014, with Jim Schwartz taking the fall.  Freeman’s either going to get the franchise tag plus an extension after the season, or he’s going to end up as a backup in 2014.  The Bucs are in really good position in the NFC, probably a bit better than the Lions.  But the time for Freeman to strike is now.  If history has taught us anything, it’s that Stafford and Freeman will likely continue to progress as passers at an equal rate.  The best is yet to come for both, but both franchises need to start seeing positive returns on a consistent, week-to-week basis, in order to be confident that they picked the right guy in 2009.

Will Quarterback Demand Ever Flatten?

It wasn’t that long ago that quarterback talent in the NFL wasn’t in great demand.  We’re not talking about the 1970’s here.  A decade makes a pretty big difference.

Over the last five years or so, quarterback demand has exploded driven by two main factors: schematic and rule alterations in the NFL that have made passing games more valuable than ever before, and the mass retirement or attrition of a generation of good quarterbacks.

While the Brady/Manning era has very much been a thrill to follow, the NFL never had a true quarterback dichotomy at the top before.  Joe Montana’s career overlapped with Dan Marino’s career which overlapped with with Warren Moon’s career which overlapped with Steve Young’s career which overlapped with Brett Favre’s career.  Never was the debate of “whos the best?” any more clear than it was over the last decade when Peyton Manning put up astronomical numbers on a year to year basis, until Tom Brady (and later Aaron Rodgers) began doing the same.  That clarity is in the past now with the latest influx of college talent, but first, lets take a step back to the early days of Manning-Brady and look at the quarterback landscape in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002.

From 1999-2002, there wasn’t a standard of excellence that would have separated the “haves” from the “have nots” based on quarterback acquisition.  The best two quarterbacks over this timeframe were Kurt Warner of the Rams and Rich Gannon of the Raiders.  The Rams appeared in two super bowls over this timeframe, and the Raiders progressively reached each level of the playoff field under Gannon.  It’s not that Warner and Gannon werent the most valuable players in the league, but during these years, perhaps the NFL’s best player was Marshall Faulk, a running back.  By approximate value, there were three quarterbacks among the fifteen most valuable players.

From 2009-2012, during the quarterback demand explosion, that number doubles and quarterbacks occupy the top three spots.

What makes the quarterback demand situation 10-15 years ago so different is that Gannon and Warner were both freely available for any team back then, and though they eventually married wide open passing systems, only Peyton Manning was drafted to lead a franchise.  He (along with Ryan Leaf) was considered one of a kind at the time.  But in the 1999 draft, teams started to address the value of the passing game when they drafted six quarterbacks in the first round that year, headlined in the first three picks by Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith.

Or did it?  The mindset of NFL teams at the time arguably hadn’t changed at all.  Back then, the quarterback bust rate was solidly 50% for first rounders.  It was a big deal when six quarterbacks got drafted in the first round for the first time since 1983, but a generational shift in the league’s quarterback talent this was not.  At least, teams didn’t treat it as such.

Let’s take a look at two prospects, one picked in the 1999 draft, the other picked in 2005.  Quarterback A posted a completion percentage about four percentage points above the league average in his first five seasons.  Quarterback B would eventually have a season where he completed more than 104% of the league’s completion percentage, but it took him until his eighth season to do so.  If you ended each QB’s career at the point where their team’s gave up on them, you’d assume they had pretty much the same career.  Which is why I’m comparing the two first overall picks in those drafts, Tim Couch (A) and Alex Smith (B).

What happened here was the talent in the league shifted dramatically over the course of Smith’s career.  During Couch’s career, QB talent was largely stagnant: a passing yard in 1999 was worth pretty much the same as it was in 2003.  By 2011, a passing yard was worth so much less than it was in 2006.  Demand for quarterbacks spiked in the late aughts, and so Alex Smith’s “development” doesn’t look any different from Tim Couch’s from a environment-adjusted perspective.  This isn’t Smith’s fault, and he seems to have made it out alright, but who knows what would have happened to Couch’s career given the two additional offseasons Smith received to develop?

Why did QB demand spike?  Well, one of the major factors that happened was that many of the quarterbacks who dominated the statistical categories ten+ years ago weren’t drafted and developed and cultivated.  Rather, they developed in a survival of the fittest league, and were then signed to winning teams.  The QB draft class of 1999 largely flopped, and the two best picks in the class Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper, benefited from weak competition.  Trent Green thrived on his third team.  Brad Johnson was pretty darn good for two different teams.  Kerry Collins made it.  Teams, by and large, couldn’t develop young quarterbacks — which was most stark in the case of the Atlanta Falcons failing to get a consistent player out of Michael Vick, a generational talent.

Quarterback demand spiked because of rule changes and copycat effect, but also because of the failures of developmental prospects.  Teams who were going to win by throwing needed a higher grade of prospect, a more polished type of talent.  This, I believe, is why so many teams in that era won with veteran talent.  The problem was teams that won with veterans like the Rams (who got about five good seasons from Marc Bulger following Kurt Warner’s MVP years), Raiders, Redskins, Steelers (pre-Roethlisberger), Chiefs, Titans (post-McNair), Panthers, and 49ers all fell off the map at some point or another and ended up at the top of the draft.  Meanwhile, the Colts and Patriots and Eagles and Giants won year after year.

The veteran quarterback market died (and is now incredibly undervalued — the league has swung too far the other way).  Young, skilled quarterbacks roughly doubled in total value, measured by trade compensation.  In 2004, the Chargers were able to get two firsts and a third for Eli Manning (one of the firsts became Philip Rivers).  By 2012, the Rams got three first rounders for Robert Griffin III.  Twenty years ago, 37 year old veteran Joe Montana commanded a first round pick.  Now? Position players return basically nothing in terms of draft picks.  Young quarterbacks return a treasure trove of picks.

Now the question becomes: is this demand going to flatten anytime soon?

I don’t forsee a rule change swinging things back towards the running game and defense, and away from the passing game.  Instead, we see instances of teams looking to add athleticism to quarterbacking as a job requirement.  Of course, the same trend appeared the tame ten years ago with McNabb, Culpepper, and Vick, coaches just never took advantage of the athleticism offered to them ten years ago, and dual-skill sets quickly died off.

However, while demand for QB talent doesn’t show any sign of letting up, supply of young, talented passers have never been greater.  You see the effects of this by the fact that Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton made it out of the first 32 picks in 2011.  Then Russell Wilson made it into the 3rd round in 2012.  This year’s class isn’t quite as deep, but the overall supply of quarterback ability is putting roughly 5 starter quality prospects into the talent pool on a yearly basis.  It wasn’t anything ten years ago to expect to get one per year.

One of two things is going to happen to the quarterback market with increased supply: either quarterback cost (in terms of draft picks) will begin to drop, or quarterback skill sets are going to get so highly specialized that it will become much harder to separate quarterback from coach (because those teams that don’t marry systems to players will not be able to compete with those who do).  We saw a bit of that from the Redskins and 49ers this past season, but as of right now, we can’t know for sure if it’s a long term trend.  It’s possible that a quarterback in 2015 will simply be cheaper to acquire than one in 2012, and that teams will start to pay to keep proven commodities (i.e. the Flacco trade) instead of paying to acquire new talent (i.e. every first round of every draft for the previous six years).

In the short term, it is clear that demand is going to continue to rise as opposed to flatten.  Teams like the Jets, Bills, Cardinals, Browns, and Chiefs cannot compete with the perennial contenders at all, not to mention the ones having great years.  Quarterback performance is reaching the critical point where having one simply isn’t enough to compete, because there aren’t enough wins to steal from teams that don’t have quarterbacks.  The Patriots can continue to steal wins from the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets, but as Ryan Tannehill develops and the Jets and Bills can address their QB situations, those divisional wins will be tougher to get, and as Tom Brady ages, they might not come at all.  End dynasty.

Teams that don’t have quarterbacks are going to have to get talent efficiently, while teams that do are going to have to build at a faster rate than other “haves.” If the current crop of coaches cannot win with the available talent supply, expect an influx of coaching talent from the college ranks to force out the current coaches.  QB supply and demand remains an endless struggle.  Now it’s just a struggle over-flushed with talent.

Tavon Austin: best skill player, second best WVU receiver in the 2013 Draft

February 26, 2013 Leave a comment

I have a solid first round grade on three members of the West Virginia offense, as designed by Dana Holgorsen.  The top rated quarterback on most boards is Geno Smith, who justifies such a high grade with both the stats and the tape.  Then there’s do-it-all senior Tavon Austin, who may not prove that ‘speed kills’ in the literal sense, but that it certainly shortens the lives of defensive coordinators.  And the third, least hearlded member of the trio of top rated Mountaineers might have just been the best receiver in the country last year: Stedman Bailey.

Bailey doesn’t quite measure in at six feet, but he’s also not slender in build like Austin is, and is a major tackle breaking threat for two reasons: lateral explosion and lower body strength.  He’s a very good route runner who won’t run away from corners, but makes up for it by going up in traffic and contesting balls.  And in 2013, not one player in college football or pro football (and very possibly high school football) caught more touchdowns last year than Stedman Bailey.  Where as Austin’s numbers took a (slight) hit moving from the Big East to the Big 12, Bailey’s numbers actually got much stronger.

Stedman Bailey’s main position in the WVU offense was the isolated “X” receiver, a position he’s likely to play in the NFL.  Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith is an excellent player comparison for Bailey in terms of size and style.  Although Bailey isn’t quite Smith in top end speed, he has the rare ability to separate from skilled corners in one on one situations.

Bailey needs to work on his hands as well as his ability to find the ball coming out of his break, but the WVU offense gives players a ton of experience making NFL-style route adjustments, and despite his relative inexperience, he comes to the pros ready to contribute from day one.

A big topic of conversation about Bailey’s draft prospects will center around how much help he received from Smith, Austin, and Holgorsen in order to score 25 touchdowns.  The realistic answer here is: “a lot,” and “does it really matter?”  Holgorsen’s offense is definitely fun to watch and is supposed to be player friendly, but the ‘X’ receiver spot is perhaps the most demanding position in it, and Stedman Bailey remained the offenses’ go-to receiver and big play threat throughout the year, in spite of the fact that Tavon Austin could have handled that role.

And sure, he definitely benefited from Smith’s accuracy and Holgorsen’s confidence in his abilities, there is no denying that.  But he also consistently drew the toughest coverage assignments, and still produced.

Stedman Bailey is a top 25 player in the upcoming draft, and although he likely will not get drafted before either Austin or Smith, he could end up having the most prolific pro career of the three.  His impact will be seen from day one.  He is my fourth rated receiver in this draft (including Austin, not a true receiver, but listed as one), and my thirteenth ranked offensive player at the moment.  He is likely to rise from here.

2012 NFL Draft Process Points

Here’s how Process Points work, quoting from a prior article:

For those of you who are unfamiliar with process points, they function as a way to grade a draft instantly and objectively without worrying about what players will eventually become or whether my pre-draft grades were accurate.  Process points give points for the first two rounds of the NFL draft, and reward teams for playing the market well through trades and draft picks.  The draft is an event where each team can only better themselves, and while each team has to be able to actually better themselves just to keep up with other teams, points are not subtracted away from teams for making reaches.

The worst thing you can do with a draft pick is waste it, so if a pick is totally wasted in the first round, a team gets a zero.  If it’s not optimally used, it will get some compensation between 0 and the max.  For the first 16 picks, a team can receive up to five points for a draft choice, in the next 16 picks of the round, 4 points is the maximum.  For the second round, teams are either awarded three points for a sound pick, or get zero points for missing the market entirely (25 of 32 picks in the round received the points, this year).  All trades are either given two points if they were perceived to be overall beneficial, or zero points if they were not perceived to be beneficial.

Process points is as much a measure of opportunity of aptitude.

So hold onto those picks!  Or get downgraded by a system I created many years ago and still hasn’t gained much traction.  Whatever.  Lets get to the point totals.

1. St. Louis Rams (15) The Rams collected four process points before they had even made their first pick.  They top the process ratings this year, but with four picks in the top 50, you’d almost hope to do better than this.  The Rams got plenty of parts for a bright future, but no part in this draft (except maybe Janoris Jenkins) will look good if Robert Griffin goes on to have a far better career than Sam Bradford.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14) The Bucs went into the first day with a full complement of picks and they were able to work the trade market so that  they picked three times in the first two rounds.  Then they landed three guys I had first round grades on.

T3. Cincinnati Bengals (13) The Bengals probably had the best draft day of any team, although plenty of that action occured further down the board (we’re not counting anything past round two in this process).

T3. Philadelphia Eagles (13) The Eagles draft had a little bit of everything, including a key trade up to nab Fletcher Cox, who was much higher on the Eagles’ board then the 12th pick they took him with.

5. Green Bay Packers (12) The Packers didn’t need to trade up in the first round to get the draft’s best pure pass rusher, but they traded up twice in the second round to ensure they landed critical pieces on every level of a leaky defense.  In terms of what they had to work with going into the draft against what they came out with, the Packers were right up there with the Bengals in terms of the best draft.

6. Minnesota Vikings (11) The Vikings would have ranked far closer to average without two trades: the one pick trade down with Cleveland, and then the trade up back into the first round to get Harrison Smith and save face at at very scarce position of need.

7. Seattle Seahawks (10) What really assists the Seahawks’ draft is that they moved down a couple of picks in both the first and second rounds, which certainly lowers the burden of expectation in the early-round return.  The Seahawks’ draft as a whole was a bit of a questionable endeavor, but when you limit it to the top two rounds, it really comes down to what you think of the Bruce Irvin pick and if you respect their ability to get return in those trades (even if those extra picks didn’t become great value on the back end).

T8. Baltimore Ravens (8) The Ravens didn’t pick in the first round, yet still managed to outproduce half the league in process points.  Courtney Upshaw was a fringe first round value, but became a position of need shortly after the draft when Terrell Suggs tore his achillies.  They also picked again in the second round, addressing the loss of Ben Grubbs by choosing Iowa States Kelechi Osemele.  A rare needs-based draft for Ozzie Newsome that happened to provide decent value as well.

T8. Carolina Panthers (8) The Panthers didn’t do anything fancy to move up to get their guys or to attempt to slide down and get more picks.  They just sat tight and took two players that will start right near where the ball is snapped, and in time, make them a lot better in the trenches.

T8. Indianapolis Colts (8) The Colts probably couldn’t have done a lot of trading even if they wanted to — though I’m sure teams would answer the phone about Andrew Luck — but they did systematically address the offense.  The Colts are going to need a heck of a contribution from Chuck Pagano’s coaching to compete for the AFC South title this season, but it’s not a tough division, and this draft might make them the favorite, in my opinion.

T8. Jacksonville Jaguars (8) The Jags slid up one spot to get Justin Blackmon who wouldn’t have been there when they selected at seventh overall (originally).  Though I’m not sure that this is the year that you’d want to take the top receiver in the draft, and certainly not they year you want to trade up to do it, at least they KNEW that he wasn’t going to be there when they selected (looking at you, Cleveland).  Their second round pick Andre Branch out of Clemson completely fell under the radar to the point where Houston took a very similar player in Whitney Mercilus in the first round because they didn’t believe they could get into position for an able bodied pass rusher in the second.  The Jaguars got a potential cornerstone of their defense after managing a questionable trade up for a guy who wasn’t going to be there later.

T8. Miami Dolphins (8) I really have no issues with the Dolphins draft.  Ryan Tannehill was certainly no more of an overdraft than the 8th pick in the draft last season, Jake Locker.  It’s tough for any team to get a complete quarterback prospect in the first round, and really, the prospects best prepared for success by my measures after Luck and Griffin were guys like Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, and Kellen Moore, who all went a lot later.  While it’s possible that I’ll eventually be proven right on those prospects, it’s tough to look at the guys who did go in the second and third round (Brock Osweiler in the second, Russell Wilson and Foles in the third) and think that compared to those guys, that Tannehill wasn’t worth the 8th overall pick.  It’s all about player development from this point, and process points do not care about the final result.

T8. New England Patriots (8) While the Pats have the same grade as a lot of teams on this list, they got there very differently.  There’s a couple different ways to look on the Patriots draft.  First of all, this was a team that needed a ton of defensive help, and they were able to work the draft as to pick two targeted players, trading up to get both of them.  In the case of the first guy, Chandler Jones, pass rusher was a need, and the tier at which the Patriots needed to look for the quality of pass rusher they need to make their multiple defense work.  That’s a useful trade up.  But the other trade up for Dont’a Hightower seems more questionable to me.  I don’t want to dock a team points for acting opportunistically, and it’s more than possible that Hightower will be a glue player for the Patriots, but I wasn’t under the impression that they were lacking at the LB level.  Their next pick was S Tavon Wilson, so they addressed three levels of the defense, but unlike the Jones trade up, I’m not as confident they found the right guys to fix their defense.  Their score reflects that mix of positive and negative.

T8. New York Jets (8) It’s fascinating that the Jets and Patriots — after all these years, and as differently as their rosters are constructed — were both in the market for defensive front seven players.  And so by passing on Chandler Jones for Quenton Coples, the Jets ended up not only deciding who to take, but who would ultimately be on the board for the Patriots.  It’s somewhat poetic that they come out with the same process points score in this draft, because we just don’t know who did better.  We just know if Chandler Jones is a good player for the Patriots, well, the Jets could have had him and were considering him.

T15. Dallas Cowboys (7) The Cowboys took advantage of an opportunity to get up into the top six via trade for the only guy they thought they could afford to do that for.  Credit goes to their organization for seizing an opportunity that you only get so many of, but because the process points system is designed to not overrate such aggressiveness, the Cowboys max out at seven points with their trade up for Morris Claiborne, their only transaction in the first two rounds.  Subjectively, Dallas did well on day two of the draft.

T15. Detroit Lions (7) A lot of Detroit’s recent drafts have gotten too much credit from this points system.  But I didn’t think second round receiver Ryan Broyles would last until the third round, and he’s just as good of a value as Titus Young was last year, and young has been as good of a second round pick as the Lions have made in the last two seasons.  The Lions get the full complement of points very tepidly, as they didn’t really cash in on the best value available, and they’ll try to work their magic coaching up a defense that didn’t end up very productive at the end of the year.

T15. New York Giants (7) The Giants ended up with two players of first round quality in David Wilson and Rueben Randle, but I’m not entirely convinced the Giants didn’t get the better of the two players (Randle) in the second round.  With the quality of drafts by the rest of the NFC East, the Giants did a good job just to keep pace while picking last in rounds one and two.

T15. Pittsburgh Steelers (7) The Steelers are typically not a team that moves a bunch in the draft, and they clearly got good value in the first two rounds on the offensive line.  Good value is not great value though, and while David DeCastro is about as safe a pick as their can be in that system, there’s a fairly decent chance that Mike Adams will not solve the teams problem as a no. 2 offensive tackle.  On draft day though, everything about these two selections is rosy.

T15. San Diego Chargers (7) The Chargers got perhaps the best value pick of the draft getting Melvin Ingram without having to trade up, but I’m not exactly sure where he will play in their defense.  Ingram looked good working out at OLB at his pro day, but he’s got more the skill set of a 5 technique like Quentin Coples.  Though the athleticism to transition to outside backer is there, if he’s an average player there, the Chargers might not get the value out of this pick that some other team would have.  It’s hard to criticize Kendall Reyes in the second round, except that if he pans out, and the Chargers find that Ingram just isn’t a 4-3 OLB, then they drafted two guys who play the same position in the 30 defense.  That possibility is rare, but will happen at times when you draft for value on defense.

T15. Washington Redskins (7) The Redskins got their seven points the exact same way the Cowboys got theirs: trading up for a guy who could be the cornerstone on that side of the ball.  Also worth note here: the Redskins led the NFL in our Process Points article last year, with 15.

21. Buffalo Bills (6) There hasn’t been anything to love about the Bills offseason, besides their unbelievable job getting Mario Williams to sign with them.  Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that that’s not a signing that will be worth it.  There’s virtually no chance Mark Anderson will be worth what the Bills payed him for the other side.  This draft, they passed multiple value opportunities to address the quarterback position, instead opting to take another corner and a tackle who most had projected at guard.  The Bills really need to capitalize on their advantageous draft position this year, and I didn’t feel like they did that.

T22. Arizona Cardinals (5) The Cards maxed out what they could do without a pick in the second round.  They had the same value issue and team needs the Bills did, and picking three picks later (with Dontari Poe and Fletcher Cox coming off the board), I feel they took a better player.  Gilmore to the Bills is safer, because that’s the nature of highly drafted corners.  But Floyd to the Arizona Cardinals has real upside potential, and might make the Kevin Kolb pickup look good after all.

T22. Chicago Bears (5) The Bears draft was like that one child who is just hard to love, but you’re stuck with him for the next decade or so, and you might as well enjoy him.  Shea McClellin was an odd fit in the Bears’ preferred 40 front, but used correctly he will bring an element to their sub packages that makes the Bears more multiple.  And Alshon Jeffery clearly can make it in this league.  Plenty of receivers struggle to separate, and you can lump Jeffery into that group, but the concern is overstated.  It’s a common issue and many have gone on to enjoy long successful NFL careers without being able to run away from corners.

T22. Cleveland Browns (5) The Browns blew it.  They got Trent Richardson, the one guy in this draft they actually needed to get, and then Colt McCoy’s offensive potential was looking up.  But then the Browns had already given up on McCoy, so they selected Brandon Weeden in the first round.  I think the real loser here is Seneca Wallace, who has a superior skill set to Weeden and a lot of pro experiecnce and isn’t really all that much older.  If the Browns had concluded that Colt McCoy wasn’t their guy, the best choice would have been to name Wallace their starter.  Weeden is a wasted pick.  Mitchell Schwartz is tough to swallow in the second round because as Mike Mayock always says: he’s a right tackle, and if he can’t play that, where do you put him?  The Browns waited until later to address receiver, and even with Trent Richardson on the team, this group isn’t building intelligently enough to compete in the AFC North.  As easy as it might be to criticize the Rams for having all those picks and perhaps not addressing adequately their need at WR, the Browns spent a first round pick on a quarterback, and are likely going to have to address the position again next year.

T22. Denver Broncos (5) The Broncos draft was also kind of a disaster.  They traded out of the first round (twice trading down), but also took themselves out of position to land an impact player.  They ended up getting a quality round two DT in Derek Wolfe, but he’s not the same quality of player they could have gotten in the first round with a bit of aggression.  The Brock Osweiler pick was problematic for a bunch of reasons.  It’s not that he won’t work in Denver, which I think is a good landing spot for him.  But Peyton Manning is signed for longer than Osweiler will be under contract, and the Broncos could have easily waited and got instead help for Peyton Manning.  While I’ll criticize a lot of teams for not addressing quarterback when they had the chance, the Broncos only need at the position was a guy on the roster who can get meaningful development time if Manning should get hurt again, and then to have an incumbent option if Manning abruptly retires after 2011.  Osweiler will fill that role, but the way the QB market was shaping, Denver should have waited.

T22. San Francisco 49ers (5) I like when a team sticks to their convictions and sticks to their board and drafts good players.  With the A.J. Jenkins pick, the Niners definitely got a talented receiver who wouldn’t have been there when they picked in the second round.  I don’t like being told that you had him graded much higher than the guys who went ahead of him.  That’s not going to reflect well on the team that claims it if you wait five years and bring it back to them.  Plus, Jenkins is going to struggle to get meaningful opportunities on an Alex Smith led offense with vets like Mike Crabtree and Randy Moss ahead of him.  He’s a decent Josh Morgan replacement with explosive upside, but not a great use of the 30th overall pick with a guy like Courtney Upshaw out there.  Saying you had him rated higher than Michael Floyd doesn’t adequately defend this move, even if it’s true.  On the other hand, LaMichael James (late second round selection) gives this team a lot more immediate help for Alex Smith, even if Kendall Hunter is a little bit of the same player.

T27. Kansas City Chiefs (4) With that Dontari Poe selection, I didn’t give the full complement of picks because of value: Poe was a bottom half of round one value at best.  I can sort of see where he fits in KC’s scheme, but he’s not a true nose tackle, and hopefully will not be used as such.  He can be a three down player on this team.  Hardly a bad pick though.  I’m not crazy about Jeff Allen in the second round.  Maybe he’s being brought in as a RT instead of a LG, which is fair, but the predominant guards in this draft all lasted to late second or third round.  Allen is a college team captain and a good prospect, but unless the Chiefs have a specific role for him as a rookie, this seems like a frivolous pick for a team that can make its move in the AFC West right now.   The Bears traded up right after this pick, so it is reasonable to conclude that the Chiefs had at least one decent trade offer on the table when they instead picked Allen.

T27. Tennessee Titans (4) The Kendall Wright pick didn’t thrill a lot of league insiders.  He’s clearly a good prospect, but for every crazy scout out there that will go on the record and say that he had A.J. Jenkins rated higher than player ‘x’ (Blackmon or Floyd, usually), you can’t find anyone to go to bat for Wright.  There are Stephen Hill supporters, Rueben Randle supporters, even Brian Quick supporters.  Kendall Wright does have vertical explosiveness, but this feels like a reach in the way that few other first round picks did.  I’m fairly surprised Wright ended up going in the first round.  And the Zach Brown pick in the second…well, a lot of people who displayed ire at the Bruce Irvin pick by the Seahawks forgot to save some of it for when the Titans did the same exact thing with a different space player a round later.

T29. Atlanta Falcons (3) Peter Konz was a great grab by a Falcons team in desperate need of an offensive lineman.  If you’re a Falcons fan, you just have to hope they solved all their team issues in the draft last year, and though that Asante Samuel trade.

T29. Houston Texans (3) I didn’t really understand the Whitney Mercilus pick in the first round.  The value wasn’t really there to make that selection, and I thought the Texans had shown a year ago that they didn’t really miss Mario Williams a lot when he was out.  The Texans badly needed depth on offense, and a best player available strategy, even one that brought a defensive player, would have worked.  Mercilus was likely the top pass rusher on the board for the Texans, but he doesn’t have first round pass rushing ability in my opinion and while the Texans have proved able in draft development, I just think they left way too much on the board in round one.

I thought the Jaguars got just as good of a prospect — if not a better prospect — with Andre Branch at pick no. 38, 12 picks after the Texans nabbed Mercilus.

T31. New Orleans Saints (o)
T31. Oakland Raiders (0)

Both teams selected for the first time in round 3, missing out on the process points…process?

2009-2012 Aggregate Process Ratings

These ratings have a small predictive value, and reflected favorably on the 49ers, Bengals, and Broncos last year, while suggesting that the Eagles, Jets, and Vikings hadn’t been getting it done in the draft.

This year’s aggregate ratings think the Seahawks, Browns, Bucs, and Rams might all have something going in the near term future, and think that Mike Shanahan’s work in making the Redskins younger might also have made them a playoff darkhorse.  Meanwhile, it success that the Bucs could take advantage of the rest of the NFC South, which hasn’t drafted all that well since 2009 (though the impact of Cam Newton is clearly underrated by these numbers, even if you add another five points to Carolina’s total).

Rank Team 09-11 Point Total 2012 Total 09-2012 total
1) Patriots 41 8 49
2) Broncos 41 5 46
3) Lions 35 7 42
4) Seahawks 29 10 39
5) Browns 32 5 37
6) Bengals 23 13 36
7) Buccaneers 22 14 36
8 Rams 20 15 35
9) 49ers 29 5 34
10) Packers 22 12 34
11) Dolphins 25 8 33
12) Redskins 24 7 31
13) Ravens 23 8 31
14) Eagles 17 13 30
15) Bills 22 6 28
16) Cardinals 22 5 27
17) Texans 22 3 25
18) Chiefs 21 4 25
19) Colts 17 8 25
20) Giants 18 7 25
21) Vikings 14 11 25
22) Jaguars 16 8 24
23) Steelers 17 7 24
24) Jets 15 8 23
25) Cowboys 16 7 23
26) Panthers 13 8 21
27) Titans 16 4 20
28) Falcons 16 3 19
29) Saints 19 0 19
30) Chargers 11 7 18
31) Raiders 16 0 16
32) Bears 7 5 12