Quick-snap draft grading is a curious process. After all, it requires a certain level of hubris to predict how an entire class of rookies will fare before having even played a down.
Nowadays, draft grades are even less representative than ever, considering the vast variety of roles that different coaching staffs throughout the league may assign players to. Take the Packers’ Ty Montgomery, for example: he struggled to even sniff the playing field during his first few years as a wide receiver, but, as soon as he was moved to running back, he showed promise.
However, as flawed as the process may be, it is still fun to look back at all the fresh rookie faces and try to get an idea of who they are and who they may become. With that said, here are my draft grades for the NFC North:
Round 1, Pick 20: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
Round 2, Pick 43: Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
Round 3, Pick 82: Tracy Walker, S, Louisiana
Round 4, Pick 114: Da’Shawn Hand, Edge, Alabama
Round 5, Pick 153: Tyrell Crosby, OL, Oregon
Round 7, Pick 237: Nick Bawden, FB, San Diego St.
Given new head coach Matt Patricia’s experience working as an assistant offensive line coach early on during his tenure in New England, it makes sense that he would invest in “hog mollies” from the get-go. First-round pick Frank Ragnow is the prototypical modern-day center for a power-run scheme. Having posted marks in the 90th percentile or higher in the broad jump, vertical jump, 40-yard dash, and 20-yard split, Ragnow is a fluid, efficient mover in space with an ability to anchor his lower body and finish blocks. So long as he recovers from the high-ankle sprain that ended his 2017 campaign, his presence could turn Detroit’s offensive line into one of the league’s very best.
Kerryon Johnson in the following round was much more of an eyebrow-raiser. Where some see Le’veon Bell-esque patience, others see hesitation and indecision. While Johnson’s power, grit, and backfield vision are not to be scoffed at, his upright running style and unremarkable foot quickness make me question his long-term upside, which makes the decision to trade up to draft him–with Derrius Guice still on the board, no less–all the more baffling. In the following round, safety Tracy Walker was a smart pick with the aging Glover Quin nearing the end of his contract. A powerful tackler in the box with an intriguing fluidity and ball skills in man coverage, Walker could contribute right away in a Micah Hyde-type of role.
Da’Shawn Hand at 114 was another interesting selection. Although one can rag on the price tag in the trade up (a 2019 third rounder), leapfrogging the Bears, who may have been targeting Hand with the following pick, was a shrewd move nevertheless. Hand is not an explosive athlete, but has a strong upper body and enough bend to get by as a rotational rusher. Tyrell Crosby in the fifth, meanwhile, was tremendous value.
While he can play tall at times, Crosby’s footwork, flexibility, and sneaky power could turn him into a starting-caliber tackle in a few years time. Given the way the Lions’ offensive line play deteriorated last season after Taylor Decker went down, Crosby should be a hefty upgrade over last year’s backup, Greg Robinson. Then, to cap it off, the Lions added tough blocking back Nick Bawden, cementing the power running game led by Ragnow and Johnson.
Favorite pick: Crosby
Least favorite pick: Johnson
Overall grade: B-
While it is possible to envision a future where every player listed above is a long-term contributor, ultimately, most of the picks felt as though there was better value at the same position left on the board, making for a haul that was little more than effectual.
Green Bay Packers
Round 1, Pick 18: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Round 2, Pick 45: Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa
Round 3, Pick 88: Oren Burks, LB, Vanderbilt
Round 4, Pick 133: J’Mon Moore, WR, Missouri
Round 5, Pick 138: Cole Madison, G, Washington St.
Round 5, Pick 172: J.K. Scott, P, Alabama
Round 5, Pick 174: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, South Florida
Round 6, Pick 207: Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
Round 7, Pick 232: James Looney, Edge, California
Round 7, Pick 239: Hunter Bradley, LS, Mississippi St.
Round 7, Pick 248: Kendall Donnerson, Edge, SE Missouri St.
After long-time general manager Ted Thompson was deposed earlier in the offseason after years of underwhelming drafting and blatant free agent mismanagement, all eyes were on the debut of new GM Brian Gutekunst in his first go-around at widening the Packer’ Super Bowl window. “Gutie” started his tenure off with a bang, doubling down on high-upside cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Joshua Jackson during the first two rounds.
Though a little undersized at 5’10, Alexander has fluid hips, tremendous body control, instincts with the ball in the air, and a unique physical style. While he can occasionally be overzealous while playing the ball, he should be an impact player from day one. Jackson, meanwhile, put up gaudy numbers at Iowa, intercepting eight passes as a junior and returning two for touchdowns, but his lack of hip fluidity and occasional tendency to bite on hard fakes by receivers is definite cause for concern. However, that should not overshadow the size (6’0), length (31 1/8 in. arms), and football smarts that could make him a nightmare with his eyes to the QB.
Third-round linebacker Oren Burks, meanwhile, is a fascinating off-ball linebacker. He is somewhat raw mentally, with a tendency to bite hard on play fakes. However, he takes efficient routes to the ball, can stave off blockers when playing the edge, and has strong coverage ability to boot, having occasionally been flexed out into the slot to guard tight ends. While he may not play right away, Burks should offer valuable competition for incumbents Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez. WR J’Mon Moore in the fourth is another solid value pickup. With the quicks to separate off the line and the burst to accelerate and burn after the catch, Moore is the perfect successor to long-time slot weapon Randall Cobb.
With the later-round picks, the Packers continued to add depth at positions of need. While he does not have tremendous lower body strength, Washington State’s Cole Madison plays with active feet, quick hips, and a consistently low center of gravity, which should allow him to compete for a starting spot from the get-go. Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown, meanwhile, are two high-upside deep threats with big frames and impressive, twitchy athletic profile.
The latter is particularly interesting: having fallen, in large part, due to potential attitude concerns, St. Brown offers solid long speed, an enormous catch radius, and devious quickness out of breaks, reminiscent of the Bears’ Cameron Meredith. Then, in Looney, the Packers nabbed a quick, late-round edge rusher that could factor in at the back end of the rotation.
Ultimately, the only real blemish was the J.K. Scott selection, which was unnecessary given that the Packers already had Justin Vogel on the roster, who had averaged 44.4 yards per punt with just two touchbacks over a stellar rookie campaign in 2017. Overall, however, it was a phenomenal draft. Gutekunst retooled at countless positions all over the roster, and even picked up a 2019 first-round pick from the New Orleans Saints in the Saints’ trade up for edge rusher Marcus Davenport. Though it may be too early to tell, the future is bright for the Packers’ new regime.
Favorite pick: St. Brown
Least favorite pick: Scott
Overall Grade: A+
With a new-look secondary, three potential new contributors at wide receiver, and a future first-rounder to boot, it is hard to envision Gutie with a better draft to open his GM career.
Round 1, Pick 8: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Round 2, Pick 39: James Daniels, C, Iowa
Round 2, Pick 51: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
Round 4, Pick 115: Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
Round 5, Pick 145: Bilal Nichols, DT, Delaware
Round 6, Pick 181: Kylie Fitts, Edge, Utah
Round 7, Pick 224: Javon Wims, WR, Georgia
One year ago, following a draft full of controversial trades and curious small-school selections, Bears general manager Ryan Pace drew heavy criticism from pundits and executives alike. This year, however, the response has been near-universal praise, and, in all honesty… Pace deserves it.
After plugging holes all over the offense in free agency with big names like Allen Robinson and Trey Burton, the Bears’ first move in the draft was to pick up explosive Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. With phenomenal speed to go from sideline to sideline (4.51 40 time), high-level instincts and vision, gritty, head-on tackling ability, and intangibles beyond his years, Smith is a prototypical modern-day WILL linebacker with All-Pro caliber upside.
The one glaring issue with the pick is Smith’s lack of willingness (or ability) to take on blocks. Unless he is “kept clean” by Chicago’s defensive front, he could struggle early on, but the upside is well worth the risk.
On Day 2, the Bears continued to fish out great value picks. Guard/center hybrid James Daniels plays with a strong, decisive base, and is highly instinctive in getting to the second level, making him a perfect fit for the Bears’ zone running scheme. Anthony Miller, meanwhile, is a do-it-all wide receiver that should immediately become the Robin to Allen Robinson’s Batman.
Apart from occasional concentration drops and relatively pedestrian deep speed, Miller has just about every tool out there: quickness both off the line and out of breaks, strong hands, sneaky circus catching ability, savvy route running, and keen deep ball tracking instincts. Whether he plays outside or in the slot, Miller’s play should end up well worth the 2019 second round pick used to trade up and snag him.
The following day gave way to more gambles on upside. In Joel Iyiegbuniwe, or “Iggy,” the Bears got another speedy off-ball linebacker, with potential to be a stellar special teams gunner from the get-go. While this seems like a reach, especially considering that there was still big-time value on the board in players like edge rusher Josh Sweat and tackle Jamarco Jones, it is always wise to stock up on athletic defenders that can be deployed in a number of ways.
In the next round, with Nichols, the Bears get a strong, twitchy interior defender with great production (10.5 sacks, 10 pass deflections) over the past two seasons, making him a potentially valuable rotational piece if he is played at the three-technique. Fitts, on the other hand, is a gamble on injury recovery. Labeled by some as a possible mid-rounder following a thunderous combine during which he recorded the second-best three-cone time at his position (6.88), Fitts could pay major dividends if his injury history doesn’t linger.
In the final round, the Bears continued added another high-potential player in Georgia wide receiver Javon Wims. Although he is a stiff mover with concerning short-area quickness that could prove cumbersome at the pro level, there is still a lot to like in “Juice.” For instance, his strong hands and inane body control, combined with a 6’3, 215-pound frame, could make him an immediate contributor in red zone packages.
Then, after the draft, the Bears continued to add value by signing two of my favorite “sleeper” defensive backs, Kevin Toliver II and Michael Joseph. Toliver is a big, scrappy LSU product that plays with physicality. While his ball skills leave a lot to be desired, he has shown an ability to stay in his man’s hip pocket and could prove to be a valuable depth piece. Joseph, meanwhile, is a tall (6’1), lean ballhawk with high-level production (8 interceptions and 8 pass breakups as a junior). Despite playing at Division III Dubuque, Joseph has highly advanced hands, ball skills, and instincts, which could earn him a roster spot as a corner or safety.
Favorite pick: Miller
Least favorite pick: Iyiegbuniwe
Overall Grade: A-
Although a trade down in the first round could have been both prudent and lucrative, Ryan Pace did an excellent job of scooping up falling value at various positions of need as the draft progressed, particularly in the second round.
Round 1, Pick 30: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
Round 2, Pick 62: Brian O’Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
Round 4, Pick 102: Jalyn Holmes, Edge, Ohio St.
Round 5, Pick 157: Tyler Conklin, TE, Central Michigan
Round 5, Pick 167: Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn
Round 6, Pick 213: Colby Gossett, G, Appalachian St.
Round 6, Pick 218: Ade Aruna, Edge, Tulane
Round 7, Pick 225: Devante Downs, LB, California
With quarterback Kirk Cousins signed to the largest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history, the writing is on the wall that the Vikings may not be able to resign numerous recent draftees on the defensive side of the ball, including outside linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Trae Waynes.
As such, picking Mike Hughes of the national champion UCF Knights in the first round, notwithstanding his 2015 brush with the law, made a great deal of sense. Hughes plays with fluid hips and solid long speed, and has shown enough instincts with his eyes to the quarterback to play in a variety of schemes. On top of that, even if head coach Mike Zimmer chooses to bring him along slowly, he should still offer value in the return game, having taken two kicks, a punt, and one of his four interceptions to the house during his junior season.
O’Neill in the second round is another intriguing selection. Despite being 6’7, 297 pounds, O’Neill put up tight end numbers at the combine, running a ridiculous 4.82 40-yard dash. However, O’Neill was not just a workout warrior–that nuclear athleticism also manifests on tape, particularly in the run game. While he does not always securely anchor his lower body, and can sometimes be beaten to the first punch, O’Neill is smooth and nimble, and should grow into a fearsome pull blocker for RB Dalvin Cook.
Holmes, meanwhile did not put up gaudy numbers at Ohio State, with just 2.0 sacks in his senior season, but could still work his way into the Vikings rotation, especially if Barr is let go after the 2018 season. With a quick get-off and efficient movement skills, Holmes should be a solid depth piece.
In the 4th round, Conklin is another upside pick. After showing off terrific hands and body control in 2016, the former basketball player missed almost half of his 2017 campaign with a Jones fracture in his foot, which may have caused him to fall. However, if he can regain his form from two years ago, he should be a solid “mismatch guy,” to quote Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.
On the flip side, fifth-round kicker Daniel Carlson felt like a reach, especially after finishing his senior season with an unflattering 74.2% kicking percentage. The same goes for sixth-rounder Colby Gossett, who NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein described as having “had trouble sustaining blocks against talented competition,” an issue the popped up numerous times on his film despite a quick get-off and fluid movement at the second level. Ade Aruna, meanwhile, could be a late-round gem in the making. With tremendous explosiveness off the line (as shown by his 4.6 40 time) and a powerful rip move, Aruna could factor in as a rotational rusher early on in his career.
Devante Downs is another potential sleeper, with wrap-up tackling ability and compelling instincts with his eyes to the quarterback. This makes him another valuable depth piece, whether it be as a downhill defender or a coverage ‘backer. Then, like the Bears, the Vikings secured excellent value after the draft to complement a solid haul. Texas cornerback Holton Hill was seen by many as a potential mid-round pick due to his size and athleticism, but fell due to maturity concerns. South Dakota State’s Jake Weineke and Oklahoma’s Jeff Badet, meanwhile, add upside at the wide receiver position in starkly different ways.
Weineke offers excellent hands and body control, while Badet is an explosive threat in the open field, which could allow him to squeeze onto the roster as a return man. Finally, Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa, who boasts the most impressive name this side of E.Q. St. Brown to go along with his high-level production and explosiveness, may be somewhat of a tweener, but could make an impact if he bulks up.
Favorite pick: Hughes
Least favorite pick: Carlson
Overall Grade: B
Whether it been on past arrests, injury history, or inconsistent tape, it seemed like just about every single pick that Spielman made this year was a gamble. If it all works out, however, the payoff could be enormous.