When NFL teams evaluate collegiate talent and go through the year-long process of creating a Big Board for the NFL Draft, many think that the 'Best Player Available', colloquially known as BPA, is a far better strategy than drafting purely based on need. While it is always better to take obvious elite talent at a position of strength rather than reaching at a position of weakness, no NFL team has it so black and white.
Instead, each team allots weights and values to different positions based on scheme, immediate and future need, value of the position, and of course, talent. When considering this in context of the Denver Broncos need for a starting offensive tackle in this year’s class, are any of the top talents worth a first round selection at pick 20, and if so, why would one take them over other flashier positions?
The narrative that 'this is a poor tackle class', which is being spun throughout the NFL media, is not entirely false. This year’s offensive tackle class lacks great talent that can step in and contribute year one after the top three tackles — Alabama’s Cam Robinson, Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, and Utah’s Garett Bolles.
While there are potential developmental left tackles that should be available on day two, such as Troy’s Antonio Garcia, Bucknell’s Julie'n Davenport, as well as guys who may be left tackles, but probably fit best at guard or right tackle in Western Michigan’s Taylor Moton and Temple’s Dion Dawkins, none of these players are ready to compete at left tackle in the NFL year one, if ever.
Further driving this narrative of a ‘poor tackle class’ is the lack of an ‘elite’ tackle. While there is no 'elite' tackle prospect, like Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley were last season, that shouldn't de-legitimize the talent at tackle in this draft. Furthermore, if there actually were any ‘elite’ tackle prospects available this year, they would be selected in the top-10, if not top-five, in the draft and well out of Denver’s range.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1770031-broncos-like-a-couple-ot-... Simply looking at what offensive tackles received on the open market in free agency this year should indicate the need and value of tackles across the NFL. Former Bronco and up and down tackle Russell Okung received the highest annual salary of any tackle in the entire NFL with a four-year, $53 million deal, with an average of $13.25 million per season.
Other mediocre to above average offensive tackles such as Riley Reiff, Ricky Wagner, and, Matt Kalil all received monstrous contracts day one of free agency. Even tackles who haven't shown very much and have a decent amount of questions like Denver’s new projected right tackle Menelik Watson and Vikings new right tackle whom Von Miller abused in the Super Bowl, Mike Remmers, cashed in with very large contracts this offseason on the open market.
For positional comparison, look no further than running back. Two of the better running backs in the NFL over the last decade, Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, are still available to sign a month into free agency. If either played offensive tackle, they would have been signed day one even with their older age and injury questions.
Although there is not a perceived 'elite' offensive tackle prospect in this year's draft class that does equate to 'no tackle is worth a first round selection.' All three of the top tackles would have been worth round one last year in my own grading system and this class as a whole, while deeper in talent, is not as top-heavy as last season's class across the board.
There just are not that many true franchise changers at the top of the draft. After Myles Garrett, Marshon Lattimore, Solomon Thomas and arguably O.J. Howard, Malik Hooker, and Leonard Fournette (although they do not play ‘core’ positions) there aren’t many obvious elite-level prospects that are no-brainer top ten selections. Furthermore, I don’t believe we will see that great of a difference in talent from picks 11 all the way to 60, a testament to both the superior depth and lack of elite players in this year’s class.
Circling back to the original point, the top three tackles are all absolutely worth first round selections, especially when considering the premium price offensive tackles receive on the open market, how rare and hard quality starting tackles are to find across the league, and how valuable structurally it is to have a young tackle on a team-friendly, five-year contract going forward.
While BPA is always the way to go, no team in the NFL uses a pure BPA when creating their big board. Weights need to be used not just on positions of greater need on the current roster, but positions that offer greater value to the team’s salary and schematic structure.
Creating a big board, it is important to think of positional value when selecting based on a tiered grading system. With quarterback receiving the highest weight and a tier all to themselves due to the immense value of the position, tier two is comprised of the other 'core' positions on an NFL roster: edge rusher, cornerback, and offensive tackle.
Those positions are incredibly valuable and even just selecting a solid B+ level starter is worth a first round selection, especially when considering the added value of a cost-controlled young player for five years at an expensive position. Tier three includes defensive tackle and wide receiver.
These are two of the higher-paid positions in the league and the NFL obviously values them, especially if the defensive tackle offers pass-rush ability instead of simple run-stuffer. Finally, tier four is comprised of inside linebacker, safety, running back, tight end, and interior offensive line
These are positions that many players starting in the league are lower draft picks and receive much smaller contracts on the open market. While there are exceptions to the rule, tier four should not be selected round one of the draft unless there are extenuating circumstances. Here's how I value position groups in the modern NFL.
Draft Tier Positional Value System
Tier 1: QB
Tier 2: OT, Edge, CB
Tier 3: DT (especially ones with pass rush ability), and WR
Tier 4: ILB, S, RB, TE, IOL
I partially base this on past historical data on ‘hits’ and ‘misses’ at the positions, as well as the average contract for the position on the open market. These contracts show how teams value the positions across the league.
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If one is planning to select a player on the forth tier of positional value during the first round, that player must project to develop into a top 5-10 player at their position by the end of their rookie contract. In this class specifically, the players that fit this description in my personal rankings are O.J. Howard, Leonard Fournette, Forrest Lamp, Malik Hooker, Reuben Foster and Jamal Adams,
An argument could be made for Haason Reddick, David Njoku, or Christian McCaffrey as well, although there are offensive tackles with higher grades on my board than these players have. If John Elway views any of these players as future All-Pro caliber players, their talent can outweigh the positional value boost of other players.
However, to this point, Elway has not drafted a player on tier four during his tenure as the Broncos GM. This very well may be the year he breaks the trend.
So, to wrap this all up, no team ever uses pure BPA while creating their big board and drafting because of talent is not just simply talent. Instead, it is important to think about the draft from a positional value and cap structure perspective as well.
When considering all of these factors, as well as the level of talent the top three tackles show on tape, not only is tackle worth around one selection this year, but they also would bring incredible value to the team from a roster and salary perspective.
While it is unwise to head into the draft focusing purely on one specific position, one could argue the question shouldn't be "does Denver take a tackle round one", but instead might be "which tackle should Denver select?" Locking up a core position with a talented cost-controlled player may just be too much value to pass up.
Nick Kendell is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. Follow him on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.