70 Analytical Thoughts from Round 1 of the NFL Draft

by Warren Sharp

The 2016 NFL Draft started with an entertaining and active first round.  Below are some thoughts on many of the selections.  Not the players themselves and what they did in college, however, but primarily how they will fit with their new team and the analytics of their potential impact.

#1.  Rams Jared Goff (QB)

  1. The Rams on offense had the WORST red zone passing efficiency last year.
  2. If Goff makes a difference, look out: STL was 2nd in red zone rush efficiency.
  3. Goff needs to utilize sound decision making and accuracy to make that difference, but the rushing ability of the Rams will help him immensely.
  4. The Rams defense ranked 3rd in red zone conversion rate, so Goff should be in plenty of competitive games so long as he avoids turnovers.
  5. Last year the Rams played 5 games decided by 3 or fewer points (5th most in the NFL).

#2.  Eagles Carson Wentz (QB)

  1. It’s hard to say when we’ll get to see Wentz, but apparently if Sam Bradford gets his way, it will be even sooner than previously expected.
  2. I’d love to see Wentz develop some on the bench and really learn the offense before getting forced into starting immediately, though getting Cleveland at home in week 1 is as soft a start as a team could hope for.
  3. Pundits closely compare Wentz to Newton, but keep in mind, even with a great defense in Carolina, Newton’s dynamic build and abilities didn’t lead his team to a playoff win in any of his first 3 seasons. Newton ran the ball a lot as a young player and did not get his TD:INT ratio under control until year 3.

#3.  Chargers Joey Bosa (DE)

  1. The Chargers defense ranked 25th in pass rush efficiency and 32nd vs the run, so they certainly have a need on the defensive line. But there are a ton of question marks about where he’ll fit in the Chargers 3-4 scheme due to his size.
  2. Last 3 DEs drafted in top 3:
  • 2014 Jadeveon Clowney
  • 2013 Dion Jordan
  • 2009 Tyson Jackson

#4.  Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott (RB)

  1. This is one of the most fascinating picks in the entire round. In today’s NFL, passing efficiency is 4 times more correlated to winning than rushing efficiency, but Dallas is a city where that has been proven irrelevant.  Ball control & playing keep away while producing in the red zone kept the bad defense fresh and rested while exhausting the opponent by the 4th
  2. Tony Romo won’t live forever, he’s 36 & has broken his collar bone multiple times the last few yrs. Last year, Dallas had the #3 red zone run success rate DESPITE no Romo & Darren McFadden as RB1.
  3. No Romo meant #30 in red zone pass success rate, so it was impressive that they were still #3 in the run. Add Ezekiel Elliott & Romo, and Zeke should be TD machine behind their O-Line.
  4. Zeke should be what Jerry Jones wanted Felix Jones to be, on steroids.
  5. Top 5 RBs since 2002:
  • 2012 Trent Richardson
  • 2008 Darren McFadden
  • 2006 Reggie Bush
  • 2005 Ronnie Brown
  • 2005 Cedric Benson
  • 2005 Cadillac Williams

#5.  Jaguars Jalen Ramsey (CB)

  1. Gus Bradley has to love him dropping to 5. Between FA, this pick, last year’s #1 actually playing, and scheme development, I think JAC’s D turns the corner in 2016.
  2. Highest SPARQ score and highest PFF grade of any cornerback in the 2016 NFL Draft.
  3. With Dante Fowler coming back this year, the additions of Malik Jackson and Prince Amukamara, Gus Bradley has to be licking his chops to get to work with this defense.

#6.  Ravens Ronnie Stanley (OT)

  1. Little known stat about Joe Flacco last year – he had the WORST yards in air rating of any QB in the NFL. He received a ton of yardage in the pass game from yards after the catch, but he was not throwing downfield often.
  2. His offensive line ranked just 21st in pass protection efficiency and the run game was below average.

#7.  49ers DeForest Buckner (DE)

  1. Yet another Pac-12 guy for Chip Kelly, from Oregon no less. So he’ll be familiar with the Chip Kelly issues the defense faces.
  2. In his 3 years in the NFL, his defense has spent the most time on the field per game of any team.
  3. You can’t argue that coming from Oregon will prepare him for that, however – Chip Kelly had Casey Matthews, Taylor Hart, Kiko Alonso, Patrick Chung and Walter Thurmond. None excelled or graded well for Kelly.

#8.  Titans Jack Conklin (OT)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Browns got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Titans by getting 34.3 draft points & losing 23.1
  2. I loved how the Titans fleeced the Rams from a value perspective earlier this month, and they added a key piece toward helping keep Mariota upright moving forward. Zero complaints.

#9.  Bears Leonard Floyd (OLB)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Bucs got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Bears by getting 24.2 draft points & losing 20.6.
  2. Bears defense was 31st in total efficiency and 31st against the run last year. Let’s see what Fangio does w Leonard Floyd.

#10.  Giants Eli Apple (CB).

  1. The Giants allowed TEs to wreak havoc up the middle, recording a 156 passer rating w 6 TDs and 0 INTS and a 73% completion rate, while WRs were particularly dominant to the offense’s deep right or short left, posting a 112 rating with a 10:2 TD:INT ratio. Signing Jenkins in free agency offset the loss of Prince Amukamara, but the Giants needed CB help even with an improved defensive line via free agency as well (DE Oliver Vernon, DT Damon Harrison). He didn’t grade out as best CB available at the time of selection, but time will tell how he fits into the defensive scheme.

#11.  Buccaneers Vernon Hargreaves (CB)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Bucs got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Bears by getting 24.2 draft points & losing 20.6.
  2. After 1 DB was taken in the top 11 each year the last 3 years, 3 were taken in top 11 this year.

#12.  Saints Sheldon Rankins (DT)

#13.  Dolphins Laremy Tunsil (OT)

  1. Happy to see the Dolphins get to take the shot on Tunsil, because the city deserves better than what the team has been bringing in for them in years past.
  2. Building at the lines (Suh in the past and Mario Williams this offseason) shows their plan to help improve the overall ability of both the defense and offense.

#14.  Raiders Karl Joseph (S)

  1. I love this pick to the Raiders, and I’ve actually been quite impressed by the moves in Oakland.
  2. Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin in free agency, and now Joseph in the draft can immediately make a difference on a defense that was starting to make a statement with Khalil Mack, and good things are happening for Raider Nation (ranked 9th in yds/pass allowed and 15th in rush efficiency).

#15.  Browns Corey Coleman (WR)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Browns got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Titans by getting 34.3 draft points & losing 23.1
  2. Browns get a boatload of picks and still get their #1 player at biggest position of need. Impressive.
  3. Orchestrating multiple trades, first with the Eagles, then with the Titans, the Browns walk away with an extra 1, two extra 2s, three extra 3s. They effectively have two drafts through the next 4 rounds in 2017.
  4. As far as Coleman, we saw what Hue Jackson was able to do to players like Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu – as they signed huge contracts in the offseason, primarily because of Hue’s creativity.
  5. I can’t wait to see how he maximizes Coleman, but without any help at WR (as of now), defenses will absolutely be focused on stopping Coleman.

#16.  Lions Taylor Decker (OT)

  1. After Jim Bob Cooter took over play calling, DET became BEST red zone offense in NFL. 66% of RZ plays were successful. Car (#2) was 52%, NFL avg=43%.
  2. Decker should provide even more protection and blocking to help the line, but the key will be how does the loss of Calvin Johnson affect coverages inside the 20?

#17.  Falcons Keanu Neal (SS)

  1. Both former Seahawks DCs turned HCs (Dan Quinn & Gus Bradley) beefed up secondary in round 1. Knew how much it helped in Seattle.

#18.  Colts Ryan Kelly (C)

  1. Pretty solid record for true centers when drafted in the first round:
  • 2015 Erving
  • 2013 Frederick
  • 2010 Pouncey
  • 2009 Mack
  • 2009 Wood
  • 2006 Mangold

#19.  Bills Shaq Lawson (DE)

  1. Bills D moved from #1 in pass rush efficiency in 2014 to #31 last year under Rex Ryan.
  2. Rex betting Shaq Lawson will help turn that around.

#20.  Jets Darron Lee (OLB)

#21.  Texans Will Fuller (WR)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Redskins got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Texans by getting 16.6 draft points & losing 15.2.
  2. Brock Osweiler had the NFL’s WORST passer rating on deep passes last year. Deep speed from Will Fuller, can Osweiler hit him? We’ll see.

#22.  Redskins Josh Doctson (WR)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Redskins got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Texans by getting 16.6 draft points & losing 15.2.
  2. While both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson may be gone from the Redskins by 2017, this move should help immediately to really provide a measuring stick for Kirk Cousins while he’s playing under the franchise tag. Can he get the job done with a ridiculous receiving corps including TE Jordan Reed, or was he a one-year wonder in 2015?
  3. Regardless, Doctson should be a productive (and potentially stud) WR in Washington for years to come.
  4. GM Scott McCloughan continues to shine – he added the best available CB & drafted potentially best WR prospect less than 1 week apart. Likely will build around the secondary & young WR rather than aging, vet WRs so it won’t shock me if he avoids overpaying to retain Garcon & Jackson next year.

#23.  Vikings Laquon Treadwell (WR)

  1. Vikings called RUN on 68% of 1st down play calls from wk 11 onward. 68%!  NFL avg was 51%. They had better let Teddy Bridgewater throw more with Treadwell now in the mix.
  2. And, Treadwell is, according to Mike Zimmer, the best blocking WR he’s ever seen, which is high praise.
  3. His catch radius will help with some of the deeper balls Teddy has thrown of late – Bridgewater went 33/80 (41%) with 3 TDs and 8 INTs on deep passes last year, for a rating of 51. Of planned 2016 starting QBs, only Brock Osweiler was worse.

#24.  Bengals William Jackson III (CB)

  1. Excellent move knowing division rival Steelers wanted and needed a CB as well, and they nabbed the better graded one just before Pittsburgh settled for Burns.
  2. He was PFF’s #2 graded CB.

#25.  Steelers Artie Burns (CB)

  1. Their defense cannot afford to miss on this first round pick at their biggest need position. While ranking 5th in run defense efficiency and 7th in pass rush efficiency, the defense ranked just 15th in overall pass efficiency, showing that the secondary was a big problem for them.
  2. Below is a list of all the DBs the Steelers have drafted since 2004. It’s an atrocious list of failure after failure.
  • Rd 2 Senquez Golson
  • Rd 4 Doran Grant
  • Rd 7 Gerod Holliman
  • Rd 5 Shaquille Richardson
  • Rd 4 Shamarko Thomas
  • Rd 5 Terry Hawthorne
  • Rd 7 Terrence Frederick
  • Rd 3 Curtis Brown
  • Rd 4 Cortez Allen
  • Rd 5 Crezdon Butler
  • Rd 3 Keenan Lewis
  • Rd 5 Joe Burnett
  • Rd 6 Ryan Mundy
  • Rd 5 William Gay
  • Rd 3 Anthony Smith
  • Rd 2 Bryant McFadden
  • Rd 2 Ricardo Colclough

#26.  Broncos Paxton Lynch (QB)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Seahawks got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Broncos by getting 18.4 draft points & losing 13.9.
  2. Even with Paxton Lynch’s contract, the Broncos move from 7th MOST cap to QB in 2015 to ~6th LEAST cap to QB in 2016. More flexibility.
  3. In today’s NFL world of over hyping & over paying quarterbacks, with coaches and GMs losing jobs when they lack a “franchise” talent, it was refreshing to see Elway and the Broncos this offseason approach the QB position. Not willing to overpay, and not desperate to go crazy, they let their groomed option leave the building and quietly grabbed a potential better fit at 26th in the draft, after multiple QBs were already drafted.  It was a tremendous understanding of discipline, team building and roster construction.
  4. The Cowboys coveted Lynch in the late first round, and reportedly had a deal in place to snag him but Denver leapfrogged them.
  5. This also gets into team building and will be fascinating to watch play out. I’m a huge proponent of getting a young, cheap QB in (on a 5 year contract in the 1st round) and spending your money at other positions.  It worked wonders for Seattle and Baltimore in 2 of the last 4 Super Bowls.
  6. Lynch’s mobility could work wonders with the Gary Kubiak offense.
  7. FYI, if Lynch does win the starting job, Denver has the toughest strength of schedule in weeks 1-3 of any NFL team.

#27.  Packers Kenny Clark (DT)

#28.  49ers Joshua Garnett (OG)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Chiefs got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w 49ers by getting 18.2 draft points & losing 13.4.

#29.  Cardinals Robert Nkemdiche (DT)

  1. Most guys love playing for Bruce Arians. We’ll see if Nkemdiche is one of them. Tyrann Mathieu should be a solid influence. With Larry Fitzgerald setting the tone on offense, they have a great workplace environment out in the desert.  If he can possibly be anything like the force that Darnell Dockett was, coupling him with DE Chandler Jones could produce even more points for the high flying Bruce Arians’ offense in Arizona.

#30.  Panthers Vernon Butler (DT)

  1. Despite the Panthers theoretically being more desperate at CB, they didn’t force anything and grabbed their best available on defense. CB may (and should) be coming in later rounds, but they believe Butler can make plays, and a solid pass rush helps out the secondary.

#31.  Seahawks Germain Ifedi (OG)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Seahawks got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Broncos by getting 18.4 draft points & losing 13.9.
  2. Seattle’s pass protection ranked 30th in the NFL last year and has been bad for a few years: Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013 & spent $28M of cap on their offensive line, most in NFL. In 2016 SEA is allocating just $8.8M to offensive line, least in NFL.  This speaks to them having to spend $10M more on Wilson for his new deal, so the only place to find cheap offensive line talent is in the draft.

 

Where are Franchise Quarterbacks Found in the Draft?

NFL teams want you to believe they are smart.  That they have answers.  That they know best.  We know that they have more data on college players than ever before.  They collect more measurables than ever before.  They have access to better analytics and more information than ever before.  And thanks to rules changes in 2010, quarterbacks are more valuable than ever before.  At the most in-demand position, in what should be a golden era of evaluation, NFL teams still miss at a staggering rate.  NFL teams cannot afford to miss on 1st round draft picks, especially when they use that 1st round pick to draft a potential franchise quarterback they plan to build around for years to come.

Where are franchise quarterbacks found?  If an NFL team thinks they have the answer, they’re wrong.  That’s a question that the entire NFL can’t answer, because no team knows. What is a “franchise” quarterback?  That’s an easier question. If you’re the Chicago Bears, apparently it’s Jay Cutler and his 7 year, $126M contract.  If you’re the Falcons, It’s Matt Ryan and his $23.75M cap hit the next several seasons.  Many NFL teams have paid good but not great QBs to be their franchise quarterback, and I’m looking right at the Lions, Ravens, Chiefs and 49ers.

Both the Rams and Eagles recently traded up into the top two of this year’s NFL draft to snag their franchise quarterback.  If they’re wrong, they gave up a lot in the process, as both team’s lost out on tremendous value by making these moves.  One of the best talent evaluators and front office strategists the last several years, Seattle’s GM John Schneider, called this the most impressive draft class he’s seen joining the Seahawks in 2010.  If he’s right, having many draft picks in this particular draft would be wise.  So why are teams exchanging multiple selections in a talent-rich draft to move up to grab just one, single player they “hope” will save their franchise?  It’s a valid question, but one that has been dismissed by many NFL analysts, who opined that what the Rams and Eagles did was was the right move.  It’s been called “the only move to make” for a team in search of a franchise QB.  Because its unlikely you’ll find a franchise QB unless you’re at the very top of the NFL draft.

Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman made it quite clear in his press conference that based on all of their analysis, they felt like moving up from #8 to #2 was where they needed to be to draft their next franchise QB.  We’ve also heard stories that in today’s pass-heavy era, every team knows it “needs” a QB to win games, so franchise QBs don’t last on the board.  The most important position in the NFL is the quarterback, as everyone knows, and the best players won’t make it out of the first few picks.

Here’s the problem with that mindset:  bad teams usually draft high, bad teams usually are managed poorly, bad teams usually are poor talent evaluators, and thus, good NFL QBs, even franchise QBs, can be found outside the top few picks in the draft.

We’ve been told good QBs can’t be found anymore outside the top of the NFL draft.  Howie Roseman mortgaged much of his draft on that belief.  “It’s impossible to draft a franchise Qb unless you’re at the top of the draft”, they said. Especially in the 5 years since the NFL changed the hit rules (mid-season 2010).

But just because teams know they need a decent QB to have a shot does not mean the first couple QBs off the board in the first round will be the answer.  In fact, it should be universal truth that the following six 2nd round-or-later QBs from the last 5 years will have better NFL careers than these six 1st round QBs drafted over the same span:

  • 2nd Round or later: Andy Dalton (2), Tyrod Taylor (6), Russell Wilson (3), Brock Osweiler (2), Kirk Cousins (4) and Derek Carr (2)
  • 1st Round: Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden, EJ Manuel and Johnny Manziel

And these are just the last 5 years, when the NFL turned its focus to the pass game in part due to rule changes.  What about prior to the rule changes?   I could easily rattle off number one overall picks including Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell or David Carr. Or top three picks including Ryan Leaf, Heath Shuler, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington or Vince Young. But focusing not on the failures, but those that worked out and became “franchise” quarterbacks, let’s take the analysis back to 2000.  The below graphic lists a variety of “franchise”  quarterbacks and where they were drafted, using the following simplistic and extremely loose definition:

  • Lasting long enough (tenure) to start 50 games and
  • Compiling a passer rating of over 80.

This certainly isn’t the best way to measure if a quarterback is a “franchise QB” or not, but typically to earn the money of a franchise QB (which varies based on era), there is an element of longevity and durability coupled with some baseline level of performance.  And while a passer rating of 80 doesn’t sound spectacular, the last 10 years, exactly 200 QBs produced seasons where they averaged ratings over 80 (in at least 10 starts), and collectively they won 60% of their games (between 9-7 and 10-6 on the season).

 

Included are QBs who started 50+ games anytime after 2000, even if they were drafted previously.  The darker the green circle, the better the career passer rating (though keep in mind only QBs who recorded at least an 80 rating appear on the graphic).

In the mid-2000s, the argument was that Tom Brady, a compensatory selection and 199th overall, was a rare gem and no other QB would be mis-evaluated as poorly again.  There would be no more late round talents.  A few years later, Tony Romo went undrafted, and while certainly not Tom Brady, he has put up numbers certainly worthy of the label “franchise quarterback”.  More recently, Russell Wilson came along in 2012 in the 3rd round, to post solid numbers, win a Super Bowl, and earn a huge payday in his 2nd deal.  Still we hear:  “that won’t ever happen again”.  Time will tell.

The point is, you don’t have to be a top pick to be a franchise quarterback.  Drew Brees and Andy Dalton went in the 2nd round.  Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers were drafted outside the top 10.  And of course, other quarterbacks drafted lower have outperformed their first round competition, such as:

  • 2011 – Tyrod Taylor was drafted in the 6th round, as the 11th QB off the board) well after #8 overall Jake Locker, #10 overall Blaine Gabbert, and #12 overall Christian Ponder.  Andy Dalton was drafted in the 2nd round that year as well.  Is Tyrod Taylor a franchise QB?  Probably not.  Andy Dalton is being paid as one, and both are far better than any of those mentioned who were drafted inside the 12th overall.
  • 2012 – A slew of potential or definite franchise QBs were drafted late in this draft, including Russell Wilson in the 3rd round and Kirk Cousins in the 4th round.  Even Brock Osweiler was drafted late in the 2nd round, ahead of 1st rounder Brandon Weeden.
  • 2013 – Unlike 2012, there were no QBs in this draft.  EJ Manuel was the only QB drafted in the first round, followed by Geno Smith as the only QB in the second round.
  • 2014/2015 – A total of 14 QBs were drafted in 2014 and 7 more were drafted in 2015.  Its entirely too early to say which of these QBs will become franchise QBs or not.  Certainly Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the only two QBs who started games from the 2015 class, look on their way.  One of three first round QBs from 2014, Johnny Manziel, is without a team and saw multiple agents terminate him.  This year, we may get to see if Jimmy Garoppolo is the heir apparent to Tom Brady’s throne.  A.J. McCarron and his 6:2 TD:INT in 3 starts last year showed some promise.  But potentially one of the best of the entire 2014 class was drafted in the 2nd round: Derek Carr.

Where are franchise quarterbacks found?  I’d argue they are found just as much as they are bred.  You certainly must have the talent, but you also need the coaching to refine and perfect the mechanics.  You need the hours and hours of work in the film room.  You need the support system.  You need the right play caller and right schemes.  You need teammates on both offense and defense. You could move a young Tom Brady to the 2002 David Carr led Houston Texans, with a ridiculously bad offensive line (76 sacks taken by Carr his rookie year), and while Brady would be better than Carr, he won’t be the Brady we know now.

Franchise quarterbacks may be difficult to find, but one certainty exists in the above data.  Absolutely nothing indicates the only place to find a franchise quarterback is in the top couple of draft picks each year.  The misconstrued notion that teams should willingly mortgage much of their draft class to move up the draft board to draft (what they think will be) a franchise quarterback needs to stop.  If those teams put just as much emphasis on surrounding a drafted quarterback with a blueprint for success (both on and off the field) as emphasis on draft slot above all else (price to move up be damned), we’d likely see even more 2nd and 3rd round quarterbacks evolve into franchise quarterbacks.

Who Should Own the 2016 NFL Draft

Until all the final draft-day trades are executed, it’s impossible to know for certain which team ended up with the most total value in the 2016 NFL draft. But what we do know right now, after watching both of the top 2 picks in the draft get traded, is we know who should own the 2016 NFL draft based on total draft commodity entering the draft.  Last year I wrote several stories about valuing the draft, the foundation of which always goes back to the concept of “draft points” which I introduced then, and as mentioned, is based on Football Perspective’s research where they assigned point value to each draft pick.

While the prior year’s finish dictates current year selections, a number of elements cause the distribution to be imbalanced on an annual basis.  For instance, prior year trades (and current year trades) will cause some teams to be better off.  Additionally, the overlooked (by most fans) world of compensatory selections which I discussed HERE when writing for Fox Sports, allows some really good teams (Broncos, Packers, and Seahawks, for instance) to have even more value than one would expect based on their prior year’s finish.

It’s easy to see why a team like the Washington Redskins, who do not have much value (13% below average) in the draft, would be interested in obtaining a star cornerback (Josh Norman) prior to the draft as opposed to trying make it their top priority in the draft.

The Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys are two good teams (both won games in the playoffs in 2014) whose prior year record was affected by injuries to the QB position, and now have extremely strong value heading into the 2016 NFL draft.  At the other end, the Atlanta Falcons have three consecutive non-winning seasons in a row, and yet have only 6 draft picks and draft value totaling 17% below the NFL average.

But at the very top of the heap, it will be fascinating to see what new GMs do in Cleveland and Tennessee, with so much opportunity in the 2016 NFL draft.  Both teams have over 55% more draft value than the NFL average, and both teams are in desperate need of a solid re-building draft.  While each moved down in the first round via trades the last couple of weeks, both now have substantially more value as a result (some of which will not be gained until future drafts), and should have plenty of chances to draft difference-makers for their teams.