As part of an occasional series, Fanspeak will offer tips and best practices for its wildly popular and first-of-its-kind On The Clock draft simulator.
Today’s topic: When in doubt, draft the player at the premium position.
If you’re looking for a draft strategy that’s painful but surprisingly effective, then look no further than the good ‘ol common sense approach.
Don’t overthink picks. Don’t overdraft. Go with a combination of best player available at a position of need. If a top-5 pick falls in your lap? Take him, with rare exceptions.
In other words, stick to the draft board you’re using, no matter what.
We tried this approach with three different teams: Cleveland, Washington and Seattle.
It was sometimes difficult, particularly in the Day 3 range when it seemed like the receiving and running back depth pushed all other positions down. Cleveland’s first pick of the third round is an example of that.
And this approach rarely led to significant “steals.” Cleveland and Seattle got lucky in the first round, but those were the exceptions.
However, the end results are fairly impressive. Teams were able to fill significant holes with the potential for multiple rookie starters in each draft, and there were no reaches.
Where do the best players in the draft rank? Check out @MoveTheSticks Top 50 Draft Prospects.
— NFL Podcasts (@NFL_Podcasts) March 25, 2020
For this exercise, we used the recently released CBS Sports Composite big board. However, it doesn’t matter which one you use, as even your own customized On The Clock big board works fine. Other than that, here are the rules:
Round 1, pick 10: CB Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State (Ranked No. 4)
Cornerback is not a position of need for Cleveland. However, he’s the highest-rated remaining player and almost too good to pass up, despite glaring needs along the offensive line. And before you balk at the thought of Okudah falling this far, a run on QBs and OTs would push players like Okudah down.
Round 2, pick 41: S Grant Delpit, LSU (23)
Again, passing up an OT or OG at this spot is cringe-worthy, but, like Okudah, Delpit is too good of a prospect to pass up at this point, plus he plays at a position of need. Could Delpit fall this far? Absolutely, plus, even the best safeties often don’t get drafted until the second round.
Round 3, pick 74: OG Robert Hunt, Louisiana-Lafayette (83)
This is an interesting dilemma, as the three highest-rated remaining prospects play positions that are not among the team’s greatest needs. So the best value pick here is Hunt, who can play inside or outside.
Round 3, pick 97: OT Matt Peart, Connecticut (100)
The top-rated tackle was South Carolina State’s Alex Taylor. However, in adhering to Rule 4, the common-sense approach says the Browns aren’t going to draft, then rely upon, two rookie offensive linemen who come from small schools. Plus, most draft analysts rate Peart as the better prospect.
Round 4, pick 115: LB Willie Gay Jr., Mississippi State (108)
Would probably be rated higher if not for off-field questions. Very good athlete.
Round 6, pick 187: Edge Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State (195)
Positions ahead of him were repetitive and/or unnecessary, so Tuszka , an ascending prospect, was the highest-valued remaining player at a position of need.
Round 7, pick 244: TE Mitchell Wilcox, South Florida (248)
The highest-rated DL still on the board was slotted 30-plus spots below this pick, and the highest-remaining prospects were QBs and RBs, so the pick goes to Wilcox.
Round 1, pick 2: Edge Chase Young, Ohio State (1)
We thought about going with Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, but Young is the higher-rated prospect and therefore the best value, and even though he does not play at a position of need for the Redskins, he’s definitely a blue-chip talent. In other words, you make playing time for players like Young.
Round 3, pick 66: WR Bryan Edwards, South Carolina (66)
It’s going to be hard for Washington to find a walk-in starter at OL, as the next-highest rated OT is slotted 30-plus picks lower and the next-highest rated OG is close to 20 slots lower. So the pick here is Edwards, who is recovering from a broken foot suffered while preparing for the Combine. Still, Edwards would be a nice addition to Terry McLaurin, who had an outstanding rookie year.
Round 4, pick 108: OT Ben Bartch, St. John’s (113)
With Washington OT Trey Adams going one pick earlier, the Redskins need to address the tackle position here or risk going without. At 6-foot-6, 309 pounds, Bartch has good height for the position but is a little light, plus his hand size (2nd percentile, according to Mockdraftable) and arm length (22nd percentile) are part of the reasons why some analysts think his best position is at guard. And you can’t overlook the fact that Bartch played Division III football, although he held his own during Senior Bowl practices. Still, Bartch should be an upgrade, whether he plays tackle or guard.
Round 4, pick 142: CB Javaris Davis, Auburn (141)
At 5-foot-8, 183 pounds, Davis would be a much higher pick if he was taller, although he more than makes up for it with speed — his 40 time (4.39) was one of the fastest at the Combine. He’s generally seen as an underrated prospect.
Round 5, pick 162: OG Shane Lemieux, Oregon (162)
This is a repetitive pick if Bartch is moved inside. Otherwise, this is another solid pick, as some analysts grade Lemieux as a third- to fourth-round prospect.
Round 7, pick 216: LB Evan Weaver, California (216)
Weaver didn’t blow anyone away with his Combine performance and measurables, but he led the NCAA in tackles last season with 182 tackles, including an astonishing 103 solo stops. Should make Washington’s roster.
Round 7, pick 229: S Myles Dorn, North Carolina (230)
Versatile safety, comes from NFL bloodlines, three-year starter with good size.
Round 1, pick 27: CB C.J. Henderson, Florida (18)
Although cornerback isn’t Seattle’s top need, it’s up there – and the Seahawks would be thrilled if Henderson falls all the way to No. 27. He’s widely regarded as the second-best CB in the draft and one of the most athletic, as his Combine numbers show. He finished in the 80th percentile in five of eight categories, plus, at 6-foot-1, 204 pounds, Henderson has ideal size. This would be a great pick if Henderson slides this far.
Round 2, pick 59: OT Lucas Niang, TCU (64)
After signing TE Greg Olsen and resigning Edge Bruce Irvin in free agency, the offensive line arguably becomes Seattle’s greatest need, which is why Niang is the pick here over the higher-ranked player, TE Cole Kmet of Notre Dame. Niang missed the latter half of the 2019 season but has great size and is surprisingly athletic at 6-foot-6, 315. This may be a tad high for him, but Niang would nonetheless likely start from Day 1 for Seattle and is the highest-ranked player at a position of need.
Round 2, pick 64: G Netane Muti, Fresno State (62)
Seattle double-dips and takes a second offensive lineman, filling another glaring hole with Muti. This is still a risky pick, as Muti has missed significant time, with only one healthy season, 2017. But that season showed scouts what Muti is capable of: a dominant, bulldozer of a guard. There were several DL available at this spot, but they were all ranked lower in this particular big board.
Round 3, pick 101: DL Raekwon Davis, Alabama (103)
This might be the most Seahawks-type of player in the draft: Huge (6-foot-6, 311 pounds), intimidating, versatile defensive lineman. Davis never reproduced the numbers he put up as a sophomore, as the production didn’t match up with the athletic traits the past two seasons, one of the reasons Davis is still available. But this is still a great value pick and a potential Day 1 starter who would line up next to another former Alabama DT, Jarran Reed, who recently resigned with the team.
Round 4, pick 133: WR Lynn Bowden, Kentucky (138)
Bowden did it all his junior year at Kentucky, filling in at QB for most of the season and leading his team to a bowl game. But questions surround the junior, especially considering his lack of reps in 2019 at receiver.
Round 4, pick 144: Edge (LB) Anfernee Jennings, Alabama (150)
This was the hardest pick of any of the previous mock drafts. The board says to draft Edge Jonathan Garvin of Miami, who’s ranked slightly higher (148) than Jennings. But Garvin wouldn’t offer as much versatility as Jennings, as Garvin is strictly a pass rusher while Jennings – who played outside linebacker in Alabama’s 3-4 front – could get a look at either edge or LB in Seattle’s 4-3 front. Combined with Irvin resigning with the team, this is why the pick goes to the 6-foot-2, 256-pound former Alabama captain.
Round 6, pick 214: RB Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State (217)
The highest-remaining RB, Evans is an under-the-radar prospect who’s considered a slashing, but patient runner, although his size (5-foot-10, 203) may hurt his blitz pickup. Evans is also steady with the ball, with no fumbles in 482 carries, and he can return kicks.
Jake Rigdon (email@example.com) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak and the On The Clock, which is the only NFL draft simulator that allows you to customize and use your own big board while giving you control over trades.