By NATHAN COOPER AND JOHN TODD
If you want our full thoughts on the players your team has added, you can buy the Football Rookie Handbook now at ACTA Sports or on Amazon. And if you’d like to contribute to next year’s edition, consider applying to our Football Video Scout position.
This was Year 3 of the SIS Football Rookie Handbook. The idea is to have the top players at their respective positions make the book. With 318 players featured in the 2021 edition, not every player from the Handbook would be drafted and not every drafted player was in the Handbook. After having 69% (174 of 254) of drafted players in the book in 2019 and 78% (199 of 255) in 2020, we raised that number once again to 84% (218 of 259) this season.
When taking out specialists and fullbacks, which we currently don’t put into the Handbook, there were only 36 players drafted who weren’t in the book and only 7 of which we didn’t watch or have a report on. That’s over 97% of the NFL Draft covered! Plus, by our count, 86 of the 98 players who were in the book and didn’t get drafted have already signed undrafted free agent deals with teams as of Monday morning.
Now using the Handbook, we attempted to grade each team’s draft class. Just like in our article from last season, we assigned all grades from the Handbook and gave all players that weren’t in the book a 5.7 and divided that by the number of selections the team had. These rankings do not account for the value of where players were drafted or trades teams made, it is literally based on the grades we gave the players who were drafted.
The 2021 Best Draft Class, with an average grade of 6.6, went to the Detroit Lions. They had seven draft picks and made the most of their picks by selecting players who were all featured in the SIS Football Rookie Handbook.
The Lions draft class is in the table below.
In our opinion, Brad Holmes, Dan Campbell, and the new regime in Detroit drafted a lot of players that we feel can contribute to both sides of the ball early on in their careers. Penei Sewell is a plug-and-play tackle who many scouts think was the one surefire Hall of Fame player in this class. Onwuzurike and McNeill are big time playmakers on the interior of the defense and will really help the team “bite a kneecap off.”
Melifonwu is a big, physical corner who can help bring some depth to a position that struggled with injuries in 2020.
St. Brown has the ability to become a No. 3 receiver who can play inside or out,
Barnes brings some grit and versatility to the middle of the defense, and Jefferson shows some pass and run game versatility and should compete for the No. 3 RB job.
That’s not to mention some undrafted free agents the team reportedly picked up after the draft, most notably Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt (6.7, No. 6 WR) and Notre Dame OG Tommy Kraemer (6.5, No. 10 OG).
Our previous two Top Draft Class winners, the Titans and the Browns, both made the playoffs the following year after not making it the season before. Both won in the postseason, as well. Detroit’s roster still needs a lot of work and is in no way similar to what Tennessee’s or Cleveland’s was the past two seasons, but it’s a huge step in the right direction for a new staff and rebuilding organization.
Here are the draft classes ranked in order of their grade:
The Dolphins ranked No. 2 after a Top 10 ranking in 2020. Getting Jaylen Waddle, our top-ranked receiver, and Jaelan Phillips, our top-ranked edge rusher, in the 1st Round was a home run for Miami. Two more 6.7 players in Jevon Holland (No. 3 S) and Liam Eichenberg (No. 4 OT) really solidified an outstanding draft for an up-and-coming Dolphins squad.
Coming off their first postseason win since 1994, the Browns checked in with another Top 5 class. This followed having the No. 1 Draft class in 2020.
Selecting Greg Newsome II (6.7, No. 4 CB) in the 1st Round and getting a steal in Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6.8, No. 1 Will LB) in the 2nd Round was huge for that defense. They also got Tommy Togiai (6.7, No. 2 NT) in the 4th Round and Richard LeCounte (6.7, No. 6 S) in the 5th Round.
The Jaguars got their QB of the future in Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick and then followed it up by taking his Clemson teammate Travis Etienne later in the 1st Round. In addition, grabbing Andre Cisco (6.7, No. 5 S) in the 3rd Round and Jay Tufele (6.7, No. 4 DT) in the 4th Round really helped solidify their ranking.
Rounding out the Top 5 was the Atlanta Falcons. They took arguably the top skill player in this class with the No. 4 overall pick in Florida’s Kyle Pitts, who should immediately help give Matt Ryan another weapon on offense. They also got Ryan some offensive line help early in the 3rd Round in Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield (6.7, No. 6 OT).
The bottom three teams for 2021 were the Rams, Colts, and Cowboys.
Dallas did start out with a huge pick in Micah Parsons and also grabbed Jabril Cox in the 4th Round to solidify the linebacker position (they declined Leighton Vander Esch’s 5th-year option), but we were a little lower on 2nd-Round pick Kelvin Joseph and 3rd-Round pick Chauncey Golston.
However, out of their 11 picks, Dallas took 10 who were featured in the Handbook.
The Colts got two big time defensive linemen with their first two picks in Kwity Paye (6.7, No. 3 Edge) and Dayo Odeyingbo (6.6, No. 7 DT), but then drafted fringe backups in Kylen Granson, Shawn Davis, and Sam Ehlinger, before taking Mike Strachan and Will Fries, who we thought weren’t good enough to make the Handbook.
The Rams took home the 2021 Worst Draft Class. It’s hard to put together a top-end draft class when you don’t have a 1st Round pick, but not only that, five of their nine draftees we felt weren’t good enough to be a part of the Handbook’s 318. Tutu Atwell should be a playmaker for new quarterback Matthew Stafford out of the slot, but the rest of their picks were tabbed as fringe backups according to our scouts.
The Green Bay Packers had the worst ranking for us in 2020, and while that was a slightly different situation, they still made the playoffs and were one of the top teams in the NFL. In addition to coming off a No. 7 class in 2020, there’s still hope for the Rams in 2021 and beyond.
How the Handbook Compared to the Draft
Comparing the SIS Rookie Handbook’s top five graded players at each position to how the NFL drafted them, there were plenty of similarities and some differences. Our No. 1 player in nine of our 14 position groups matched the NFL’s first player taken at each spot (only differing at wide receiver, center, will linebacker, cornerback, and safety). While in different orders, we had the same first five quarterbacks (as many did), and four of the first group of five running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, tackles, centers, and cornerbacks. We had at least three of our top five players taken within that initial group of selections at every position.
Some players we believe the NFL drafted much higher than we had them pegged include Milton Williams, Earnest Jones and Brandon Stephens. None of the three received grades high enough to make our final tally of players in the Handbook, yet each was taken before the third round ended.
With nearly 750 scouting reports submitted on over 460 players, which ultimately led to the 318 players in the Handbook, we feel we cast a wide net to find the best players for this class. Our lowest graded first round selections, based on their projected role, are Joe Tryon, Jamin Davis, Kadarius Toney, and Payton Turner, who was the only first round player to not receive at least a low-end starting grade.
Conversely, there were plenty of value picks in the later rounds based on their Handbook grades. Some of these players include Jaylen Twyman, Rodarius Williams, Cole Van Lanen, and Quincy Roche. All four of these players, taken in the sixth round, received strong starting grades from our scouts, and we believe whether they fell due to injuries, off-field concerns, or other intangibles we may not consider, they have a great chance to become impactful players.
Additionally, Trey Smith, Kylin Hill, Trey Hill, Larry Rountree III, Victor Dimukeje, Patrick Johnson, and Shaka Toney were taken in the last two rounds of the draft, yet received low-end starting grades within their respective position groups. These players may be more usage specific at the next level, but we like their chances of seeing the field and playing key roles by Year 2.
Players who were graded and ranked within the Top 5 at their position in the Handbook and ultimately not drafted include Dylan Moses (No. 2 Will LB), Ar’Darius Washington (No. 2 S), Paris Ford (No. 4 S), and Amen Ogbongbemiga (No. 4 Mike LB). Each of these players has already reportedly signed with a team through the undrafted free agency process. Needless to say, we feel this group has a strong chance of sticking on a roster and proving the league made a mistake passing on them.
Handbook Report Card
As this is the third annual edition of the SIS Football Rookie Handbook, and thus the third edition of this post-draft recap, we’re pleased to look back at our previous work and see drastic progress.
Only two players drafted within the top five of their position group were not in the Handbook: DT Milton Williams – who would not be mentioned here if we had graded him as a true Edge, as he was drafted – and Mike LB Buddy Johnson. The number of drafted players not in the Handbook in total dropped from 56 to 41 (36 excluding specialists and fullbacks). And possibly our favorite statistic from this year, as it was mentioned in the outset, the number of drafted players on whom we didn’t have a report assigned at all dropped from 27 to just 7.
While the first non-Handbook and non-report players were each taken earlier this year than in 2020, the percentage increases noted at the beginning of this article, as well as our raw contribution totals, tell us we’re trending in the right direction. The Handbook doesn’t claim to be perfect. Quite the opposite in fact, as it is presented with often contradictory scouting and analytical perspectives so you, the reader, can form your own opinions.
Publishing the Handbook as early in the pre-draft process as we do, in order to solely grade on-field ability as purely as possible, occasionally miscalculates our final projections, not to mention our lack of insider medical and character information and the natural variance of scouting opinions. Given the adversities of 2020, we’re thrilled and thankful for the hard work our scouts put in to chart and evaluate this class and, as usual, we’ve already begun scouting for 2022.
The SIS Football Rookie Handbook will be back again next year, filled with even more data, more accuracy, better reports, and the same combination of deep-dive analytics and pre-Combine scouting we’re proud to share. In the meantime, if you want our full thoughts on the players your team has added, you can buy the book now at ACTA Sports or on Amazon. And if you’d like to contribute to next year’s edition, consider applying to our Football Video Scout position.