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Biggest NFL Draft steals and reaches: The Consensus Big Board plays judge

With the 2022 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, we can begin evaluating teams’ classes while also identifying which selections might have been the biggest boons or worst mistakes for their respective teams. And to do that, we have the Consensus Big Board.

And what right does the consensus board have to evaluate the draft? Well, aside from the fact that it represents the collective efforts of dozens of draft experts, there’s evidence that it can predict outcomes. A study done by PFF evaluating the 2014 through 2019 NFL Draft classes found that the Consensus Big Board went nearly blow-for-blow with the NFL in evaluating how well prospects would go on to do. Add in the fact that most public boards do not attempt to control that much for positional value or fit and it’s remarkable that there have been portions of the draft where the consensus board has beaten the NFL in predicting player performance.

We’ll take the draft capital used by teams and divide it by the capital they earned over their picks, using a formula similar to the Jimmy Johnson trade chart and one that aligns closely with the recently formulated trade chart built on draft trades from the last five years via Rich Hill. This does not evaluate the draft trades teams made in part because it is difficult to figure out how to discount future picks or incorporate player-for-pick trades.

So this will just evaluate the selections made for the picks teams had. One thing to keep in mind is that the difference between the first pick and the eighth pick is enormous. The chart most generous to later picks, the Approximate Value Chart, finds that difference to be the same as the difference between the eighth pick and the 63rd pick. By the Rich Hill chart, the difference is irrecoverable in one draft, and a team would have to trade more than one future pick to make up the value.

As a representative example, in 2012, Washington had to give the Rams the sixth overall pick, the 39th overall pick, their 2013 first-round pick and their 2014 first-round pick in exchange for the second overall pick. A non-quarterback example came the next year, when the Dolphins traded up from 12th overall and had to include a second-round pick and a future first-round pick to get to third overall. More recently, when the Rams moved up from 15th overall to first to draft Jared Goff in 2016, they also moved two second-round picks and a third-round pick from 2016 as well as a 2017 first-round pick and third-round pick.

As such, this year, drafting the eighth-ranked player first overall was a massive loss, and drafting the second-best player seventh overall was a massive steal. It may seem harsh to judge those as the biggest mistakes or best moves of a draft, but a team that would trade down to the eighth pick from the first pick for the cost of a seventh-rounder would get blasted by the media and other NFL executives.

On top of assigning values based on player rank, the values are adjusted for positional importance — based on draft data over the last 10 years — as well as positional need, an adjustment also made from historical data and a needs matrix gathered from multiple sources.

Biggest reaches of the 2022 draft

Pick

  

Rank

  

Player, Pos., School

  

Team

  

1

8

Travon Walker, ED, Georgia

29

76

Cole Strange, OL, Chattanooga

22

51

Quay Walker, LB, Georgia

124

289

Cade York, K, LSU

130

276

Jordan Stout, P, Penn State

133

302

Jake Camarda, P, Georgia

60

86

Cam Taylor-Britt, NCB, Nebraska

67

169

Joshua Ezedu, OG, North Carolina

93

230

Ty Davis-Price, RB, LSU

Travon Walker: The Jaguars earned points for selecting an edge defender, a high-value position and a position of need, but selecting the eighth-best player first overall represents an enormous value sink. While that might be fairly thought of as a criticism of draft values, that is how the NFL generally views them during and before the draft and how their careers play out according to metrics like AV and PFF’s Wins Above Replacement, so old-school football minds and analytics nerds agree about the fact that there’s a sharp drop in value. Ranked eighth overall, Walker wasn’t disliked by evaluators; he just didn’t strike evaluators as someone worthy of the top pick. Of 82 boards, only one ranked him as the top overall player and two more ranked him second.

Cole Strange: The biggest surprise of the first round, the Rams were just one of the teams surprised to see Strange go as high as he did, judging him as someone who might be available for their first pick at No. 104. The consensus board didn’t think that was likely, but it was nevertheless an enormous stretch for the Patriots relative to the board. While some may point out that head coach and general manager Bill Belichick is a unique football mind, it’s also worth pointing out that the Patriots haven’t generated much value from their draft picks since 2017.

Quay Walker: In terms of board ranking, Walker had a high variance. Analysts disagreed more about him than a number of other prospects, so it does make sense that he would appear on this reaches list. That does give the Packers a bit more leeway than most, but it still looks like a stretch. Walker ranked 31st on Dane Brugler’s board and 39th on the well-connected forecaster board, so there’s some sense that the NFL at large was higher on him than third-party analysts, but it still looks like a tough selection at 22.

Cade York: Specialists are difficult for the consensus board, so this might just be an outright miss. Many do not rank specialists as a matter of course. Nevertheless, the consensus board doesn’t love this pick, and York only occasionally found himself ranked better than 150, even by the analysts who included him in their rankings. They might be on to something as the history of drafted kickers is extremely rough, and undrafted kickers might be a better bet even after acknowledging the wider pool available in undrafted free agency. Then again, maybe it’s better not to trust what third-party analysts have to say about specialists.

Jordan Stout and Jake Camarda: The Ravens and Buccaneers made similar picks near the same spot in the draft and suffered similar penalties for it. It is once again how the board — an accumulation of many other boards — treats specialists. If other analysts do not rank specialists, teams get dinged for drafting them.

Cam Taylor-Britt: Had Taylor-Britt been tagged as a traditional cornerback, this would have been seen as an even trade for the Bengals — the 60th overall pick for an important position of need, albeit ranked a bit lower than where they picked. But nickel cornerbacks tend to go much later in the draft, and the NFL has historically pushed them down. Some experts don’t consider him a nickel corner, and if that’s the case, the Bengals move looks better.

Joshua Ezeudu: The Giants ended up with both guards from North Carolina, and while both ended up being value losses, Ezeudu turned out to be a much more damaging pick to the team’s ranking. Ranked 169th overall at a non-primary position, the Giants overdrafted a player at a position the league historically doesn’t value.

Ty Davis-Price: Projected by many experts as a player who primarily offers complementary capability as a bruiser instead of an every-down back, Davis-Price was ranked well behind more versatile backs with a stronger history of production and more receiving capability. Davis-Price was not ranked above 100 on any board, with 112th as his most generous ranking, and he often was ranked in the 300s. Toss in the positional value penalty, and there was little chance the 49ers would have turned out to be winners in the eyes of the consensus board.

Biggest steals of the 2022 draft

Pick

  

Rank

  

Player, Pos., School

  

Team

  

7

2

Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

86

28

Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

94

44

Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

26

11

Jermaine Johnson II, ED, Florida State

83

24

Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

74

42

Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

108

53

Perrion Winfrey, DL3T, Oklahoma

30

18

George Karlaftis, ED, Purdue

Evan Neal: In much the same way that Walker was a big reach from eight to one, Neal is a fantastic steal from two to seven. Neal was the near-universal second- or third-ranked player and was the top-ranked player on 10 percent of boards. Add in the positional bonus of offensive tackles and the fact that the Giants needed a tackle and they get a nice bonus on top of the overall value Neal provides.

Malik Willis: The value of a quarterback is itself worth quite a bit, but Willis was also graded as a top-32 player. The fact that quarterback was not considered a Titans need by most experts does dampen the value a bit, but grabbing a top-32 player in the third round at a valuable position overwhelmed it by so much that they have the second-biggest steal of the draft.

Matt Corral: Quarterbacks regularly feature in this section, and Corral to the Panthers makes a lot of sense from a need, value and positional-value perspective.

Jermaine Johnson II: The Jets have been doing a great job of adding talent to their roster, but their highest-value moment might have been when they added Johnson — often mocked to them at No. 4 or 10 — at 26th overall. It was a coup to attain what many considered to be the best run-defending edge rusher in the draft, and the Jets got what a lot of analysts think is essentially a top-10 talent.

Nakobe Dean: One of the storylines of Day 2 was how far Dean would fall. His injury concerns and his lack of size were likely the reasons he plummeted, but dropping out of the first and into the third is quite the fall. On top of that, Dean was one of the players who nearly every analyst agreed on and had one of the lowest variance scores in the draft.

Desmond Ridder: Another bonus for quarterbacks is in play here, but this might have made the list regardless given that the Falcons gained about 40 slots of value here. The real issue is not whether all these teams were smart to grab these well-regarded quarterbacks late but why so many people liked this quarterback class enough to rank them so highly in the first place. But the board doesn’t do post-draft adjustments like that, so it trusts that the quarterbacks were fairly evaluated.

Perrion Winfrey: Winfrey was the second-ranked pass-rushing three-technique in the class, though his fall might be best explained by his unusual role in the Oklahoma defense, one that did not represent his projected role in the NFL. The fact that he didn’t perform agility drills in the workout circuit, more important to his position than explosion drills, might have hurt his case, too. Either way, the Browns selected a player who fell 55 spots relative to his ranking and might have found a starting-quality lineman in the fourth round.

George Karlaftis: Karlaftis was on the radar of a number of draft experts as a high-level edge rusher who just wasn’t getting his due in a star-studded class at the position. But they ranked him high nevertheless, and the Chiefs were able to take advantage of an edge-heavy class by scooping up a falling pass rusher late in the first round.

Adding up the values of all 262 draft picks, adjusting for need and positional value and calculating it as a percentage return on investment gives us the following chart.

2022 Consensus Board Draft Return

Rank

Team

  

Capital

  

Value

  

Net

  

ROI

  

1

4001

5489.8

1488.8

137.20%

2

3194.5

3976.8

782.3

124.50%

3

6457

7870.2

1413.3

121.90%

4

6600.2

7878.4

1278.2

119.40%

5

8064

9374.8

1310.8

116.30%

6

6408.5

7081.3

672.7

110.50%

7

2374.8

2486.8

112

104.70%

8

8292.7

8671.1

378.4

104.60%

9

6473.8

6714.3

240.5

103.70%

10

5974

6180.5

206.6

103.50%

11

4337.9

4370.5

32.6

100.80%

12

5177.5

5216

38.5

100.70%

13

5008.5

4924.6

-83.9

98.30%

14

3963.4

3864

-99.4

97.50%

15

7064.7

6887

-177.7

97.50%

16

4217.7

4092.3

-125.4

97.00%

17

4919.4

4704.6

-214.8

95.60%

18

1492.8

1402.9

-89.9

94.00%

19

4231.7

3932.9

-298.8

92.90%

20

6087.9

5622.7

-465.1

92.40%

21

9433.3

8638.5

-794.8

91.60%

22

4901.8

4285.2

-616.6

87.40%

23

8625.2

7404.8

-1220.4

85.90%

24

4423

3768.3

-654.6

85.20%

25

4014.9

3403.5

-611.4

84.80%

26

3748.3

3126.6

-621.7

83.40%

27

3827.4

3121.1

-706.3

81.50%

28

6849.8

5452.1

-1397.7

79.60%

29

4631.5

3599

-1032.5

77.70%

30

4274.6

3135.1

-1139.4

73.30%

31

2357.6

1608.1

-749.5

68.20%

32

5433.3

3402.2

-2031.1

62.60%

This might not initially pass the smell test as there has been a lot of praise of the Ravens’ and Jets’ drafts, neither of which grabs the top spot here. But it does make sense. Those two teams do have two of the three highest totals in capital acquired from the draft, and the big names they’ve added will be exciting for fans to follow.

But those players didn’t come for free. The Ravens had to trade away their top receiver for one of those picks, while the Jets had to deal Jamal Adams. The board doesn’t judge the efficacy of those trades and assumes every trade is fair value, though anybody is free to mentally adjust their perceptions of those trades into their calculation of the picks.

Instead, it accounts for the fact that the Jets ended up with three first-round picks — and therefore three first-round values. The Jets acquired a good player in Ahmad Gardner, but that player was ranked lower than where the Jets picked, a loss in value (a relatively minor one, but it is worth noting). On top of that, grabbing the 37th-ranked player at 37 overall would normally be a wash. But as it was a running back going to a team not perceived to need one, it hurts the board’s opinion of the draft haul. It looks like a good draft, just not one of the best based on the assets with which they entered the draft.

As a percentage of capital had in the draft, the Panthers come out on top having gained value on each of their five picks. While the bonus for quarterbacks and the boon of landing Ikem Ekwonu at sixth overall helps in a big way, they happened to secure players at needs that were important positions and were graded well by experts across the league.

The Cardinals in second place weren’t quite as consistent; they lost a small amount of value with Trey McBride, Keaontay Ingram and Christian Matthew, but they more than gained it back with Cameron Thomas, Marquis Hayes and Myjai Sanders.

Unusually, the Seahawks placed in the top five — they have typically picked against the board — and their class is highlighted by value picks in Tariq Woolen and Boye Mafe. The Chiefs did even better and only lost value on two of their 10 picks (one of which didn’t impact things much at all, as it was the third-to-last pick in the draft). Karlaftis, Darian Kinnard, Leo Chenal and Skyy Moore were well regarded by the board.

At the bottom are the Patriots, Rams, Broncos, Buccaneers and Jaguars. The Patriots are simple to explain: They only gained value with two of their pics, Bailey Zappe and Andrew Stueber, and those were minor value gains at that. Instead, they followed big loss after big loss with the picks of Strange in the first round, Tyquan Thornton in the second, Marcus Jones in the third and Jack Jones in the fourth.

The Rams actually had an advantage in this exercise, as it’s easier to gain value when picking later because teams can snap up falling players. But despite not having a pick until selection No. 104, they went well against the board. Logan Bruss was a reach of about 85 spots in the rankings, and Decobie Durant was a reach of about 100. That said, the model is overly harsh to players ranked outside the top 400, and it really shouldn’t be a big issue that a team invests seventh-round picks in players who would be ranked 412th. Really, all this means is that the Rams had only two opportunities to grab value by the board’s standards, and they didn’t take advantage of those opportunities.

The Broncos did gain value with Nik Bonitto and Damarri Mathis but had one of the bigger losses of the night when they took Montrell Washington at 162. Picks like Luke Wattenburg at 171 and Eyioma Uwazurike at 116 hurt as well.

The Buccaneers had one of the better picks on Day 3 with Zyon McCollum at 157, but their other picks were problems. Camarda was already discussed, but there was also Luke Goedeke, drafted 57th as the 100th-ranked player.

Jacksonville’s biggest miss was already discussed, and with only four other picks on hand, it couldn’t do much to make up ground. The Jags didn’t make a single pick with positive value.

(Photo: Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

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