Mistakes Were Made: Self-Evaluation and a Look at the 2015 NFL Draft Part 1

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]As the confetti is cleaned up from the turf in Houston, and the 2016-2017 NFL season is finally put to bed, the football world now turns its eyes onto the upcoming NFL draft. While many football fans begin to focus on the draft around this time of the year, the NFL draft has become a 24/7, 365 endeavor in the media. Draft writers and analysts start watching tape…or, actually, they never stop watching tape. For those of us trying to find the next great prospect, the “grind” never really stops. But it is important, from time to time, to return to Rule #10 of Dan Hatman’s Scouting Rules: We All Make Mistakes.

To that end, I wanted to take a look back at the 2015 NFL draft class, and the rankings that I did at both the quarterback and wide receiver position. I’m putting these rankings under the microscope for a few reasons. First, it’s too early in my opinion to really take any lessons from the last draft class, as you need a few seasons to truly evaluate a prospect and thereby your evaluation. Second, this was my first year in the game evaluating prospects on a formal basis. I could try and dig out some informal rankings on the 2014 class, but that was done on a more Patriots-specific basis for sonsofsamhorn.net, and frankly since I’ve given Shane Alexander a lot of trouble for his A.J. McCarron love, I don’t want to give him any ammunition with my McCarron over Garoppolo takes.




Part 1 of this series will look at the quarterbacks in that class, my rankings of them, where they were selected (if at all), and their current status.

QUARTERBACKS

Player Schofield Rank Draft Slot Status
Marcus Mariota 1 2 Starter – Tennessee Titans
Jameis Winston 2 1 Starter – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bryce Petty 3 103 Backup – New York Jets
Brett Hundley 4 147 Backup –  Green Bay Packers
Garrett Grayson 5 75 Reserve Contract – New Orleans Saints
Chris Bonner 6 UDFA Free Agent
Sean Mannion 7 89 Backup – Los Angeles Rams
Connor Halliday 8 UDFA Retired
Brandon Bridge 9 UDFA Backup – Saskatchewan Roughriders
Cody Fajardo 10 UDFA Backup – Toronto Argonauts
Shane Carden 11 UDFA Free Agent
Taylor Heinicke 12 UDFA Backup – Minnesota Vikings
Bryan Bennett 13 UDFA Backup – Saskatchewan Roughriders
Hutson Mason 14 UDFA Free Agent

So, that’s a list of quarterbacks.

At the outset, I remain proud of the call of Mariota over Winston. There were not many that went down that road. But again, looking at what I wrote about for both players, this was not a real 1 versus 2 type of ranking, but more of a 1a versus 1b. There were traits that I liked about both players, and felt that either one would be worthy of the first overall selection. For me, what put Mariota over the top was the fact that you could see how his game would translate to the professional level. You could see processing speed, decision-making, and anticipation throws on his tape, that illustrated that he could succeed at the next level.

After that, however, things kind of go off the rails.

I was higher on both Petty and Hundley than the NFL was, as both Grayson and Mannion came off the board before them. History may bear me out on that, as Petty made some starts and while he might not have the future of an NFL starter ahead of him, he might be able to stick around as a backup. Hundley seems to be the quarterback in waiting in Green Bay. Meanwhile Grayson is on a practice squad, and Mannion is now behind both Jared Goff and Case Keenum in Los Angeles.

But then we come to a name that all of #DraftTwitter is familiar with, for various reasons.

Chris Bonner

Here is where I’m taking my first lesson from this retrospective examination. One, you’re never going to be first on a player, so it is more important to be right on a player. Second, trust your gut instincts more than anything else. At the beginning, I came to the 2015 draft evaluation process very late in the game. ITP launched as a Patriots-centric site prior to the start of the 2014 season, and after New England survived against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, the site needed an offseason focus, so we began draft work in February. By that time, the evaluation community was waist deep in their work, so there was no sense in trying to compete. So that’s my first lesson: You won’t be first.




But the other issue I have from this evaluation was that my gut reaction was one of skepticism. The first throw I saw on tape from Bonner left me wondering if he had the arm strength to compete in the NFL. More and more throws did not really assuage me from this fear, yet I thought there was enough to his game that he could make it work. Or more likely, I wanted to see what wasn’t really there, because I wanted to be someone that found this diamond in the rough, that saw the potential within a small-school player. But that gets us back to the first point: You will not be first, so just be right. My desire to be someone who “found” Bonner clouded my judgment, and that was a mistake. With the sheer number of great evaluators in this industry, you will never be first on a player, so take the time and be right on a player.

On a similar note, every time I scroll down to Taylor Heinicke’s name on this list I cringe a little. Because there was a player I really liked during this class, but didn’t have the guts to rank higher. Only seven QBs were taken in this draft (more on that in a second) and Heinicke was immediately signed by the Vikings as a priority free agent. Going through his tape, I really liked what he did at Old Dominion, and believed that he could quickly find a role as a long-term backup for a team in a sport where quality backups – let alone starters – are often hard to come by. But the smaller school part of his resume gave me pause, and I couldn’t move him up my board. That was a mistake. I still had him as a 7th round – UDFA grade, but he should have been moved up these rankings. Looking at it now, I should have moved him up at least behind Bonner (given my mindset at the time) but in reality, Heinicke should have come in around QB6 for me. But alas, now I’m stuck with what could have been (with the caveat that pining for the placement of a UDFA QB in a two-year old rankings list is the very definition of a first-world problem).

Finally, two final lessons I took from this draft class, having been back through it many times. First, do the work. You’ll notice that Trevor Siemian, who was drafted in the 7th round, was not even ranked by me. That is an oversight that shouldn’t have been made. In addition, as you can see from the linked QB hub, only a handful of players got the full profile treatment. I did the work on all of the quarterbacks, but failed to give each player the full write-up. In a vacuum, that is okay, but the full profiles give some more credibility to the final rankings, and that was another mistake I made. I’ll speak more about this in Part 2 of this series, looking at the wide receiver rankings I did that year, but perhaps the biggest lesson I can take from looking back – and one that’s pretty important in all of life – is this: Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter. Buy his book, 17 Drives. Check out his other work here, such as how Baker Mayfield is comfortable in chaos on the field, how Carson Wentz manipulates defenders, or his collection of work on the 2017 Senior Bowl Quarterbacks.

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