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NFL Draft Grades Using Analytics

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: May 6, 2019, 5:18 am ET

Each overall pick in the NFL Draft has a certain expectation of performance, with the highest expectations being reserved for the 1st overall pick and the lowest expectations reserved for the last one. Based on the 2004-2014 draft classes, the expected Approximate Value (AV) for each overall draft pick is:

To hand out grades for every 2019 NFL Draft pick, I’m comparing the expected AV from each prospect’s overall draft pick (look at the chart) with how much AV my models projected for each prospect. As you’ll see below, I’ve graded and ranked each individual draft pick with this formula, but I’ve also deducted the AV lost by not drafting the optimal prospect at that position.

 

For example…

 

The Cincinnati Bengals drafted tight end Drew Sample with the No. 52 overall pick. Based on the above graph, we expect the 52nd overall pick to rack up 14.5 AV over his four-year rookie contract. However, my tight end model projects Sample to only reach 7.7 AV during his rookie contract. Of course, that means my model hates this pick -- that’s -6.8 AV Over Expected (AVOE) to be exact -- but the pick is even worse when I look at who the Bengals could have drafted instead of Sample. Tight end Jace Sternberger, who was drafted after Sample, is projected for 15.4 AV over his rookie contract which equals an opportunity cost of 7.7 AV. For these reasons, my formula grades the Sample pick as a “D” and it ended up as the 244th best pick out of 256.

 

Arizona Cardinals (A)

With Marcus Gilbert included, I'd give the Cardinals an A+.

Pick

Prospect

Pick Grade

Pick Rank

AV/G Opp. Cost

Could've had...

1

Kyler Murray

A

7

0.00

Optimal Pick

33

Byron Murphy

C+

160

-0.09

Joejuan Williams

62

Andy Isabella

A

12

0.00

Optimal Pick

65

Zach Allen

A-

23

0.00

Optimal Pick

103

Hakeem Butler

B+

50

0.00

Optimal Pick

139

Deionte Thompson

B+

69

0.00

Optimal Pick

174

KeeSean Johnson

B+

56

-0.03

Dillon Mitchell

179

Lamont Gaillard

B-

141

0.00

Optimal Pick

248

Joshua Miles

B-

138

0.00

Optimal Pick

249

Michael Dogbe

B-

121

0.00

Jordan Brailford

254

Caleb Wilson

B

82

0.00

Optimal Pick

 

There’s a debate to be had on whether or not the Cardinals should have traded Josh Rosen, but there is zero debate analytically on whether or not the Cardinals should have drafted Kyler Murray who is one of the best quarterback prospects of all time from an analytics perspective (Murray had the best Total EPA of any FBS quarterback since at least 2004). My model’s expectation of Murray is so high that he ended up being one of the biggest “values” of the draft despite the first overall pick having the highest expectation. … My cornerback model didn’t like Byron Murphy as much as consensus because of his size (6’1/190) and speed (4.55), so my model would have selected another corner (Joejuan Williams) instead. With that said, cornerback is one of the most important positions in football, so it’s not a terrible pick by any means. … Andy Isabella is the biggest analytics vs. tape receiver of the draft, so of course, my model loved this pick. Isabella has crazy college production -- he led the FBS in receiving yards by over 200 last season -- and then ran a 4.33. I was nervous that he wasn’t going to go to a team that would use him properly, but I have faith in Kliff Kingsbury will put him in positions to win. … Zach Allen was the best edge rusher on the board according to my models and it’s a relatively important position, so this was a really solid pick. … Hakeem Butler was the best receiver available at this point by a wide margin and his drop to the 4th Round may end up as a blessing, as it allowed him to fall into Kingbury’s lap. Butler and Kingsbury have had a relationship for many years now, and they seem to have assembled an ideal starting basketball roster at receiver with Isabella at point guard, Christian Kirk at shooting guard, and Hakeem Butler at power forward. … KeeSean Johnson wasn’t the best receiver available according to my models (Dillon Mitchell), but the gap between them was really small and I’m not going to nitpick a 5th Round receiver who just put up a 95-1,340-8 receiving line. … Caleb Wilson was my favorite sleeper tight end of 2018 because of his receiving production (60-965-4) and 4.56-speed. Snagging him up with the last pick of the draft was a great pick, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if he was actually targeted in games as soon as this season.

 

Atlanta Falcons (B-)

Pick

Prospect

Pick Grade

Pick Rank

AV/G Opp. Cost

Could've had...

14

Chris Lindstrom

B-

129

0.00

Optimal Pick

31

Kaleb McGary

B+

35

0.00

Optimal Pick

111

Kendall Sheffield

B-

104

-0.07

Isaiah Johnson

135

John Cominsky

B+

59

-0.05

Justin Hollins

152

Qadree Ollison

B-

118

0.00

Optimal Pick

172

Jordan Miller

C+

170

-0.09

Tim Harris

203

Marcus Green

D

242

-0.21

Dillon Mitchell

 

Chris Lindstrom (99th percentile iOL prospect) is my model’s highest ranked interior lineman of the class -- he’s in the elite OL speed club that has been predictive for NFL success -- but the Falcons get a B- for that pick because of the slight positional value reach. With that said, Lindstrom fills a Falcons team need, so it was a solid selection and is more deserving of a B+. … Kaleb McGary met all five of my offensive tackle minimum thresholds, and McGary nearly made it into the elite OL speed club, too. … Qadree Ollison isn’t as athletic as I’d like, but he did check boxes with his on-field production.

Fun Fact: The Atlanta Falcons had the best success rate on drafted offensive players over 2004-2014.

 

Baltimore Ravens (B-)

Pick

Prospect

Pick Grade

Pick Rank

AV/G Opp. Cost

Could've had...

25

Marquise Brown

C

205

-0.12

Andy Isabella

85

Jaylon Ferguson

C

194

-0.12

Justin Hollins

93

Miles Boykin

B-

127

-0.05

Hakeem Butler

113

Justice Hill

C+

183

-0.06

Benny Snell

123

Ben Powers

C+

177

-0.07

Ross Pierschbacher

127

Iman Marshall

A-

34

-0.02

Isaiah Johnson

160

Daylon Mack

B+

67

0.00

Optimal Pick

197

Trace McSorley

B-

116

0.00

UDFA Options

 

Marquise Brown’s size and Lisfranc injury make spending a 25th overall pick very risky, but Brown was a baller at Oklahoma for two years and would have tested very well (4.3s in the forty) if he was able to. My model is a fan of Brown, but it’s a little rich in the 1st Round. … Production for edge rushers is relatively important, but I’ve found that athleticism is a better predictor for NFL success. That’s bad news for Jaylon Ferguson who enters the league as the college football sack record holder but had a really, really bad three-cone. If my model was selecting an edge rusher at No. 85 overall, it would have taken the more athletic Justin Hollins. … Miles Boykin is a freak athlete, but production is more predictive than athleticism for wide receivers and Boykin’s college production is mediocre. There’s an argument that Boykin got no help from his quarterbacks, but he’d be somewhat of an outlier if he became a multi-year plus-starter. … You won’t see high grades on running back selections from my model -- remember that running backs don’t matter (almost at all) -- but I lowkey liked the Justice Hill pick despite my model’s C+ grade. Hill started over Chris Carson as an 18-year old, has experience catching passes, and ran a 4.41 at the Combine. That’s the type of running back you’d want your team picking and it comes at an affordable cost.

 

Buffalo Bills (B+)

Pick

Prospect

Pick Grade

Pick Rank

AV/G Opp. Cost

Could've had...

9

Ed Oliver

A-

21

0.00

Optimal Pick

38

Cody Ford

A-

33

0.00

Optimal Pick

74

Devin Singletary

D

239

-0.13

Damien Harris

96

Dawson Knox

B

75

0.00

Optimal Pick

147

Vosean Joseph

B-

153

-0.09

Blake Cashman

181

Jaquan Johnson

D+

235

-0.17

Tim Harris

225

Darryl Johnson

D

241

-0.16

Jordan Brailford

228

Tommy Sweeney

C

202

-0.08

Caleb Wilson

 

Ed Oliver is a 99th percentile defensive tackle prospect, so I wasn’t surprised to see this pick graded as a top-25 value. Oliver has lots of production, but it’s his athleticism that made him pop in my models. … The second-round Cody Ford pick made the Bills 2-for-2 in optimal picks to start off the draft. Ford has all the size you’d ever need at the position, and his multi-position experience makes him slightly more valuable. … The third-round Devin Singletary pick was among the worst picks in the entire draft. Today’s starting running backs are rarely his size and are rarely as unathletic as Singletary is, so he’d be a complete outlier if this pick paid off. … Dawson Knox went from like TE12 to TE5 after running 4.51 at the Combine, and he was the best tight end on the board when Knox was drafted, so I see no issues with the selection. … Tommy Sweeney doesn’t have the athleticism or production of Caleb Wilson who was drafted after him, so I think the C grade is more than fair.

 

Carolina Panthers (A-)

Pick

Prospect

Pick Grade

Pick Rank

AV/G Opp. Cost

Could've had...

16

Brian Burns

A

8

0.00

Optimal Pick

37

Greg Little

B-

119

-0.06

Cody Ford

100

Will Grier

A+

2

0.00

Optimal Pick

115

Christian Miller

D+

228

-0.18

Justin Hollins

154

Jordan Scarlett

D+

234

-0.09

Rodney Anderson

212

Dennis Daley

B-

98

0.00

Optimal Pick

237

Terry Godwin

D+

238

-0.21

Dillon Mitchell

 

Brian Burns (95th percentile EDGE prospect) was not only the optimal pick if the Panthers were set on selecting an edge rusher at No. 16, but Burns was the optimal pick regardless of position as well. … Greg Little is not the type of offensive lineman my model would target because of his speed, so his pick was knocked down a bit, especially with Cody Ford on the board. With that said, my model doesn’t realize how big of a need this was for the Panthers, so this pick is probably deserving of a B or B+. … Will Grier’s upside is an above average starting quarterback and he was my personal QB3 over Daniel Jones and Drew Lock, so snagging him up with the 100th pick was phenomenal. Grier didn’t just put up numbers because of some “scheme” either. Grier has high-end accuracy and even showed arm strength at the Combine. What makes the pick even better is the team fit as Grier would be a great quarterback to plug in if Cam Newton’s shoulder doesn’t improve. … Christian Miller had poor production at Alabama (maybe that’s a good excuse), but the primary reason this pick was given a D+ was passing on Justin Hollins, who was more productive and is more athletic than Miller is. … Jordan Scarlett’s on-field production leaves much to be desired. He never had a 1,000-yard season, rushed for more than six touchdowns, and never caught more than 10 passes. Scarlett also tested as a below average athlete with poor agility, but the worst part about the pick was passing up on higher upside backs like Trayveon Williams, Dexter Williams, Rodney Anderson, and Darwin Thompson. … Terry Goodwin doesn’t have the production profile of a receiver that would be liked by my model, and the Panthers passed on one that does in Dillon Mitchell.

Fun Fact: The Carolina Panthers had the best 1st Round success rate over 2004-2014.

 

Chicago Bears (D-)

With Khalil Mack included, I'd give the Bears an A-.

Pick

Prospect

Pick Grade

Pick Rank

AV/G Opp. Cost

Could've had...

73

David Montgomery

C+

187

-0.05

Damien Harris

126

Riley Ridley

F

253

-0.26

Dillon Mitchell

205

Duke Shelley

C-

220

-0.14

Kris Boyd

222

Kerrith Whyte

C-

213

-0.06

Myles Gaskin

238

Stephen Denmark

B-

143

0.00

UDFA Options

 

The Bears didn’t have a lot of draft capital entering the draft, but the use of their picks was questionable. Running backs have proven to be among the most replaceable positions in the NFL and their performance hasn’t been correlated to actual wins, so using 2-of-5 picks on that position is going to be graded poorly. But there were also issues with the exact players they choose. … David Montgomery does not have the speed of successful running backs in the NFL -- he was the only Combine-invited running back to not have a 20+ yard touchdown last year -- and his career 4.7 YPC doesn’t move the needle even if we adjust that up to account for his brutal offensive line. … Riley Ridley was the second worst pick of the 2019 NFL Draft according to my model. Ridley’s production profile alone would make him a low-probability prospect, but he’s also a below average athlete (4.58 speed). To make matters worse, there was a lot of opportunity cost of picking a wide receiver like Ridley since there was a lot of quality depth in this class. … Kerrith Whyte was projected as an undrafted free agent by most, but he snuck into Day 3 after showing high-end athleticism. The problem analytically for Whyte is his low-end career production.

 

Cincinnati Bengals (B)

Pick

Prospect

Pick Grade

Pick Rank

AV/G Opp. Cost

Could've had...

11

Jonah Williams

B+

43

0.00

Optimal Pick

52

Drew Sample

D

244

-0.17

Jace Sternberger

72

Germaine Pratt

B+

52

-0.02

Ben Burr-Kirven

104

Ryan Finley

A+

6

0.00

Optimal Pick

125

Renell Wren

A

16

0.00

Optimal Pick

136

Michael Jordan

D+

231

-0.14

Ross Pierschbacher

182

Trayveon Williams

C

201

-0.06

Rodney Anderson

210

Deshaun Davis

B-

103

0.00

Optimal Pick

211

Rodney Anderson

B-

99

0.00

Optimal Pick

223

Jordan Brown

B

91

0.00

UDFA Options

 

The Jonah Williams (97th percentile OT prospect) pick at No. 11 grades out as a B+, but it would be a lot lower if I calculated opportunity cost using all picks and not just at that position. Choosing Williams over QB Dwayne Haskins was a bold move by the Bengals, and it’s one that my models most definitely wouldn’t have made. With that said, my model is a believer in Williams as a prospect, so this pick could’ve been a lot worse. … The Drew Sample pick was crushed by my models, and I completely agree. Sample never eclipsed even 300 yards in a single season, and he doesn’t have a single high-end athletic trait to get excited over in regards to NFL development. The pick looks a lot worse when Jace Sternberger, who had 10 touchdowns in the SEC last year, was selected after him. … The Bengals draft turned around after the Sample pick, especially when they drafted Ryan Finley with No.104 overall. Picking quarterbacks is a smart strategy regardless because of how important the position is, but Finley has shown accuracy and was top-10 in Passing EPA last year. Finley’s upside is pretty average, but there’s a path towards developing into the bridge quarterback mold. That would be a big win in the 4th Round if you ask me. … Renell Wren was another solid pick for the Bengals. Wren was decently productive at Arizona State (2.5 solo tackles per game), but he also has the athletic traits of a starting interior lineman.  … The Bengals already have Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard, but I’m not going to hate on adding higher-upside running backs on Day 3. Trayveon Williams was ultra-productive as a runner, caught passes, and can pass protect so he’s an ideal late-round RB. … We don’t know the details of Rodney Anderson’s injuries, but his upside is worth burning the 211th pick on unless doctors completely took him off the board. Anderson’s on-field production was on pace to be high-end and the #tape suggests that he would have been an above average athlete.

 

Cleveland Browns (B)

With Odell Beckham included, I'd give the Browns an A.

Pick

Prospect

Pick Grade

Pick Rank

AV/G Opp. Cost

Could've had...

46

Greedy Williams

B+

63

-0.02

Julian Love

80

Sione Takitaki

B+

65

-0.04

Ben Burr-Kirven

119

Sheldrick Redwine

B+

70

0.00

Optimal Pick

155

Mack Wilson

C

195

-0.13

Blake Cashman

170

Austin Seibert

C

199

0.00

Optimal Pick

189

Drew Forbes

C-

211

-0.11

Oli Udoh

221

Donnie Lewis

C

190

-0.07

Jordan Brown

 

Greedy Williams (93rd percentile CB prospect) apparently fell because some coaches/scouts believed that he’s too full of himself, but I don’t view that as an actual issue (there’s a reason why he feels that way and it’s because he’s good). But I do have one concern with Greedy, and it’s how thin he is. Historically, that’s been a major issue for Day 1 and 2 corner prospects. With that said, Williams’ PFF grades and scouting reports suggest that he’s got enough technique and skills to somewhat overcome limitations of being thin. …  Sione Takitaki is a nice linebacker prospect, so my only concern with the pick was taking him with Ben Burr-Kirven still on the board.