How did I do?
A week before the draft, I decided to make some predictions as a way to summarize some of what I had learned through the series of draft articles I had published this offseason. I really should have known better.
Every year I compile a small wish list of players I would like to see the WFT select in the draft. It is pretty much a list of players that the WFT will not pick. A lot of my annual draft man-crushes go on to become good players, just with other teams. Some recent highlights include Chase Claypool, A.J. Brown, Darnell Savage, T.J. Hockenson and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Isaiah Simmons hasn’t set the league on fire yet, but he still has time.
While I am terrible at predicting what the Washington Football Team will do in the draft, perhaps that means I might do better with the league-wide and other-team entries in my Dozen Bold Draft Predictions. Let’s see how I did.
1. Jacksonville will select Trevor Lawrence first overall.
The sun rose in the East. Jacksonville drafted Trevor Lawrence. Genius, right?
What I do find funny about this pick is all the media pundits giving Jacksonville an A+ for picking the consensus top rated player in the draft, who happens to be the most highly rated QB prospect since Andrew Luck. That is like winning an award for not falling over. Actually, it’s even worse than that. They are essentially being given an A+ for finishing last season as the worst team in football.
What were the other options they might have considered? Trade for all of San Francisco’s first round picks in perpetuity? Pick Kyle Pitts instead? Well done, Jags. I really mean that.
2. New York Jets will select either Zach Wilson or Justin Fields at number 2.
New York did, in fact, draft the player that everyone expected, because that’s who they said they’d pick. I am on fire now.
3. Whichever quarterback San Francisco picks 3rd overall will be a massive bust.
The interesting thing about this one is that, at the time I published these predictions, sources within the 49ers were indicating that the trade up to number 3 was targeting Mac Jones. Later, a story broke that the player personnel department was working on coach Kyle Shanahan to pick Trey Lance instead.
Putting two and two together, that would seem to indicate that the 49ers front office made the second costliest trade for a QB in NFL draft history without all being on the same page about what prospect to target. At least they had narrowed it down to one of two guys, neither of which was the best QB prospect available at pick #3.
That is the kind of sound decision making that I expect has led to a perfect 0/6 record for teams trading into the top three for QBs in the salary cap era. Trey Lance is the ultimate boom or bust prospect. What worries me a little about doubling down on this one is that he never threw an interception in a full year of starting at the college level, which is impressive, even in Division II.
Nevertheless, if San Francisco does get this one right, it will be by the same principle that allows a broken clock to get the time right two times a day. I therefore remain confident that the 49ers will not be the first team to break the streak.
Check again in one to five years.
4. Five QBs will be selected before pick #19. The Washington Football Team will not select any of them.
As I mentioned in the original article, predicting that the top five QBs would be drafted before pick #19 was pretty much a no-brainer. The operative part of this prediction was that the WFT would not trade up for a QB.
That got a little tense when Justin Fields slid well beyond where I had expected he would go. I fully expected him to go at #4, either as Atlanta’s pick, or more likely to a team trading up. When he cleared Denver at #9, I even found myself banging on the table for the WFT to trade up to get him ahead of the Patriots.
Thanks to Chicago trading up to end Fields’ slide and Bill Belichick grabbing Mac Jones at #15, the prediction held.
5. At least two of the first five QBs selected in this draft will be busts.
We could know if this one is correct as early as next year at this time. However, as recent experience with the last QB drafted from North Dakota State has shown, it could take up to five years to know for sure. Again, I am not saying that one of the busts will be Trey Lance. It could be any of them, but probably not Trevor Lawrence.
6. Either Denver or Chicago will trade up in the top 8 for a QB.
INCORRECT (close, but no coconut)
I am deeply ashamed about allowing myself to get sucked into believing the hype. The media buzz heading into this draft was that the rapid escalation of veteran QB salaries, relative to the cap, would drive unprecedented demand for rookie QBs, resulting in a flurry of trade activity targeting the top five prospects in the first round.
That never made any sense to me because there were only three to four prospects in this draft with first-round grades, depending on what you make of Trey Lance, and a team doesn’t really improve its chance of hitting on a second-round prospect by moving up to the top ten to draft him. But people, including my editor, reacted like I was crazy for suggesting that the fourth or fifth QB prospect might still be available at pick #19, and eventually I caved to popular opinion.
Caught up in the hysteria, I quickly recalibrated my understanding of how NFL front offices think and decided that there would be rush on QBs in the top ten, with a small handful of QB-needy teams jostling for position to draft the third and fourth prospects ahead of potential landing spots with Carolina at #8 and Denver at #9.
It never happened. QB-needy teams Carolina, Denver, New England, Washington and Chicago proved to be far less desperate and more patient than we were led to expect. San Francisco was the only team to truly panic, by trading two future first-round picks plus a third rounder to move up to pick #3, coming just shy of the RG3 deal trade loss.
Two of the QB-needy teams, Carolina and Denver opted to select cornerbacks instead of QBs, despite Justin Fields and Mac Jones being available at their picks. Chicago waited patiently for Justin Fields to pass Denver before making a comparatively restrained trade move to select him at #11. And Bill Belichick stayed put at #15 where Mac Jones fell to him. The WFT front office was content to stay out of the action.
As far as first round trades go, this draft was not particularly remarkable. Despite all of the hype, there were only two trades in the first round targeting QBs: San Francisco moving up from #12 to #3 for Trey Lance, and Chicago moving up from #20 to #11 for Justin Fields.
In the past six years, there have been three other drafts with loaded QB classes which featured multiple first round trades:
2016 (3 trades) – Rams/Goff, Eagles/Wentz, Denver/Lynch
2017 (3 trades) – Bears/Trubisky, Chiefs/Mahomes, Texans/Watson
2018 (4 trades) – Jets/Darnold, Bills/Allen, Cardinals/Rosen, Ravens/Jackson
When day one wrapped up Thursday night, the 2021 draft had featured fewer first round trades targeting QBs than half of the drafts in the last six years. Furthermore, only one of the two trades was really extravagant. Chicago’s trade to land the second-best QB prospect in the draft was fairly modest, only costing a future first-round selection plus fourth and fifth round picks in 2021.
The only thing out of the ordinary with the first round of this draft was Bill Belichick picking a QB in the first round. Aside from that, it was business as usual for a draft featuring three QB prospects with high first round grades.
So much for the rumors of the new QB salary economics driving stupid decision making by NFL clubs. If anything, the QB salary crunch has made them behave more frugally with draft resources than in the past. I conclude that, as a whole, NFL front offices know their business a lot better than media talking heads.
If partial credit is allowed, I did pick Chicago to be the team that traded up.
7. The Washington Football Team will not select Micah Parsons.
You could argue that Dallas took this one out of Ron Rivera’s hands. I would counter that by pointing out that my prediction covered the fact that the WFT did not trade up for Parsons as many commenters on Hogs Haven have been insisting they should do. No matter what Mel Kiper might have thought, LB was by far the WFT’s biggest need other than QB, and Parsons was the elite prospect at the position in this draft based on performance on the field.
If anyone ever manages to get their hands on Ron Rivera’s draft board, I am willing to bet that Parsons was not on it due to character concerns.
8. Washington’s pick at #19 will be a surprise.
The WFT’s selection of LB Jamin Davis was a surprise. Davis was a late riser in the draft process, at least in the media. Some mock drafts and Hogs Haven pick 3 entrants (myself included) did predict WFT’s selection, but he was generally regarded as a second-round prospect.
The player most commonly mocked to Washington at #19, by a large margin, was Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. I included a specific sub-prediction that the WFT would not pick him. JOK is an elite athlete, but he is extremely undersized to play linebacker in the NFL. He is actually the size of a safety not a linebacker. One thing I have learned from following recent drafts is that fans and media get more excited about tweeners with elite skillsets like JOK than NFL teams do. Despite most media outlets projecting him to go in the teens or twenties, he wasn’t selected until the middle of the second round. It will be interesting to see how Cleveland uses him.
Another player who was commonly mocked to the WFT was LT Christian Darrisaw. I considered it unrealistic that he would last until pick #19. But he did, as well as S Trevon Moehrig and WR Kadarius Toney, which made it all the more surprising when it was announced that Jamin Davis was the pick.
9. Either Terrace Marshall or Rashod Bateman will be one of the best three wideouts selected in 2021 and will outperform at least four receivers selected ahead of them.
Just for fun, I’ll narrow this down to Rashod Bateman. Despite my better judgement against picking WRs in the first round, I was dreaming about what pairing Bateman with Terry McLaurin would do for both players.
As it turned out Bateman was drafted by Baltimore, where he will line up across from Marquise Brown and have Lamar Jackson throwing to him. He could not be in a better position to succeed. It is also worthwhile pointing out that Baltimore is one of the teams to buck the trend with drafting first round receivers.
We should have an answer on this one within three years.
10. The WFT will select a larger power running back after the third round
I did say that this was really more an exercise in wish fulfilment than an actual prediction. The WFT did not select a running back in any round, and then signed a tiny scat back as an UDFA. I guess I really don’t have my finger on Scott Turner’s pulse.
The guy who I seem to be more in tune with on this one is Bill Belichick. The Patriots drafted my guy, RB/FB Rhomandre Stevenson, right where I expected him to go in the fourth round. I can see why Stevenson would appeal to Belichick. His main player comp is former Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount. Like Blount, Stevenson is more likely to run over the safety than try to wiggle his way around him.
The LeGarrette Blount comparisons have already taken off in the New England sports media. The kid is going to be a star and help Mac Jones get that team back in the winners’ column.
11. The Washington Football Team will select three new starters in the 2021 draft.
Given the lack of competition for the two off-ball linebacker starting spots in the WFT’s 4-3 defense, versatile athletic freak Jamin Davis seems like for one of these starting spots.
Thanks to what is likely to be the first ever draft trade for a long snapper, Camaron Cheeseman would be another safe bet, except that long snapper is not generally considered to be a starting position.
That leaves an interesting competition for the second and third starting positions if this one is going to prove true. I got more specific about where the starters would be drafted in my next prediction, so let’s see if the round predictions help to narrow down the choices.
12. The three starters the WFT selects in 2021 will be drawn from the following rounds: 1 in round 1, none in round 2, 1 in rounds 3 to 4, and 1 in rounds 5 to 7.
Referring back to the previous prediction: Davis is looking good in round one.
I could see any of the three picks in rounds three and four becoming a starter in three to four years’ time, but TE John Bates seems like a real longshot. Lesser known CB, Benjamin St-Juste would have to stage an impressive breakout to steal a starting position from William Jackson or Kendall Fuller. However, if he does live up to Mayhew and Rivera’s evaluation, in three years’ time his contract might be a better fit to the WFT’s cap situation than one of the ageing star cornerbacks. At this point in time, the odds would seem to be favoring WR Dyami Brown to fulfil my prediction of a starter drafted in rounds 3 to 4.
Since Cheeseman’s position rules him out, we are left with a four way competition for the final starting spot between S Darrick Forrest, EDGE William Bradley-King, EDGE Shaka Toney and WR Dax Milne. Your guess is as good as mine. I had never heard of any of these guys before the WFT picked them.
Last of all, while I have high hopes for what offensive line coach Matsko can do with a super athletic offensive tackle like Sam Cosmi, it would not surprise me in the least if he is a complete bust. That is the usual outcome of the WFT’s second-round draft selections.
How Did I Do?
Of the twelve predictions, two were just props (1 & 2) and five were future predictions with outcomes remaining to be determined. That leaves five predictions that were determined by the end of the draft. I got three of those correct (4, 7, 8) and two incorrect (6, 10), for an interim score of 60% correct.
Is 60% good or bad? If I were taking a test in elementary school, where things are graded on a linear scale, that would be a D. In my freshman year organic chemistry class in college, 60% was the highest mark in the class on the final exam.
This isn’t either of those situations. Since I was making predictions about NFL draft outcomes, the most appropriate point of reference would seem to be the performance of NFL teams in making their draft selections. Draft hit rates top out at close to 70% at the first overall pick, and then drop off precipitously to around 50% by the start of the second round. That means I did about as well as NFL teams picking in the first round. Not too shabby.
Before I pat myself on the back and take a victory lap, though, I have to admit that I left a lot of points on the field as a result of caving to popular opinion about QB mania. I could have gone a lot harder about QB trades if I had stuck to historical trends rather allowing myself to believe that the sky was falling. The next time I make predictions, I will stick to my guns, and not be swayed by media hype.
Thanks to James Dorsett for editorial assistance.