People at home always think they can do a better job of drafting NFL players than the owners and GMs do. They can’t. For that matter, the teams themselves are all pretty much equal when it comes to drafting proficiency. They’ve all got access to experienced talent scouts and smart analytics. Not everyone they pick comes through, of course, but prospects are kind of like popcorn. You never really know which kernels aren’t going to pop; you just keep those that do.
That doesn’t mean we as handicappers can’t look critically at the decisions made at this year’s draft. We’ve also got plenty of free access to quality scouting information and analysis – some of us even have our own war rooms. The trick, as always, is to find inconsistencies in the marketplace. And it turns out the Houston Texans may have misplayed the No. 1 pick.
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Neil Paine recently did some information gathering and number crunching for FiveThirtyEight, and he did an excellent job showing how GMs have been overvaluing first-round picks in general, with the gap increasing as you get closer to the first-overall selection. That means you can expect teams to overpay for your No. 1 pick if you’re willing to trade down. The Texans did not trade down; they took DE Jadeveon Clowney, which was already not ideal given their needs at quarterback.
“Winner”: Cleveland Browns
In 2007, the Browns thought about taking QB Brady Quinn at No. 3. They took OT Joe Thomas instead – and were still able to get Quinn at No. 22. As it turned out, Quinn was one of those kernels that didn’t pop, but Cleveland still made the right decision at the time. Same thing applies this year, with the Browns trading down, taking CB Justin Gilbert No. 8 overall, and then manoeuvring to grab QB Johnny Manziel anyway at No. 22.
“Loser”: Buffalo Bills
Of the teams that did trade up, the Bills may have overpaid the most. They sent the No. 9 selection, along with a first-rounder and a fourth-rounder in 2015, to the Browns for their No. 4 pick. Buffalo used the pick to take WR Sammy Watkins, who figures to be an excellent receiver straight out of the box. But the Bills haven’t had a winning season since 2004, so next year’s first-rounder could easily land in the Top 10.
“Winner”: Minnesota Vikings
Again, the Vikings needed a quarterback, but they flipped the No. 8 pick to Cleveland, took LB Anthony Barr at No. 9 (perhaps a bit of a reach, but also filling a position of need), and then made their move into the No. 32 spot to take QB Teddy Bridgewater. This looks like the best value on the board; Bridgewater was the consensus No. 1 guy not too long ago.
“Loser”: Jacksonville Jaguars
Armchair draftniks are piling on the Jags for taking QB Blake Bortles with the No. 3 pick. Bortles probably would have been available a few spots later, and even then, his skill set isn’t all that different from Blaine Gabbert’s. The good news is that Jacksonville also drafted a pair of WRs in the second round: Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. There’s a plan there, and it makes some sense, but it’s an expensive plan.
“Winner”: Oakland Raiders
This is one more example of a team not hitting the panic switch, and getting rewarded for it. The Raiders used their No. 5 pick to take LB Khalil Mack, who projects to be an instant star on defense, and then they were fortunate enough to have QB Derek Carr available to them at No. 36 in the second round. OG Gabe Jackson was also a nice get in the third round at No. 81. There’s light at the end of the Black Hole.