Hindsight is always 20-20 and while we can’t change the past, we can learn from it. Certain trends are almost always apparent each year in the draft, and teams will undoubtedly look back on them and attempt to learn from either mistakes or fortunes.
Just last year, we saw a few narratives develop that still hold true today. With just one more day until draft night, let’s take a look at five things we can learn about the 2017 NFL Draft from last year’s big event.
Charles Rex Arbogast
Running backs can be found in the later rounds
Last year, we saw a running back taken in the top five for the first time since 2012 when Ezekiel Elliott went fourth overall. However, just because he was a high pick doesn’t mean you have to take a running back in the first round to have success.
We saw Derrick Henry have an impact as a second-round pick, Devontae Booker started six games for the Broncos after going in the fourth round, and Jordan Howard was the league’s second-leading rusher as a fifth-rounder.
Obviously, the chances of hitting on a running back is much higher in the first round, but talent can be had in the later rounds. Howard was a dominant force behind Chicago’s shaky offensive line, and he was the 10th running back off the board.
Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey will be first-round picks, but teams waiting until the third, fourth or fifth rounds to take a back will still get great value.
If you want a quarterback, you have to go up and get him
All three quarterbacks taken in the first round of last year’s draft had one thing in common: teams traded up to get them. The Rams, Eagles and Broncos all packaged picks to move up in the draft in order to land their quarterbacks. That’s not out of the ordinary, and it’ll be a trend to watch this year.
This class of quarterbacks isn’t necessarily worth moving up for, but that’s where the supply-and-demand argument comes into play. Teams like the Browns, Jets, 49ers and Texans will all be looking to draft signal-callers, and the best ones might not be available when they’re selecting.
For instance, it’s highly unlikely Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson or Mitchell Trubisky make it to No. 25 when the Texans go on the clock, so a trade up into the teens will probably have to happen if they want one of those three quarterbacks.
Tight ends take some time to develop into complete players
Last year’s class of tight ends was much weaker than this year’s group, but the same narrative remains true: Tight end is one of the slowest-developing positions in the NFL. They have the most diverse set of responsibilities of any player, needing to both excel in blocking and receiving. To expect someone like O.J. Howard, David Njoku or Evan Engram to come in and be Pro Bowlers right away is somewhat unfair.
Hunter Henry took nearly half a season to crack the starting lineup in San Diego last year, while only five other tight ends from last year’s class started a single game. So while there are three or four (seemingly) immediate-impact players at tight end, teams need to temper their expectations when it comes to that position.
Getty ImagesHarry How
Moving back is almost always better than trading up
In the NFL Draft, moving back is almost always a better option than trading and surrendering capital to do so. The Rams learned that the hard way by going up for Jared Goff – though it’s still early in his career – and the 49ers’ deal to get Joshua Garnett hasn’t exactly paid its dividends yet.
The Broncos also gave up a third-round pick to get Paxton Lynch toward the end of the first round, and he’s not even guaranteed to start next season. It’s always risky moving up in the draft to target one single player because of the fact that you have to give up an additional pick (or two) to do so.
The more picks you have, the better chance you have to land an impact rookie – even if that pick does come in the third round. That’s particularly true in this year’s class, which is extraordinarily deep at multiple positions.
Dynamic pass rushers are difficult to come by
If you think finding quarterbacks beyond the first round is difficult, take a look at the number of elite pass rushers who have come from the second or third round. Spoiler: there aren’t many.
If you’re going to land a double-digit sack player, it’ll almost have to come in the first round – and in the first 15 picks, at that. Only five rookies had six or more sacks in 2016, and three of them were taken in the top 10. Yannick Ngakoue and Emmanuel Ogbah were the exceptions, but teams shouldn’t expect to land dominant pass rushers in the later rounds.