The NFL draft, contrary to conventional wisdom, is similar to a lottery ticket. History has shown no franchise can consistently win the draft and even the best teams have their share of winners and losers — as do franchises that consistently hold the top picks. Therefore, the best way to ensure your team’s future is to stockpile as many picks as possible.
The traditional way to value draft picks is via Jimmy Johnson’s chart, which assigns each pick a value between 2 and 3,000 points, with higher numbers indicating more valuable slots. That’s useful for analyzing draft transactions but it does little to give us a sense how much talent a team should add through the draft. For that we use the average five-year approximate value — Doug Drinen’s method that puts a single number on the seasonal value of a player at any position from any year — expected to be gained by a player drafted at that position. The five-year time frame coincides with how long a rookie plays under a controlled cost.
By this method, the Cleveland Browns, with nine picks overall and five in the first two rounds, are in an enviable position. By virtue of their two first-round picks, Nos. 1 and 4 overall, the team should come away with players who project to contribute 76 AV in total value over the next five years. The first overall pick is obviously the most valuable (40.7 AV) while the fourth pick should also result in a high-quality player (35.2). Quarterbacks who have provided their team 41 AV over the first five years of their career include Derek Carr and Blake Bortles. Those in the 30 to 40 AV range include Aaron Rodgers (if that seems low, remember he didn’t start right away), Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Kirk Cousins. That should be a welcome sight for a team that has struggled to find a franchise quarterback.
The Buffalo Bills, holders of the Nos. 12 and 22 picks, have the second-most expected value in the first round (49.4 five-year projected AV) followed by the New England Patriots (41.8 AV). The Patriots made several moves this offseason, including shipping wideout Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams for a first-round pick in 2018, giving them two selections in the first round for the third time since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000. The other instances include the 2004 and 2012 NFL drafts, resulting in tight end Ben Watson and nose tackle Vince Wilfork in the former and linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones in the latter. Wilfork, Hightower and Jones appeared in eight Pro Bowls combined for the Patriots, so look for New England to come away with a stronger team 2017.
But that’s just focusing on one of the draft’s seven rounds, and the Browns should also be able to find contributors late in the draft as well. The team’s draft selections are projected to add 161.4 AV over the next five years, a league high in this draft and 37 AV more than the Bills, who are second (124.3). That 37 AV is significant and on par with the value Ryan Kerrigan has provided the Washington Redskins during his first five years in the NFL: 47.5 sacks and 214 tackles over 80 games.
Close behind the Bills in terms of expected five-year value from this draft class includes the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers.
The Colts are switching to a 4-3 defensive scheme and could use an edge rusher and middle linebacker to make it a success from Day 1. Later in the draft they should look to add some help for the offensive line, which allowed 182 total sacks, hits and hurries in 2017, the ninth-most in the NFL. And with Andrew Luck getting healthy, the Colts will want to keep him that way.
Denver sent Aqib Talib to the Rams and will need to find his replacement at corner. According to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, Talib allowed 0.57 yards per cover snap, the third-lowest rate among qualified cornerbacks last season. The Broncos should also seek out a tight end, plus a wideout who can eventually take over for Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was miffed he isn’t in the loop on the teams plans, but the team could smooth things over with an additional right tackle. Green Bay used five different players at right tackle last year and all received a negative grade for their performance by Pro Football Focus. A receiver that helps ease the loss of Jordy Nelson wouldn’t hurt, either.
Teams with the least amount to gain from the NFL draft — without making any additional moves — include the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Rams don’t have much draft capital because they traded it away for proven players such as Talib, Cooks and Marcus Peters. In fact, their first pick in the 2018 draft isn’t until the third round (No. 87). They do, however, have three fourth-round picks and four sixth-round picks, which could provide depth to a up-and-coming Super Bowl contender.
Here is the expected value for all 32 NFL teams in this year’s draft:
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