There are many ways to grade a draft class. Some will compare where a player was drafted to his Big Board ranking while others will use mock drafts to determine the overall value of a particular selection. But there’s another interesting way to analyze an NFL team’s final draft haul: athletic ability.
In other words, how athletic is a particular team’s draft class?
Athleticism Score – Ranges from 50 to 99, representing the most important drills at the combine in a single metric that best predicts NFL success for each position.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Eagles rank this high. Their first two picks — WR Jalen Reagor and QB Jalen Hurts — were among the most athletic at their positions. The Redskins, who landed Chase Young second overall and the supremely athletic Antonio Gibson (RB, Memphis) in the third round, are no shock either.
How well the athleticism score translates to on-field success in the NFL is less certain.
According to NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger, athleticism is only part of the equation for a productive NFL career.
“There’s such a thing as functional speed,” Baldinger said. “Everybody wants to get faster. But if you’re not able to get on the field, if you’re not productive, what’s the point in being fast? Anybody can collect fast guys. They’re everywhere. But that doesn’t mean they’re good football players or can make plays.”
We see this every year with the NFL Draft. Guys who run fast and jump high undoubtedly move up the draft board but if their tape doesn’t math their athletic scores, they more often than not wash out of the league before earning a second contract.
The Eagles selected Colorado linebacker Davion Taylor in the third round after Taylor wowed at the NFL Combine with a 4.49 40-yard dash. He’s a classic example of a buyer-beware pick, says Baldinger.
“He has no instincts for the game. That’s why I say it was completely driven by analytics. So he’s fast. So what? The mistake they’re making is it’s not going to make you faster if you’re not on the field.”
Ironically, Philadelphia has been dubbed by several outlets as one of the 2020 NFL draft’s biggest losers despite the high-end athletic profile of their class.
This ultimately comes down to the approach and philosophy of the general manager. Speed is an uncoachable trait; you either have it or you don’t. Some GMs value those God-given athletic traits more than others.
We’ll soon find out if the Eagles (as well as the Redskins, Steelers, Patriots and Jets) made the right call valuing high-end athletes in 2020.