The 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, and we offer our thoughts on NFL draft grades, draft analysis, the NFL draft media and other general grumpiness:
2021 NFL Draft Analysis: Breaking down the old chestnuts- “The NFL Draft is a Crapshoot” and “The NFL Draft is a 50% success rate at best”
The success rate of the NFL Draft is not discussed logically, symantically (is that a word?), or analytically correct. People bashing the draft process or the draft process, thereby lifting themselves up somehow as intellectually endowed are not representing the process honestly.
Let’s backup and look at an example of a true and open evaluation process. Let’s say you own a school that trains people to get their pilot’s license. You have 10 students. One year, you complete the courses and 10 out of 10 students eventually pass their tests. The next year, you again have the course. Now, the previous year’s success has NO impact on the success rate of the current year’s course. In this dynamic, every “prospect” has a chance to succeed because there is no restriction on HOW MANY people succeed.
Now let’s look at the NFL Draft. Let’s say a team nails the draft and free agency four years in a row. Now the draft is coming up. The prospects that they draft are going to have a very, very difficult change to “succeed” because the finite number of spots on the team have been filled due to previous successes. Let’s say another team has been terrible at the draft and free agency for years, and has a new front office. The players they draft have a much better chance of “succeeding” because the finite spots are much more open. The actual evaluation process by both teams could be the same, but one team will hit on more of their picks due to the basic law of scarcity.
What this all means is that the true sentiment of the NFL draft’s success rate should be referenced more as “success rate of drafting to replace existing resources already in place”. If you take into account free agency, past drafts, salary considerations, etc., 45-55% “success” rate for this overall process is about the correct conversion rate from drafting to making the team.
2021 NFL Draft Analysis: The most common and deadly “sin” of draft analysts is not understanding scheme fit
Browsing through draft grades and in on particular team’s local press coverage, it is disappointing to see again the widespread absence of analysis of scheme fit. Will go through a few examples and offer some suggestions on how to better evaluate your team’s draft:
Mel Kiper deserves all of the credit in the world for his role in bringing the NFL draft into what it is today in terms of fan experience. He also does an unparalleled job at being a library of prospect data. But, year after year he just doesn’t seem to study each team’s offensive and defensive schemes and how drafted prospects fit. This is especially true of teams with new schemes. Do yourself a favor and before you read his draft grade of your team, spend some time understanding what different positions in your team’s offensive and defensive schemes are asked to do and what type of prospects the team is looking for. He is particularly obtuse on defensive linemen, lumping them all together in evaluations.
Building on that last point, and Mel Kiper isn’t the only one to do this, but you should know how differently defensive linemen are used in different schemes. First, let’s point out that about a third of the defensive “tackles” taken in the draft are actually going to be defensive ends for teams. A defensive tackle has another guy on both sides of him that have their hand in the dirt. Defenses are very multiple these days and over three-quarters of the time they are in sub packages. So all of the base 3-4 teams are using only one tackle by definition, and the 4-3 teams are actually have 4 down linemen the minority of the time. All that means is that 290 pound defensive tackle you got in college is most likely going to play 75% of the time at least as a defensive end (and he will be happy to be called that come franchise tag time!).
Next, and this one is frustrating because it is so rarely addressed- know how your team uses a slot corner vs a third safety. How your defensive scheme operate will make all the difference in the world on the value of that player on your team. Don’t let an analyst dismiss or over-value a slot corner or third safety without knowing this. Consider this- if your coach or GM is using terms like “big nickel” or “cover 3” often, that means your third safety is an integral part of your secondary, and the slot corner is probably your sixth defensive back. However, if your teams talks about just being in nickel without those terms, that means your slot corner is a huge part of your defense, and that third safety is just mostly a depth player.
It would be easy to go on and on here, but please, before you read any draft analysis, take time to study your team’s schemes. Position by position each team’s ideal prospect profile can vary greatly. Don’t let someone that isn’t doing their homework tell you how a prospect fits your team.
2021 NFL Draft Analysis: Draft value should be measured directly by where your team is developmentally
The Tampa Bay Bucs should be drafting completely different than the Detroit Lions. The Bucs just won the Superbowl and signed everyone back using lots of voidable years and pushing cap hell ahead to the future. And that is exactly what they should be doing.
The Detroit Lions are in an almost complete rebuild. We won’t say “complete” as that is not true, but they are in as much of a rebuild as any team lately. These teams should be drafting differently. Almost every decision the Bucs make should be based on next year. Yes, they got a QB in the draft, but there are no absolutes in football and QB’s muck up all otherwise universal draft philosophies. There is a valid reason why teams use terms like “build from the inside out”, and it is very simple- if you start your rebuild with wide receivers and secondary help, those players will never be able to develop as they will be getting massacred week in and week out. You have to steady the ship first and stabilize play on both sides of the ball. The offensive line and the front seven on defense are the foundation of a team. Once in place, you can put in the secondary, wide receivers, etc. If you don’t build in that order, the “outside” players will never have a chance to develop.
2021 NFL Draft Analysis: Different positions in football have different learning curves
NFL draft analysts generally treat draft players (besides QBs) as if they are all plug and play, or at least like each position develops at the same rate. Yes, some elite prospects are more ready than others, but overall, different positions take longer for prospects to get comfortable in than others.
If your team is in a rebuild, you want to start with not only the foundational players on the offensive line and the defensive front seven, but also want to get that learning curve started at positions that take awhile for drafted prospects to acclimate (corners and safeties).
The most common problem here is with wide receivers and running backs. Teams have to really be disciplined in adding these last as they are truly plug and play and are also always plentiful in the draft. But- and this is so common it is laughable- local media always wants a “playmaker”. As Josh Allen says, “ignore them”. Judge your team’s draft by where they are honestly in their development curve and if they are getting the right pieces on their offensive line, defensive front seven and even corner vs the cherries on top.
2021 NFL Draft Analysis: The 2021 draft was a bit of Bizarro World
Will keep this to the point- Dallas used the draft to fix their defense, the Lions prudently have a specific plan for their rebuild and are staying true to it, the Jets are surrounding their new QB with a run game and protection, and the Giants are trade back gurus. At least the Raiders under Mayock made a completely insane pick in the first round to let us know we are still on planet earth.
NFL draft analysts have their buddies and no what happens year after year, they still won’t violate that trust with honesty
Howie Roseman, the worst evaluator of wide receivers currently in the NFL, traded UP in the deepest and most talented WR draft in history and is being hailed as a draft hero. Let’s not stop there, the Eagles are introduced before picks as a team that nails the draft. That was true three years ago and before but not since. They have been awful at drafting since their Superbowl win, especially at WR. Devonta Smith is an incredible talent, but they have a major need on the offensive line and could have had Slater and still gotten an exceptional WR in the next round. They averaged a full sack a game worse than any other team last year. The shine of Devonta Smith will wear off when Hurts is getting sacked and to make it worse, when Hurts over-throws him like he did when they were together at Alabama.
“The Vikings are masters at amassing more picks!”. True, but they are also pretty lousy at using those picks on good players. This is what you called an incomplete thought. Analysts will praise the first half of the exercise, but they leave off the fact that their GM has been pretty bad at using those picks to build a team for some time.
Finally, and hate to pick on Mel Kiper again, but using his as an example- draft analysts have their favorites and their red-headed step children as far as teams in the draft, and no matter what those teams do, it doesn’t change. Kiper always over-rates the Baltimore draft (and Michigan and Notre Dame players, for that matter).
This problem can be remedied for you with a simple exercise- use Google. If you think your team got a bad draft grade by an analyst, go back in time and see their evaluations in past drafts. More than likely, the bias will reveal itself, but this time, you have history to judge it against.
2021 NFL Draft Analysis: Beware the false and stubborn narrative surrounding the future of QBs
Notice how “mobile quarterback” has been replaced by “move quarterback”? The FUTURE OF FOOTBALL was supposed to be about mobile quarterbacks, until it wasn’t. The fact is, we have had mobile quarterbacks for decades. Teams try it out, there is some success, but nothing substantial. They get hurt and often aren’t fully focused on pocket passing and just can’t produce quality QB play consistently. Kaepernick had an amazing run with the read option, but teams learned how to contain the edge. Without the read option, he simply was not good enough as a pocket passer. It is not as if you just need to be a great pocket passer, either. We have a known recipe for success at QB, and it just isn’t a sexy explanation-
“QB’s need to consistently, reliably, and efficiently run an offense that stays on schedule, converts on third down, doesn’t turn the ball over, converts at a high percentage in the red zone, and utilizes the time of possession, all by making pre-snap reads of the defense’s intentions, by making post snap reads of variables in the current playcall and by executing the play as designed. — That is the past, the present, and the future of QB play in football.”
2021 NFL Draft Analysis: You can’t truly evaluate a draft until three or so years down the line — Not so much
At it’s core, that statement has some validity, and the point is well taken- a lot can happen between the time of the draft and through a few seasons, so it is true to that degree. However, there are many judgments that can be made immediately.
The Cowboys have rightfully gotten grief over their draft and team building strategy the last few years. They went out and got universally highly regarded defensive players in this draft. Maybe they don’t get coached up later, or maybe some of the prospects turn into goofballs (people do have free will, afterall), but at this moment in time, the Cowboys nailed the draft. Also, don’t want to hear any lazy axioms about “not knowing” regarding the Raiders’ first round pick. Leatherwood, or at least a better prospect was going to be there in the second round (or later). The Raiders messed that up, and it is easy to just reference their last few drafts under Mayock/Gruden as proof. The Jets made a bold move to get the best interior offensive lineman. That is a positive. Don’t let a fake “informed” blabbermouth tell you the draft can’t be evaluated at all now.
2021 NFL Draft Analysis: The Justin Fields apparently giant invisible elephant in the room
Unfortunately, the disclaimer is needed here before any talk of Justin Fields – think he is an exceptional person, with exceptional football character, work ethic, intelligence and athletic ability. The reports to the contrary are hogwash, and really just a big distraction.
The point is, he has Epilepsy.
He has not, through sheer tyranny of will, cured this affliction despite how it has been almost completely swept under the rug. Which do you think is most likely, that Shanahan, who has had incredible success with various QB’s, reportedly didn’t even consider Fields, along with several other QB needy teams ahead of them, because they are just dumb, and that Ryan Pace, who is undeniably the worst QB evaluator in the NFL today, and in desperate sorts to save his job by making a big splash, suddenly is the genius to see the value in Fields that others don’t?
- Epilepsy involves recurrent, provoked and unprovoked seizures
- Some of the most common triggers of seizures are bright lights, loud noises, stress
- The meds to manage seizures often affect mental and physical acuity
Justin Fields’ college tape, for the most part, shows an elite QB prospect worthy of a top pick. It also shows some games, when not necessarily being faced by a relentless pass rush or complex defensive scheme, where he looks like a different person. It is fair to say that happens with other QBs, but go to YouTube and watch some of these games. Adding in the fact that very proven QB evaluators ahead of where the Bears moved up to simply didn’t even consider him, and Pace’s QB evaluation history and job status, and this is a draft pick that deserves more thoughtful analysis instead of blind elation.
Finally on this point, the public is not owed the details of how he manages this condition. But rest assured, each team’s medical staff asked these two questions: 1) when was your last seizure, and 2) what medications do you need to manage your Epilepsy. You have to have your head in the sand to not believe the answers to these two questions played a huge role in the NFL Drafts selections at three, seven, eight, and nine.
The 2021 NFL Draft was one thing more than anything – a celebration
To try to end on a good note, if you got too caught up in your team’s picks, that is understandable, but you might have missed the true importance of the draft- it was probably the first event that most of saw of people just enjoying life together. If you get a chance, catch one of the replays and don’t focus on the football side. It is something to behold.