Let's start by getting this formality out of the way: I am not an NFL general manager. But as a member of football's 33rd front office, I attack my role in exactly the same way by assessing the risk and reward of every possible move for franchises and trying to determine the ideal pathway for success for each along the way.
That, at its core, is the most challenging piece of the draft. For every move that is made, there are a slew of dominoes that fall and create a challenging puzzle. How do teams navigate the supply and demand of each position in the draft while finding the ideal value and building their team for long-term success?
Over the course of these final few weeks before the 2020 NFL Draft, I'll be sharing some of my insights for what is to come. Today's observation is pretty cut and dry.
Why? I've given out a total of five first-round grades to 2020 receivers:
- CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma (5th overall)
- Jerry Jeudy, Alabama (6th overall)
- Henry Ruggs III, Alabama (10th overall)
- Justin Jefferson, LSU (17th overall)
- Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado (20th overall)
In a vacuum, each of these players is one I would deem worthy of a first-round pick. And if certain teams (such as the Philadelphia Eagles) drafted Jefferson, Shenault or any of the other receivers not among the top three, I would understand why that pick was made.
But when you consider the depth of this year's receiver class and comparing the skills of those who are on the fringe of being a top prospect, you'll often find comparable valuable.
Lamb, Jeudy and Ruggs are a clear cut top tier. They're dynamic talents who nearly check every box you could want. But after them, you start getting into murky waters that aren't easily navigated without finding a comparable talent a bit further down the board. And if I can get 90% of a player a round later, I'm going to take my shots earlier in the draft at positions that possess equal talent but greater scarcity.
Take the Minnesota Vikings as an example. They traded Stefon Diggs this offseason and have a clear void in their receiver room. The Vikings own picks Nos. 22 and 25 in the first round, which would put them in the wheelhouse for either Jefferson or any other number of talented receivers. But why draft Jefferson, a first-round talent, when the drop off from him to say Florida's Van Jefferson is significantly less than the drop off from (as an example) TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney and the corners who will be available when Minnesota comes on the board in the second round? Assuming teams value Gladney and Jefferson equally.
Another good example would be the Miami Dolphins. They aren't regarded as needing a receiver desperately, but with three first-round picks, they have the luxury of drafting good football players first and foremost. Provided Miami is considering a receiver at either pick Nos. 18 or 26, it would be wise to pivot to a pass rusher like K'Lavon Chaisson (at No. 18) or an interior offensive lineman like Cesar Ruiz (at either Nos. 18 or 26) instead. I have first-round grades on Jefferson, Chaisson and Ruiz alike, but I feel much better about getting a comparable talent at receiver in the second round than I do at either EDGE or interior offensive line.
If I hold two players in equal esteem in this class, the tie is going away from the receivers in the back half of the first round. There's too much depth there to overlook in trying to make draft decisions. That is, of course, unless their names are Lamb, Jeudy or Ruggs.