The NFL has taken full advantage of its time in the virtual limelight over the past couple of weeks, determined to push the league schedule forward.
It was rewarded with a draft that reached a total of more than 55 million viewers over the three-day event – making it the most-watched NFL draft of all time.
But which teams seemed to be the most prepared under the unique circumstances? And which teams were able to grab players that appeared to slip through the cracks late in the draft?
Instead of using NFL scouting combine results and medical records, we’ve weighed individual performance statistics and implemented many of our advanced analytics to rate top prospects heading into the draft. These metrics measure things like quantifying defenders’ performances at shedding blocks and disrupting the play design, as well as offensive linemen’s pass-blocking and run-blocking performances.
Here is a look at some of the picks our data valued far above where the respective player landed in the draft (glossary of metrics at the bottom):
Third Round, 24th pick; Cleveland Browns – Jordan Elliott, DT, Missouri
We touched on it in our first-round mock draft, but Elliott was arguably the top interior defensive lineman in all of college football according to Stats Perform metrics. His three sacks might not sound impressive, but his 19.1% Pressure Rate from the inside is elite and should translate in a passing league. With Sheldon Richardson slated in at the three technique in Cleveland, Elliott has time to grow into a starter but should be a quality option to spell Richardson for now.
Third Round, 26th pick; Houston Texans – Jonathan Greenard, EDGE, Florida
A grad transfer from Louisville, Greenard did everything in his only year in Gainesville. He was second and third, respectively, in Pressure and Disruption Rates among SEC edge players. The Texans are a little thin on the outside behind Whitney Mercilus, so getting a highly productive player against top competition in Greenard looks like a great pick.
Fourth Round, 24th pick; Minnesota Vikings – James Lynch, DT, Baylor
After losing Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen, the Vikings’ defensive front may not be as strong as in past years. Enter Lynch, a versatile three-down lineman at Baylor. Lynch played the majority of his third and final year in college at defensive end, but he will most likely move inside at the next level. Lynch picked up 13.5 sacks and reached the backfield on over 25% of his pass-rush attempts, so he can provide an immediate pass-rush threat from inside while he gets used to his new role.
Fourth Round, 37th pick; Baltimore Ravens – Ben Bredeson, G, Michigan
After future Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda announced his retirement a few weeks ago, the Ravens had an immediate hole on the interior of their offensive line. Bredeson is extremely experienced, playing in all 50 games of his career while starting 46 of them, and is a quality run blocker with just a 4.4% Disruption-Allowed Rate, so he seems like a great fit in the Ravens’ run-heavy scheme with Lamar Jackson. Baltimore also drafted guard Tyre Phillips and recently signed D.J. Fluker, so Bredeson is far from a sure thing to start from Day 1, but we think he’ll have the best chance to lock down that role long term.
Fourth Round, 40th pick; Dallas Cowboys – Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin
Like Bredeson, Biadasz is a Big Ten interior offensive lineman shooting to replace a possible future Hall of Famer (in this case, Travis Frederick). Biadasz has had some injury issues in his career and isn’t the most athletic of linemen, but his production at Wisconsin was undeniable. He ranked in the top five in both pass protection and run blocking among all Power 5 centers last year and was a key part of Jonathan Taylor’s three straight 2,000-yard rushing seasons.
Fifth Round, 34th pick; Dallas Cowboys – Bradlee Anae, EDGE, Utah
Anae looks to be another savvy pick by Jerry Jones and company in this draft. The three-year starter at Utah was a quality run defender on the edge (8.5% Disruption Rate) and his immediate impact in Dallas will come as a pass rusher. He has prototypical 4-3 defensive end size and was second among Pac-12 edge rushers with a 23.3% Pressure Rate. After losing Robert Quinn to the Bears and having big question marks at the position in Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith, Anae has a good chance to help Dallas get to the QB.
Sixth Round, 23rd pick; Arizona Cardinals – Evan Weaver, LB, California
Although not nearly as heralded as the Cardinals’ first-round pick at linebacker, Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, Weaver was a fantastic college player in his own right. With 181 tackles in his senior season, he had 30 more than any other player in the country while only missing 19 attempts, good for an 89.6% Tackle Rate. His 30% Pressure Rate also shows the ability to get after the QB on his blitz attempts. Weaver was about average in pass coverage last season, but in a similar scheme (both Cal and the Cardinals play about 50% cover 3 and cover 4), he has the potential to grow into a three-down linebacker. It’s possible Weaver’s physical limitations will prevent him from ever becoming a full-time starter in the NFL, but there is no question he knows how to play football.
Seventh Round, 3rd pick; San Francisco 49ers – Jauan Jennings, WR, Tennessee
Jennings will likely be relegated to the bench and special teams play in the near future, but we love his potential for a seventh-round pick. Among all Day 3 receivers, Jennings was first in Big Play% (56.6), and third in both Burn% (73.1) and Burn Yards Per Target (13.7). Combine that big-play ability with Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and Jennings could be an intriguing player for San Francisco.
Seventh Round, 6th pick; Los Angeles Chargers – K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State
Quite honestly, it’s hard to imagine 219 players better than Hill in this draft. No receiver in the country with 50 or more targets got open more than Hill (92.2%) and he won Burns on 61 of his 77 targets, giving him the highest Burn Rate among all drafted receivers. With the Chargers starting a rebuild with Philip Rivers gone and Keenan Allen in the last year of his deal, Hill could be a great replacement in the slot for Justin Herbert.
Seventh Round, 25th pick; Buffalo Bills – Dane Jackson, CB, Pittsburgh
At this point in the draft pretty much every player has question marks. But based on last season’s numbers, the Bills may have found a sleeper in Jackson. Jackson was the only Day 3 cornerback from the Power 5 conferences that was better than average in Big Play%, Burn%, Burn Yards per Target and Open%. If the Bills can’t get new signee Josh Norman to return to form, Jackson could quietly sneak into a role for a potential playoff team by the end of the year.
Advanced analytics and data analysis provided by Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads.
Glossary of metrics:
Pressure Rate: Pressures per pass rush opportunity
Run Disruption: Disrupting the design of the run play by beating a blocker
Run Disruption Allowed Rate: Run disruption rate flipped to measure run blocking
Tackle Rate: Total tackles (tackles+assists) divided by total opportunities (tackles+assists+broken+missed)
Big Play%: A way to contextualize Burn yards. TDs and passes of 19 or more yards are full big plays, Burns less than 20 yards are a sliding scale between 1 and 0 based on yardage
Burn: A productive play for the offense, agnostic of the QB accuracy. For example, if a player is wide open 30 yards downfield but the QB overthrows him, it’s credited as a Burn to the receiver and a Burn allowed to the defender covering him.
Burn Yard Per Target: Total yards accrued on Burns, then measured per target
Burn Allow %: Burns allowed per defensive target
Open%: Rate of being open on targeted passes