Are Draft Experts Better or Worse than NFL GMs?

Football fans everywhere react emotionally to the draft picks our team makes in real time. Some of you have watched tape or the live games yourselves and made your own assessments, but many of us rely on the experts whose job it is to size up prospects and rank them before the draft. Then the draft comes and NFL GMs routinely confound or surprise us by "reaching" for a player we don't think should be drafted that high or by grabbing a player we perceive as great value who has dropped lower than we think he should have. So who is more accurate in their assessments, the GMs or the pundits? And does that tell us anything about what to expect from the 2021 draft?

For the 2020 NFL draft we have a year of play in the books so we can get a sense of who did better. As my "expert", I used Dane Brugler of The Athletic, who does a tremendous amount of work through the year watching game tape and trying to notice the strengths and flaws in players' games and how that might translate to the pros. The result is his annual volume, "The Beast", which is a great read. As my arbiter of success I am using PFF scores, which I find to be generally good even if BBVers disagree with their assessments of a few specific players.

Question 1: How well did Dane Brugler predict round 1 of the 2020 draft?

24 of the first 32 picks made by the NFL were in Brugler's top 32; 3 more were chosen within the first 9 picks of round 2. That leaves 5 other players for which Brugler seems to have strongly disagreed with the GMs' assessments.

Question 2: Where Brugler and the NFL disagree by a lot, who seems to have made the more accurate assessment?

For this I assume that a disagreement of 10 draft slots or more is a big disagreement. Here are the results. For each player, the numbers in parentheses are where the player was chosen and the NFL draft slot minus Brugler's draft slot. So negative means the GMs rated the player more highly, positive means Brugler rated the player more highly. The next number is the player's 2020 PFF score.

Players the NFL liked a lot more than Brugler:

Andrew Thomas (4, -11): 62.4
Justin Herbert (6, -12): 79.9
AJ Terrell (16, -32): 60.8
Damon Arnette (19, -50): 41.7
Jalen Reagor (21, -23): 64.0
Cesar Ruiz (24, -15): 58.6
Jordyn Brooks (27, -40): 47.6
Isaiah Wilson (29, -26): 60.0
Noah Igbinoghene (30, -32): 37.1

Players the NFL liked a lot less than Brugler:

Jonathan Taylor (41, +13): 83.9
Marlon Davidson (47, +19): 58.1
AJ Epenesa (54, +22): 64.7
JK Dobbins (55, +35): 71.5
Ezra Cleveland (58, +28): 66.2
Josh Jones (72, +50): 43.0

So Brugler had his misses: He didn't rate Herbert as highly as his performance suggests he should have (but who did?), and he saw Josh Jones as better player than he showed in year 1, in which he played sparingly. But the NFL GMs had more and bigger misses, players who were really subpar (Arnette, Igbinoghene, Brooks to some extent) and players who outplayed their draft slot (Taylor, Dobbins, both RBs, who are devalued now in the NFL).

Of course, rookie year does not necessarily predict entire careers. We're hoping that's true for Andrew Thomas. But overall, Brugler does seem to have a bit of skill relative to the NFL as a whole. So it's worth asking: Where does he disagree a lot with the NFL GMs in the 2021 draft? Overall Brugler ranked 26 of the 32 players drafted in round 1 in his top 32. Here are the results:

Players the NFL liked a lot more than Brugler:

Mac Jones (15, -10)
Zaven Collins (16, -11)
Alex Leatherwood (17, -17)
Jamin Davis (19, -17)
Payton Turner (28, -32)
Eric Stokes (29, -22)

Players Brugler liked a lot more than the NFL:

Landon Dickerson (37, +16)
Christian Barmore (38, +18)
Teven Jenkins (39, +15)
Levi Onwuzurike (41, +12)
Azeez Ojulari (50, +34)
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (52, +37)

We'll see how the 2021 season plays out, but these are players worth watching to see who was right and who was wrong.

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