Combined Draft Board #3
By Jene Bramel
August 13th, 2012

I posted the first version of this draft board 48 hours after the draft, then updated it two weeks later. I've had many requests from those with late rookie drafts to do one more update and with good reason. There's lots to reconsider after the OTA period and early training camp reports. New notes have again been added to the positional discussion that follows.

The consensus rookie rankings at Footballguys are one of the strongest features we produce each season. But, despite the addition of staffer comments in recent years, the consensus rank list often leaves out crucial context and the inner monologue that's such a vital part of our drafting approach and philosophy. Though you may see splits and clusters if you look at the rank lists carefully, it's still difficult to compare and tier players both within and across positions.

Knowing that Player X is the consensus RB3 is clear from the rank list, but knowing how nearly that player was to ranking as the RB2 or RB6 or how he compares to the WR5 or TE1 or LB2 is often much less clear. I prefer a more visual approach, one that tiers players by position, but also allows me to compare the value of the positional tiers to every other position on the draft board.

Please Note

  • This draft board is built with the following league in mind: 12-14 teams, PPR and balanced IDP scoring, full IDP lineups including DT and CB. I'll address a few minor modifications for those in DL/DB inclusive leagues, TE bonus scoring, etc. in the discussion to follow.

  • There may be more than 12-14 players that carry a given draft round grade. That's common when using a tier-based approach to set your draft board. It's also a natural reflection of the wide range of ADP valuations as a rookie draft progresses.

  • This board reflects my own drafting philosophy. I tend to prioritize upside without worrying about risk and players I think are likely to be successful sooner. And I'm not afraid to trust my evaluations of defensive players and draft a second tier IDP over a third tier offensive prospect, regardless of positional scarcity concerns.
  • The draft board can be read top to bottom and left to right. Each position is tiered from top to bottom in its own column. Separations in the column represent relative tiers, but the players are ranked by preference within those tiers. Relative values between positions and my target draft rounds for all players can be tracked from left to right. I'll provide context on the positional tiers and relative values and draft grades in the positional discussions that follow the board.

    Rd
    QBs
    RBs
    WRs
    TEs
    DTs
    DEs
    LBs
    CBs
    Ss
    1
    T Richardson
    R Griffin
    D Martin
    A Luck
    D Wilson
    J Blackmon
    R Hillman
    M Floyd
    I Pead
    K Wright
    J Gordon
    S Hill
    2
    A Jeffery
    C Fleener
    M Jones
    B Quick
    L Kuechly
    R Randle
    L David
    L Miller
    R Broyles
    B Wagner
    R Tannehill
    L James
    M Sanu
    D Allen
    R Wilson
    3
    B Weeden
    N Toon
    M Kendricks
    M Barron
    C Givens
    B Pierce
    R Turbin
    J Criner
    AJ Jenkins
    C Jones
    4
    R Lindley
    L Brazill
    A Branch
    D Davis
    B Irvin
    D Hightower
    V Ballard
    JM Johnson
    B Brown
    Z Brown
    D Coale
    TY Hilton
    T Benjamin
    D Posey
    T Thompson
    D Wylie
    L Green
    5
    B Osweiler
    C Rainey
    J Adams
    M Ingram
    H Smith
    C Polk
    K Martin
    C Upshaw
    B Taylor
    N Perry
    E Rodriguez
    A Robinson
    TJ Graham
    6
    R Matthews
    O Charles
    F Cox
    V Curry
    S Spence
    S Gilmore
    J Wright
    Q Coples
    V Burfict
    D Kirkpatrick
    T Streeter
    S McClellin
    M Claiborne
    M McNutt
    J Crick
    T Clemons
    7
    N Foles
    M Smith
    R Streater
    J Hanna
    M Brockers
    O Vernon
    K Robinson
    T Johnson
    G Iloka
    K Cousins
    C Gray
    G Childs
    M Egnew
    D Wolfe
    J Worthy
    J Kaddu
    J Robinson
    C Harnish
    D Poe
    T Crawford
    W Mercilus
    J Jenkins
    J Bequette
    D Trevathan
    N Bradham
    A Cole

    The Big Picture

    This spring, I felt that the back end of the first round held little value. The upside second tier wide receiver prospects were riddled with questions (and still are) and the third tier running backs, top tight ends and defensive players were all underwhelming as first round picks. That hasn't changed. If anything, with the issues surrounding Justin Blackmon, any pick outside the top four feels iffy. I'm still recommending trading down for an extra pick in the second through early third rounds or moving your pick to the 2013 draft unless you're sold on Ronnie Hillman, Isaiah Pead, Stephen Hill, etc.

    After the third round, however, things dry up quickly. Though there are lots of targets at which to throw your darts, I think the chance that any one of them will hit is lower than usual. If you're in a league that regularly gives you a one round premium for deferring this year's pick to next, i.e. you can get a 2013 4th for your fifth round pick this year, I'd be rushing to accept even more quickly than usual.

    Previously, I made the argument that the IDP prospect list was sparse in the first four rounds. A couple of additional players have distinguished themselves into stronger future bets and the tiers have filled out in the middle rounds. However, I still think trading for a marginal starting veteran IDP for a fourth or fifth round pick this year may be a smarter use of the pick than drafting one of the rookie alternatives.

    Quarterback

    I thought I saw enough concerns in Cam Newton's pocket play and surrounding cast to ignore my bias toward upside and slot him as a second round value last year, while giving Blaine Gabbert a late first round / early second round grade. It's now clearly evident that I should've kept the same text and arguments but changed the names. I have RG3 slotted higher than Andrew Luck on my draft board, but I don't believe it's an over-reaction to the poor decision I made last year. I like Griffin's pocket passing game more than I did Newton's last year and the bootlegs and other Shanahan-preferred passing concepts match Griffin's game well. The value of Griffin's potential rushing yards should also not be ignored. Luck is arguably the higher floor pick and deserves mid-first consideration, but I think Griffin is an easy top five selection this year.

    I like the upside of Ryan Tannehill and Ryan Lindley more than I liked Andy Dalton and Jake Locker respectively last year and would be comfortable taking either in the second round as developmental prospects. Russell Wilson would interest me in the third, while Nick Foles, Brock Osweiler and Kirk Cousins aren't more than later round flyers for me. I like B.J. Coleman's overall game and his situation. I've given him an early sixth round grade on the strength of Aaron Rodgers' better than average durability, but I'll probably lean toward Coleman over the Foles/Osweiler/Cousins tier if I'm looking for a NFL backup worth developing late.

    Version 2.0: I still like Ryan Lindley's long term upside. But it's clear that the Cardinals see him as more of a project than I expected. The delay in his ETA drops him back into a tier with Russell Wilson, whom the Seahawks want to compete with Matt Flynn immediately, and Brandon Weeden. Note also that Lindley's rookie draft ADP is much later than I've pegged his value here. This is one situation where it's safe to honor ADP as Lindley is not a sure-fire top 15 QB and take shots on that fourth tier of wide receivers in rounds three and four if you agree that Lindley is the equal of Wilson and Weeden for your roster situation.

    Version 3.0: Lindley has continued to drop down my board. I still like the long-term upside in him, but Wilson and Weeden will start sooner and have QB3+ floors or better.

    Running Back

    Trent Richardson is the top overall rookie on my board, but Doug Martin is not far behind. I have him on the same line as Blackmon and RG3, but he's probably a fraction higher than both and would be my 1.02 pick today. David Wilson will have the luxury of gaining a little weight and learning to refine his decision-making as a runner behind Ahmad Bradshaw, whose offseason attempts to heal his troublesome foot fracture are reason to worry that his health may force him to transition to a lesser committee role in 2013 and beyond. The depth chart and first round draft pedigree suggest that the Giants likely see Wilson as a 250+ touch player. A similar argument could be made for Ronnie Hillman, though I'm not as convinced that he can carry a near feature back load.

    I think I'll be around consensus on Isaiah Pead and Lamar Miller, but I'm likely taking a chance on a wide receiver in those respective tiers. Pead would have more of my attention in deeper PPR leagues. I might've gotten behind Chris Polk, Bernard Pierce or Robert Turbin more strenuously, but their situations are ugly. Give them a full round bump if you own the starter ahead of them, but don't reach otherwise. Later round prospects Alfred Morris (a one-cut runner in Washington's zone blocking scheme), Cyrus Gray (depth chart might not be as bad as it appears) and Edwin Baker (an UDFA with a shallow depth chart behind a runner with some durability questions in Ryan Mathews) may be higher on my board than others.

    Version 2.0: Slotting Lamichael James in the upper part of the third round was probably a flashback to the time-honored fantasy tradition of taking running backs with any upside over other positions. In reality, I wouldn't (and didn't) consider him over Chris Givens (and other receivers at the bottom of that tier) or upside linebacker prospects like Mychal Kendricks, Bobby Wagner and Demario Davis. With the return of Tim Hightower, I've dropped Alfred Morris (whose ranking was based solely on situational upside) well down the board. Conversely, Edwin Baker has been moved up multiple tiers. I'm not certain he's a viable long term answer in San Diego, but I agree with the burgeoning consensus that his upside is better than the majority of the backs taken on the third day of the draft.

    Version 3.0: Hillman and Pead move up, mostly because the top tier wide receiver prospects aren't inspiring much excitement for me and none of the second tier prospects have distinguished themselves either. I've also adjusted many of the lower tier prospects up, as time better defines the lower wide receiver tiers. Bryce Brown made the biggest jump and LeSean McCoy owners may want to move him into the third rounds on their boards.

    Wide Receiver

    As the players came off the board last week, I was disappointed in some of the landing spots and thought that this might be a shallow group. But as I went through the slotting process, I found I could tell a promising story for lots of players in the third and fourth tiers. And it's a good thing: the third and fourth tiers at RB and second tier at TE is much weaker than usual.

    It may take Justin Blackmon longer than many hoped to reach top 20 WR numbers with Blaine Gabbert under center, but his ceiling is high and he'll be productive enough while you wait to support a top 3-5 rookie pick. I think he's a half tier ahead of Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and Stephen Hill. If you buy into the argument Matt Waldman made on our live podcast during the draft last Thursday and think Wright has a chance to see lots of snaps outside the slot, he's worth considering as early as 1.05. I'm not ready to push him that far up my board yet, though.

    I've got Hill and Alshon Jeffrey at the end of the second tier, but I feel like the end of that tier stretches through to the end of the deep third tier. It's that third tier, as noted in the Big Picture section above, that intrigues me this year and I'm expecting that the order of the names will shuffle frequently as we hear more about their likely roles. For now, I have Greg Childs and Brian Quick ranked just above Marvin Jones and Rueben Randle. Childs (injury) and Quick (technique, consistency) have a little more upside should they hit as potential number one receivers on open depth charts with quarterbacks that should improve. I really like Jones and Randle, but their ETA may be delayed and they aren't likely to ever be their team's top receiving option. I'm not as high on the talent of the next four in the tier, but all should be given a chance to earn snaps quickly.

    I think we'll see 2-4 players in the next tier emerge as viable WR5 or better in time. Juron Criner would be in the third tier if his situation were slightly better. BJ Cunningham, Danny Coale, LaVon Brazill and Keshawn Martin also have good arguments for success.

    Version 2.0: The wide receiver tiers generated the most debate in the discussion thread on this feature on our message board, mostly questioning my relative rankings of AJ Jenkins, Marvin Jones, Mohammed Sanu and T.Y. Hilton. Although Marvin Lewis had nice things to say about Jones after rookie camp, I agree with those who argued that Jenkins and Rueben Randle deserved higher consideration based on talent and upside. I still like Jones, however, and would draft him over Sanu (and others). I've moved Hilton up a bit, too, though I'm not sold that he should be included in a third round tier.

    I'm also modifying the format of the board to show how I envision those tiers a little better. It'll make the second and third round sections disproportionately long in places, but better visually show the mini-tiers in the WR position. For instance, although AJ Jenkins may be listed as the "WR9" and would've been somewhere in the middle of the second round tier lines previously, he truly carries a nearly equivalent grade to Brian Quick ("WR6" and upper second round consideration). While I'd not draft Jenkins ahead of Quick, Greg Childs or Randle, those players are close enough that you should if you feel Jenkins belongs higher in that tier.

    Version 3.0: There's a separation between Wright and supplemental pick Josh Gordon that isn't really visible here since there's not a player at another position I like in that range. Jones is moving back into high second round consideration for me after impressing in camp and the increasing likelihood that Sanu could see more slot snaps in the long term. There's also more separation in the later tiers in the mid-third round and later.

    I still have Childs listed as a late round option, but I think it's highly unlikely that he returns successfully from his latest devastating injury.

    Tight End

    Coby Fleener isn't an elite fantasy prospect, but the scarcity of options at other positions and any competition at his own position earns him a late first high second round grade. Ladarius Green, Dwayne Allen and Orson Charles have varying degrees of Joker-like TE ability, but each is blocked on the depth chart and won't be on my radar until the late third round or later. Evan Rodriguez may be the second best fantasy option in this group in time, but his upside isn't quite as high as Green. I'm not a fan of Egnew and my board makes it more likely that I'll be risking a developmental pick on James Hanna, Adrien Robinson or Taylor Thompson, with Robinson a particularly interesting mix of raw ability and depth chart upside.

    Version 2.0: Chuck Pagano's comments suggest that Dwayne Allen could see more targets than I expected, so he's in his own tier. Though Taylor Thompson moved up a full tier since the first version, I'm not excited about any of the later prospects and wouldn't consider them until all of the third-fourth round WR and top tier defensive prospects are off the board.

    Version 3.0: No changes at the TE position other than some minor shuffling of the later tiers and the continued rise of Allen across positions.

    Defensive Tackle

    I love Fletcher Cox and the Philadelphia defense is a perfect fit for potential statistical success. But the top of the fifth round is as high as I'll go for a DT prospect and that's pushing it. Michael Brockers, Derek Wolfe and Mike Martin are the only other tackles I'd consider and only with a spare seventh round pick.

    Defensive End

    I'm somewhat out on my own on Andre Branch. I argued on Twitter before the draft that I thought he was being underrated by those who felt he was a one-dimensional straight-line pass rusher. I'm not going to stand on the table for him as I did Jabaal Sheard last year, but I think he can handle an every-down 4-3 DE role and I think the depth chart is as favorable for Branch as it was for Sheard. If he's there in the late third early fourth and the top half of the fourth tier of WRs is gone, take him.

    Bruce Irvin and Shea McClellin will take time to grow into every-down, statistically consistent fantasy options, but both should have some situational/matchup upside until they do. I like Vinny Curry, but doubt he'll get enough snaps in the deep DL rotation in Philadelphia to have value until at least 2013. Rex Ryan has backed off his initial statements about how the Jets will use Quinton Coples, but I'm not touching him until the fifth round. If you disagree and want a shot at him, you'll have to slot him much closer to Branch.

    Version 2.0: The injury to Terrell Suggs may push Courtney Upshaw into a larger role and it's earned him a change in positional classification for now. I like Upshaw as a player, but he's not Suggs. He may not be ready to play every down and he won't play Suggs' position long term (if he earns it initially at all). Be aware that you may not have Upshaw as a DE for long and that he's not likely to put up Suggs' level DE production.

    Version 3.0: We're finally learning what the Patriots have in mind for Chandler Jones and if the early camp reports hold, it's a best case scenario. New England seems to be considering a base 4-3 front and Jones has seen the majority of his snaps at RDE, including rotating in with the first team. I still like Branch, but I'd rather have Jones if this is Belichick's plan. The Jets may be doing something similar and it's worth watching how they use Coples this offseason.

    I've contended since the beginning that Upshaw wouldn't be the best fit in the Suggs' role and, after some reports to the contrary in May, he is slated to play SLB and back out of the DE tiers here.

    Linebacker

    I'll be surprised if Carolina slots Luke Kuechly anywhere except as the full time MLB. His upside may be capped somewhat by the strong OLB group, but he's a very safe late first early second round pick and clearly the class of this year's IDP group.

    The next tier of linebackers is tightly packed. Lavonte David is a high floor, late second round pick that should hold LB3+ value right away. But I'm not sure he has LB1 upside. Bobby Wagner, Mychal Kendricks and Demario Davis do have that upside, but their floor is more problematic.

    I think Wagner can succeed as the every-down MLB in Seattle, but he may not start there immediately and will have competition for tackles outside the box. I love Kendricks and would have had him alongside Kuechly if he landed in a better role. Should he ever get a look at the MLB job in Philadelphia, he'd be a top 20 fantasy linebacker, but you can't spend more than a high third round pick while you wait. I'll keep beating the drum for Demario Davis, who I think earns a full time ILB role (and produces) by early 2013 at the latest. Zach Brown has tackling issues that will impact his bottom line, otherwise he'd be a consideration earlier.

    If you're looking for a 3-4 OLB option in big play leagues, bump Melvin Ingram, Courtney Upshaw and Nick Perry into consideration in the third. I'd really like to get behind Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones, but the situations are murky and even the best case argument yields a low ceiling. Consider James-Michael Johnson (could threaten to fill an every-down WLB role in time) or Keenan Robinson (capable of replacing London Fletcher as an every-down SILB after this year) if you're looking for a 2013 stash in the fifth or sixth round. And don't be afraid to take a very late flyer on Vontaze Burfict. I didn't like his tape at all, but there's enough talent there to risk a late pick on given the shallow Cincinnati depth chart.

    Version 2.0: James-Michael Johnson jumps up the board after a number of favorable coaching comments more than the suggestion that he could replace Scott Fujita (suspended for the first three games of 2012) at WLB. JMJ is still a project and is very unlikely to start 16 games as an every-down WLB this year. Demario Davis (and Zach Brown) remain much better investments in the third round or later.

    Version 3.0: I'm surprised that the Panthers have elected to ease Kuechly into the lineup at WLB. He'll be successful in that role, but it hurts his statistical upside. He's dropped out of first round consideration for me and into a tier with David and Wagner. If Wagner earns an every-down role and looks comfortable there, I'd strongly consider him over the other two.

    The Patriots' increased usage of the 3-4 has Hightower moving up my tiers. He's likely to start the season as a rotational, base defensive SLB, but Brandon Spikes has durability questions and Hightower has all-around long-term potential. I've no argument if you consider him alongside Kendricks right now.

    Cornerback

    There's no clear CB1 in this class, but many potential CB2+/DB3 players to look at in the later rounds. Dre Kirkpatrick, Stephon Gilmore and Morris Claiborne probably won't last long enough to be reasonable draft values, but Josh Robinson will. Keep the other names on your watch list to move on when and if they earn starting jobs and show themselves box score capable.

    Safety

    Mark Barron is the class of the group and is worth a look in the late second round if you're willing to spend the capital on a defensive back. Harrison Smith will play early and should put up good numbers, but he's not elite enough to risk more than a mid-fourth pick. There's a deep watch list on my board, but until training camp tells us otherwise, the only other safety prospect worth drafting is Brandon Taylor, who fits well as an interchangeable prospect next to Eric Weddle.

    Please ask questions or send comments to me by email at bramel@footballguys.com or on Twitter at @JeneBramel.

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