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2017 NFL Draft Grades

April 30, 2017

I’m not going to go through and rank every pick or every team’s overall picks but I wanted to do a quick analysis of some teams that caught my eye on draft weekend.

Top 5 Teams

Browns: I loved what the Browns did in the 1st round. They stayed at #1 and took the best prospect in the draft in Myles Garrett. While that would seem like a no brainer, there are too many instances of teams reaching for a QB instead of the obvious stud(s) at other positions. From JaMarcus Russell over Calvin Johnson/Joe Thomas in 2007 to Sam Bradford over Ndamakong Suh/Gerald McCoy/Eric Berry in 2010 to Jared Goff over Joey Bosa/Ezekiel Elliott/Jalen Ramsey just this past year there are countless examples of teams reaching for a QB and looking foolish in hindsight. Then they smartly traded down from #12 to #25, picking up Houston’s 1st round pick next year, as they agreed with me in their lack of conviction on Deshaun Watson. To me this was a 1 QB draft as I loved Trubisky, had major worries about all the others. Some of those others will work out, some will bust. I think the Browns made the right choice in adding a 1st rounder in 2018 so they can possibly move up the board for a franchise QB they have more conviction on. Finally, they moved up into the 1st round and snagged David Njoku at #29. He’s good value there and I just like how they maneuvered around the board all weekend to get players they wanted. They moved down once and moved up three times so they were all over the board and came away with a lot of talent. I especially liked their Howard Wilson (CB from Houston) pick on Day 3. To come away with 10 players and still be stacked for the 2018 Draft (two 1st rounders, two 2nd rounders) shows that the nerds know how to draft.

Cowboys: It’s nice to see the Cowboys on my list of Top 5 teams as it doesn’t happen too often. This year was basically the opposite of what they normally do as they tend to ace the 1st round and then add little else to the roster in Rounds 2-7. Taco Charlton could end up being a surprise as a pass rusher but most, including me, think he’ll never be more than an average to above average starter. Not what I’d like to see in the 1st round but the Cowboys seemed content with taking a DE in Round 1 and then focusing on the secondary and best player available the rest of the way. We can argue all day about whether that strategy maximizes a draft but it’s not hard to be happy with the results from that strategy due to the depth of the CB and S class. CB Chidobe Awuzie (Top 20 grade on my board) at #60 was a steal (A+), CB Jourdan Lewis at #92 was a good pick and great fit (A-), WR Ryan Switzer at #133 was a solid pick (B), S Xavier Woods (3rd round grade on my board) at #191 was a steal (A+), CB Marquez White at #216 was a solid pick (B-) and then there were two DTs I had never heard of in the 7th with Joey Ivie (C-) and Jordan Carrell (D) mixed in with a raw but talented WR also in the 7th in Noah Brown (B). I can’t remember the last time I classified two picks in one draft for the Cowboys as steals. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Awuzie and Woods are starting in the secondary in the season opener vs. the Giants and if Jourdan Lewis replaces Anthony Brown as the slot corner. Add in Taco Charlton likely starting at DE, if only because of DeMarcus Lawrence’s 4 game suspension, and the Cowboys maybe just added 4 new starters to their defense. That’s a pretty impressive haul.

Denver Broncos: I feel like I give good grades to John Elway’s draft every year and almost every year it also comes with an asterisk as I usually don’t like his first round. I didn’t like Sylvester Williams, Paxton Lynch or Bradley Roby and am fine with but not obsessed with Garrett Bolles or Shane Ray yet his work in Rounds 2-7 always balances that out. Bolles makes a lot of sense with how he worked his offseason (ignoring the LT spot entirely) and he has solid value at #20 but he’s a roll of the dice and at 25 years of age and with character issues I’m on the fence with him. I think Bolles is a solid pick but I became less excited about the pick after thinking about the fact that Jonathan Allen and OJ Howard were taken 3 and 1 pick ahead of Bolles. To me the Broncos have one of the 2-3 best 53 man rosters in the NFL so they could have afforded to give up a 3rd round to move up for those two Alabama players when Elway saw them slipping. Adding Howard to a skill position group that already has DeMaryious Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders would have put the Broncos over the top. Yet, like he always does, he made up for his 1st round by acing the later rounds. DeMarcus Walker (Top 20 grade on my board) at #51 was a steal, Jake Butt (Mid 2nd round grade on my board) at #145 in the 5th round was also a steal and Chad Kelly as the last pick in the draft was another steal. 3 steals to go along with a solid but underwhelming pick, mainly due to how the board was shaking out, in Bolles and a solid WR in Carlos Henderson and an elite return specialist in Isaiah McKenzie gives the Broncos lots of talent to add to their already stacked roster. If Lynch becomes a player, the Broncos will be the best team in the NFL for the next half decade. Thankfully I don’t believe he will so everyone still has a shot at the title….for now.

Chargers: I loved their draft from top to bottom. Yes WR Mike Williams at #7 maybe was a little early but it wasn’t that much of a reach off my board or most boards I saw and the fit with Phillip Rivers is just perfect so it makes a lot of sense. I think Williams could have a 1,000 yard 10 TD season as a rookie due to how good Rivers is at throwing back shoulder throws and jump balls which are exactly what Williams’ strengths are. Yet the draft got better from there as OG Forrest Lamp in the early 2nd is good value, OG/C Dan Feeney in the 3rd round (#71 Overall) is a steal as I had a similar grade on him to Lamp and see them both as day 1 starters. Add in SS Rayshawn Jenkins in the 4th, a steal on my board as I had a 2nd round grade on him, and Desmond King in the 5th, a very good pick as I had a late 3rd on my board, and you have added 5 players that could contribute early on for them. I also really like them finally giving Phillip Rivers some help. His offense hasn’t had a true #1 WR since Vincent Jackson left in 2012. That’s a long time to give Rivers nothing but #2 and #3 wideouts to throw to. Expect Rivers to have a career year with Williams, an underrated Hunter Henry and, hopefully, a healthy Keenan Allen  as targets.

49ers: I think everyone agrees the 49ers were the Day 1 winners as they moved down 1 spot, added two 3rd rounders and a 4th rounder, and then chose the same player they were going to take all along in Solomon Thomas. Add in their move back into the 1st round for Reuben Foster, a guy I liked but others loved and had many a Top 10 grade on boards around the league, and then adding a steal in CB Ahkello Witherspoon (one of my sleepers in this draft) and there is a lot to like with the 49ers. My one criticism is that they chose QB CJ Beathard over Brad Kaaya and Nathan Peterman. I didn’t see many high grades on Beathard but hey when you sign an offensive minded head coach like Kyle Shanahan you should let them decide on what QB to take so maybe it works out. I have my doubts though. Either way the 49ers had a great first draft and John Lynch looks like he knows what he’s doing.

Bottom 5 Teams
Buffalo Bills: Interestingly enough I saw some high grades on the Bills draft as they focused on how they’re all tough, lunch pail type guys. That’s all well and good and Sean McDermott is a defensive minded coach so he probably loves hearing that his draft was called tough, but the Bills had two Top 40 picks and came away with no one that seems to have Pro Bowl potential. Everyone does their rankings differently but I view 1st round graded players as guys with Pro Bowl potential, and a high probability at that, and guys with 2nd round grades as either risky prospects with Pro Bowl potential or safe prospects that are just below Pro Bowl level. The Bills have a lot of odd pieces talent wise on their roster and don’t seem to have a plan of what they want their team to look like and don’t seem to have any superstars either. Maybe you can argue LeSean McCoy is that but then I’d question you on why their best player is a soon to be 29 year old RB yet the rest of their roster is young. Are they looking to win now or build for the future? To me Tre’Davious White is a low upside, career #2 CB who I had a 2nd round grade on and Zay Jones is a low upside, career #2 WR who I had a 3rd round grade on. Those aren’t building blocks which is what you are looking for in Top 40 picks. I actually liked his later picks (Dion Dawkins, Matt Milano and Nathan Peterman) but all of the guys going to the Bills look like high polish, low upside cheap starters. That’s a perfect draft for the Seahawks, Patriots or Cowboys who have plenty of Pro Bowlers on their roster and are top heavy but the Bills lost 3 Pro Bowlers this offseason in Zach Brown, Kyle Williams and Stephon Gilmore and did nothing noticeable to replace them. After this draft and the Dolphins seemingly improving, I think the Bills are in for a rough 2017 season in the AFC East.

Lions: Before I start I need to explain that I don’t scout every player in college football. I tend to review how others grade players, take every player I see the consensus give a Top 5 round grade on and then grade them myself. So if most view a player as a 6th rounder or later, I don’t even scout them. I’m sure that causes me to miss some diamonds in the rough but it saves me a tremendous amount of time that is often wasted on studying guys that are unlikely to be drafted anyway. I say all that because the Lions had more guys I’d never heard of before than any other team. I only knew 4 of their 9 picks which means they took 5 picks that most people had grades on as 6th rounders or later. That’s worrisome. Maybe they find their diamonds in the rough but I have my doubts. LB Jarrad Davis in the 1st round is a high polish, low upside guy I had a 2nd round grade on, CB Teez Tabor in the 2nd round is another high polish, low upside guy (I had an early 3rd round grade on) and WR Kenny Golladay was their 3rd rounder that I had a late 5th round grade on. So their first three picks were reaches on my board, then they draft 5 guys I never heard of and then get one of the steals of the draft with QB Brad Kaaya in the 6th round. Outside of Kaaya I disliked or hated every one of their picks.

Saints: I have less an issue with the players they took and more an issue with their strategy. Ryan Ramczyk was widely regarded as one of the three best OTs in this draft class so he made sense to many in the late 1st BUT the Saints have huge needs all over their defense and seemed pretty set at OT (Terron Armstead and Zach Strief) so to spend a 1st on that position was odd. It’s even odder knowing that pick was from the Brandin Cooks trade so they gave up one of their best offensive weapons, used that saved cap space on Adrian Peterson who doesn’t seem like a great fit with Mark Ingram already there, and then blow their 1st round pick on what essentially will be a backup OT in 2017? None of those moves make sense when related to each other and makes me think they didn’t have an overall comprehensive strategy in place but made each move individually without thinking about how they connected with each other. Then they trade their 2018 2nd round pick to move up for Alvin Kamara, a player I love and think is a steal in the 3rd round but again why would you do that? Now the Saints still have a defense with a major lack of talent but have the most crowded RB depth chart in the league with Ingram, Peterson, Kamara and Travaris Cadet? Where is the strategy for these moves? Also the Saints should NOT be trading future picks under any circumstances as they haven’t been a double digit win team in quite a few seasons so that is going to be a low 2nd rounder next year. Finally when the Saints did take defensive players I was underwhelmed by them, except for Marshon Lattimore who is a steal at #12. LB Alex Anzalone has his defenders but I had a late round grade on him, they took him in the 3rd round, as he was almost always hurt at Florida and had some of the worst cumulative stats of any player drafted this weekend. DE Trey Hendrickson I also had a late round grade on, also taken in the 3rd round, as he didn’t seem to play at nearly his Combine measurables. I just wonder who is in charge in New Orleans and question why the team continues to be mediocre despite All-Pro level play at the QB position. Name another team that has a Top 5 QB that never makes the playoffs? Andrew Luck you say? Yep, the GM was fired just last year for that reason AND they made the playoffs more recently than the Saints did AND Brees has had better numbers the past two years than Luck yet somehow the Saints GM sticks around? The Saints are a Drew Brees injury away from being the worst team in the NFL. Something has to change down there as they seem directionless.

Giants: It’s nice to see an NFC East team not named the Cowboys in this portion. The Giants had a weird draft. I like the Evan Engram pick, in fact I’m scared my prediction of him that he could become a star if put in the right system comes true in New York next to Odell Beckham, but otherwise am confused by the moves. Their choice of DT Dalvin Tomlinson in the 2nd round was fine for some people but I had a 7th round grade on him and saw him as the most overrated Alabama player in the draft. Then they basically chose backups for 2017 with QB Davis Webb (a guy I don’t like but some did) and RB Wayne Gallman. It wouldn’t surprise me if Engram is the only starter to come out of this draft in 2017 and, if Engram doesn’t star for them, I see no potential Pro Bowlers from this draft.

Seahawks: Yep Jon is grinding that axe again. I know I criticize the Seahawks every year but it’s true, they just don’t add anything to their team. It’s really a testament to how good their nucleus is that they can get away with so many bad drafts in a row and still contend. That being said they are almost out of rope as Lynch is no longer on the team, Chancellor isn’t the impact player he was earlier in his career, Sherman is trying to get out of Seattle and Earl Thomas is openly discussing retirement. Their nucleus of 8 players is down to 7 and could be further whittled very soon as most of them are 28 or older and nearing the point when players start declining. The Seahawks and I just don’t evaluate players in a similar fashion so our draft grades differ dramatically. Lately I have been right more than wrong as they’ve only drafted 1 player in the past 4 draft that has made the Pro Bowl and that player, Tyler Lockett, was the only pick of theirs in that 2015 draft that I liked, “The Lockett pick is one of the 3 best today. I love it as I had a higher grade on him than I did on Phillip Dorsett and really considered him in the late 1st round. He and Russell Wilson will be a scary duo. I’m serious when I say that this kid could be a Pro Bowler. He’s that under the radar. He was my #5 available.” For the 2017 Draft they took Malik McDowell in the early 2nd round and it was a solid choice. After that though their grades of players and mine differed dramatically as C Ethan Pocic was a reach to me (taken #58, graded by me as #161), CB Shaquill Griffen was a similar reach (taken #90, graded by me as #160), they took 6 guys I’d never heard of, and only DT Nazair Jones (taken #102, graded by me as #102) seemed to be decent value. This looks like another year where the Seahawks add no star talent and only a little depth to their once vaunted roster.

 

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