I've long thought the NFL should hold its annual draft far earlier, to minimize overthinking. Each year, my belief grows. At this point, if the draft began the weekend after the Super Bowl, I'd be on board.
The 2016 NFL Draft has already been defined by big trades. The Los Angeles Rams traded six picks to get the No. 1 pick from the Tennessee Titans. The Philadelphia Eagles traded five to get the No. 2 pick and a conditional fifth-rounder from the Cleveland Browns.
The assumption is that both traded up to land a quarterback, and in some way that makes sense. It's hard to win big without a franchise quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or Tom Brady. Plus, the Rams just moved to a glamorous new locale and might feel they need a golden boy QB as a selling point.
In other ways, it doesn't make sense at all. Drafting a guy first or second doesn't automatically make him worthy of a No. 1 or No. 2 spot, and making somebody the face of your franchise doesn't automatically make him worthy of such acclaim. Considering the painful history of the "dump a ton of picks to trade for one guy" approach -- the NFL careers of Herschel Walker and Ricky Williams were defined by desperate teams trading their futures for them -- you better be damn sure there's a guy worthy of such a sacrifice. If you spend a lot of picks so that you can pick a guy too early, you hurt your depth potential and saddled your golden boy with unreasonable expectations.
Fun with draft charts
Charting the NFL Draft's best running backs
Using advanced stats and NFL Combine data to profile the major running back prospects, from Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry and Alex Collins to under-the-radar prospects like DeAndre Washington.
Fun with draft charts
(Plus, there's the matter of the Denver Broncos winning the Super Bowl this past season with elite defense and a shell of a quarterback. Depending on how you feel about Eli Manning or Joe Flacco, you could make the case that "elite" quarterbacks have won four or five of the last nine Super Bowls.)
So, are there elite quarterbacks in this draft? Is reported favorite Jared Goff or Carson Wentz worth not only a top pick, but also the value it took to trade up? (Not only did the Eagles trade away potential depth, they did so after shelling out a ton of cap space on Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel recently.)
My gut response: no way in hell. Not even close. The Rams and Eagles made transparently idiotic moves. But that's my gut. It's wrong a lot.
Let's see what the numbers have to say.
Here are some of the basic rate and average stats for each of what I'll say are the top 25 quarterbacks in this year's class. This includes Dan Kadar's most recent top 20 (signified by the "SBN Rank" below), plus another five prospects.
These numbers are completely unadjusted for opponent, and they don't include Combine stats. But I thought it would be useful to lay this out so you could see everybody's initial strengths (Goff's 13.8 yards per completion, Paxton Lynch's tiny interception rate, Kevin Hogan's 68 percent completion rate) and weaknesses (Goff's interception rate, Wentz's wholly mediocre completion rate and yardage, Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg's horrific completion rates).
Using the same idea of radar charts that we previously employed for running backs and receivers, what can we learn about this QB draft class?
Clockwise from the top, I've attempted to create radars that take you from physical attributes to efficiency to explosiveness/risk/decision-making to mobility. I love radars as easy-to-understand visuals that combine style and quality. A large surface area here doesn't make you better than someone with a small surface area, but if someone checks a lot of (or few) boxes, maybe it makes that player worth reassessing.
Potential No. 1 pick Jared Goff is the best in the Bay Area ... right?
The next two charts tell you about the limitations of either Goff or of radar charts themselves.
Goff was able to get the ball downfield while taking few sacks. That's good. The main red flag for him is that ... shouldn't the potential No. 1 pick check more boxes than this? He's lanky, his Combine stats and completion rate were okay, he threw a few too many picks and he offers nothing from a rushing standpoint. Is that a guy you want to trade away your draft for?
Let's put it another way. Here's what Andrew Luck's radar would look like were he a member of the 2016 draft class. Luck was unanimously regarded as an elite pro prospect, and if the Rams or anyone else would have traded a booty of draft picks for the chance to draft Luck, a lot of people would have considered it a justifiable move.
Here are two charts combined.
Luck took a few more sacks and averaged fewer yards per completion but was less pick-prone (and in more of a pro-style offense, no less), completed more of his passes and brought more size and speed, all against similar competition in the same conference.
Goff has just about the best footwork I've ever seen and was excellent at Cal. In the right system, maybe he proves he's worthy of No. 1. With what the Rams paid to move up, I'm doubly unsure.
One more red flag? From a stat standpoint, it's not immediately evident that Goff's better than the rival from down the road.
You're not going to hear anybody advocating for Hogan as a No. 1 pick. But he's as physically impressive (Goff's taller, Hogan's faster), offers far more mobility and makes more good plays (completion rate, yards per completion) and more bad ones (sacks).
Even if Goff is the better prospect, would you be better served overspending on Goff or trying to nab a Hogan or Brandon Allen much later in the draft? Is Goff enough of a sure thing to justify the price?
WARNING: No opponent adjustments.
Sam Hinkie, now former Philadelphia 76ers GM, sent an intriguing goodbye letter to Sixer higher-ups as he announced his resignation a few weeks ago. It's a tough slog -- three pages of interesting thoughts mixed with 10 pages of Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos quotes -- but he had some fantastic ideas. My favorite:
A way to prop up this kind of humility is to keep score. Use a decision journal. Write in your own words what you think will happen and why before a decision. Refer back to it later. See if you were right, and for the right reasons (think Bill Belichick’s famous 4th down decision against Indianapolis in 2009 which summarizes to: good decision, didn’t work). Reading your own past reasoning in your own words in your own handwriting time after time causes the tides of humility to gather at your feet. I’m often in waist-deep water here.
The other reason to keep track yourself is you’re often the only one to see the most insidious type of errors, the ones the narrative generating parts of our lizard brains storytell their way around—errors of omission. You don’t have a wobbly understanding of just the things you got wrong, but the things you got right but not right enough. Listen to Charlie Munger talk about how he and Berkshire Hathaway should be measured not by their success, but by how much more successful they would have been if they bought more of something: "We should have bought more Coke."
A decision journal would be fascinating when it comes to the guy many assume the Eagles traded up for: North Datkota State's Carson Wentz.
During the 2015 season (and especially during the 2015 FCS championship game) many of us began thinking of Wentz as an interesting prospect with the size and arm strength to maybe go in the second or third round.
Now, nearly four months after his last game, he might go first overall.
This chart both helps to explain why the shift in thinking has occurred ... and why it probably shouldn't have.
Wentz has the physical attributes. He might be the best rusher in the QB class. He used his legs semi-frequently last year (he also broke his wrist while landing wrong and missed half the season).
He was also distinctly average in actual production. He was decent when it comes to avoiding sacks and picks, but his combination of a 63 percent completion rate (against FCS defenses) and 12.7 yards per completion led to him averaging 7.43 yards per pass attempt including sacks. That's far lower than Goff or Lynch (or Hogan!) and barely ahead of Cardale Jones, whose inefficiency is considered a red flag.
Wentz was setting up to be the perfect under-the-radar pick for someone who did their homework. He's gone from underrated to massively overrated. That's unfair to him.
Lynch is everything he wasn't in his miserable bowl performance against Auburn. He is a giant with minimal mobility who makes good decisions and throws quickly. He leaned on short, safe throws, and that could play well. And while he was horrific against Auburn, he was also great against a much better Ole Miss defense.
Lynch brings a lot, though rumors of teams trading up to get him in the top 10 bring up the same issues as Wentz. He could provide value for a team that doesn't necessarily care about running QBs. But if you're going to trade picks and take him too high, suddenly he goes from undervalued to overvalued. I know you need a quarterback (well, the New Orleans Saints don't at the moment, and giving up assets to get Drew Brees' replacement before you lose Brees could solidify New Orleans' future), but overpaying is still overpaying.
Here are a couple more smaller-school prospects who check some boxes and would come at far less a cost.
Driskel's athleticism tops the charts, and he produced an interesting combination of big plays and mistake avoidance. He wasn't efficient, and if you're an employee of an NFL team, you're looking at tape from his Florida years, too. That probably makes him unworthy of a pick before the late rounds. Still, as an unmolded lump of clay, he brings something.
Josh Woodrum is the other FCS quarterback getting mentioned as a potential draftee, and it's not hard to see why. He's not tall, but he was tremendous at a Lynch impersonation: making good decisions and safe throws.
The lightning rods
When Hackenberg committed to Bill O'Brien at Penn State a few years ago, the assumption was that he was going to be the No. 1 pick in 2016. He had all the size, arm strength, pedigree, etc., that you dream of. He was decent as a freshman -- 20 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 134.0 passer rating -- and he was brilliant in his last game that year (21-for-30 for 339 yards and four touchdowns against Wisconsin).
Over the last two years, with a faulty line and no visible development whatsoever, he has produced miserable stats.
2014: 56 percent completion rate, 12 TDs, 15 INTs, 109.4 passer rating.
2015: 54 percent completion rate, 16 TDs, 6 INTs, 123.9 passer rating.
There's no question that his line was a problem. A lot of players from that 2013 line left, and the replacements were unimpressive. But even as a freshman, his completion rate was 59 percent. He's never hinted at efficiency and accuracy. It only takes one team to convince itself that he can be saved, but while he cut his INT rate down in 2015, he did almost nothing else.
Any potential he seems to have is based purely off of physical attributes and glimpses from 2013. As someone who is afraid to hit on 15 in Blackjack even when the math says I should, I wouldn't have him on my draft board. There's risk, and there's "drafting Hackenberg" risk.
Cook was asked to make a lot of passes on passing downs, which contributed to his miserable completion rate. And perhaps it's good that he avoided sacks and picks despite these passing-down percentages. But the inefficiency, average-at-best size and physical traits are probably going to drag him down.
The physical specimens
We in the college football universe tend to love Jones because of the personality. He's been incredibly entertaining, and the way he led Ohio State to the 2014 national title after beginning the year as a third-stringer will be remembered for a long time.
Jones almost went pro after that short run, and ... from a draft stock standpoint, he probably should have. He made a ton of mistakes in 2015 and didn't bring enough big plays to make up for it.
Prescott is the anti-Cardale. We have a four-year sample of his work, and we got to see his development. He isn't as tall, but he's big and mobile. He will forever take too many sacks, but his accuracy and decision making were fantastic in 2015. He became a safer passer.
I just love that the next two guys play the same position. In strengths and weaknesses, they share almost nothing in common.
Combine their positives, and you have a guy who's good at everything.
If you're looking for a guy to stand in the pocket and throw quickly, Doughty's your guy. He has almost no physical impressiveness, but he developed into a solid QB.
Adams is an insanely fun playmaker, and I wish I could say his size is the only thing teams are holding against him. But he took a ton of sacks and threw a lot of picks in 2015 as well. You could see this ...
... not playing out quite as well at the pro level.
NFL Draft 2016: Breaking down the top quarterbacks
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