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How to grade an NFL Draft the day after a draft

If you’re not grading the process you’re just writing fan fiction.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 10 CFP National Championship

Grading drafts immediately is a time-honored and mostly ridiculous pastime that we all enjoy immensely. The standard post-draft grade, performed mostly by draft industrial complex yokels, relies entirely on stating whether or not the grader liked or disliked they players a team picked. There is literally no point in reading grades of this nature, because even NFL front offices and scouts realize (for the most part) that they are playing a game of chance, and that even they won’t know how they did for a few years.

It’s okay to have some level of “I liked this guy” in your grades, but the only meaningful way to grade a draft is to grade the process rather than the player. And on process, it’s hard to give the Green Bay Packers too good of a grade in 2022 for two major reasons.

The Trade

First, trading up for any position other than a quarterback is almost always a bad idea. It’s not that it’s impossible to “win” an individual trade up, and if Christian Watson reaches his ceiling, there’s a good chance they will. It’s that scouts actually aren’t great at identifying “their guy” or if they even needed to move up to get him, and the extra pick you surrender in the deal represents an enormous cost.

Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce went to Indianapolis with the 53rd pick in the draft, surrendered by Green Bay in the Watson trade. Pierce and Watson were very close in terms of production and raw athletic ability, with Pierce facing much stiffer competition than his FCS counterpart (though also enjoying a vastly superior quarterback), and if you think you can say definitively that Watson will be better than Pierce as a pro, both right away and in the future, well, let’s check back in 2025.

The cost of Watson also includes the 59th pick, which Minnesota used on guard Ed Ingram:

For the Packers, the cost was likely one of the two best edge rushers left on the board at that time, USC’s Drake Jackson and Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto.

Finally, the Packers not only missed out on another quality player at 59, but they also gave up far more draft capital than they received in the trade, based on all of the commonly-used draft pick value charts. Either of the main charts (the classic Jimmy Johnson chart or the more modern Rich Hill chart, which closely tracks the actual results of trades over the last several years) show picks 53 and 59 balancing out with 34 and either 94 or 95. That indicates that the Packers lost the trade by the value of an extra late third-round pick. Again, that’s an ugly process, though it probably represents in part the premium that was required to move up with a divisional rival.

It is worth noting that Minnesota did not have a pick between 77 and 156 at the time that they and the Packers made that trade on Friday night. They would end up trading back multiple times on Friday and Saturday (and also trading a future pick) to end up with one selection in that range, number 118. Perhaps Green Bay would have been able to find another trade partner willing to move back in exchange for more equitable compensation, but there is no guarantee of that.

Getting back to the player, I’m on record as disliking the Watson pick more that the general consensus not so much because I don’t like Watson’s potential, but because it’s very difficult to scout athletes of his caliber against lesser competition given how easy it is to dominate physically. Soft skills and route running almost don’t matter, especially in North Dakota State’s run-heavy, play action-heavy offense, and any metrics have the same issue. But again, my personal opinion on Watson barely matters. All I can tell you objectively is that they used an inefficient process to move up and acquire a risky player at a position of need. I hope it works out, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t.

Positional Value

The Packers had another major process weakness that they’ve run into before, that being positional value. Quay Walker plays a position that is widely held by both analytics people and scouts to be the least valuable spot on the defense. While Walker is a great athlete and by most accounts is a great player, using a first round pick on him is questionable, especially when many pre-draft mocks and the PFF big board had him solidly in the second round. The Packers, until very recently, almost never needed two ILBs as they played more nickel and especially dime than any other team, but we did start to see the traditional four LB set become the norm in the latter part of last season with Krys Barnes playing far more snaps.

The Packers will almost certainly be better with Walker taking those snaps, and so there is logic to the pick, but edge rusher is a far more valuable position, and there were some good ones they missed out on. For example, the Packers could have used either the Walker or Wyatt pick on Purdue’s George Karlaftis.

Even if Karlaftis winds up as a worse player than Walker (or Wyatt), he is starting with a built-in advantage based on his position. While the Packers have Rashan Gary and Preston Smith at edge, which is fine, their lack of depth is concerning and remains their biggest weakness. I should mention that the last time the Packers went against consensus on positional value was in selecting AJ Dillon in the 2nd round, and that worked out quite well for them. While quality running backs can be found in every round, Dillon was among the league’s elite last year on a per play basis, and not a lot of value came off the board immediately after. Perhaps the Packers have a knack for spotting these situations.

On the positive side, the Packers did trade back later in the draft, moving back a few spots in the 5th to pick up the 7th they used on Jonathan Ford. It’s a small move, but it’s a smart way to build depth, and they still managed to get good value with their slightly later pick at 179, with the rare useful late edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare. The biggest thing the Packers did right in the latter half was in getting high-upside players at premium positions, using picks well below the pre-draft consensus value of those players.

Big Board Survey v Actual Pick Position

Name Pick number PFF Big Board CBS Big Board Matt Miller Jordan Reid B/R Average
Name Pick number PFF Big Board CBS Big Board Matt Miller Jordan Reid B/R Average
Quay Walker 22 45 93 25 48 61 54.4
Devonte Wyatt 28 17 28 14 31 24 22.8
Christian Watson 34 75 47 27 47 94 58.0
Sean Rhyan 92 90 87 145 80 161 112.6
Romeo Doubs 132 100 229 186 120 122 151.4
Zach Tom 140 64 86 141 113 142 109.2
Kingsley Enagbare 179 52 61 92 89 121 83.0
Tariq Carpenter 228 N/A 415 N/A 229 N/A 322.0
Jonathan Ford 234 317 412 N/A N/A 236 321.7
Rasheed Walker 249 121 53 128 99 76 95.4
Samori Toure 258 N/A 479 N/A 307 192 326.0

Enagbare was universally loved by scouts and analysts pre-draft, ranked 64th by PFF, 86th by CBS, 89th by Jordan Reid of ESPN, 92nd by Matt Miller of ESPN, and 121st by the Bleacher Report consensus board. It’s one thing for me to declare that a certain player was a steal, and quite another to see it from essentially every draft scout. The wisdom of crowds loved the Enagbare pick, but that was hardly the only one. The Packers selected Wake Forest offensive tackle Zach Tom at 140, which is right about where Miller and Bleacher Report had him, but PFF (64), CBS (86), and Reid (113) had him much higher.

Perhaps the biggest “consensus steal” of the entire draft was OT Rasheed Walker of Penn State, who dropped all the way into the 7th at 249. Every analyst I can find had him drastically higher, with the CBS Big Board the most optimistic at 53, and Matt Miller the least at 128.

There may very well be great reasons that all of these players dropped, but one of the best ways to get late value is to take a few chances on the droppers. After all, while the reasons for the drop are often legitimate, the reasons they were ranked highly in the first place often are as well.

Personally, the Packers’ draft really turned for me on day 3, with the selections of Romeo Doubs and Kingsley Enagbare mitigating some of the risks of reaching for Watson and Walker. But on a pure process level, it’s tough for me to justify giving them more than a B- or so. I think anything between a low C and a B are reasonable, and anything outside of that is based more on individual love for players and less on an objective assessment of process. One can certainly find process and value-based analyses that love them, like this from Warren Sharp:

However, some are more neutral

Though the consensus seems higher than I am.

It’s tough to give away value for a non-quarterback and score an A in a draft, and even if you play the back half close to perfect, it’s difficult to make up for high-round value with low-round value.