2018 NBA Draft: Big Board

As you can tell from the lone article preceding this, I have not spent as much time with this draft as previous drafts. Part of that is due to my general disenchantment with NBA Draft analysis. But perhaps a bigger part of it is that, in no uncertain terms, this draft is bad. That doesn’t mean that nobody will pan out, but it means that it’s even more of a crapshoot than normal. This is much like the 2013 Draft, where two college guys have reached max level (Oladipo and Porter), but where most of the draft just didn’t amount to much more than roleplayers other than two internationals. It also means that, more than normal, big boards should absolutely not agree, and that’s perfectly okay.

This year’s board will be done a little differently than the past few years. I am adding in non-college players again. This board will also reflect not just positional value, but also the exponential value in finding a star quality or better player. This board will also reflect eye scouting a little more than normal, if only because stat scouting provides little more than “this draft isn’t very good”. Also, due to the general poor quality of this draft, I am not going as deep as normal. There’s simply no reason to. My entire college spreadsheet ended up with 43 total players on it. Adding the guys who didn’t play enough or played internationally still doesn’t get it to 60. And, as usual, players are not ranked within tiers.

With that out of the way, let’s get to it.

Tier 1

Nobody

There is not a single player this year who reaches the prospect quality of even Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz from last year. Again, this does not mean that nobody in this draft will be better than them. It just means nobody is as good a prospect as them.

Tier 2

Trae Young, lead guard

Luka Doncic, secondary wing

Michael Porter, big wing

Jaren Jackson, stretch center

Jaren Jackson projects as the safest player in the draft and an ideal 3-and-D center at the next level. However, has been noted in many places (including on this website), the value of bigs is lower than ever. Therefore, he falls as part of this group. Trae Young is the best PG in the draft, leading all draft-eligible players in FPG and second in FPM. However, he struggled down the stretch and his defense and turnover numbers leave a lot to be desired. His ceiling projects as more of a second tier PG at the next level – more Kemba Walker than Chris Paul. Doncic and Porter are more unknown. Eurowings have had success in the NBA but have rarely been superstars. Doncic will need to prove he can hang with elite NBA athletes, and maybe more importantly, that he can hit the NBA 3 (only 31% from the shorter international line this season). Michael Porter basically didn’t play this season and probably won’t be healthy until 2019-2020, but the value of 6’10 wings has never been higher, and while he’s a lottery ticket, he may be the biggest jackpot in the draft with careful development.

Tier 3

Wendell Carter, stretch?/rim center

Mo Bamba, rim center

Deandre Ayton, rim center

Robert Williams, rim center

Marvin Bagley, stretch forward

Mikal Bridges, wing

How much you like non-core players will determine how much you like this draft. These are all supporting and role players. Carter looks the most promising of the bunch, showing the best 3 point touch at this point. Bamba is the classic rim big, and how much you like players like Capela and Jordan will determine how much you like him. Ayton and Bagley both showed plenty of promise on offense but not nearly enough on defense to be confident that they can fulfill their primary role at the next level. Robert Williams is undersized, but as the center position shrinks, he may fit the role perfectly. Mikal Bridges is the best 3-and-D prospect in the draft and should be able to contribute right away as an Ariza-type.

Tier 4

Jevon Carter, lead guard

Jalen Brunson, lead guard

Jordan McLaughlin, lead guard

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, secondary wing

This category splits on whether you’re looking for a ready-now backup or a potential future starter. Carter grades a tick above Brunson and McLaughlin based on his defense, but all 3 are your classic senior PG types who should be able to jump into the NBA in a backup role and run an offense competently. Gilgeous-Alexander showed promise, putting up a very solid FPM number. He played PG at Kentucky and whatever team drafts him will have to determine what his best role is – I currently project him moving to a secondary role. He is probably a few years away from making a real NBA impact at either position but could be a very solid starter.

Tier 5

Collin Sexton, lead guard

Isaac Bonga, secondary wing

Miles Bridges, secondary wing

Dzanan Musa, wing

Mitchell Robinson, rim center

Ajdin Penava, rim forward/center

Ray Spalding, rim center

A weird, somewhat catchall tier. Sexton put up solid enough per minute numbers as a freshman to warrant consideration, but his peripherals are scary, showing not quite enough 3 or D or PG skills. Tough to see him as more than a 6th man as of right now. Miles Bridges has shown less 3 and less D than Mikal by a decent margin. Musa is a shooting wing who could follow in the footsteps of guys like Bojan Bogdanovic. Bonga is a bit of a riddle – he appears to have some tools and some skills and is actually playing PG right now. A team willing to be patient and develop him could have a real steal, as tall guys with PG skills tend to be a consistently undervalued asset for some reason. Robinson, Penava, and Spalding are rim protectors of varying flavors. Robinson is basically a lottery ticket who you hope is more Hassan Whiteside than Robert Upshaw. Penava is undersized but was the most productive draft-eligible player by FPM and simply understands how to play defense. He’s basically this year’s Jordan Bell. Spalding is a bit of a do-it-all tall forward who could stand to put on 20-25 pounds to play center at the next level.

Tier 6

Tony Carr, lead guard

Devonte’ Graham, lead guard

Donte DiVincenzo, secondary guard

Zhaire Smith, wing

Josh Okogie, wing

Desi Rodriguez, wing

Bonzie Colson, ??

Kenrich Williams, stretch forward

Omari Spellman, stretch forward

Khadeem Lattin, rim

Anas Mahmoud, rim

And we’re already into basically roster filler territory. Carr and Graham are 3rd PGs right now, with Carr having a bit more upside. DiVincenzo projects as a 4th or 5th guard. Smith, Okogie, and Rodriguez have all shown flashes of being 3-and-D guys but didn’t really put it all together this year. Colson has consistently been one of the most productive players in college basketball, but his shot has fluctuated wildly from year to year and he projects as an undersized big, which isn’t ideal. Williams has one of the stranger statistical profiles in the draft, showing a little bit of everything other than blocks, most intriguingly a near 2:1 A:TO. Spellman is real young and needs time to develop but showed 3-and-D characteristics that could play at the 4 or 5 – could arguably be a tier higher. Lattin and Mahmoud both profile as end of the bench bigs who could step in and play 10-15 minutes as rim protectors if needed.

Tier 7

Aaron Holiday, lead guard

Elie Okobo, lead guard

Kevin Huerter, secondary guard

Lonnie Walker, secondary guard

Kevin Knox, wing

Keita Bates-Diop, wing

Wenyen Gabriel, tall wing

Gary Clark, stretch forward

Mo Wagner, stretch center

Holiday should make a good living in Europe but will probably get a shot in the NBA thanks to Jrue and Justin. I…don’t really know much about Okobo, but he appears slightly better than “the rest”. Huerter, Walker, and Knox all just grade out terribly in my system. Huerter profiles as a 3-no-D guy which is more of a 5th guard, Walker didn’t rebound, didn’t shoot particularly well, and had low usage. Knox was pretty abysmal across the board except for rebounding and probably wouldn’t’ve made my board at all if he wasn’t a projected lottery pick. Bates-Diop makes the board as Big 10 PotY, as the small bump pushed him up into “worth at least a look” territory. Gabriel is intriguing in a “you can see something if you squint” way but definitely should not go undrafted – anybody who shoots 39.6% from 3 and puts up the defensive numbers he did deserves a real chance. Clark is undersized but could make it as a back of the bench forward. Wagner doesn’t play enough D and isn’t good enough with the ball to warrant more than a 3rd C role.

The Rest

Chandler Hutchison, Brandon McCoy, Melvin Frazier, Chris Wray, Zach Thomas, Kendrick Nunn, Jairus Lyles, other prospects not listed here that are projected top 20 picks, the other international and non-college guys who declared

The first 7 guys are low and mid major guys who made the cut on my spreadsheet. I have no great insight on them other than they’re probably worth a summer league look and maybe a second rounder. Projected top 20 prospects who did not make the cut are still worth a look based on the eye test even if they fail the stat test. I have not spent enough time with internationals and other guys who did not play much, but because they can be stashed easier, they’re usually worth burning a 2nd round pick on.

2018 NBA Draft: Searching for Answers

Just in time for the 2018 NBA Draft, it’s my 2018 Draft (Mini)series! For those of you who follow me on twitter and the like, you may have noticed that I did a 5 part NFL Draft Series. As a result of that, I spent a lot of time digging into NFL theory. Much like how the Super Bowl champion Eagles’ GM Howie Roseman spent a year talking with executives in other sports and came away with a better understanding, so too have I spent time digging into another sport and come back with new insight.

Maybe we’re all going about this NBA Draft prospect projection stuff all wrong. See, when I dove into NFL QB analysis, one fact was so glaring, so completely undeniable, that it became a necessary asterisk next to every prospect: a QB’s chance of success in the NFL is so significantly dependent on the head coach and offensive coordinator that with the exception of the truly elite, the best QB prospect in a bad system had a lower chance of success than a mediocre prospect in a great system.

In other words, with the exception of the best of the best (Wilson, Rodgers, Brees, younger Tom Brady/Peyton Manning), there isn’t so much a “true talent level” as much as a baseline set of mental and physical tools which can manifest extremely differently based on coaching, scheme, and system. What made this so obvious was QBs going from good coaches (Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan) to bad coaches (Matt Cavanaugh, Steve Sarkisian) and vice versa (most notably, not having Jeff Fisher as your coach).

Jared Goff had a truly dreadful rookie season under Fisher, but put up great numbers under McVay. Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins both significantly declined after losing their great OCs. Nick Foles put up one of the best seasons ever under Chip Kelly before the rest of the league caught up to that offense, declined when Kelly didn’t adjust, cratered under Fisher, and then blossomed again when the Eagles built an offense specifically for him.

In the NBA, there are a few truly can’t miss prospects – LeBron, Durant, Anthony Davis. These guys come around once every five years or so. The problem is figuring out the other 99.9% of prospects.

Typically, draftniks approach analyzing prospects in a combination of two ways. One is developing and using a stat-based model to map out what stats have typically predicted success at the next level, then seeing which prospects best fit the model. The other is seeing which prospects have the best tools and projecting that the better the tools, the higher the ceiling and therefore the better the prospect. Both methods use historical data to project in different ways – the former using historical statistical data, the latter using historical biometric data, but both are ultimately just projecting, which is a fancy way of saying educated guessing.

Under this two pronged projection strategy, the onus of a player being successful is on the player – either he was good in college and therefore will be successful in the pros or he has all the tools to be successful and therefore given time to develop, will be successful. But either way, the assumption is that the player will succeed or fail primarily based on his own merit. And if that’s not true, then, well, everybody is doing it really really wrong.

See, some strange things happened in 2017. Jayson Tatum had the best 19 year old season since LeBron James. Jaylen Brown and Dejounte Murray both significantly outperformed every college statistical indicator. Donovan Mitchell turned into an offensive star. Going back to 2012, none of these things had happened. 19 year olds have been bad, bad college players have been bad pro players, and college defensive dynamos haven’t been pro offensive dynamos. So what happened?

One explanation is that there is something unique mentally about these players, something that online draftniks would never be exposed to or have access to that explains why certain players develop better or quicker than others. But every team would have access to that, and other than Jaylen Brown, there’s been no indication that these guys are somehow completely different than everybody else. Another explanation would be that these guys are special athletic specimen, but that’s hard to judge because 3 of the 4 did not attend the combine. Mitchell’s measurements don’t seem to indicate truly out of the ordinary – he had an elite sprint time and leap but below average agility and shuttle, and other guys with great sprint and leap didn’t pan out, so I’m not sure that’s a real indicator either.

As you can tell from the beginning of this article, I came to a different conclusion: that coaching and scheme matters much more than we give it credit for. Basically, when it comes to evaluating NBA Draft prospects, we typically do so with a passing wave that, yeah, somebody coached by Pop will turn out better than somebody in Sacramento, but it’s not treated as a big factor. Should it be though? What if, in fact, for all but the absolute best prospects, the most important factor in their success is what coaching staff they end up with?

Um…well…digging in, that’s actually not right either. While it’s easy to remember the hits, there’s plenty of misses for every coach too, even Pop and Stevens. And quite frankly, most players just follow the standard model of moderate progression year by year regardless of coach. Which is rather frustrating really. While there is certainly some element of scheme and coaching present, there’s no consistent effect. Much like the other explanations, it’s a factor, but not a defining one.

That leaves us with one final explanation. The most likely explanation. The most unsatisfying explanation: projecting most prospects is little more than pure, random variance combined with opportunities to play NBA minutes over a span of many years with quality players. That’s not an explanation that can be used for any useful purposes going forward. But sometimes, shit happens for no apparent reason and there’s nothing more to it.

Back in 2016, I did a Big Board that was a little more detailed in the breakdown of chances of success at the next level. While that breakdown wasn’t perfect, the larger overall point holds as true today as it did then – most prospects will fail. And after spending 5 years trying to refine and analyze my way to answers, I am no closer now than I was 5 years ago.

I am not saying that the draft is truly random, because it’s not. But in terms of determining which players will blossom into actual starters or better? Predicting failure for every player is still highly effective. By my count, players drafted in the lottery have blossomed into unquestioned starters at about a 35% rate. Some drafts are a little higher or lower, but that’s the rough rate. And while top 3 picks tend to be superstars more, in terms of finding starters, they’re pretty evenly distributed throughout the lottery. The 5-9 range has been less productive recently than the 10-14 range, but again, that appears to be variance more than some sort of projectable trend.

In the scientific community, there is often pressure to come up with some conclusion, some result so that the research was not a “failure”. I have no such pressure here. I have no need to fabricate results for any reason. I will continue doing big boards and big picture analysis, because again, it’s not completely random. But I have come to accept that if there is a way to be super accurate projecting prospects, it will not come from me. I have come to accept that is simply a fool’s errand.

Ultimately, take big boards and prospect analysis as what they are and nothing more – educated guesses on who is most likely to hit on that 35% or less chance to become a starter. Hitting more than 35% is a success. Hitting 50% is a resounding success. That’s just the way this goes.

QB Draft Series: Grading the Prospects

Okay, so, for some of you, this may be the only part about this you care about. For others, this may be the least interesting. Either way, let me just set some ground rules…

  1. These are my opinions. It is based on what I look for in a QB in 2018. This can change as the NFL evolves, and somebody who has the ideal skillset for the 2018 NFL may not have it for the 2023 NFL. As it is difficult to project how the NFL may change, this may be a good idea or a terrible one, but I believe it is an important factor that should not be ignored.
  2. Highly rated prospects will fail and low rated prospects will succeed. That is the nature of the projection game. There is no such thing as a 100% chance of success or a 100% chance of failure. The goal is to be more right than wrong. Keep this in mind not just with me, but with any rankings you see. If somebody is given a 20% chance to succeed and succeeds, it doesn’t mean the ranking was bad, it means that something that happens one in every five chances happened.
  3. While I did chart one game each for the “big 5” and watched multiple games of each QB, I am also using Benjamin Solak’s charting because I did not have time to go as in-depth as he did. Note that his charting does not include every game of every QB (and in some cases includes very few), and I have factored that in where relevant. Because I have spent significantly more time with the big 5, I am doing significantly more in-depth reports on them.
  4. I used age 20 season stats because age is a significant factor in quality of season and there is a much stronger relationship between age and quality than experience and quality. As every guy here had an age 20 season, this was the most fair way to present the stats. Also keep in mind that rushing stats include sacks, because college football doesn’t separate them.

Lamar Jackson, 6’2 216,  21.3 years old, age 20 season: 59.1% – 8.5 Y/A – 6.3 TD% – 2.3 INT% – 232 rush attempts, 6.9 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Lamar Jackson is a special prospect, one that defies easy categorization. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and was a finalist in 2017 leading a consistently overmatched Louisville squad to a 17-9 record over his final two seasons. As a passer, Jackson showed mastery over a pro-style system, often being let down by his receivers rather than his arm. Jackson’s precision on his accurate passes may be best in the class, perfectly leading receivers on screens and slants. However, his accuracy suffers (especially throwing outside the numbers) due to footwork issues which will need to be cleaned up at the next level. As a runner, Jackson is a truly elite prospect, one of the best pure runners to come out of college at any position in a long time. He is incredibly difficult to bring down in the open field, has the vision to burst through holes, and won’t be caught from behind often. A team willing to embrace Jackson’s talents could have a bona fide superstar on their hands. Jackson has never missed a game due to injury.

Negative Scouting Report – Teams looking for a pure pocket passer may not like what they find in Lamar Jackson. While he can technically make every throw, his inconsistency, especially to the outside, may drive a coach crazy. It will definitely lead fans and coaches alike to want plays back. His footwork will need to be significantly refined, as he is often caught between being ready to run and being ready to throw. It remains to be seen whether playing behind better protection could help in that department. As a runner, while he could go barreling into defenders at the college level, learning to slide would behoove him at the next level. While there is no evidence that injuries are more common for running QBs, the fact is that Jackson does get significant value from his running, and any injury hampering that ability could have a big impact.

Low comp: Mike Vick // Mid comp: ? // High comp: ?

It is hard to find comparisons for Lamar Jackson. He is a truly unique prospect, a likely mid-tier QB combined with a top-tier runner. If you do not value QB rushing, Jackson will not be the prospect for you, but QB rushing is very positively correlated with winning, and Jackson has the perfect skillset for elevating teams and making plays that truly no other player can make. It is hard to see a true fail-case for Jackson absent injury – his biggest pitfall is ending up in the situation Marcus Mariota found himself in the past 3 years, with an anachronistic OC forcing him into a system ill-suited to his abilities. A team willing to build around Jackson could pay off huge.

Draft value: Top 3 overall

Baker Mayfield, 6’0 215, 23.3 years old, age 20 season: 68.1% – 9.4 Y/A – 9.1 TD% – 1.8 INT% – 141 rush attempts, 2.9 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Baker Mayfield is one of the most productive QBs in college football history. He combines fiery leadership with an arm that misplaces very few passes. He doesn’t always throw with as much zip as he could, but he does a fantastic job anticipating receivers coming open and throwing the ball at the right time for whatever power he does put on it. He can make plays on the run, keeps his eyes downfield at all times, adjust his arm slot while retaining accuracy, and everything else you want from a QB. While he is not a guy you will call designed runs for, he has enough juice in his legs to make plays if a lane opens up or he finds himself scrambling. The biggest question marks with Baker come from his relative lack of adversity in college. He played behind one of the best offensive lines throwing to elite talent against Big 12 defenses. That is a perfect storm for a QB, and it remains to be seen if he can replicate his numbers in less ideal circumstances.

Negative Scouting Report – The question everybody wants to know is: can Baker be Baker when he’s not facing Big 12 defenses? The worst games of his Oklahoma career came against Tennessee, Clemson, Ohio State (2016), and Georgia. This is always the question with Big 12 QBs and some have answered it better than others. Baker’s o-line gave him plenty of time to pick apart weak defenses, and his skill position talent was always great. This meant that Baker was often throwing to wide open receivers, and while he was consistently accurate, he was often not as precise as he will need to be at the next level. He also has issues floating the ball, especially on deep passes, and with being a little too lackadaisical with both footwork and armwork. As he never took snaps from under center, he will have to prove he can do it at the next level. His height could affect him when his throwing windows are not as big at the next level.

Low comp: Colt Mccoy // Mid comp: Alex Smith (2014-2016) // High comp: Drew Brees

Mayfield is the definition of a safe prospect. While there are some valid concerns about his level of competition and ability to operate against tighter defenses, the fact of the matter is that even his bad games would be considered average or better by many QBs. His truly bad throws are extremely rare, always putting the ball in a spot his receiver can catch it. As he becomes more refined, he definitely has the ability to ascend to the next level. As a first round pick, he will have every opportunity to prove himself.

Draft value: Top 5 pick

Sam Darnold, 6’3 221, 20.9 years old, age 20 season: 63.1% – 8.6 Y/A – 5.4 TD% – 2.7% INT – 75 rush attempts, 1.1 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Sam Darnold can do it all. While “all” also includes throwing interceptions and fumbling, it also includes plays that evoke images of Aaron Rodgers. Darnold has a strong arm that puts a ton of zip on the ball, especially to intermediate areas. The one thing that really comes to mind when watching Darnold though is raw. Darnold shows significant flashes of elite, top level talent – ability to escape the pocket, throw on the run or from the pocket, top tier arm talent, ability to read a defense – he is not nearly as consistent as you’d like for an NFL QB. As the youngest QB in this draft class, this is something that should resolve with age.

Negative Scouting Report – Darnold certainly has a strong arm, but he is not ready to unleash it in the NFL. He constantly tries to do too much, leading to numerous killer turnovers. He has a looooong delivery and stiff hips which significantly affects his throws to all areas of the field and sometimes causes balls to be delivered slow or late. While the top tier talent is undeniable, that underlying current that he is not there yet should not be ignored. If these issues don’t resolve, he will be nothing more than a tantalizing talent unrealized.

Low comp: Mark Sanchez // Mid comp: Kirk Cousins (2016-17) // High comp: Aaron Rodgers

Darnold is an unfinished prospect who should probably sit for at least two years, and for that reason, I have to drop him down a peg – QBs on rookie contracts represent the best value, and losing some of that value definitely matters. That being said, if he hits his ceiling, he can be a top 5 QB in the NFL, all the raw talent is there, it’s just a matter of developing it, helping him to learn what he can and can’t do and seeing if some of the mechanical issues can’t be ironed out. My biggest concern is that he is rushed into action too soon, develops bad habits, and never reaches his full potential.

Draft value: Top 10 pick

Josh Rosen, 6’4 226, 21.2 years old, age 20 season: 62.6% – 8.3 Y/A – 5.8 TD% – 2.2 INT% – 50 rush attempts, -1.9 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Josh Rosen looks every bit the part of a franchise QB. Prototypical size, clean mechanics, touch, zip. He makes you go wow seemingly once a drive. Ran a pro-style system including taking plenty of snaps from under center and shows no major footwork issues. Rosen struggles under pressure and provides very little with his legs as his -154 rushing yards at the college level indicates, but Rosen’s athleticism tested better than he showed on the field, giving hope that he can develop those abilities more at the next level. Give Rosen a clean pocket and let him work and the results should be good.

Negative Scouting Report – For somebody who is often referred to as “the most pro-ready” QB prospect, his tape has a lot of glaring flaws. One thing you can’t take away from Rosen – in a clean pocket, throwing to an open first read, Rosen absolutely shines. He has every bit the look of a franchise QB. However, Rosen has shown significant deficiencies in reading a defense and going through progressions when his first read is not open. More complex defenses and better coverage at the next level could cause Rosen problems. Rosen also really struggles under pressure and on the run, showing far too much panic and far too little ability to navigate the pocket and open field. These could all be reasons why he struggled so badly in the red zone. On a good team, Rosen will be great. On a bad team, Rosen could really, really struggle. There are also concussion concerns that cannot be ignored.

Low comp: David Carr // Mid comp: Carson Palmer // High comp: Matt Ryan

It’s somewhat tough to project Rosen, because contrary to the seemingly-accepted wisdom, he’s not pro-ready. He hasn’t really learned how to navigate the pocket. He makes truly terrible decisions in far too many situations. My big concern with Rosen is how much value he brings above an average QB. That is, Rosen will absolutely succeed behind a good line, throwing to good receivers, in a good scheme. But that describes many QBs. Any team drafting Rosen highly will be doing so in hopes that either his mental processing significantly improves or that their team will be good enough that it won’t matter. Injuries will always remain a concern due to his statute-like nature and history of concussions, which should be factored in as well. Still, that base level of arm talent and mechanics is awfully tantalizing and provides a somewhat high floor, so it’s not all risk here.

Draft Value: 1st-2nd round

Kyle Lauletta, 6’3 222, 23.1? years old, age 20 season: 61.6% – 9.2 Y/A – 4.9 TD% – 3.8 INT% – 78 rush attempts, 1.5 ypc

Scouting Report – Do you like Baker Mayfield? Do you not have a top 10 pick in this draft? Why not take a look at Kyle Lauletta. There’s not a ton of game tape available for him, but what is available shows a guy who is ready to be an NFL backup on day 1 with potential to successfully operate a classic pro-style scheme relatively quickly. He has clean, consistent, repeatable mechanics that drive the ball to the right spot on time. His big limiting factor is his lack of true NFL arm strength. Is it possible that he adds a bit more zip with NFL strength and conditioning? I don’t know, but if he can, he’s a much more intriguing prospect. He has functional NFL athleticism but will need time to adjust to NFL game speed. Overall, there’s a lot here to like as long as you’re not looking for a big arm.

Draft Value: 2nd-3rd round

Mason Rudolph, 6’5 235, 22.8 years old, age 20 season: 62.3% – 8.9 Y/A – 5.0 TD% – 2.1 INT% – 67 rush attempts, -0.5 ypc

Scouting Report – As is the case with many Big 12 QBs, Rudolph is difficult to evaluate because his offensive talent was far superior to the defensive talent and because the scheme was very QB-friendly. Rudolph adds to that by being extremely inconsistent. When he looks good, he has plenty of zip (although it somewhat dissipates going to the outside) and decent accuracy, though he struggles with ball placement – his receivers help him out significantly. When he looks bad, especially under pressure, his ball can wobble and die. He has a big body and good strength, using those to his advantage to navigate the pocket and pull free of grabbers. He also does a better job using his eyes and head to both go through reads and move defenders than is typically seen in the Big 12. Rudolph is unlikely to ever be a great starting QB, but he has enough tools and talent to be a backup with starting upside.

Draft Value: 3rd round

Josh Allen, 6’5 237, 21.9 years old, age 20 season: 56.0% – 8.6 Y/A – 7.5 TD% – 4.0 INT% – 142 rush attempts, 3.7 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Josh Allen throws the ball really, really hard. Allen’s package of tools comes along only once every few years. His upside if he can harness everything is immense. Watching his tape, there are plenty of examples of elite and wow plays and his highlight reel is special. While inconsistency is a concern, a few years of NFL coaching should be able to iron out the wrinkles and turn him into at least a functional QB with continuing upside. Allen has a long way to go to become an NFL QB, but if you could build a QB from the ground up, these are the physical tools you would choose.

Negative Scouting Report – Josh Allen throws the ball really, really hard. Whether he should or not. Whether his man is open or not. Whether he knows where the ball is going or not. Ultimately, Allen is an extremely raw prospect who brings size, athleticism, a cannon arm, and very few actual QB skills. He has not shown any ability to read a defense or go through progressions. He does not have good pocket presence and panics under pressure. While the tools are great, everything else is lagging so far behind that it’s hard to see him succeeding.

Low comp: Logan Thomas // Mid comp: Cardale Jones // High comp: Carson Wentz

Reading the draft profiles of Thomas and Jones should give a good idea why those are his comps. Both guys were in a similar mold – huge athletes with cannon arms and questionable QB skills. Logan Thomas is now a tight end. Jones is already on his second team, although they appear to like him and he may still have a future in the league. While I gave Allen a High comp, his chances of reaching it are simply extremely low. Allen simply has not shown any QB skills beyond getting plenty of zip on his passes and his development will take a long time. Even if he pans out, it will likely be long after his rookie contract.

Draft Value: 4th-5th round

The Rest

I have not done more than skim most of the rest of the QB prospects, but none of them particularly caught my attention. These guys all project as 5th round or later. Luke Falk is typically the highest ranked QB I did not cover, but he is simply below average in every facet of the game. While many random QBs are taken in later rounds or picked up in UDFA, trying to project them is largely an exercise in futility, as their NFL future will fully come down to the situation they find themselves in.

Conclusion

Thus ends my 2018 NFL Draft QB Series. If you enjoyed, you can follow me on twitter @BusterDucks. Next up – the 2018 NBA Draft Series!

QB Draft Series 2018: Charting the Big 5

In undertaking this project, I fully intended to chart one full game of each of the notable QBs. After about 2, it became obvious that I simply did not have the time to do so. So, I charted one game of each of the big 5, watched multiple other games from them, and watched multiple games of each other QB. In charting games, I followed the following rules:

  1. I used the game tape in which the QB’s passer rating most closely matched his season passer rating, as long as DraftBreakdown had it. Some small exceptions were made to get enough good tape to use.
  2. I charted only passes intended for a receiver. Throwaways, sacks, scrambles, or any other play that was not a pass intended for a receiver was not charted. My only interest was success on passes intended for receivers. Throws with penalties were counted unless the receiver was completely taken out of the play.
  3. Each pass was charted for distance (short, medium, long), throw quality (bad, average, good), openness of receiver (open/not), and pressure (pressure/none). Occasionally there is some grey area or subjectivity, but I did my absolute best to keep an objective, consistent standard. Some plays have .5 where there was uncertainty as to how it should be charted, but I tried to keep these to a minimum.
  4. A Bad throw is any throw that was uncatchable or ill-advised. Average is any throw within a reasonable catching radius, and more throws should end up in this category than the others. Good is a throw that is on-time, on-target, and precisely where it is supposed to be.
  5. Decision-making was factored into throw quality, but only when the tape made it possible to judge. Since this is not all-22 tape, it is not possible to judge on most plays absent obvious factors or replays. Sorry.
  6. Notes were be made on every throw. As the categories are rather big, this is intended to give insight as to why the grade was given.

Link to charting

There are 5 tabs there, the information there should be fairly self-explanatory – a link to the game, the stats for the game, the charting, and a summary. Here are some overarching concepts that the tape showed:

It’s incredible how complex every play is

I just want to start with this. To chart even the most simple of plays required 6 or so viewings. To chart some of the more difficult plays required 20+. There’s just so many moving parts on literally every play and it’s so easy to miss things. Sometimes there’s late pressure from somewhere you’re not looking. Sometimes a receiver breaks off a route after the ball is already thrown. With 11 guys on the field and at least 7 offensive players and 6 defensive players involved in every play, it’s very easy to miss things.

By the same token, viewing everything once, it is very easy to miss what “really” happened. Just something to keep in mind.

Do not treat stats as gospel

I do not think they should be completely ignored, but they definitely should not be relied upon. Completion percentage is significantly impacted by both pressure and drops. Baker faced very little pressure, while many of the other QBs were constantly on the run. Lamar Jackson’s receivers dropped 3.5-5.5% more passes than the other QBs because his receivers were terrible. Would he have accuracy questions if he completed 63% of his passes instead of 59%? It shouldn’t matter.

It does make it difficult to objectively evaluate these guys though because they had different advantages and disadvantages and we don’t know how they would look in different situations. Would Rosen look like a top QB behind Louisville’s line? Would Baker have some of the best numbers ever on a less talented team? The answers to these questions are purely speculative, but they should surely be factored in to any evaluation.

Each QB has throws they are better and worse at

As an Eagles fan, I got to watch this season as Doug Pederson completely redid his offense on the fly because Carson Wentz and Nick Foles were good at entirely opposite throws. Not all throws are created equal. Some QBs are better to the middle, some are better to the outside, some are better short, some mid, some long, some are better on timing plays, some are better on sit plays, and so on and so forth.

Why does this matter? Well, I’m not sure any of these guys played in systems that truly emphasized their strengths and minimized their weaknesses. Darnold and Allen were much better throwing medium routes but were constantly asked to throw lateral behind-LOS balls that they simply weren’t good at. Rosen and Jackson’s ability to hit receivers on slants and crosses was not exploited in favor of more sit and hook routes. Jackson didn’t run a single read or RPO.

Whatever team drafts each of these QBs better have a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and tailor their offense around them. You wouldn’t buy a towel and complain that it’s a bad blanket. Don’t draft a QB unless you plan on building to him.

Each QB has glaring flaws and we honestly don’t know which will improve and which won’t

There is no such thing as a perfect prospect. Each person (and team) will have to decide which flaws they can live with and which they can’t. It is not safe to assume that with “better coaching” or “more experience” or whatever else that a QB will magically turn their weaknesses into strengths. The important thing here is to be realistic about all prospects. What happens far too often is that some prospects have their strengths highlighted while others have their weaknesses highlighted, and then you end up with a biased, useless view of both of them. And while it’s common in NBA scouting, age is not a common factor in NFL scouting despite it potentially being a huge factor in development.

Conclusion

No matter how much analysis and tape study is done, when it comes down to it, there are so many factors at the next level that contribute or detract from success that every QB has a chance to succeed and a chance to fail. Ultimately, the goal is to try to identify the guys who are most likely to succeed. No analyst is going to be 100% on prospects for so many reasons. But over a period of time, a good process will lead to better results than a bad process. Holding out one wrong projection is bad because it is impossible to be perfect.

QB Draft Series 2018: What I Look For in a Prospect

One of the most common arguments in draft conversation is “you must not have watched the tape!” So, before I even get to my thoughts on each of the QB prospects, I want to explain exactly how I evaluate QBs.

First Impression

The first thing I look at is the physical attributes. Height, weight, body type, athleticism, and other basic purely physical traits. I do not disqualify anybody based on physical traits, but the lack of certain traits does raise the bar on how good other attributes need to be. There is no evidence that in the NFL, you need to be a certain height, certain weight, or anything else to be successful, so I do not set any artificial limits. A shorter QB must display the ability to still see the field and get the ball over the line. If he can, there’s no reason to downgrade him. A slower QB must display the ability to evade rushers. If he can, there’s no reason to downgrade him. Still, this first look can still impact what traits specifically to look for.

Finally, perhaps the least talked about and most important factor for judging a QB prospect is their age. In basketball, age is perhaps the most critical factor in determining the potential upside of a prospect. For the NBA, “Pretty much without exception, players were bad before age 20 (there were a few age 19 backup quality seasons), took a leap at age 20 or 21, took another leap at age 22 or 23, and then basically all players showed either consistent growth through the late 20s or took another leap some time between 24 and 28.” For NFL QBs, it’s slightly more difficult because there are less age 18-19 seasons, but there appears to be a consistent age 20 leap to the point where it’s pretty safe to ignore everything before age 20. Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to find consistent evidence of an age 22-23 leap because that’s typically when they make the jump to the NFL. There is some evidence indicating that the age 23 leap is real in the NFL, but there’s not enough of it to draw a very strong conclusion. However, there is strong evidence indicating that an age 25 (occasionally a year earlier or later, but by far most common at age 25) leap is 100% real.

Mechanics

The next thing I look at is mechanics. There are three parts to throwing mechanics: arm, body, and feet. Arm mechanics are the actual motion of the arm, how long it takes to throw from start of motion to end, whether there’s a consistent release point, and whether there is consistency in motion from throw to throw. Body mechanics is everything from the waist up. You want to square up to your target, which is done with both feet and body. That is how quick a QB can twist and turn. It is also whether a QB leans forward, back, or completely upright as they throw. Foot mechanics are dropbacks, how bouncy the feet are, how quick they move from side to side, how well they get pointed to the target before the throw, and how good the base is when planted.

The biggest mechanical issues are a long windup, an inability to consistently get squared to the target, too much leaning back while throwing, and inconsistent release point. These issues cause the most accuracy issues. It should be noted that while mechanics can be cleaned up, generally a player’s mechanics are his mechanics and any improvement/progress will be slow and often minor, having to rebuild year-over-year. That being said, mechanical issues are often overblown, and should only be considered to have an effect on draft stock if they consistently cause significant problems on throws.

Arm Talent

This is separate from mechanics and includes raw arm strength, raw accuracy, touch, and ability to throw without fully engaging the body/legs. For arm strength, contrary to what NFL execs appear to believe, max ball speed is pretty irrelevant. There is definitely a threshold below where a guy will struggle to be a successful NFL QB, but above that, more ball speed generally just…doesn’t matter very much, and can sometimes be detrimental as it can be harder to catch, especially on short throws. Ball speed can also vary wildly from throw to throw – when it’s intentional, it’s arm talent, and when it appears to be unintentional, it’s usually a function of bad mechanics sapping the throw. For accuracy, this includes both accuracy (ball is thrown in a catchable place) and precision (ball is thrown in the correct place). Some QBs are highly accurate but imprecise. Some QBs are hit or miss but when they hit, they hit the right spot. Ability to throw on the run, in a collapsed pocket, or in other situations where correct mechanics cannot be used is also important. Not every throw is from a perfect base, some QBs are way better at generating power and accuracy in these situations than others and it’s one difference between stars and merely average QBs.

Raw arm talent is important, but may actually be the least important of all QB qualities when it comes to attaining a minimum level of success. Better arm talent certainly indicates a higher ceiling. However, once the arm meets minimum accuracy and strength levels, it is less important than the next few qualities.

Mental Processing and Ability to Handle Pressure

QB is perhaps more mental than it is physical. QBs need to process two completely separate spaces – the pocket and the defensive coverage – at the same time. In the pocket, QBs must show an ability to feel and respond to real pressure without overreacting to pressure that is not there or is otherwise likely to be locked. Reading coverage, QBs must show an ability to locate defenders who may jump the route and to determine whether the coverage is man or zone as quickly as possible. They must also show the ability to maintain some semblance of accuracy and decision-making while under pressure or when the defense throws an unexpected alignment out.

More than anything, these abilities can separate the NFL starters from the rest. It is extremely difficult to do either of these, and QBs who can do both consistently and quickly are often stars. QBs who can do neither are often relegated to the realm of backups and below no matter how good their arm is, because a QB who throws to the wrong team and takes unnecessary sacks or risks is a bad QB.

Running Ability

Running ability is a huge huge benefit and one of the major things I look for. A QB who can run puts significantly more stress on a defense and can wrap it around his unique abilities. Defenses must account for that ability, which limits the schemes they can run and how aggressively they can rush. Hell, Tim Tebow led a team with the 24th ranked defense to a 7-4 regular season record and a playoff win. Tim Tebow. Running ability for a QB is insanely valuable. First downs and possession are the name of the game, the game doesn’t care how you accomplish that.

For some reason, it is treated as a bad thing when QBs can run and I don’t know why. Running QBs are automatically “more injury-prone”. Newton, Wilson, Taylor, and Alex Smith have led the NFL in rushing attempts over the past 3 seasons. They’ve missed a combined 7 games over those 3 seasons, some of those not even related to injury or running. Do QBs get injured running? Absolutely. QBs who are not running QBs get injured running. Sometimes running QBs get injured too. Non-running QBs get injured too. Injuries suck. There’s a lot of them, especially in football. There is no evidence that running QBs are more injury prone – in fact the evidence points to the exact opposite. Running QBs are better able to avoid hits (especially in the pocket) and are more comfortable getting tackled in the open field, which mitigates the two most common ways non-running QBs get injured.

Another weird thing is that running QBs are generally automatically treated as inaccurate, lacking touch, unable to operate actual pro-style offenses, and other slights related to their passing and intelligence whether it’s true or not. There is no reason to conflate a QB’s running ability and their passing ability. It’s also generally automatically assumed that running QBs are more likely to bail from the pocket quicker when under pressure. This is both untrue and…not a bad thing?

I’ve never understood the line of thinking that a QB should pick up yards only with his arm. The reason most QBs don’t bail the pocket sooner is because they’re less dangerous outside the pocket. If you’re just as dangerous running, why shouldn’t you use that ability? The reason only one QB plays special teams is because most QBs can’t play special teams. They don’t have that ability. It would be like saying a RB is a bad RB because he’s capable of catching passes when he should just stay back and run the ball. There’s nothing mutually exclusive, what good does it do to suppress one of your talents for no reason whatsoever?

Intangibles

I am always hesitant to judge intangibles too much, but I think ignoring them completely is a bad idea. We generally don’t have access to medicals and we don’t know these guys. That being said, major injuries are reported and should be factored in, especially concussions, which don’t really go away ever. Leadership is certainly a factor – if a team doesn’t like playing for its QB, is it really a team? Players who consistently come up with clutch plays and lead late drives get a little boost, while players who consistently come up small and fail late get a little downgrade. There are some other intangibles that can come into play, but I try not to react too much to them simply because as fans, we never have full details.

Conclusion

Being an NFL QB is difficult. There are a ton of moving parts and a ton of factors to consider in grading prospects. On top of that, many prospects are still developing, and projecting how they will finish developing without even knowing who their coaches will be is nearly impossible. Still, some traits are simply more valuable than others. While arm talent certainly matters, being able to read defenses, navigate the pocket, and punish defenses for leaving open space are more critical towards a QB’s ultimate success. QBs who cannot do this are less likely to be truly successful at the next level.

QB Draft Series 2018: Addressing the Elephant in the QB Room

A few weeks ago, two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks for nothing more than the crime of being black. Everybody involved quickly realized that what had occurred was an incident of implicit racial bias.

Many people have asked me why I “have to bring race into everything”. Ignoring the elephant in the room does not make it go away. I know that many people will read this, ignore the links, ignore the evidence, and call me names for even suggesting any of this. That will not make any of this less true, nor does it mean it should be ignored.

Racism and America is one of those iconic duos. It’s why even collections of kids cartoons have to come with an explanation of their racism. It’s why the MLB has a Jackie Robinson Day. It’s why Title VII and numerous state laws exist prohibiting racism and why the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has so many cases. I could give thousands of examples here.

The NFL has its own racist history. From 1934-1946, no black players played in the league, in part because owners and coaches claim they just weren’t good enough despite them having proved themselves previously (sound familiar?). The history of black QBs in the NFL is largely one of a lack of opportunities. Many NFL teams did not have a black QB start for them until the late 90s or early 2000s, and the Giants’ saw their first black starter at QB ever just last season when Geno Smith started a game for them. Also, though it’s not about blacks, there’s still a team named the Redskins. That’s not even hidden.

I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid situations. These are two guys who are unquestionably NFL starters, but are being blackballed for speaking out against race discrimination by people who are not part of the NFL. To the extent that people are saying they’re not good enough for the NFL on pure talent, it’s so obviously false (Kaepernick has a career passer rating of 88.9 – better than league average, averages 6 yards per carry, and has a 4-2 playoff record, better than guys like Phil Rivers and Matt Stafford by a wide margin; Reid is a 26 year old former pro bowler who has been remarkably consistent throughout his career) as to not merit any real discussion. But because they bring in all sorts of other issues beyond just straight “they are being discussed differently because of their skin color”, they are an (important) issue all their own.

Many will be quick to point out that most of the NFL is black, and this is undeniably true. In fact, I think that at some skill positions, there is bias against white players (especially at RB and WR). This is likely due to blacks being seen as bigger and stronger than they actually are. As size and strength are generally considered positive traits for non-QB positions, it is not a surprise then to see that blacks are favored in those positions. But for QBs, QBs need to be smart. Right? …Right?

How often has the refrain “QBs need to be intelligent” or “he’s not smart enough” come up? QBs absolutely need to be able to read defenses, process what he sees quickly, and make quick decisions. I don’t know about you, but I never learned any of those things in school. Quite frankly, I don’t see what any of those things have to do with intelligence. They are learned skills through years of practice, no different than getting good at video games or a musical instrument or learning a new language. If you took a random person out of a Masters degree classroom and stuck them on a football field, they would suck at it because it has nothing to do with things they are smart at. It is giving a tree exam to an elephant.

Which is why the Wonderlic exam has no relation to actual NFL anything. Have you actually taken a Wonderlic exam before? Here are two different ones you can try: 1, 2. I have taken many standardized tests in my life. I have taken multiple classes on how to take standardized tests. The Wonderlic is a standardized test. Standardized testing has a ton of problems. Standarized testing is also biased against minorities. They are assembled in a minority-biased way. Ryan Fitzpatrick, known for his high wonderlic score, doesn’t know his score and doesn’t see the relation between it and his football abilities. And again, there is a long history of race and intelligence being maliciously linked.

Studies have been done specifically about how people, both white and black, view black and white QBs. This is the type of implicit bias that truly affects how QBs are viewed. Given objective, explicit, controlled descriptions and pictures, with nothing else affecting the participants, the participants of these studies were still prone to stereotyping and bias. I am sure that most if not all of the participants were not explicitly racist. Yet their internalized ideas still manifested to the detriment of the black QBs.

Most likely, people don’t even realize that they’re being biased. People in all professions unconsciously discriminate based on race. And, much like the NFL Draft pre-draft process is one long job interview, one of the most insidious places implicit race discrimination appears is in interviews. It’s proven in resumes. It’s proven in names. For NFL QBs, it’s proven in scouting reports.

Why all this discussion for this draft? Well, we have one black QB who is being treated significantly differently in Lamar Jackson. Remember, the draft process started with NFL teams asking Jackson to play WR, a take so blindingly stupid it spurred Chris Long to rant on Twitter. The amount of coded language and double standards are so numerous it is difficult to keep track, though some people are trying. And while many people will cry out “it’s not racism, he’s just not that good”, the claim just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. He played in a pro system with poor talent, with numbers suppressed because he suffered the most drops of any top QB prospect.

I’m not saying there’s no reason to criticize him – there is no such thing as a perfect prospect. But many of the criticisms – lack of accuracy because of low completion percentage, inability to operate in a pro-style system because he’s too quick to bail from the pocket – are so far from the truth, and, perhaps, more importantly, held against Jackson significantly more than they are held against other top prospects, that there really is only one explanation, and this is it.

On the other end of the spectrum is Josh Allen. Allen has been just as divisive as Lamar Jackson, with those in favor of him pointing out that he has a massive arm and great athleticism, and those wary of him pointing out that that’s really all he has right now. Similar prospects, such as Cardale “12 Gauge” Jones and Logan Thomas, were projected as 4th rounders and were drafted in the 4th. Cardale Jones’ tools were slightly behind Allen’s but he also put up a significantly better performance in college against significantly better competition. Logan Thomas had better athletic tools at a bigger size and put up slightly worse numbers against significantly better competition. There is simply nothing separating Allen from prospects like Jones and Thomas except for one thing: the color of his skin.

This type of QB prospect is rare to begin with prospects with a huge arm and a ton of athleticism come around once every two or three years, maybe even less often than that. But even more rarely do they come with white skin. That is where Josh Allen really outshines his comps. It is completely irrelevant to his projection. It is completely irrelevant to his success. But it is very, very relevant to his stock.

On a closing note, I want to point out how these types of biases could be affecting two other QB prospects this year. Cam Newton faces criticism and sets off a firestorm when he does something like arrogant struts and in your face taunting. Baker Mayfield is…well, “the six foot jerk”. His particular brand of arrogant taunting (and small stature) may have affected his draft stock quite a bit more if he was black, although it appears that they have both hurt his draft stock to some extent to begin with. And while it isn’t white and black with Josh Rosen, I could probably write a whole separate article about whether Rosen’s draft stock may be suffering (or benefiting) from being Jewish.

Okay, enough with this heavy talk, let’s move to talking about the QBs!

QB Draft Series 2018: Introduction/NFL vs. NBA Draft Scouting

Welcome to my 2018 NFL QB Scouting Series. For various reasons, I decided to jump into NFL Draft stuff this year.

Oops.

It did not take long to realize that the NFL Draft is an entirely different beast than the NBA Draft. In fact, I think the only thing that I’ve found is similar is the biases that people display when talking about prospects. I wrote two separate articles on bad arguments and cognitive biases that apply just as well to the NFL Draft as they do to the NBA Draft – just replace the NBA players/prospects with NFL players/prospects and everything else can stay basically the same and apply just as well.

Before I get into the QBs, I wanted to highlight some of the biggest differences and similarities between scouting the NBA and NFL drafts.

There are no stats that can be easily relied upon

This is honestly the biggest difference by far. In the NBA, the first thing I do is get a spreadsheet with every draft-eligible player and cut out every player who doesn’t reach certain well-established statistical thresholds. Some of the stats I rely upon are actually fairly simple metrics – minutes played, shooting percentages, total points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks. They’re not perfect metrics, but good NBA players were typically also good NCAAB players. I also use some advanced metrics, many created by other draftniks. There is an entire community of analytically inclined NBA draftniks that do really good, really interesting work.

The NFL Draft? Not so much. There are a few reasons for this.

In basketball, there are 5 positions and every position has the same stats. The expected stats for the different positions may vary, but they can be compared both within position and to other positions. In the NFL, there are a ton of positions, many of which have different stats than others, few which can be compared against each other. It means that any statistical analysis has to be done on a much smaller fraction of the draft at a time.

In college basketball, the average player plays about 33 games, 1000+ minutes and something like 55-60 offensive and 55-60 defensive possessions every game. In college football, the average player plays about 12-13 games and is involved in anywhere from single digits (kickers and punters) to about 75 (offensive linemen) plays a game. In total, most guys just do not have a large enough sample to create reliable stats.

The level of competition and style of play can also vary wildly from game to game and conference to conference. As far as I’m aware, nobody has created a metric accounting for these differences. There’s also differences in systems, weather, and multiple other things that can affect stats but do not appear in them.

Overall, stats are, at best, an unreliable signpost. They can be used to help guide what to look for on tape, but that’s about all.

There are so so so many more draft-relevant players to the point of being overwhelming

In basketball, before I even jump into the tape, I’m already looking at a pool of 50-70 guys total. In the past 3 drafts, I ranked 13, 13, and 15 college prospects as potential starters and 35, 52, and 37 prospects total as prospects worth potentially drafting, with another 10-20 listed in each draft as potentially interesting UDFAs. In football, there’s over 250 picks vs. only 60 for the NBA and then another 10+ UDFAs per team vs. 2 or 3 per team in the NBA who are usually fighting for minor league roster spots. In the NBA draft, about half the players drafted get to play real minutes in the NBA and about a third turn into real NBA players, with only 1-3 becoming true stars.

Using the 2014 drafts for comparison, about 30 NBA drafted players played significant minutes and only 15 have averaged 25+ MPG in their career, with only 1 making an all-star game. 146 NFL drafted players have appeared in 32+ games, 77 spent 2+ years as their team’s primary starter, and 21 have already made the Pro Bowl.

Basically, there are well over 200 draft-relevant prospects, and if the ratios hold, somewhere between 250-300 prospects should be ranked at a minimum (based on the greater number of UDFA both picked up and rostered, that number may actually be closer to 350-400). And because of the above point regarding stats, there’s no easy way to even cut down from the universe of “all FBS and FCS players” to “300 prospects worth looking at”.

Tape scouting is considerably more difficult

In basketball scouting, the tape is used to provide context to numbers and to give a fuller picture of a player. You’re looking for very specific things – shooting form, court awareness, athletic profile, see if anything stands out good or bad either way. There’s only 10 players vs. 22 and you can see all the action on the screen at all times. Defensive systems are well-defined and easy to parse right away. Offensive systems are fairly simple systems of screens and cuts. Regardless of whether shots actually go in, players are fairly consistent from game to game, so watching a few minutes of a few games, when combined with the numbers, is really all you need.

In football scouting, the tape stands for itself – the numbers provide little useful guidance. Each position has very different things to look for to the point where it’s basically evaluating different sports – it takes hours upon hours upon hours to learn enough to be able to look at one position. It is difficult to find all-22 tape for college from any angle – it simply isn’t publicly available. Any outlet that does not have access to the all-22 tape (especially from behind the offense and behind the defense) cannot do any real scouting for any position other than QB and maybe RB and the lines. Each player’s responsibility can change on each play, and I generally find that to really understand a given play, you need to watch it at least 6 times, minimum, to see what actually happened (I have watched many plays 15+ times). It is tedious and time-consuming – charting a single pass play for a single player took me 2-3 minutes. Basically, to truly accurately evaluate a single player, I believe you need to spend no less than 5 hours doing intense film study. I don’t think any draftnik has spent that much time on more than a handful of prospects.

So yeah, scouting football prospects is significantly more difficult.

The NFL Has Changed

In developing my NBA projection systems over the past few years, the biggest changes have been in recognizing major, fundamental shifts in the way the game is played and adjusting the value of players to reflect their contributions towards winning basketball games. That is, recognizing that skills and talents that were useful in the past are less or not useful now. This has nothing to do with individual talent level and everything to do with determining what talents are relevant to winning championships. The goal of any sport is to win the championship. How that goal is achieved is not static. Why do so many fans treat it as such?

In the NBA, a change in defensive rules caused changes in defensive schemes, which in turn caused changes in offensive schemes, which in turn completely changed how the game was played. This all occurred very rapidly. While many fans still value(d) skills that had been valuable in the 90s, NBA basketball as played now has no real relation to NBA basketball played even 15 years ago.

The NFL is no different. There are multiple rule changes basically every year. The total sum of those changes is that passing is easier (because of changes to what DBs can do) and blocking is worse (because of changes to how OLs can practice). Over the past few seasons, rushing has stayed static or dropped slightly, while passing has ticked up significantly (it dropped a little this year, in part thanks to Kizer’s special brand of terrible and in part due to defenses that are finally seeming to adjust a little).

While fans and analysts alike fetishize runners and “road-graders”, the fact of the matter is that, much like the NBA’s low-post game, the NFL’s rushing game simply isn’t nearly as relevant as it was in the past, and to the extent it is, its impact is limited. It should be noted that while RB rushing isn’t particularly relevant to winning, QB rushing is, as QBs tend to carry for a much higher YPC and much higher rate of first downs.

Because the NFL has changed, positional value must change with it

For my 2017 NBA big board, I actually put a value on each role, because some skillsets are more rare and more valuable than others. NFL fans clearly understand this – ask them the highest they would draft a kicker or punter and they’ll say 4th or 5th or maybe not at all. They have value, but they have limited value over replacement, so they’re not worth spending high picks on. But then when it comes to other positions, this same logic doesn’t seem to apply.

Part of this is due to disagreement as to what each position’s value is. As a general rule of thumb though, players who are involved in the passing game on either side of the ball should be significantly upgraded and players who are geared to the rushing game should be significantly downgraded. This is most noticeable with RBs, who are never worth a top draft pick. These players are overrated because they are highly visible and fantasy-relevant, but they are replaceable, have a low hit rate, and most importantly, simply do not have a big impact in winning games. Run-stopping DTs and LBs, runblocking OLs, and the like should also be significantly downgraded. QBs, WRs, passblocking OLs, passrushers, and pass defenders should be upgraded.

Conclusion

I started this project fully intending to do a deep dive and create a big board for at least the top 50 or so NFL draft prospects. Due to all of the above, I simply do not have the time necessary to do a good job. Therefore, I have decided to simply scout the QB prospects. Enjoy!

 

The Big Board 2017

Going to keep the introduction as brief as possible here. I suggest you read all the articles leading up to this:

Reference Series: Age

Reference Series: Defense

Reference Series: The Eye Test

Making a big board is hard

Lessons from other leagues

Players are classified in the following positions:

-Primary: typical point guard role – 1 tier bump up

-Secondary: 3-and-D combo guards and wings who have the ability to handle and pass a bit and have the ability to develop into either a point guard or a strong complement to a point guard – half tier bump up

-Wing: typical 3-and-D run around screens and shoot players – 1 tier bump down

-Stretch: forwards who can shoot the 3 – no bump

-Rim: centers who can protect the rim – no bump

-???: players who don’t neatly fit into any of those other categories – mainly guards and forwards who can’t shoot and centers who can’t protect the rim – dropped 2 or more tiers

There’s also three minor modifications I make for players that I have not written about anywhere else:

-Odd bodies. This is short guys, fat guys, weirdly shaped guys, etc. These guys tend not to get a real chance to prove themselves (if they get any chance at all), and since opportunity is a big part of panning out, I have started dropping these guys a bit because even if they could be good, they typically just don’t get the chance, and I am taking that into account.

-Poor athletes. Every year, there’s a few guys who put up fantastic stats but scouts are much lower on them because of a lack of physical tools. These guys tend to overperform scout expectations, but they still tend to underperform stat expectations. I am adjusting accordingly.

-Conference player of the year. There has been some predictive value of these players going on to decent or better NBA careers. These players are marked with an * on the big board.

If you’re not familiar with my system, here’s my writeup from last year. Players are split into tiers. Tiers reflect a player’s total value – upside, chance of reaching upside, NBA role, etc. A player with a low ceiling but a high chance of reaching it may be in the same tier as a player with a much higher ceiling but a much lower chance of reaching any kind of potential. Players are not ranked within tiers. I did not rank any players who played less than 500 NCAA minutes last season, as my system does not project those players with any kind of accuracy. It does not mean they are good or bad prospects, it simply means that since I use a statistical system, I do not project any players who I do not have enough data for. No, I do not hate your favorite prospect or your school. Yes, these are real rankings and I am serious. Okay, let’s get to it!

Tier 1

Markelle Fultz, primary, 19.0 years old, 1.20 FPM

Lonzo Ball, primary, 19.6 years old, 1.10 FPM

These two lead guards are at the top of the class. Ball’s stats are absolutely out of this world – his shooting numbers (other than FTs) are elite, he led the NCAA in assists, he rebounded well above his position, and his advanced metrics were incredible. However, Ball is exactly the type of player warned about above – he is not an elite athlete, and while I would expect him to be a great player at the next level, he may never reach “best player on a championship team” level. Fultz was an elite player, but there are questions about his defense and ability to run an offense at the next level. He has higher upside than Ball, but is a little less safe. Overall, you can’t go wrong with either guy.

Tier 2

Dennis Smith, Jr., primary, 19.6, 1.02 FPM

DSJ finds himself alone here, not quite in the same class as Fultz and Ball, but better than the group below. Smith has all the tools to be elite, but needs to develop his game mentally. He may also have some physical upside, as he was only a year removed from ACL surgery, an injury that usually requires two years to fully recover from.

Tier 3

De’Aaron Fox, primary, 19.5, 1.02 FPM

Jawun Evans, primary, 20.9, 1.21 FPM

Josh Jackson, secondary, 20.3, 1.05 FPM

Jayson Tatum, stretch, 19.3, 0.92 FPM

Jonathan Isaac, stretch, 19.7, 1.04 FPM

Sindarius Thornwell*, secondary, 22.8, 1.12 FPM

This group is talented but flawed. Everybody has the ability to be an elite player, but they all have glaring weaknesses. Fox is has elite physical tools but showed no 3 point shooting ability, which is basically a must in today’s NBA. Jawun Evans was extremely productive, but is undersized and underathletic. Josh Jackson has an ugly looking shot and couldn’t make his FTs, leading to major shooting questions. Jayson Tatum is young and was good at everything but not great at anything – I have him as a stretch here, but he could be a secondary depending on who drafts him and how he develops physically. Jonathan Isaac is a D-and-3 player at this point – he looks to be a defense-first player who should be able to provide just enough on offense to make him a valuable player. Sindarius Thornwell fits the physical profile of secondaries who typically overperform – he is a big strong body. He shot the 3 over 39%, led all major conference players in free throw attempts, rebounded, played D, and helped facilitate at times. He led the nation in box plus-minus. The question is only if he was good because he was bigger and older than everybody or because he’s just that good.

Tier 4

Donovan Mitchell, secondary, 20.8, 0.94 FPM

Malik Monk*, wing, 19.4, 0.85 FPM

Caleb Swanigan*, stretch, 20.2, 1.04 FPM

TJ Leaf, stretch, 20.1, 1.05 FPM

John Collins, rim, 19.7, 1.24 FPM

Zach Collins, rim, 19.7, 1.18 FPM

This group is a step below the previous group in both top level potential and likelihood of being a major impact player. Mitchell appears to have all the tools to be an ideal secondary, but he’s likely going to need a few years to develop and may not have the ability to be a true second option. Monk has shown more creation abilities than most 3-point snipers, but he’s still not really a secondary. Any team drafting him would be wise to really work with him on his handling and vision to try to get him there. Swanigan and Leaf are a pair of highly productive stretch 4s with athletic and defensive question marks. It’s hard to see either of them being bad, but most likely, they settle in as roleplayers that make fans of at least 5 opposing teams hate them. John and Zach Collins were both highly productive players, but John will need to bulk up to play C at the next level or develop a 3P shot to play PF at the next level and Zach did a lot of interesting things, but did them in limited minutes as a mid-major backup. He could be a 3-and-rim guy, which is extremely valuable, but he will have to prove he can do it against a much higher level of competition – his foul rate was through the roof even against the lower level.

Tier 5

Derrick White, primary, 23, 1.04 FPM

Monte Morris, primary, 22, 1.04 FPM

Nigel Williams-Goss*, primary, 22.8, 1.02 FPM

Frank Mason III*, primary, 23.2, 0.96 FPM

Dillon Brooks*, secondary, 21.4, 1.00 FPM

Josh Hart*, secondary, 22.3, 0.98 FPM

Jordan Bell, rim, 22.4, 1.04 FPM

The veterans. Morris, Williams-Goss, and Mason are classic pass-first PGs who could help run the offense for bench units. White is a 3rd guard who should be able to swing between the guard positions and fill in wherever necessary. Brooks and Hart are your classic 3-and-D guys, with the ability to create a bit for themselves and others pushing them a little ahead of some others. Jordan Bell is a bit undersized but was 3rd in the NCAA in box plus minus – his ability to both protect the rim and switch on the perimeter is something teams are looking for.

I’m going to take a brief interlude to talk about Derrick White. Read this article on him. He’s the bingo card of evaluation errors. Undervalued coming out of high school because he was very young for his year. Ignored skills due to physical attributes. Didn’t have the hype of playing on a high quality AAU team. Now he’s undervalued because he’s too old. He’s proof that guys develop at different rates, physically, mentally, skills-wise. Everybody should internalize the story of Derrick White.

Tier 6A

Justin Jackson*, secondary, 22.2, 0.88 FPM

Peter Jok, secondary, 23.2, 0.95 FPM

Jeremy Morgan, secondary, 22.1, 0.88 FPM

Luke Kennard, wing, 21, 0.84 FPM

Just splitting Tier 6 into secondary and bigs. Justin Jackson finds his way in here as he wasn’t particularly impressive, but he has shown to be a late bloomer and was ACC Player of the Year, so maybe there’s more there. Peter Jok needs to up his D and cut his turnovers, but he’s a good shooter and passer. Jeremy Morgan really faded as the year went on, but has all the skills needed if he can translate them to the next level. Luke Kennard just wasn’t productive enough, doesn’t project to be able to defend at the next level, and by the stats, he’s not good enough at creating for others to be considered a secondary, although he has shown enough ability to maybe develop into it in a year or two.

Tier 6B

Rashawn Thomas, stretch, 22.8, 1.19 FPM

Jacob Wiley*, stretch, 22.8, 1.09 FPM

Cameron Oliver, stretch, 20.9, 1.06 FPM

Tyler Lydon, stretch, 21.2, 0.83 FPM

Thomas Bryant, stretch/rim, 19.9, 0.87 FPM

Tim Kempton, stretch/rim, 22.6, 1.06 FPM

Moses Kingsley, rim, 22.6, 1.02 FPM

Tony Bradley, rim, 19.4, 1.00 FPM

Justin Patton, rim, 20.0, 0.99 FPM

Kennedy Meeks, ???, 22.4, 1.15 FPM

Lauri Markkanen, ???, 20.1, 0.81 FPM

Rashawn Thomas led the NCAA in FTA, had 50+ steals and 50+ blocks, and added a 3 point shot late in the year that looks pretty good. Jake Wiley was Big Sky Player of the Year. Despite standing 6’7, he has a 7′ wingspan and an incredible 37.5″ no step vert. He has shown signs of being able to shoot the 3 with a little more time and development. Cam Oliver shot over 38% on 172 3PA and added 91 blocks. Tyler Lydon was a low usage player, but was a quality shooter who chipped in everywhere and may be able to carve out the same role at the next level. Thomas Bryant is a true C who has shown both stretch and rim abilities, but whoever drafts him should be prepared to let him develop in the D-League for two years. Tim Kempton is a second generation player who has also shown both stretch and rim abilities, but he just may not have NBA level athleticism. Moses Kingsley is an undersized rim protector with limited other abilities but who has only been playing professional basketball for 6 years and may have some growth left. Tony Bradley is basically an unknown, but whoever drafts him probably will not see any return on investment for at least a few years. Justin Patton has good athletic tools but needs time to develop everything else. Kennedy Meeks is really good but doesn’t really fit anywhere in the NBA. He may still be fine as a 3rd big.

So, Lauri Markkanen. Lauri Markkanen can shoot the ball, and shoot it well. He was also surprisingly adept at getting to the line. If he could do, well, anything else, he’d be a few tiers higher. But he’s bad at using his offense to create for others. He rebounds like a PF despite being 7′ tall. He absolutely cannot defend – he is second to last in steals+blocks per minute among players on this board, ahead of only Ojeleye, and his defensive advanced metrics match. So he can’t play C, and at 7′ tall, he’s the wrong size to play PF and doesn’t have nearly the athletic ability to hang with smaller 4s or punish them. I know shooting is important, but so is passing, defense, and rebounding.

Tier 7

Mo Evans, primary, 22.6, 0.98 FPM

Dallas Moore*, primary, 22.6, 0.97 FPM

Quinton Hooker, primary, 22.3, 0.93 FPM

Derrick Walton, Jr., primary, 22.2, 0.87 FPM

Michael Young, secondary, 22.8, 0.95 FPM

Malcolm Hill, secondary, 21.6, 0.88 FPM

Gian Clavell*, wing, 23.6, 0.94 FPM

Semi Ojeleye, wing, 22.5, 0.84 FPM

Alec Peters*, stretch, 22.2, 1.03 FPM

Josh Hawkinson, stretch, 22.0, 0.89 FPM

We’re into the real bottom of the barrel guys here. Mo Evans, Dallas Moore, and Quinton Hooker are low major PGs who can really, really shoot. Walton played can also really shoot but is too lacking in too many areas. Michael Young and Malcolm Hill are the types of guys who make for great college players but just aren’t NBA quality and end up as support players in Europe or the D-League. Gian Clavell might be the most interesting prospect in this bunch. His highlights make him look better than he is, but man, you can dream on these, can’t you? Semi Ojeleye is athletic and can score but hasn’t shown much other ability. Alec Peters and Josh Hawkinson are potential stretch 4s who probably lack the athleticism necessary for the next level.

The rest

Bam Adebayo, rim, 19.9, 0.86 FPM

Jarrett Allen, rim, 19.2, 0.77 FPM

Deonte Burton, ???, 23.4, 1.00 FPM

Jack Gibbs, primary, 22.4, 0.91 FPM

Devin Robinson, stretch, 22.3, 0.81 FPM

Adebayo was a below average rim protector who doesn’t bring anything special anywhere and has limited tools. Allen was very young and was playing out of position, so there might be something more there, but right now, he’s basically a toolsy big with no real skills. Deonte Burton is 6’4, 266. He is a skilled player, but he has to do a ton of body work before he’s an NBA player. Gibbs and Robinson are both right on the edge of what I consider a prospect but are included here.

The lessons learned from other leagues

Making a big board is hard. I have started looking outside the NBA Draft sphere for wisdom in other sports. After all, a draft is a draft, a team sport is a team sport, put it all together, and there’s some useful nuggets to be found.

NFL

Not all positions are valued equally in the NFL draft. QBs are valued significantly higher due to their extreme importance to the offense and to the team. Pass-rushing defensive ends have been valued higher due to their extreme importance to the defense. RBs are valued significantly lower due to their reliance on the offensive line and their low hit rate out of the draft and are typically drafted for team fit. And so on and so forth.

What does this have to do with the NBA draft? Not all positions have equal value, and I believe a big board should reflect this.

Last year, I wrote an overly complicated position manifesto. It…is just too complicated. This year, I have separated prospects into 6 categories: Primary, Secondary, Wing, Stretch, Rim, and ???. Primary is your typical point guard role. Secondary is 3-and-D combo guards and wings who have the ability to handle and pass a bit and have the ability to develop into either a point guard or a strong complement to a point guard. Wing is your typical 3-and-D run around screens and shoot players. Stretch is forwards who can shoot the 3. Rim is centers who can protect the rim. ??? is players who don’t neatly fit into any of those other categories – mainly guards and forwards who can’t shoot and centers who can’t protect the rim. Primary players get bumped up a tier, as they are the most valuable (the QBs, so to speak). Secondary players get bumped up half a tier – if they are close to the tier above, they will be pushed into it. Stretch and Rim players are roughly equal and do not get a tier adjustment. Wing players are the proverbial RBs – they have low upside, a low hit rate, and are filling out a roster. They are dropped a tier. ??? players are dropped 2 or more tiers, as no matter how good they are, if they don’t fit, their impact is severely dampened.

Without these adjustments, two players of equal talent but unequal value get ranked equally. But if they have different value, why should they be ranked equally? The NFL has shown that failing to adjust for value and simply taking the best talent does not lead to good results. The NBA has really shown the same. Adjustments should be made.

MLB

The MLB draft is very different than the NBA and NFL drafts. Why? Because MLB teams understand that kids need to mature into adults before they’re ready for the big leagues, and that most prospects simply are never going to be good enough to play at the top level.

MLB prospects can be drafted in roughly the same age range as NBA prospects. Almost every MLB prospect spends at least some time in the minor leagues. In fact, only one player has gone straight from the draft to the Majors in the past 20 years. Not just players drafted out of high school. Of all players drafted, only one player has gone straight to the majors in 20 years. Why? Because even the best, most ready prospects benefit from an adjustment period to get used to a higher level of competition, a harder schedule, and all of the other challenges that come with becoming a pro. Even Mike Trout, who is on his way to becoming one of the top players of all time, spent over two years in the minors.

Of course, Mike Trout was drafted 25th overall. He was ranked the #85 prospect in baseball the offseason after he was drafted. At no time was he ranked the #1 prospect in baseball. In fact, until he reached the majors, he didn’t show nearly all the skills he showed after he got there and continued growing.

This is a typical story. Baseball fans are conditioned for this. Players drafted high bust. Players drafted low hit. Players develop skills as they get older. Of the top 5 domestic hitters in WAR this season, two attended college after being late draft picks out of high school. They were drafted out of college in the late 1st round and the 8th round. Of the top 5 domestic pitchers in WAR this season, two were drafted in the mid-rounds out of high school and then were drafted in the early-mid-first out of college, one was drafted in the 5th round out of high school, one was drafted 7th overall out of high school, and one was drafted 1st overall out of college after not even getting drafted at all out of high school.

What does this have to do with basketball? One of the challenges of prospect evaluation is that some players just never get an opportunity. But it goes further than that. In basketball, players who are older are treated as “no longer good prospects” and are significantly downgraded for nothing more than developing later. It would be nice if every player and prospect developed at exactly the same rate, but that’s just not the way it works. Guys develop in jumps and bumps, not a smooth curve. Some jump a lot. Some jump a little. Some jump a year before others. Baseball teams understand this and evaluates every prospect on their own merits. Basketball teams tend to overvalue young players and undervalue older players. They also do not have a proper minor league system, and thus players who may not deserve it but were drafted highly get many opportunities, while players who may deserve a look but were not drafted just hope they get a chance. It’s just a really inefficient system at every level right now.

Prospects are also never a guarantee. Ever. Baseball fans are conditioned for this. Most don’t pay attention to the draft or to prospects until they become elite prospects in higher levels. It is expected that most prospects, even top prospects, will bust or fall well short of elite. Basketball teams and fans would do well to adopt this mindset, accepting that prospects need time to develop and that some will surprise and some will disappoint, and that the more who are given chances, the better it will be for everybody.

Why making a good big board is hard

It’s a fact of the draft projection business: people will look back at every big board you’ve ever done and point out every mistake you’ve ever made. They will question every projection out of line with the consensus. They will point out how much you’ve failed. Back in 2015, I wrote about the challenges in prospect projection. That was after doing it officially for just one year. Two years later, I’ve learned a whole lot more, and it’s time to revisit just why this is so damn hard.

1. Judging players is ultimately subjective.

I tend to fall back on BPM and WS/48, but those stats are highly imperfect. Last year I started messing around with some numbers to try to figure out what kind of positional adjustment needed to be applied to them – it’s pretty significant. Coaching and teammates influence them. Role highly influences them. They also value certain skills more than others. Traditional stats and traditional opinion have value. How much value? Depends who you ask. I don’t particularly value them, but some people point to 20 PPG and say “how can you say the player is bad?”

Looking at any big board, it’s important to keep in mind that you may evaluate or value players differently than the person who created the board. It doesn’t make one of you more right than the other, but it helps to keep an open mind as to all ways players can be evaluated when judging projection success.

2. It takes a minimum of five years to competently assess a draft class.

Players improve in fits and starts up until they are 23-24 years old. Many players are drafted as 19 year olds. See the problem?

If only people were so patient.

The first draft class I officially ranked was 2014. Only a single player drafted in the top 10 of that class has played their age 23 season (Stauskas). We still have no idea how that class is going to turn out. So far, it’s been pretty abysmal, with Nikola Jokic the only player who has made any kind of real impact. That will change in the next 2-3 years. But most of the guys taken high have just finished their age 21 season. They still have a lot of growth left. I think we’re just now getting to the point where we can look at the 2012 draft class with a strong idea of the talent of every player.

I know it’s hard to be five years patient, but judging any earlier should really just result in an “incomplete”.

3a. Because it takes five years to assess a draft class, it takes a long time to learn lessons.

3b. Because it takes five years to assess a draft class, sometimes the NBA changes and what was projected is no longer relevant.

These two points go together. This is my 4th draft doing this. That means that anything I did wrong in previous drafts…I still wouldn’t really know for certain!

I consume as much draft and basketball content as I can, because we all learn from each other. It really is the only way to learn. Of my 2014 top 12, 5 have suffered major or career-ending injuries and a 6th did not come over immediately. The already limited data is more limited. I try to identify mistakes I make, but it’s just so hard to tell. And you only get one chance to practice each year.

The confounding factor is that the NBA is changing at such a rapid rate that what was projected in 2014 is of only questionable value. What was projected then may look bad, but it may have made perfect sense at the time. For example, players like Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon were highly ranked by both scouts and stats. Having them in the lottery was completely defensible. Now? Elfrid Payton would probably project as a late first at best, and I would be projecting Aaron Gordon as a center. The 2014 projections weren’t wrong. The NBA just completely changed in the 3 years since they’ve been drafted. Does that mean the big board was bad?

I have made major changes to my formula and projections every year to try to account for the changing landscape, but I cannot predict the future. Neither can any other draftnik. And by the time we realize what we’ve done wrong, it’s already changed.

4. The single most important skill can’t be scouted in college and is one of the last skills to develop.

NBA players need to shoot the NBA 3.

NCAA players shoot from shorter than the NBA 3.

Welp.

Basically, if a player (other than a shot-blocking C) cannot shoot the 3, their NBA value tanks. But they don’t shoot the shot in college, and they typically don’t develop it, if at all, until they’re between 21 and 25. Yes, that’s a broad range. Yes, that goes even for the best college 3 point shooters. If a guy unexpectedly develops a shot, most people will end up having him ranked lower than he should have been. If a guy expected to shoot well fails to do so, most people will end up having him ranked higher than he should have been. And this development can be greatly affected by the team a player is drafted by and the coaching received.

This is the defining factor of whether 80% of NBA players succeed or fail at the next level, and there is simply no great way to project it. My big board presentation this year is taking this into account significantly more than usual, but if you look at a board and it seems off, this is probably why.

5. Variance.

Sometimes, unpredictable shit happens. Players get drafted to organizations who don’t teach them properly or don’t give them playing time. Others get drafted who use them in a way most others wouldn’t. Players mature as they turn from college age to adult age. Seriously, think about you at 19 vs. you at 22. Huge difference, right? Now you at 22 vs. you at 25. Huge difference again. Those of you who are younger – you won’t realize how much you’re changing until you’ve already changed. But it’s not predictable how these guys will change. Some guys have incredible work ethics. Some guys don’t really like playing. Some end up finding partying more interesting than practicing.

Basically, remember that in the end, this is still guesswork. Educated guesswork. Informed guesswork. But still guesswork.

Conclusion

A consensus tends to build every year as to where guys should be ranked. Ranking guys significantly differently than the consensus can draw questions or ridicule, especially when the rankings end up looking particularly wrong a year or two in. But it doesn’t mean the rankings were wrong. The NBA changes quickly. Players hit or bust for unforeseen reasons. Don’t focus on the players who were highly ranked who busted, or at least if you do, also focus on the players who were highly ranked and hit and the players who were lowly ranked and didn’t. Take all big boards and projections as best guesses – interesting to look at, interesting to read, but not something to be treated as 100% accurate. Not even close. Shooting 36% from 3 makes you a good NBA 3 point shooter. Shooting 36% on rankings would make you a good NBA prospect projector. It’s just that hard.