2020 NBA Draft: The Big Board

Three notes:

  • I only scouted and projected players who played NCAA D1 Basketball in the 2019-2020 season. The top of this draft has many players who did not play NCAA Basketball. They are omitted only because I did not scout them, and I have no opinion on them.
  • Major conference prospects in bold, mid-major prospects in italics, low major prospects in plain text. Mid-major and low major prospects have a wider range of outcomes and less certainty regarding those outcomes.  
  • The sections are not ordered within tiers and the players are not ordered within sections.

For more information on the theory behind my big board, I covered it in my 2019 NBA Draft Series:

The Past, The Present, The Future
On Age, Development, and Value
On Patience and Probability
There Are Levels To This Game
Leftover Food for Thought

And my 2020 Supplement: The Samepocalypse Has Arrived

Tier 1: The Elite Prospects – High chance of being a star, chance of being a superstar

None.

Tier 2: The High Quality Prospects – High chance of being a starter, chance of being a star

None.

Tier 3: The Potential Stars – Chance of being a star, but high risk on multiple levels

Anthony EdwardsOnyeka Okongwu

Yes, not a single college player in this draft received a top 2 tier grade from me. Typically Tier 3 prospects get drafted in the mid-lottery.

Anthony Edwards is an incredibly difficult prospect to project. He shot 29.4% from 3 and had more turnovers than assists in conference play. Typically a profile like that wouldn’t even make it on to my board. Put on the tape, and you may not even be able to figure out who or where he is on court 80% of the time. But that other 20%? That other 20% is “top 10 player in the NBA” level. He has elite NBA physical tools. He flashes all the skills. Will he put it all together? Who knows. If he doesn’t, he’s probably still a fine backup, but it’s hard to see him landing anywhere between “star” and “backup”.

Onyeka Okongwu is raw. Very, very raw. He should probably spend the next two years (at least) in the G-League. However, his upside is that of a perfect modern center. He has the footspeed to stick with smaller players on the perimeter, he shows a nice shooting stroke, he makes some fantastic passes. He’s just not consistent with anything, which is to be expected of most young bigs. If he never puts it all together, he’s not much of a player, but the upside is quite high. The other risk is that the NBA starts to go even smaller at center and he is too big for whatever it ends up settling at, though I think he has the physical tools to make it work.

Tier 3: The Glue Guys – No real star upside, likely to be rotation players or quality starters within three years, fail chance is lack of single elite quality

Cole Anthony

Some teams don’t need to swing for a star, they need to get somebody who will be able to supplement the stars they already have. These are those guys. There is a bust chance, but not nearly as high as The Potential Stars.

Cole Anthony’s draft stock fell down the board throughout the year, but it’s not clear why. UNC suffered from an extreme lack of spacing and just overall talent, which led Anthony to try to play heroball in extremely unfavorable circumstances. As a player, he is good both on the ball and off the ball, both on offense and defense. He lacks a single standout anything, which makes it difficult . What is his role at the next level? Ultimately, he will likely be at his best as a Robin to an elite Batman.

Tier 4: The Roleplayers – Starters or backups, these players can overcome minor flaws as long as their 3 point shot translates to the next level.

Tyrese HaliburtonTyler BeySaddiq BeyDevin VassellKira Lewis
Desmond BaneTre JonesAaron NesmithJordan NworaTy-Shon Alexander
Mason JonesRobert Woodard IIImmanuel Quickley

None of these players project to be stars at the next level, but all of them could become useful roleplayers as long as their 3 point shot falls.

Tyrese Haliburton is painfully unathletic. He is a very good basketball player, but he is going to be bottom 10% athletically among NBA wings. He will be best utilized as an off-ball mover and facilitator, as he simply doesn’t have any off-the-bounce game that will work at the next level.

Tyler Bey played center for Colorado this season and that might be his best position at the next level should he go to a team that realizes it. His 8’9.5″ standing reach + 43.5″ max leap gives him more than enough size and height, and watching him sky for rebounds is really incredible. If forced to be a more traditional wing, he can probably still succeed, but it would be a waste of a special talent, and it wouldn’t be ideal for his skillset.

Saddiq Bey is an aggressive and accurate shooter who fails to get the most out of his physical tools due to some weird issues with physical movements that are more commonly seen in football RBs. A good team will get a coach specifically to iron those out and could end up with a steal. Otherwise, he is too stiff in his movements to be a quality defender.

Devin Vassell is a traditional 3-and-D wing. He doesn’t have the elite athleticism necessary to be a true point-of-attack stopper, and he doesn’t have the handle to be much of a threat off the bounce, but he should be fine as a 4th or 5th guy on the floor.

Kira Lewis projects to be an average primary ballhandler. The bar to being a good starter at PG is really high, and he just lacks the creation or passing skills necessary to be at that level. He’s more of a backend starter or backup unless he significantly improves his passing.

Desmond Bane is just a guy. He’s ready to step in and play right away, but he will never provide more than 2nd or 3rd wing quality 3-and-D play.

Tre Jones can run an offense, but he can’t elevate one. He simply doesn’t have the physical tools to create offense or the passing to unlock a defense . If a team needs a backup PG who can initiate the offense and shoot the 3 if he’s left open, Jones can do it.

Aaron Nesmith made waves with his 52.2% 3P shooting, but he only played one game against major competition, and they relentlessly attacked him successfully on defense. But if he can shoot even 42% from 3 at the next level, teams will find a way to hide him on defense.

Jordan Nwora will probably be a better player in the NBA than he was in college. He can get his 3 point shot off quickly and accurately from many different balance points. He will greatly benefit from receiving less attention from defenses.

Ty-Shon Alexander is a little smaller than ideal, but other than that, he’s another traditional 3-and-D wing. His large wingspan makes up for his lack of height, and he does a good job keeping his hands active on defense.

Mason Jones led the entire NCAA in FTA (271, 9.1/game), and he made them at an 82% clip. He only shot the 3 at 35.3%, but if he can do that at the pro level, he is one of very few true secondary ballhandlers available in this draft.

Robert Woodard II has ideal physical tools for a wing, able to defend the entire spectrum of wings. He shot 42.9% on 70 attempts from 3, so if he can stick anywhere near that on more attempts, he could help a lot of teams as a 3-and-D guy with the size to guard big wings.

Immanuel Quickley has gotten much less attention than Tyrese Maxey, but he shot 42.8% from 3 and 92.3% from the FT line. He won SEC Player of the Year. He’s a little undersized but does a good job defending other players his size. Feels like a guy who will fall and people will try to figure out why in a few years.

Tier 5: The potentially passable bigs – Because sometimes you really just do need a guy who can rebound

Vernon CareyDaniel OturuUdoka AzubuikeJalen SmithObi Toppin

As I wrote here, traditional big men are getting completely played off the floor. None of these players have any chance of sticking to guards if switched on pick and roll. But if you’re going to force a center on to the floor anyway, these guys may be worth a look.

Vernon Carey is a very traditional big who showed a well rounded offensive game. If he can develop his game passing from the post, he’d make a very nice bench/change-of-pace option.

Daniel Oturu is quick and bouncy and has a chance to develop into a true 3-and-rim protection center. Would make sense for Western Conference teams who need players to stick with the better centers of that Conference.

Udoka Azubuike shot 74.8% from the field this year, including 50.7% on 2 point jumpers. He had a fantastic combine. His 44% FT is a problem and he’s not a good enough passer, but he’s still worth a look on a bench.

Jalen Smith showed a developing 3P game, but he showed little ability to defend when forced outside the paint in Maryland’s zone scheme. Might be worth trying to develop still.

Obi Toppin cannot defend anybody anywhere on the court. I also question how well his offense will translate to the next level. He might be interesting as a bench scorer for a team that thinks they can hide his defense, but he will have to be extremely efficient on offense to be worth playing even in that limited role.

Tier 5: Vaguely Interesting Young’uns – These guys might be decent NBA players…at some point.

Tyrell TerryIsaiah JoeJosh GreenNico MannionCassius Stanley
Isaac OkoroJahmi’us RamseyCJ EllebyTyrese Maxey

This is the group of players most subject to the issue of value. If this big board was just a matter of who will have the best career, some of these players would be ranked higher. But they are unlikely to generate value on their rookie contract and if they pan out, they are unlikely to re-sign on a good contract for the team that drafts them. This makes it difficult to justify drafting them as high as their potential would otherwise dictate.

Tyrell Terry is a great shooter, but he doesn’t have the ball-handling or passing skills to play lead guard. At 6’1.5 with a small wingspan, he got completely swallowed up by bigger defenders and struggled to defend anybody with NBA size. But shooting is shooting, so maybe the ballhandling and passing gets developed down the road.

Isaiah Joe knows his role. 76% of his shots this year were 3 pointers. The issue is that he only made 34.4% of them, and his defense is not good enough if he is merely a league average shooter. But if that shot gets more consistent, he can be a threat.

Josh Green did not shoot many 3s or make them at a high clip. But the rest of his game is decent, so he probably just needs some time to develop into the 3-and-D player he’s set to be.

Nico Mannion is not a finished product, and the finished product version of him may still not be good enough. His poor wingspan and lack of burst makes it difficult to project him as a true impact player on either end of the floor, but PGs are typically the slowest position to develop. Check back in on him in 6 years.

Cassius Stanley may have the highest upside of this group. He is the best player in this draft in transition offense with his combination of speed and hops. A team willing to develop his half-court game may find a player with all the tools to be a bonafide 2-way starter.

Isaac Okoro has generated a ton of buzz, but it’s difficult to figure out why. His offensive game could improve by leaps and bounds and still fall short of NBA-quality. His defense is good but not quite elite, and even if it was, his lack of offensive game is so glaring that you can’t put him on the floor. Give him a few years to see if that shot develops at all.

Jahmi’us Ramsey had a good 3P%, but he could not put the ball in the basket consistently from anywhere else. His small size meant he was easily pushed around. A few years of NBA body work should get him to where he needs to be as a backup scorer.

CJ Elleby was miscast as a primary ballhandler for a Wazzu team that was lacking in talent. Being moved off the ball should help, though he still needs to work on consistency on both ends of the floor. He may still be able to develop into a secondary initiator.

Tyrese Maxey wasn’t good at anything this year, but who am I to doubt young Kentucky guards?

Again, some of these players could be ranked higher, but their young age and unrefined games just make them questionable players to draft. I can’t say more about them because there’s not more to say yet – you’re drafting an incomplete bag of parts.

Tier 6: Worth a look in the second round, but don’t expect anything – A bunch of young bigs and a few iffy wings

Emmitt WilliamsReggie PerryZeke NnajiIsaiah StewartPrecious Achiuwa
Jaden McDanielsPatrick WilliamsJames WisemanMalik FittsSam Merrill

Not much to say about most of this group. Williams, Perry, Nnaji, Stewart, and Achiuwa are all bigs who don’t have the footspeed to stick on the perimeter or the shot to stick on the outside. Even if they develop, it’s hard to see what they bring to the table.

Jaden McDaniels is long and lanky but bad at basketball. He’s a better lottery ticket than some others, but stash him in the G-League for 3 years and check back in later.

Patrick Williams is a future center who doesn’t do anything well. On offense, he’s a poor shooter and created nothing. On defense, he doesn’t have the footspeed to stick on the perimeter, and most of his defensive stats came from a zone scheme where he could range far from his responsibility. He didn’t crack the starting lineup in college because he wasn’t good enough, and his potential is as an undersized bouncy center, but there are already too many of those for him to be particularly interesting.

James Wiseman is bad at basketball. While he only played two games, he showed terrible hands and no basketball skills. He’s a future rim runner/rim protector, and if and when he reaches a point where he belongs on an NBA floor, the NBA is likely to have already reached a point where that role doesn’t exist anymore. Draft him hoping that rule changes curtail 3P shooting?

Malik Fitts and Sam Merrill are mildly interesting shooters from mid-majors. It’s not clear either has the athleticism or strength necessary to stick at the next level, but they’re worth a look in the second round just in case.

Tier 7: So you still have draft picks leftover…

Cassius WinstonDevon DotsonGrant RillerMalachi Flynn
Payton PritchardSkylar MaysJordan FordPaul Reed
Xavier TillmanYoeli ChildsLamine DianeOsasumwen Osaghae

Everybody in this group is talented, but talent isn’t enough. The guards are all too small and/or lack the athleticism required to succeed in the NBA. They may be able to stick as 2nd or 3rd stringers, but the game is moving away from small PGs. The bigs were all super productive college players who haven’t shown a consistent 3 point shot and are likely limited to being small centers at the next level.

Tier 8: Unlisted Players

There are a lot of draft eligible players. By sheer quantity, a few players not listed here will get drafted and given enough opportunities to eventually earn a job, or will go undrafted and eventually work their way onto NBA rosters. One of them may even be really good. I could keep listing guys in Tier 8, Tier 9, Tier 10, but the difference between Tier 7 and Tier 8 is already tiny, and the distinctions just get tinier with each passing tier. Again, a few unlisted prospects will pan out by sheer quantity, so if a prospect you like did not make this board, they could still be good! I just don’t think they will be.

2020 NBA Draft: The Samepocalypse Has Arrived

For over a decade, analysts and journalists have fretted over the possibility that all basketball teams will start to play the exact same style, making a completely homogeneous game in which every game plays out the same way.

That possibility is now a reality.

In the 2010-2011 season, teams averaged 18.0 3PA/game, a .222 3PA rate. Both of those numbers have gone up every season, up to 34.1 3PA/game and a .384 3PA rate in 2019-2020, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. In the 2020 playoffs? That jumped up to 36.3 3PA/game and a .427 3PA rate. The lowest volume 3 point shooting team this past season, the Pacers, finished at 28.0 3PA/game and a .317 3PAr. That would’ve been 2nd and 6th in the league respectively in 2014-15. 

It cannot be overstated how massive of a change this has been in such a short period of time. Every team creates space with 3 point shooters, uses that space to get to the basket, and then either finishes at the rim or kicks out for 3. Just look at these team shot charts. Every year, I write about the importance of adjusting player value to fit the current NBA rather than an NBA that no longer exists, but it’s time to take it further.

Moving forward, all players need to be judged on how they fit into the very specific roles that exist in an NBA where teams will likely be averaging 40+ 3PA/game. How they fit into this year’s NBA is irrelevant. By the time they get off their rookie contract, the NBA game will be so different, so much further pushed in this direction. And this creates two major problems:

  1. The college game has absolutely no relation to the NBA game anymore, meaning very very few players get to show any of the skills that are actually relevant to the NBA game.
  2. 3P% is the single most important stat for success at the next level, but it is also the single most difficult to project and often does not stabilize until a player hits 25 or 26 years old.

Being good no longer matters. The criteria I used to judge players in 2014 when I first started doing this are irrelevant. The criteria I used to judge players in 2018 are irrelevant.

What is relevant?

Turn on any NBA game and you will see the same thing. A player stands in each corner. A player stands on the wing. A player stands at the top of the key with the ball. The last player is either a big ready to set a pick or a player on the other wing. Then, the player with the ball either jacks up a 25 foot 3 or takes the ball to the rim and gets fouled or kicks it out if help comes for an open 3. That’s it. Occasionally, a team will throw the ball to the player inside, who isos closer to the basket, but the most successful offensive teams don’t do that.

So, what you’re left with are very few positions: 

  • Primary ballhandler, who must be able to shoot the 3 at a high percentage off the bounce and must be able to find the open man to kick to when driving.
  • Shooter, who must be able to hit catch and shoot 3s

That’s it. Those are all of the modern NBA positions. To succeed at the highest level, you usually need a Shooter on the court who can act as a secondary passer/creator, and a Shooter who can act as the Point of Attack defender, but they’re not separate positions as much as useful secondary skills. If you cannot fill one of these roles, you are not a useful offensive player, and if you cannot defend one of these roles, you are not a useful defensive player.

Which means, yes, traditional centers are no longer useful. Take a look at the DRtgs from this year’s playoffs. The worst teams? Dallas (Porzingis), Brooklyn (Allen), Utah (Gobert), Philly (Embiid), Denver (Jokic), Indiana (Turner), a group of fantastic rim protectors (and Jokic). The best teams? Toronto (Siakam), Boston (Theis), and Houston (Tucker), a group of Power Forwards who can stand their ground in the post but are far from the traditional center. Rim protection doesn’t matter if you are always 20+ feet from the basket, and in the playoffs, teams put traditional rim protectors in pick and roll over and over, generating either wide open 3s or wide open paths to the basket.

It also means that what makes a defender good has completely changed. Defense now requires the ability to provide some resistance if switched on to the primary ballhandler, a basic understanding of a few key defensive principles, and…that’s about it. Players who can’t defend at all can sometimes even stick on the floor by defending somebody in a corner, chasing them around, and scheming to avoid them getting pulled into the primary action, as the Heat did with both Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.

This is all to say that scouting for the draft now is so very different than it was just a few years ago. Instead of 3P shooting being one of a few significant factors, it is now the only significant factor. If a player does not project to be able to shoot the 3 at a league average level, they don’t even belong on a draft board, because it is a required skill. I only have a first round grade on three players with a 3P% under 35% this season and two of them are centers who project to be able to add it to their game with time.

And being honest, it’s a lot less fun to do draft analysis when all that really needs to be written is “Can shoot and defend a little”. You can write thousand word pieces on these guys. You can do 10 minute video breakdowns. But all that really needs to be written is “projects to be a good catch and shooter who can hold his own on defense” for Shooters and “projects to be a good off the bounce shooter who can create for himself and teammates” for Primary Ballhandlers, with just another sentence or two of notes for all the secondary skills.

But hey, that’s where the NBA is at. So let’s just do the Big Board, eh?

The 2020 Big Board

The 2019 NBA Draft Series

My 2019 NBA Draft Series was written for The Painted Lines. You can find the 2019 Big Board here. The Big Board has links to the rest of the draft series.

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!