The value of a draft is something that is impossible to measure at the moment. We like to claim that choice was “reach” or “steal”, but the real value of a choice is the output you get out of it and we do not know the true value of any of these choices before for at least three years down the line.
Yet Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes went on to mention this word – value – when it came to his decisions to select the players he made over the weekend.
Here he talks about taking the second round of Levin Onwuzurike:
“Towards the end of Thursday we just tried to see if there were ways to maybe go up again and get him. Even earlier today ̵1; the guys in the wooden room did a lot of work to keep me tempered to practice a little more patience, because he is a much in demand. ”
And choice of third round Ifeatu Melifonwu:
He actually stood out (on our draft board), I would not say like a sore thumb, but he stood out markedly. So from a value standpoint, from the cream of the crop, let’s just go and just trust our board, trust the process, all the work we put in, and feel really good about the value you get. ”
And fourth round, Amon-Ra chooses St.Brown:
“He was a guy that we actually strongly considered yesterday. But of course when we talked about the value we had Iffy (Ifeatu Melifonwu) was pretty high. But he was a guy I slept with overnight, and was really, really excited to get rid of. ”
And in the seventh round, Jermar Jefferson chooses:
“When we shopped and got (Pick) 257, I think it was. I did not really think he would still be on the board. So we were very, very happy for him. ”
So it looks like they got the Lions board a lot of value out of their choices. However, the value is not only determined by a team’s draft board of directors. If every other team had a player placed far lower than Detroit, they could theoretically have drawn the same player much later in the draft.
Clearly, we do not know each other’s draft board of directors, and there is no way to find out. However, we can compare the Lions’ draft election with the overall consensus in the media and see if they have guys who are supposed to go sooner or later. It’s not a perfect method, as the media board may look very different from the NFL teams, but some are affiliated and many have improved their scouting over the years.
So let’s look at each choice the Lions made and compare it to the consensus board from The Athletic Arif Hasan, which ranked 300 players on average on 70 different media boards.
Round 1: OT Penei Sewell
Consensus big board ranking: 3
Lions draft venue: 7
The two best consensus talents in this draft (Trevor Lawrence, Kyle Pitts) were long gone when the Lions were on the clock. They could still have gotten value out of Justin Fields – consensus fifth best player in this class – but Sewell represented the best possible value selection, and he also happened to fit a significant need.
Round 2: DT Levi Onwuzurike
Consensus big board ranking: 43
Lions draft venue: 41
Onwuzurike was chosen right around where he was going. Holmes showed a good amount of patience here despite a desire to go up and potentially pull him into the first round via a trade. However, it is worth noting Athletics‘s Dane Brugler ranked Onwuzurike as the 29th best prospect in this class, which means he saw good value with this choice.
Round 3: NT Alim McNeill
Consensus big board ranking: 80
Lions draft venue: 72
One of Lions’ most popular choices, Alim McNeill also walked right around where he was going. Again, but if you trust a source like PFF, they had a second-rate class on him.
Round 3: CB Ifeatu Melifonwu
Consensus big board ranking: 56
Lions draft venue: 101
Outside the cornerback was not an urgent need for the Lions in 2021, but Holmes mentioned several times over the weekend that the value of “Iffy” Melifonwu was just too much to give up, and it checks out: Brugler had him at 57, while PFF gave him a 2nd / 3rd round character.
Round 4: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
Consensus big board ranking: 69
Lions draft venue: 112
Another extremely valuable choice came at the start of Day 3, and Lions fans breathed a sigh of relief as it was in the wide receiver position. Some had as high as another round on St. Brown. He ranked 67th on Brugler’s table (WR11) and had a third round grade from PFF.
Round 4: LB Derrick Barnes
Consensus big board ranking: 148
Lions draft venue: 113
Barnes was the Lions’ only true reach in the draft, and it was further complicated by the fact that the Lions swapped out from the fifth round to get him. Still, he got a fourth round from Brugler.
Round 7: RB Jermar Jefferson
Consensus big board ranking: 158
Lions draft venue: 257
Another choice in which Holmes boasted about the value, Jefferson went almost 100 spots later than expected, which validated the career frustration that he did not go as early as he expected.
It seems that the lions got a significant value with every choice except one. So how does that compare to the rest of the league? Fortunately, all we need to do is return to our friend Arif Hasan, who wrote a fascinating article on the total value of each team’s draft class. His method, in as simple terms as possible, used the same large consensus table to determine value and combined it with both positional value and team needs, spitting an objective number next to each draft class.
The results: The Lions got the sixth highest return on investment in the class. Only bears, chiefs, broncos, browns and bills fared better.
And this was not the only study that found Detroit’s draft extremely valuable. Benjamin Robinson of GrindingTheMocks.com also tried to calculate the draw value by creating a metric called Draft Capital Over Expect – essentially measuring the value of the players received in relation to the team’s draw capital going into Thursday. Here are these results:
This was my most controversial chart of the 2020 NFL Draft: Draft Capital Over Expected (#GrindingTheMocks Expected Draft Position vs. Actual Draft Slot) by team in the 2021 NFL Draft. Low does not mean that your team is only bad, that their drafting process can be questionable! pic.twitter.com/8rqvRDJMTD
– Benjamin Robinson (@benj_robinson) May 2, 2021
The Lions ranked eighth in both charts.
So all in all, it looks pretty clear that the Lions got good perceived value in their 2021 draft class. But the true value of the draft will not be known for some time.