NFL Draft Team Grades Using the Football Rookie Handbook

By NATHAN COOPER AND JOHN TODD

This was the second season of the SIS Football Rookie Handbook being published. The idea is to have the top players at their respective positions make the book. With 284 players, not every player from the Handbook would be drafted and not every player drafted was in the Handbook. After having 174 of 254 (69%) drafted players in the book in 2019, we bumped that number up to 199 of 255 (78%) this year. 

When taking out special teams players and one XFL player, which we don’t cover, and 22 players that we had reports on but didn’t think were good enough to make the book, it comes out to only 27 draftees that didn’t have a report on them.

Now using the Handbook, we attempted to grade each team’s draft class. Just like in our article from last season, we assigned all grades from the Handbook and gave all players that weren’t in the book a 5.7 and divided that by the number of selections the team had. 

The 2020 Best Draft Class, with an average grade of 6.5, went to the Cleveland Browns. They had seven draft picks and all of them were featured in the SIS Football Rookie Handbook. After only two teams selected Handbook players for their entire draft class in 2019, five teams did in 2020. In addition to the Browns, the Ravens (both seasons), Bengals, Raiders, and Cardinals all selected their entire draft class from players profiled in the SIS Football Rookie Handbook.

The Browns draft class is seen in the table below.

Cleveland Browns 2020 Draft Class
Pick Position Player College Grade
10 OT Jedrick Wills Alabama 6.8
44 S Grant Delpit LSU 6.9
88 NT Jordan Elliott Missouri 6.3
97 LB Jacob Phillips LSU 6.2
115 TE Harrison Bryant Florida Atlantic 6.5
160 OC Nick Harris Washington 6.4
187 WR Donovan Peoples-Jones Michigan 6.4

In our opinion, the Browns drafted a lot of players that we feel can contribute to both sides of the ball early on in their careers. Jedrick Wills and Grant Delpit have the ability to come in and make impacts right away, working into a high-end starting role by Year 2. Jordan Elliott, Harrison Bryant, Nick Harris, and Donovan Peoples-Jones should all develop into low-end or limited starters.

Here are the draft classes ranked in order of their grade.

Final Rankings
Team # of Picks Draft Grade
Browns 7 6.50
Bengals 7 6.49
Cardinals 6 6.45
Cowboys 7 6.44
Bills 7 6.43
Saints 4 6.40
Rams 9 6.38
Raiders 7 6.36
Dolphins 11 6.35
Ravens 10 6.31
Lions 9 6.31
Panthers 7 6.27
Redskins 8 6.26
Jets 9 6.26
Buccaneers 7 6.26
Eagles 10 6.23
Falcons 6 6.22
49ers 5 6.20
Jaguars 12 6.17
Broncos 10 6.17
Chargers 6 6.17
Seahawks 8 6.15
Vikings 15 6.13
Titans 6 6.13
Patriots 10 6.08
Colts 9 6.08
Chiefs 6 6.07
Bears 7 6.07
Texans 5 6.06
Giants 10 6.04
Steelers 6 6.02
Packers 9 5.97

The Bengals, Cardinals, and Bills make the top five for the second straight season. Consistently having top draft classes are how teams build rosters and have success.

With just a 0.01 separation from the top spot, the Bengals garnered our  No. 2 Draft Grade with a 6.49 average. No. 1 pick Joe Burrow was a selection that could change the dynamic of the entire football team for many years to come. With the first pick of Day 2, Tee Higgins is a game changer at the receiver position and should pair nicely across from A.J. Green as a lethal target for Burrow. Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gather should fill in nicely at the linebacker position, as well as 7th-round pick Markus Bailey if he can prove to stay healthy. 5th and 6th round picks Khalid Kareem and Hakeem Adeniji are rotational pieces that could be valuable depth players moving forward.

The bottom three teams for 2020 were the Packers, Steelers, and Giants.

The Giants started off with two really good picks, but ultimately took five of ten players that weren’t in the book, including Matt Peart in the 3rd round. The Steelers took four of six players from the Handbook, but their highest graded player was Anthony McFarland Jr. in the 4th round.

Green Bay earned this year’s worst draft grade. Out of their nine picks, only five were included in the Handbook. Jordan Love was their highest graded player at a 6.6 while AJ Dillon was graded 6.5, but no other players graded higher than a 6.2. The Chiefs earned the 2019 worst draft grade and went on to win the Super Bowl, and while that was a little different situation than the Packers, you never know what could happen.

How the Handbook Compared to the Draft

Taking a look at our top five position ranks compared to the first five players drafted at each position, the SIS Rookie Handbook and the NFL had the same group of five running backs and wide receivers in different orders.

Our No. 1 player at every position but running back, wide receiver, tight end, guard and safety was also the NFL’s top drafted player. We also matched the first four quarterbacks off the board in order, had the same first group of four offensive tackles, and had four of the first five centers, nose tackles, defensive tackles, edge rushers, and safeties grouped in lockstep with the League. 

Players we believe were drafted much higher than they should have been include Matt Peart, Alex Highsmith, Joshua Kelley, Charlie Heck, and Shaquille Quarterman. Over 650 reports were written on players for this year’s Rookie Handbook, including on these five. However, this group received grades that were not high enough to be included, while NFL teams drafted these players as high as the third and fourth rounds. First round picks AJ Terrell, Brandon Aiyuk and Isaiah Wilson also received role-based grades lower than their draft selections warranted in our eyes.

On the other hand, some players we thought were great value picks based on their Handbook grades include Netane Muti, Prince Tega Wanogho, Markus Bailey, Eno Benjamin, Kenny Willekes, and Clay Johnston. All of these players were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds, yet received at least a lower-end starting grade from us. Whether they fell due to injury concerns or were just overlooked in their position groups, we feel they each could pay dividends to the teams that took a chance on them.

Players who were rated in the top five at their positions in the Handbook who were not drafted include Jared Pinkney (our No. 1 TE), Hunter Bryant (No. 4 TE), Thaddeus Moss (No. 5 TE), Josiah Coatney (No. 4 NT), Cale Garrett (No. 4 Mike LB), and Rodney Clemons (No. 5 S). We’re looking forward to them catching on with teams soon, if they haven’t already, and potentially making a year-one impact like 2019 SIS Top-Five-to-Undrafted darling Nik Needham.

Looking back on this article from last year, we noted that we didn’t have reports at all on four players taken in the top five of their position group by NFL teams, and that we were already implementing plans to improve our process and hopefully mitigate this glaring issue moving forward. We’re very pleased to report that we assigned and received reports on every player taken within the top five of his position group in 2020. 

Along with the percentage increases noted at the beginning of this article, we’re happy to see statistical improvements year over year, especially as data analytics providers ourselves. We aren’t satisfied with this year’s results, however. The first non-Handbook selection going 99th (Peart) and the first player without a report written going 129th (Cameron Clark) are improvements, but we need to aim higher. We can’t wait to continue building upon the progress we’ve continued to make, and we’ve already begun scouting for the 2021 class. 

The SIS Football Rookie Handbook will be back again next year, filled with even more data, more accuracy, better reports, and the same combination of deep-dive analytics and pre-Combine scouting we’re proud to share. In the meantime, if you want to learn about the players your team got, you can buy the book now at ACTA Sports.

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