First-round mock drafts have become the norm for pre-draft analysis and prognostication, but the practice of projecting just the first 32 picks has skewed the way we look at the NFL draft.
While the focus is fixed on “first-round talent” and “Day 1 selections,” we tend to underestimate the importance of second-round picks. The only difference between the 32nd pick and 33rd pick lies in our perception and the labels that define it.
This year’s draft class doesn’t have the handful of truly elite players we’ve seen in recent years, but it is arguably deeper than any class in the last five. That depth creates additional value that reaches far beyond the first round.
With as many as 50 players in the discussion for first-round selection, there are sure to be some steals in the second round this year. We’ll highlight some of the best players who will potentially be available on Day 2 and break down some positions that will especially fruitful in the second round.
The strength of this defensive draft class is on the defensive line. With as many as seven defensive tackles and eight defensive ends (depending on schematic fit) being considered for first-round candidacy, several of those players will invariably make their way into the second round.
Players like Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins and UCLA’s Datone Jones are widely considered worthy of a first-round grade, but there simply aren’t enough first-round selections to guarantee they will be chosen in the first 32 picks. The same holds true for defensive tackles like Sylvester Williams, John Jenkins and Kawann Short.
Cornerback is also a tremendously deep position this year, featuring three nearly unanimous first-round prospects and a bevy of fringe candidates like Johnthan Banks, Jordan Poyer and D.J. Hayden. A team searching for a cornerback in the early rounds doesn’t necessarily need to choose the first round to make its move.
The depth of this defensive class is particularly noteworthy considering the buzz involving teams looking to trade out of the first round and into the second. Given the potential availability of first-round talent in the next 30 selections (Cleveland and New Orleans forfeited their picks), there’s reason to believe we will see plenty of movement in the hours that separate the first two rounds.
All of these variables create a perfect storm for draft-day trades, due in large part to the two schools of thought that drive the selection process.
“Need vs. value” isn’t the equation we should be focusing on. Teams tend to take a more straightforward approach to how they make their selections.
When teams run prospects through ringer in pre-draft preparations, they typically find players who stand out from the group. Those are the players they value the highest, and those are the players for whom they are willing to trade up to acquire.
Draft classes change, but that fact remains a constant. And as long as teams are willing to trade up to get their man, organizations looking to key in on value in a deep draft class will take advantage by trading back to accrue more picks.
If tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks begin to creep into the first round (as few expect to be the case), the second round will be loaded with defensive talent that would otherwise be present on Day 1. If that happens, expect several teams in the bottom half of the first round to trade back into the second and still get a quality impact player on the defensive side of the ball.
To be blunt, this year’s offensive draft class isn’t all that spectacular. The lack of an elite quarterback prospect has devalued the entire group, but that doesn’t mean teams won’t find hidden gems in the later rounds where positional value isn’t as important.
Geno Smith is the only signal-caller almost universally accepted as a first-round talent. After Smith, the list gets muddled with varying opinions and inconsistent evaluations.
While the talent level at the quarterback position will continue to be debated for the next few years (when each has a chance to play in the NFL), there’s no denying the depth of the wide receiver position. This year’s class is packed with tremendous potential at the position.
Cordarrelle Patterson, DeAndre Hopkins, Tavon Austin and Keenan Allen are all likely to be first-round selections this year, but Justin Hunter, Robert Woods and Quinton Patton also have to be considered part of the discussion. Not every member of that group will find a home in the first 32 picks—in fact, one or two of those players may slide to the bottom of the second round given the depth of this draft class.
And depth isn’t the only factor that will present value in the second round.
To this point, very few running backs and tight ends have garnered much attention for first-round candidacy. Alabama running back Eddie Lacy will likely be the first back off the board, but there isn’t a consensus for the top five players at the position beyond Lacy.
Perception is a very big part of the draft, and it currently dictates a weakness at the running back position. That may not prove to be the case, however.
West Virginia linebacker Bruce Irvin was the biggest surprise of the first round in 2012, making the Seattle Seahawks an object of ridicule for selecting a player few had on their radar in the months leading up to the draft. Irvin proved to be a tremendous selection, however, and Seattle’s decision-makers now look like geniuses for going against the grain in selecting him.
This year’s running back class has a similar feel, and there’s a good chance one or more of those backs goes on to have a phenomenal NFL career as a “shocking” second-round selection.
Likewise, this year’s tight end class was previously viewed as surprisingly talented group, but pre-draft workouts have caused players like Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz to fall out of the first-round discussion, also due in part to the depth of the class. Neither player has lost his football talent in the last three months, and while Eifert and Ertz may no longer be surefire Day 1 picks, there’s no doubt teams are going to get exceptional value in selecting them beyond the 20th pick.
If all of this seems confusing, it’s because it really is.
Draft analysts are always looking for a simple formula or defined set of rules to simplify evaluation of picks and players. There is no right or wrong answer, nor is there a simple prognostication tool for the selection process.
Therein lies the beauty of the NFL draft.
All of this is rooted in perception and personal evaluation, and that aspect is never going to change. Chaos is the only constant.
That disarray is going to facilitate a lot of movement throughout this year’s draft, and it’s going to create plenty of value in the second round and beyond. Not every position is packed with pro-ready players, but enough potential is scattered across the board to make Day 2 the most appealing portion of this year’s draft.