Steals of the draft
by Jack Sabin
The NFL draft is a dream come true for hundreds of college athletes who wait patiently for their name to be called. They wait patiently to see where they will spend the next few years of their life or, in some cases, the rest of their life. While many prospects have an idea as to where they are going to be drafted or when their name is going to get called, there are plenty of talented players who had to wait longer than not only they thought, but many analysts and fans thought as well.
In this article I will go over the biggest steals in the draft, meaning players who should have been drafted higher in the eyes of many scouts and analysts; but for whatever reason ended up dropping. To figure out who was a steal, I will use the Big Board from Pro Football Focus, known as PFF for the rest of this article. PFF does an in depth analysis of each player and then uses that to rank all the college players who are eligible to be drafted. Additionally, it takes input from other analysts like Mel Kiper Jr, Greg Cosell, and Daniel Jeremiah to see where players were ranked on their Big Board as well.
The first real steal of the 2020 Draft was the 21 year old 6 ft 1inch WR from Alabama, Jerry Jeudy. Jeudy was regarded as the best Wide Reciever and received high praise from Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning saying, “He loves to work on his route running, he practices hard, keeps himself healthy . . . . I think you are looking for a durable guy that obviously catches the ball well and can make some explosive plays.” In the draft, he was described as the complete package by many, with https://www.nfl.com/ analyst Lance Zierlein saying, “ He mixes tight, crisp route-running with impressive top-end speed to keep secondaries on eggshells throughout the game”. PFF not only had him ranked as the best WR in the draft but as the 5th best player overall, so it was a huge surprise when he fell to the Denver Broncos at pick 15. What makes Jeudy such a steal isn't the fact he fell to 15, it is actually that another team, the Las Vegas Raiders, took receiver Henry Ruggs despite Jeudy being considered better in every aspect. With the exception of one stat--speed. This explains why the Raiders took Ruggs as they tend to take the fastest player available. Due to this tendency and other teams’ lack of interest in him, Jeudy fell further and further down into the draft and eventually into the laps of the Denver Broncos where he will be paired with Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, and young 2nd year QB Drew Lock
The next big steal in the draft was 6 ft 1 Free Safety Xavier McKinney. McKinney had 1st round talent written all over him with Zierlein describing him as an “Ascending safety prospect offering a combination of plus athleticism, field awareness and versatility”. He has also been described as a superb tackler and has some of the best field awareness and football IQ of any safety we have seen in past years. PFF knew this as they had him ranked as the 19th best prospect along with other analysts. Mock Drafts had him going in that 17 to 24 range, despite his potential and NFL ready talent, McKinney fell into the second round where the Giants nabbed him with their 36th pick. No one can explain why McKinney fell so far as he had no real injury history and had no obvious weakness on the field. Shockingly, the players drafted ahead of him were seen as less talented by many analysts. This includes players like Noah Igbinoghene who on some boards ranked as far back as 43 but were picked at 30 and Jorydn Brooks who was as far back as 88 but was taken with the 27th pick. The Giants stole an absolute stud in the second round and have to be ecstatic with the value of their pick.
Another steal of the draft was when the New Orleans Saints grabbed 6’3 Linebacker from Wisconsin-- Zack Baun with the 74th pick. Baun was around the 1st or 2nd projected pick due to his explosiveness and ability to drop back into coverage while playing sideline to sideline football. The https://thedraftnetwork.com/ described him as “a player who has the quickness, burst, and hand usage to win. As a pressure player, early downs will serve him best working off the football to take advantage of his quick processing speed and short area quickness to step into gaps and fill versus the run.” Another big plus for Baun was his football IQ with the draft network describing him as “super smart” stating, “Impressive watching him flash at the snap with recognition skills based on alignments but also watching him key into information in live action to flash his hands, soften or steepen his angles, attack downhill and get into gaps quickly or buzz into throwing lanes.” With all these positive traits, Baun found himself as the 55th ranked player according to PFF with many mock drafts having him go as a late 1st rounder or early 2nd. For whatever reason, Baun sat and waited as he saw Linebacker after Linebacker go off the board ahead of him, some of which were ranked much lower than him on many different big boards and mock drafts. So the Saints with a weak Linebacker jumped at the opportunity to take Baun this late as they would even trade up and give away later picks in the draft to ensure they would get him. New Orleans has to be ecstatic with the value they got in taking Baun this late.
These were a few of the many steals teams made at the 2020 draft, but to be honest, I could go on for pages and pages and pages if I were to go into every pick. Steals happen every draft as many teams reach for worse players or settle for players they think will better improve their team. Regardless of the reasoning, these athletes found themselves watching player after player being taken ahead of them. They were eventually taken by a team who, in my opinion, will get a great return on their investment.
Jack Sabin, Senior at Olympian High School, will attend the University of Reno, Nevada in the fall. He will major in Sports Journalism as he loves talking about and playing all types of sports-- whether it be baseball, basketball, or football. When he is not writing or talking about sports, you can find him playing on his PS4 or working out with his brothers so they stay in shape. If you are looking to talk sports, hit up his twitter @jack_sabin8. Or, if you just want to chat and chill, hit up his Instagram @jaack_saabin or his Snapchat @jack_sabin67.