Broncos' 2021 Draft Haul Emerges as NFL's Best Overall Value Class

Compared to the other 31 teams, from a value perspective, how'd the Broncos make out in the 2021 NFL draft?
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George Paton is coming off his first-ever NFL draft as general manager of the Denver Broncos. Paton has been lauded for how well he worked for the draft board and made some picks many are calling steals. 

How true is that, though? To figure out how much value the Broncos got with their 2021 draft haul, I checked it against my own big board.

Of course, my big board is not the same as the Broncos'. How Paton and company valued these players was drastically different in some cases. Even so, over the years, as a draft analyst, I have found that checking how teams draft against your personal board, gives you a starting point in projecting how future drafts might be valued by the team and even certain body types in players. 

With that said, let's look at how all 32 teams did in value compared to my own personal board going from worst to best. Each team's value score is simple: it factors where a player was selected relative to where I had them ranked on my board. 

If a player selected fifth overall was my No. 10 overall player, it would result in a -5 value score. If that player was my first overall player, it would be a +4 grade.

Players that I didn't have ranked on my big board for one reason or another get the placement of 417 on my board. I had 416 2021 draft prospects graded and ranked, so everyone 'ungraded' gets numerically placed at 417. This includes all specialists because specialists should not be drafted. There are four tiers of value scores.

Keep in mind, these are not grades. Just because a team may be in the negative, doesn't mean its class was terrible. The players could be great fits for that team's scheme or the style the coaches want, independent of my board.

Bottom Tier: Value Scores of -500 or Lower

  • 32. Dallas Cowboys: value score of -901
  • 31. Los Angeles Rams: value score of -854
  • 30. Atlanta Falcons: value score of -694
  • 29. Las Vegas Raiders: value score of -651
  • 28. Indianapolis Colts: value score of -589
  • 27. New Orleans Saints: value score of -580
  • 26. Minnesota Vikings: value score of -537
  • 25. New York Jets: value score of -507

It might sound counter-intuitive but a couple of these teams actually had two of the better draft hauls overall because of who they identified relative to scheme. Their scores skewed negative because there was a big reach or two that really dropped the value score overall. Those two teams would be the Vikings and the Jets.

Third-Worst Tier

  • 24. Pittsburgh Steelers: value score of -481
  • 23. Tennessee Titans: value score of -407
  • 22. Jacksonville Jaguars: value score of -396
  • 21. San Francisco 49ers: value score of -389
  • 20. Baltimore Ravens: value score of -348
  • 19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: value score of -343

Most of the teams above got dinged value-wise with a player or two who went ungraded on my board, which really dropped the overall score. Most of these teams I thought had solid-to-good drafts, though.

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Second-Best Tier

  • 18. Los Angeles Chargers: value score of -292
  • 17. Green Bay Packers: value score of -285
  • 16. Kansas City Chiefs: value score of -182
  • 15. New York Giants: value score of -181
  • 14. Cincinnati Bengals: value score of -136
  • 13. Carolina Panthers: value score of -136
  • 12. New England Patriots: value score of -135
  • 11. Houston Texans: value score of -124
  • 10. Washington Football Team: value score of -20

There were a few teams in the tier above, like the Bengals and Texans, whose draft hauls I didn't view favorably. In the case of the Bengals, they seemed to build their offensive line without an ideal prototype and selected players that don't fit with their scheme. Such a philosophy (or lack thereof) sets up players for failure.

Top Value Tier

  • 9. Seattle Seahawks: value score of +25
  • 8. Miami Dolphins: value score of +29
  • 7. Arizona Cardinals: value score of +31
  • 6. Philadelphia Eagles: value score of +46
  • 5. Cleveland Browns: value score of +68
  • 4. Chicago Bears: value score of +113
  • 3. Detroit Lions: value score of +154
  • 2. Buffalo Bills: value score of +288
  • 1. Denver Broncos: value score of +327

Of the nine-best teams, only two had classes that I wasn’t overly fond of. The Broncos weren't one of them, but I also didn’t feel they were the best class either. However, in terms of value relative to my big board, Denver had the most valuable class. 

Not only were the Broncos the top team, but they also placed in the top-10 for the first time in all the years I've been compiling this data and setting big boards pre-draft. It's a nice change-up from the John Elway years that often left us scratching our heads on draft day.

Broncos' Value

Pat Sutrain Jr. (Alabama) with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by Denver Broncos as the number nine overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft at First Energy Stadium.

Knowing how Denver ended up as the No. 1 team in value score, let's break down how Paton got there.

  • Patrick Surtain II | CB | Alabama: Selected 9th overall, ranked 26th on my board.
  • Javonte Williams | RB | North Carolina: Selected 35th overall, ranked 23rd on my board.
  • Quinn Meinerz | IOL | Wisconsin-Whitewater: Selected 98th overall, ranked 65th on my board.
  • Baron Browning | LB | Ohio State: Selected 105th overall, ranked 33rd on my board.
  • Caden Sterns | S | Texas: Selected 152nd overall, ranked 121 on my board.
  • Jamar Johnson | S | Indiana: Selected 164th overall, ranked 83rd on my board.
  • Seth Williams | WR | Auburn: Selected 219th overall, was ranked 134th on my board.
  • Kary Vincent, Jr. | CB | LSU: Selected 237th, was ranked 132nd on my board.
  • Jonathon Cooper | EDGE | Ohio State: Selected 239th, was ranked 150th on my board.
  • Marquiss Spencer | DL | Mississippi State: Selected 253rd, was not graded therefore ranked 417th.

Denver only had two reaches and neither of them were really bad picks. The Broncos landed Surtain, whom many draftniks had as graded as the top corner in the class, and taking a flyer on a D-lineman with a late seventh-round pick was a reach but more of a shot in the dark. Every other pick the Broncos made corresponded as good value as Paton let the board fall to him.

Safest Pick: Surtain 

While I question his fit in the scheme, Surtain has the technical foundation, footwork, and football IQ to at least be solid for the Broncos even if he doesn’t reach his ceiling.

Biggest Role in 2021: Javonte Williams

Yes, Melvin Gordon is still around but Williams is going to get his touches. It wouldn’t shock me to see Williams eventually surpass Gordon on the depth chart if the veteran doesn’t improve his ball security. Williams is a more reliable back.

Favorite Pick: Browning

I really liked what Browning could bring to an NFL defense, especially Vic Fangio’s scheme. He has the versatility to drop into coverage and bring it as a blitzer. The coaches will need to help him develop his reads and vision, but Browning has high upside and the athleticism to carry him a long way.

Least Favorite Pick: Meinerz

It has nothing to do with the player because I love Meinerz. It was all about the value of a late Day 3 interior offensive linemen juxtaposed wtih the Broncos' interior O-line already having a solid foundation.

Potential Boom: Johnson

I didn’t think he would be a big option for Denver because of his tackling issues, but Fangio feels he can fix it. Johnson is so smart and quick with excellent range and ball skills to become a turnover machine in Fangio’s defense.

Best Value: Vincent

I was not shocked Vincent fell because of a not-so-good Pro Day and with his size limitations but I had him graded as one of the better nickel corners in the class. He has the smarts and skills to be a quick hit in Fangio’s defense if he can develop the tricks to overcome certain shortcomings.

Biggest Reach: Spencer

This is simple and a matter of technicality. I didn’t get around to grading Spencer due to a lack of tape. I was able to find only one game and that's not enough of a sample size to grade the prospect accurately. As a result, Spencer ended up at 417. That doesn’t make him a bad pick as, because, after all, this is a shot in the dark with a late seventh-round pick.

Do-Over Pick: Spencer

I've been on the new quarterback train for some time so it takes a lot for me to not list Surtain here but there was a lot of talent that fell undrafted, including on the defensive line. So much so, that I would have gone a different way than Denver did. Someone like Marvin Wilson, Malik Herring, or even Mustafa Johnson would have been more proven value than Spencer. 

Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel.

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