Cynthia Frelund 2020 NFL mock draft 2.0: Analytics-based picks

  • FRELUND 2.0
  • REUTER 4.0
  • CASSERLY 2.0

Now that many big moves have been made in free agency, I re-ran my analytics-based mock draft … I guess that makes this my Analytics Mock 2.0, which reflects personnel adjustments from free agency but is still based solely on a contextual, data-driven model that aims to do one thing:

Maximize each team’s potential to win as many games as possible in 2020.

Just like my Mock 1.0, take note: I am NOT attempting to predict or divine what teams will ACTUALLY DO on draft day. This is not meant to predict how the draft will play out in reality. Rather, I am using this model to, again, examine what teams should do if winning the most games in 2020 is the only goal. The exercise I am taking you through here considers current rosters and the overall market of remaining free agents.

Here’s how my mock works: I use my draft prospect model to create a numerical value for each player. These ratings can be compared across years. Then I use my NFL production model, which considers the market of free agents at each position, to create a projected win-contribution metric by player, position group and side of the ball. These get added up to forecast win totals for the season. The results quantify strengths and weaknesses of current NFL rosters. My model also factors in as many known elements of coaching philosophies (of the current staffs) as possible, and of the 2020 opponents. Then my model "selects" the draft prospect that would yield the highest win total for each team next season.

Here’s the part that’s extra: I have projections and results for all teams and the draft prospects they selected over the past 15 seasons. I examine each season’s on-field results, objectively analyzing what happened, along with the trends and strategies that led to success or failure. I also ask coaches, front office executives and even players to help me understand why results occurred. These subjective inputs help shape the results, meaning the model gets "smarter" with each passing season.

Lastly, there are a lot of real-life efficiencies that could be realized via draft-pick trades. I can’t help myself but to note them in certain cases, but for the sake of this mock, there are no trades allowed. If I worked for an individual team, an analysis like this could aid in creating a strategy for identifying potential trade partners as well as vulnerable spots where other teams are most likely to scoop up targeted players.

Note: Remember to refer back to Mock 1.0 for more information.

PICK

1

Chase Young – Edge

School: Ohio State | Year: Junior

With some surprise high-value free agents still on the market — namely edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney and quarterback Cam Newton — the mathematical decision translates to win-share value of more-known quantity at edge (Clowney) plus rookie quarterback ( Joe Burrow) versus more-known quantity at quarterback (Newton) plus rookie edge (Young). With the Bengals’ subpar O-line — and the rules of this mock narrowing our focus to 2020 wins only (disregarding future years) — Young, who is my model’s highest-rated player, barely edges out Burrow. In Mock 1.0, there was a much bigger gap in win-share increase between Young and Burrow. Now, that margin is razor thin.

PICK

2

Andrew Thomas – OT

School: Georgia | Year: Junior

Assuming Washington moves on from seven-time Pro Bowler Trent Williams ( per his very vocal desires), adding a left tackle affords the Redskins the best opportunity to get the most from second-year QB Dwayne Haskins. There are four high-ceiling tackles in this draft class, of which Thomas is my top-ranked, meaning my model thinks he will have the biggest impact from Day 1.

PICK

3

Jeff Okudah – CB

School: Ohio State | Year: Junior

Trading away Darius Slay leaves Detroit with a massive question mark at corner, and Okudah is my model’s top-rated prospect at the position. While the No. 3 overall pick could be a prime trade target for a team looking for a quarterback — especially now that the Giants, who pick fourth overall, added cornerback James Bradberry in free agency, which could allow Detroit a better chance to trade down a few picks and still land Okudah — trades aren’t allowed in this mock, so Okudah’s fits offers a high ROI.

PICK

4

Tristan Wirfs – OT

School: Iowa | Year: Junior

This pick remains the same from Mock 1.0 in part because of the value of Wirfs’ right tackle production projection, and also because the team’s signing of free-agent corner James Bradberry helps address a big need on the defensive side of the ball. Further, bolstering the O-line very slightly edges out the potential value Isaiah Simmons could bring to the Giants’ defense. (The addition of linebacker Blake Martinez in free agency also drives more value to increasing the O-line impact.)

PICK

5

Joe Burrow – QB

School: LSU | Year: Senior (RS)

Again, an unchanged projection from Mock 1.0. One note on the QB that adds context from the last mock: On both passing attempts from a clean pocket and under pressure, Burrow had the highest percentage of throws that came within three feet of his intended receiver for any draft-eligible quarterback this season. I also compared his mark with the consensus top 10 QBs from last season … and the 10 from the season before … and his percentage tops all of them. Let that sink in, because I did a lot of coding to get here. Not one consensus top-10 draft-eligible QB from the last few classes had a higher percentage of on-target passes than Burrow.

PICK

6

Tua Tagovailoa – QB

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

Considering the increased likelihood of Tyrod Taylor being a major part of the team’s 2020 effort and the Chargers’ improvements at left tackle (Bryan Bulaga) and on defense (CB Chris Harris Jr.) in free agency, Tagovailoa’s blend of quick- and deep-passing potential gives the Bolts the best chance for the most wins in 2020. Should Tua not be available, Mekhi Becton would be my model’s next-best selection here.

PICK

7

Isaiah Simmons – LB/S

School: Clemson | Year: Junior (RS)

After Young, Simmons offers the highest win-share impact to an "average" team for the 2020 season in my model. That’s not to say that QBs aren’t valuable as rookies, but rather that players at the position typically take a bit more time to realize true gains. As for Simmons’ specific fit on the Panthers, his extreme versatility in college (he played meaningful reps as a slot corner, safety, off-ball linebacker and edge defender, as well as some snaps as an outside corner) makes his potential production as a pro more impactful in the competition-elevated NFC South.

PICK

8

Mekhi Becton – OT

School: Louisville | Year: Junior

Adding ( stealing) DeAndre Hopkins and then drafting Becton increases the Cardinals’ win-total projection by more than two Ws in my model. That’s a really big jump. Becton’s athleticism fits the projected pace of play in this Kliff Kingsbury/ Kyler Murray system very well.

PICK

9

Derrick Brown – DT

School: Auburn | Year: Senior

In my last mock, I had the Jags adding to their interior pressure potential by selecting Javon Kinlaw. Brown was off the board by the time Jacksonville was picking in that exercise. Not today! Brown would be an upgrade over Kinlaw, per my model, as his production against the run and pass at Auburn project for quicker potential development and impact as a pro than any other defensive tackle in this draft.

PICK

10

Jedrick Wills – OT

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

I’ve already praised the free-agent acquisition of right tackle Jack Conklin, calling the signing one of my top three best moves so far in free agency. One other reason the Conklin signing is so clutch, along with the Browns’ other free-agent dealings, is that it gives them a lot of trade leverage with the 10th overall pick. Left tackle is certainly a need, and Wills creates the most value in this projected situation. However, depending on how the draft plays out in reality, the Browns could snag their tackle and add to their overall draft equity.

PICK

11

K’Lavon Chaisson – Edge

School: LSU | Year: Sophomore (RS)

The Jets’ offseason has included a number of high-value contracts, per my model, in the sense that they are priced well for the potential production and create fits that seem to strategically align. Corner Brian Poole for $5 million is an example. The Jets added four O-linemen in free agency, yet the offensive front is still their most critical position area of need, per my model. However, my four highest-ranked offensive linemen are off the board. As is my highest-ranked corner. Therefore, addressing the pass rush adds most to the Jets’ potential in 2020. There is only a small difference between Chaisson, fellow edge A.J. Epenesa and CB C.J. Henderson in my simulations.

PICK

12

Jerry Jeudy – WR

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

No change here from Mock 1.0. While my imaginary neutral-fit model has receiver CeeDee Lamb rated slightly higher than Jeudy, the fit within the Raiders’ system — given what we know about Las Vegas’ QB situation and Gruden’s play-calling tendencies — edges the Alabama product ahead of Lamb.

PICK

13

CeeDee Lamb – WR

School: Oklahoma | Year: Junior

With the departure of Emmanuel Sanders, upgrading the receiver position would add the most 2020 wins for San Francisco — and Lamb is my model’s highest-rated wideout, due to his route-running ability and yards-after-catch savvy. This is a strategic fit for the Niners, given Lamb’s catch potential and his ability to open up spatial opportunity for others in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

PICK

14

Javon Kinlaw – DT

School: South Carolina | Year: Senior

My model projects Kinlaw’s production at interior defensive line would add more to Tampa’s 2020 wins than any available O-lineman (adding right tackle Joe Haeg shifted this) or defensive back. Kinlaw’s Day 1 impact in Todd Bowles’ system forecasts to be most felt against the pass, which will help the Bucs’ young defensive backfield, as the front and back of defenses complement each other.

PICK

15

Laviska Shenault – WR

School: Colorado | Year: Junior

Drew Lock will benefit from this pick, as will Courtland Sutton. Shenault’s ability after the catch — breaking tackles and turning shorter, scheme-based passes into big gains — will complement both a developing quarterback and a receiver who broke out last season. Shenault has a less-certain projection than the two receivers picked ahead of him, but his potential is maximized in a scheme that can leverage his physical style early on.

PICK

16

A.J. Epenesa – Edge

School: Iowa | Year: Junior

Epenesa’s projected value as an edge rusher adds the most wins to the Falcons. (CB C.J. Henderson would be next in line.)

PICK

17

C.J. Henderson – CB

School: Florida | Year: Junior

With corner Byron Jones now in Miami — and receiver Amari Cooper signed to a long-term deal — Henderson fills Dallas’ most crucial need.

PICK

18

Joshua Jones – OT

School: Houston | Year: Senior (RS)

Fifth offensive tackle by Pick No. 18 … Let’s just say there will be trades, but don’t underestimate the value at the position (I’m talking to teams here).

PICK

19

Trevon Diggs – CB

School: Alabama | Year: Senior

Even with the signing of free-agent corner Eli Apple, Las Vegas spending its second first-round pick on Diggs creates the greatest uptick in projected wins, especially considering the likelihood of facing high passing volume in the AFC West.

PICK

20

Xavier McKinney – S

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

Adding McKinney’s versatility as a safety/nickel linebacker at Pick No. 20 gives the Jags a pretty big steal in terms of wins added for their new-look defense.

PICK

21

Henry Ruggs III – WR

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

Much more than just a speed merchant. According to Pro Football Focus, Ruggs dropped just five passes during his three college seasons. And he’s a highly efficient route runner.

PICK

22

Tee Higgins – WR

School: Clemson | Year: Junior

The departures of Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes/ Trae Waynes create a big primary need on each side of the ball. My neutral model is slightly higher on Justin Jefferson than Higgins. However, pairing Higgins with Adam Thielen and Minnesota’s tight ends adds the most wins in 2020.

PICK

23

Justin Herbert – QB

School: Oregon | Year: Senior

I was fortunate enough to have the chance — via Zoom, of course — to track and code for Herbert’s game with a coach from the Bill Belichick tree. While it would be better for any Pats quarterback if Dante Scarnecchia were still coaching the O-line, the potential for Herbert to execute in this system is higher than it might appear at first blush.

PICK

24

Patrick Queen – LB

School: LSU | Year: Junior

I really liked my Justin Jefferson pick here in the last mock, but with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders, Jefferson’s value was leapfrogged by the linebacker position — especially since Queen is in the top 16 of my neutral-team player rankings.

PICK

25

Kristian Fulton – CB

School: LSU | Year: Senior

This pick remains the same from last time, yet has a higher win impact now that Xavier Rhodes has departed.

PICK

26

Austin Jackson – OT

School: USC | Year: Junior

The sixth offensive tackle off the board here. And he just so happens to go at No. 26, which is exactly his ranking on Daniel Jeremiah’s big board.

PICK

27

Ross Blacklock – DT

School: TCU | Year: Junior (RS)

Will Jadeveon Clowney stay on this team? Either way, boosting the D-line with Blacklock adds the most value here.

PICK

28

D’Andre Swift – RB

School: Georgia | Year: Junior

This pick also remains the same — for now. However, depending on which defenders are available, this could shift. The next-closest wins-added fit? Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray.

PICK

29

Yetur Gross-Matos – Edge

School: Penn State | Year: Junior

My model identifies edge rusher, defensive tackle (to fill the void left by the Jurrell Casey trade) and right tackle (after Jack Conklin’s free agency departure) as the highest 2020 win-share uptick picks, with Gross-Matos leading the way in this simulation.

PICK

30

Justin Jefferson – WR

School: LSU | Year: Junior

My model rates this as a steal for the Packers, even though they already acquired Devin Funchess. Jefferson and Davante Adams’ projected production = fantasy and reality gold.

PICK

31

Jaylon Johnson – CB

School: Utah | Year: Junior

Johnson’s potential overall production — from the corner position and particularly as a slot defender — addresses both a Day 1 need and depth against the pass. My model has Johnson slightly edging out LSU safety Grant Delpit.

PICK

32

A.J. Terrell – CB

School: Clemson | Year: Junior

Highest-rated corner available in this simulation. Boosting the CB group creates the most value for the Chiefs overall, and Terrell’s Clemson resume projects for high value in a Steve Spagnuolo defense.

Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter @cfrelund.

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