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What happens when analytics drive the NFL Draft?

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The NFL Draft could look significantly different if teams prioritized analytic player evaluations

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

There are mock drafts, and then there are ‘math drafts’. Ok, that sounded more clever in my mind than it looks in writing. But it’s there, and there’s no eraser on my keyboard, so we’ll just keep going.

For fans of analytics, the NFL playing field isn’t so much a battleground as much as it is a spreadsheet. The way the games turnout, which players excel and which ones struggle, can all be predicted and explained through the wonders of math.

But is it a complete way of looking at the game? I think most would agree there’s no one way to look at football, so analytics provides just one more lens we can use to evaluate the game we all love so much.

At NFL Network, the holder of this lens is Analytics expert, Cynthia Frelund. And she used the powers of numbers to figure out which player all 32 NFL teams should be taking in the first round to best leverage the power of analytics as they race for Tampa in 2021.

Who should the Tampa Bay Buccaneers be taking? Well, to get there, we have to look at a few things that happen before pick fourteen is on the clock.

Now, it’s important to understand Frelund is not doing this as a predictive model. Only to show what the projections in her model give as setting each team up with the best potential to add wins to their previous year’s record, given the current landscape of each team.

Everybody understand? Good. So, with the first pick in the 2020 NFL Cynthia Frelund Analytics Mock Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select.....

Ohio State EDGE, Chase Young

What? No Joe Burrow? Well, according to Frelund,

Big Ten Football Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

“Due to multiple positional areas of concern, my models suggest that the fastest way for the Bengals to improve their win total in 2020 is to leverage a rich quarterback market in free agency and take the highest-rated player in the draft. Conventional statistics show that the defense allowed 6.1 yards per play last season (tied for dead last) and forced just 16 takeaways (tied for third-fewest). In terms of pressure, Cincy logged 31 sacks (tied for 26th), and only two teams ranked worse in percentage of passing plays where a defender got within a 5-foot halo of an opposing quarterback, with a disruption rate of just 19 percent. In order for presumptive No. 1 pick Joe Burrow to add more wins than Young next season, the Bengals would have to significantly upgrade their O-line and address D-line woes, because a good defense is also a quarterback’s best friend.”

Alright. So, if you weren’t ready, hopefully now you know what you’re in for. This isn’t your typical mock draft, folks.

At pick number two, the Washington Redskins take Clemson LB/S/Defensive Extraordinaire Isaiah Simmons, because the guy they’ve been getting mocked to take - Chase Young - is obviously no longer waiting in the green room.

As the Detroit Lions come to the podium, they take Auburn’s Derrick Brown, sending Joe Burrow out of the green room and into the back alley like a fictional quarterback from the University of Wisconsin once did.

But he gets back in fairly quickly as the New York Giants draft Tristan Wirfs, leaving the Miami Dolphins hot and ready to snag the Heisman winning quarterback at pick number five. The sure-fire number one overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Joe Burrow, goes fifth.

He and his agent immediately try to convince the Dolphins brass to avoid Ryan Fitzpatrick at all costs, because we all know there isn’t a starting quarterback alive who can withstand having Fitz-Magic as his back-up.

Now, as different as this mock is, it’s the same in that all three quarterbacks you’d expect to go in the Top-15, do. Burrow to the Dolphins, then Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) ends up with the Los Angeles Chargers one pick later, and the Indianapolis Colts abandon all hope in Jacoby Brissett by drafting Justin Herbert with the thirteenth pick of the first round.

At fourteen now, those who are in love with Jordan Love are excited. Those who want defense are also excited. Mekhi Becton (Louisville) fan club? Yep, you’re jumping in anticipation as well. What’s that? You want a running back above all else? Weird, but none have been taken yet, so the Buccaneers have their pick of the litter!

And with the fourteenth pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select...

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Texas A&M at LSU Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LSU EDGE, K’Lavon Chaisson

(The guy who’s photo is at the top of this post)

Explaining the pick, Frelund writes,

“No matter what happens with pending free agent Shaq Barrett, adding Chaisson to this Todd Bowles-led defense is the fastest road to wins added at pick No. 14.”

Not the most elaborate explanation I’ve ever read, but hard to argue with. And fitting that the world of traditional evaluations and analytics meet here as Chaisson is no stranger to being mocked to the Bucs this year.

The NFL Network Analytics Expert promises in her writing to also do another math-driven mock draft after free-agency shakes up everything we thought we knew coming into March. And I for one, can’t wait.

What do we think? What grade would you give Jason Licht if he were to grab K’Lavon Chaisson for Todd Bowles’ defense, with guys like Becton, C.J. Henderson (Florida), A.J. Epenesa (Iowa), and D’Andre Swift (Georgia) still on the board?

To check out the rest of Frelund’s mock draft, head over to NFL.com.

Poll

What grade does Jason Licht get for drafting K’Lavon Chaisson here?

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  • 17%
    A
    (22 votes)
  • 44%
    B
    (57 votes)
  • 23%
    C
    (30 votes)
  • 10%
    D
    (13 votes)
  • 5%
    F
    (7 votes)
129 votes total Vote Now