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Big Blue View mailbag: Feeling a draft

The mail’s here!

With less than a week to go before the 2023 NFL Draft, let’s open the Big Blue View Mailbag and see what New York Giants questions we can address.

Jerry Hand asks: I am curious about how teams grade players… that is, are players given numbers for their measurables and then put into a computer program that assigns them a grade? Or is there a grade for intangibles such as work ethic, “instincts” and/or general attitude? Or some combination of both? And are all positions graded equally?

Ed says: Jerry, there is no “one size fits all” grading scale for every NFL team. As Scouting Academy Director Dan Hatman, who has worked in the NFL and trained many scouts currently employed in the league, told me there are “commonalities” between teams.

They all grade on some combination of “critical factors” that apply across every position and then “position specific” factors. Those may vary somewhat from team to team. Every team has size/weight/speed thresholds they want for each position, and those vary from team to team, as well. Grading scales can vary. Many teams use a grading scale where 9.0 is a perfect score. Others may use 7, 8 and 10-point scales. Our Chris Pflum is using a 10-point scale, with 10.0 being the perfect player.

Here is a sample wide receiver form from Hatman’s Scouting Academy showing the critical factors considered in every position and the wide receiver-specific position specific factors:

33rd Team, where lead scout TJ McCreight has more than two decades of experience working for NFL teams, uses an 8.0 scale. Here is some info on that:

Find out more on the 33rd Team grading scale here.

This, of course, is all just the film study portion. The intangibles, the attitude, the interviews, what people who know the player best tell the team, medical information and all of that can move a player’s grade up or down.

I know it isn’t a full picture, but I hope this helps peel back the curtain somewhat.

Incidentally, both Chris Pflum and Nick Falato have taken Hatman’s course.

Robert Klein asks: What do you think is the likelihood that the Giants intend to start Cor’Dale Flott at cornerback? He was a fairly high draft pick last year and his play seemed to improve as the year went on (that makes sense since he was a rookie). He also has good height for a cornerback, even if his weight was a little light (I assume that he bulked up a bit after a year with the team’s trainers and his just being a year older). Thoughts?

Ed says: Robert, I have no idea. I would think Flott would be in competition right now with Aaron Robinson and Amani Oruwariye, but the Giants don’t begin any on-field team vs. team work for several more weeks. We also don’t yet know what they will do in the draft. They drafted Flott in the third round in 2022 because they think the kid can play. I think that when you draft a player in Round 3 you hope he becomes a starter by Year 2 or Year 3. We will have to see if that happens.

Chris Chianese asks: Ed, what’s the story with TCU WR Quentin Johnson? Not so long ago so many predictors had his as the first wideout going in the draft, now, he doesn’t even get an invite from the NFL to be on hand for the draft because he may not be a first rounder? He has more size than the other WRs, and I would have loved for him to fall to the NYG and now it looks like he may. Your thoughts on what the issue may be and should the NYG take him if he is still there at 25?

Ed says: Chris, part of the story is that Johnston is an immensely talented but highly imperfect prospect. Just like almost all of the young men in any draft class. Another part of the story is that we are all human beings and we can look at the same thing — like the same games from the same college football player — and see something different.

TJ McCreight, lead scout for 33rd Team, spent 25 years in various NFL scouting and personnel roles, including being director of college scouting for the Indianapolis Colts from 2012-2016. He and his staff of scouts at 33rd Team, all of whom have NFL experience, have Johnston ranked as the No. 2 overall prospect in the draft and consider him an All-Pro talent. They, obviously, are bullish on Johnston.

Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, who has spent nearly two decades scouting skill position players and whose work finds its way to the desks of many NFL decision-makers, told me he thinks Johnson is a third-round pick. Waldman, obviously, is skeptical of Johnston.

The difference? How they view Johnston’s struggles to catch the ball cleanly and consistently and the reality that he doesn’t win as many 50-50 balls as a 6-foot-2¾, 208-pound receiver with his athleticism might be expected to.

McCreight sees concentration drops that should be easily corrected. Waldman sees technique flaws in the way Johnston tries to catch the ball and a player who looks uncomfortable when he tries to use the proper technique.

That’s two really smart people with excellent evaluation skills who are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to a polarizing player.

Mark P. Lynch asks: I have yet to fathom the amount of angst from Giants fans about the center position. I am pretty adamant that I would not take a center [with] the 25th pick. But maybe I’m wrong. I went to the NFL network to check what the experts thought. Looked at mocks from, Lewis, Zierlein, DJ, Davis and Brooks. DJ and Brooks took centers while the others took a WR or a DB. So 40% took one of the top 2 centers. Players such Branch. Johnston, Mayer and Bresee plus other DBs still on the board, Wouldn’t a DL of Williams. Lawrence and Bresee would be impressive. For the record I would Branch, He would Immediately replace Darnay ( if I can’t cover ’em I’ll just hold ‘em) Holmes, At any rate looking at the current safety room I believe the Giants should draft at least two safeties, What’s your take?

Ed says: Mark, I’m a big Branch fan. I think he will be an excellent NFL player and would fit nicely in the Giants’ defense. As for safety — or any position — you just can’t go into the draft saying “I’m picking two players at this position.” If the value is there and that is how it works out, fine. You pick based on your grades and the value. If those things are equal, then need/position factors in.

As far as safety is concerned, this does not appear to be a great class. Branch is the only safety Dane Brugler has assigned a Round 1 grade, and No. 2 safety Antonio Johnson has only a Round 2-3 grade.

The Giants have Xavier McKinney, Bobby McCain, Jason Pinnock and Dane Belton. I believe they will draft a safety somewhere along the way, but they won’t force it. I don’t think they need to.

As for center, it wouldn’t be my first choice. Still, if the Giants were to draft John Michael Schmitz at No. 25 and he were a solid, two-contract starter for the next seven or eight years that would be pretty good.

Julian Roberts asks: How does the NFL award draft picks on the basis of players leaving via free agency?

Ed says: Julian, to determine compensatory draft picks the NFL uses a complex formula that weighs the number of qualifying free agents a team signs vs. the number they lose in a given offseason. Over The Cap has the details, and the projections.

Michael Aquilino asks: I fully understand and support a free agent signing with the team that offers the most money if they so choose. This is especially true for lower value contracts, where the difference between two offers can be a significant percentage. For example, a $7.5M contract is 50% more than a $5M contract and it’s probably worth moving to a distant, unattractive city to get 50% more. On the other hand, a $22M contract is only 10% greater than a $20M contract, so why change teams if a player is comfortable with their current team and the future seems bright? Also, $20M is still a lot of money and promises a pretty secure financial future. How do you think free agents choose between contract offers? Do most just take the highest offer? What percentage do you think take less money to stay with their current team or to move to a team that is a better fit for them in one way or another?

Ed says: Michael, I can’t put percentages on any of it. Let’s be real, though. Money is almost always a huge part of the equation. Two million dollars is still $2 million dollars, even if it’s less of a percentage of $20 million than $5 million. If you can get the $2 million more, you’re going to want it.

Some players will factor in location or family concerns, team fit, chance to win, all those types of things. Eli Manning used to say that every interception had its own story. Every free agency decision, like Julian Love moving on from the Giants, also has its own story. If the money is equal, or relatively equal, players will take the offer they feel puts them in the best situation. What factors determine that are personal to each player.

Eric Chavis asks: How does Jalen Hurts make so much AAV while his cap hit is so low? Just doesn’t make sense.

Ed says: Eric, sure it makes sense. It is all about the way the contract is structured. The longer a contract (Hurts’ deal is for five years) the more you can use the signing bonus and the yearly base salary (called the P5 salary) to backload a deal. That makes tremendous sense, because the cap is going to continue to go up year after year, and a number that looks gargantuan today won’t be nearly as imposing four or five years down the road when the cap is significantly higher than it is now.

Yes, the cap hits over the first few seasons of Hurts’ new contract are incredibly low, per what has been reported. Keep in mind that the full details have not yet been made available, but let’s talk about what we know. Here are the cap hits over the first four years:

Start with the fact that Hurts was a second-round pick and even before the new deal was negotiated carried only a $4.789 million 2023 cap hit, per Over The Cap.

Here is a brief explanation of how the Eagles pulled this off, via NBC Sports Philadelphia:

How were the Eagles able to pull this off? Without seeing the full contract, we know the Eagles are utilizing a signing bonus and subsequent option bonuses over the next few years.

The way bonuses work is that they prorate over the length of a contract and that prorated money combines with base salary and likely-to-be-earned incentives to create the salary cap hit. It’s a way to spread out cap hits and, yes, push some big cap figures into the future as the league-wide cap presumably continues to raise.

The Giants, by contrast, started from a much higher 2023 base salary because Daniel Jones was a No. 6 overall pick.

The Jones contract is a four-year deal, so there is less time in which to spread out the money. The Giants also chose not to use void years, which would have lowered the current cap hits but pushed money into future years when Jones could perhaps no longer be with the team. The Giants did that on purpose to leave themselves wiggle room to get out of the deal if Jones does not continue to improve.

Steven Taranto asks: Considering Howie Roseman’s latest exploits in making a mockery of the salary cap with Jalen Hurts’ contract numbers compared to his cap hit, at what point is Joe Schoen going to adjust his cap philosophy so that the Giants can financially compete with the Eagles?

Whereas the Eagles exploit every loophole and workaround in the cap system to allow them to keep their core intact while seemingly never being priced out of any free agents or players available for trades, Schoen seems to have a much more conservative cap philosophy, and it’s cost the Giants good players (Bradberry, Love) while also creating a scenario where Schoen won’t even touch the $50 million in cap space taken up by Leo/Adoree’s contracts that he could adjust to create gobs of cap space — all while we got bent over a barrel in Daniel Jones’ contract negotiations and are seeing the same thing happen with Saquon/Dex’s negotiations.

I understand in principle that Schoen wants to build the roster through the draft in principle, but it’s easy to say “go young and cheap” until the team down the turnpike stomps on your face and then buys a couple more All-Pro free agents just to make a point. When does Schoen realize the need to fight fire with fire considering that the Eagles are the ultimate stumbling block the Giants need to surpass?

Ed says: Steven, you are not being even close to fair to Joe Schoen here.

Let’’s start with this. Howie Roseman has been Eagles GM since 2010. This is his 14th season in that chair. It has taken a looooong time for Roseman to build the Eagles into what they are. He didn’t do that in one or two offseasons. Roseman’s other advantage when it comes to the salary cap is that he drafted and signed every player on the roster, so the pieces of the puzzle fit in a way that he orchestrated.

Now, Roseman is obviously smart. He is also willing and able to do some short-term things that may cause pain later because he understands that the Eagles are in a championship window right now.

Now let’s turn to the Giants.

First, Schoen is in the midst of his second offseason with the Giants. He is still dealing with a roster filled with players he did not draft and free agents he did not sign. That means there are some high-priced players like Leonard Williams and Adoree’ Jackson with contracts that Schoen did not negotiate. He is also dealing with a Saquon Barkley situation that probably would not be on his plate had he been the general manager back in 2018.

Schoen is still working his way through dealing with the salary cap mess that Dave Gettleman left him. Schoen said at the end of the 2022 season that there were players the Giants wanted during the year but could not go after because they had no money to offer.

I hate to keep re-litigating the James Bradberry stuff, but here goes. What other realistic choice did Schoen have but to let Bradberry go? The Giants needed the $12 million or so in salary cap space and had no other way to clear it. The Giants — rightly — decided that the best thing to do was move on from Bradberry rather than take on a contract extension with Bradberry that would have them paying big money to a cornerback once he was past his prime.

You want Schoen to re-negotiate Leonard Williams’ deal, and he might have to in the end. Again, though, I think he is right to try and squeeze through 2023 without doing it unless he has no other choice.

Williams is entering his age 29 season. He is still a good player, but he has eight seasons and thousands of NFL snaps under his belt. There is a lot of wear and tear on those tires. Williams missed games due to injury for the first time in his career in 2022. That is a huge warning sign when it comes to considering an extension for a player. Like with Bradberry, Schoen does not want to end up making a huge financial commitment to Williams as his production begins to decline.

Jackson is another player this regime did not bring to New York. I don’t think Schoen wants to make a decision on Jackson’s future until he has to — until he sees how Jackson plays in 2023.

I know that fans have no patience. They want to skip all the steps and win a Super Bowl now. Reality, though, is that the Eagles and Giants are in different places. The Eagles are in a “win-now” window where some short-term moves that might cause pain down the road make sense. Don’t be fooled by 2022. The Giants are in a different place. They still have an incomplete roster and are still in the beginning stages of a building phase. They want to keep the long term in mind in everything they do, which I believe is the right approach.

Dave asks: After reading Tony’s article on Thursday, does anybody know how the mock draft simulators actually work? Do the models look at off season activities? Do they consider team tendencies and priorities position based upon management philosophies? I see people post mock draft selections for other teams and have to ask myself WTF.

Ed says: Dave, like we talked about above with how NFL teams scout and grade players there are “commonalities” between mock draft simulators. No, two, though are exactly the same. That is why it is worthwhile to vary the simulators you use at times — it gives you different viewpoints on players and how the draft might shake out.

Simulators all rank prospects using a big board. In the case of the NFL Mock Draft Database that can be a consensus of hundreds of big boards and more than a thousand mock drafts. That depth is why I like it. In the case of ‘Fanspeak,’ you can choose your big board and use one designed by a single person. Personally, I don’t feel that gives you an accurate picture. The Pro Football Focus Big Board allows you some control over your draft preferences.

Every big board also inputs team needs into its equation. The simulated picks end up being based off whatever big board/team needs parameters are input.

One interesting thing I am not sure of in most cases is which trade chart most simulators use to calculate when to allow/disallow trade offers. PFF doesn’t say, but I would assume it is using the Spielberger chart, since Brad Spielberger is a PFF employee. The NFL mock draft database doesn’t tell us what chart it uses. The Pro Football Network simulator uses the Rich Hill Trade Chart.

So, each one is going to give you slightly different options and results.

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