While the traditional media in Mel Kiper of ESPN and Dan Kadar of SB Nation might have graded the Cleveland Browns' 2016 NFL Draft with a C and C+, respectively, I was really interested in seeing how Pro Football Focus graded the team's draft. PFF made its reputation on grading players and teams at the NFL level, and have only-recently delved into the college level on a full-blown scale as well.
With the Browns having Paul DePodesta in the fold as the Chief Strategy Officer and Sashi Brown as the team's Executive VP of Football Operations, after Day 2 of the draft, Brown was asked how much analytics played a role in the team's decision-making:
On if the Browns’ picks were a product of analytics or if a players’ college production would translate to the NFL, particularly at QB: "Really everything we do here is based in traditional methods of scouting, which is watching the tape, getting to the schools and making sure that you feel the player’s teammates, his coaches, his academic advisors, as well. That’s really the core of our evaluation and then we’ll obviously watch the tape from Berea with our coaches and our scouts, as well, to decide which of these gentlemen that are out there that we want to add to our roster. We always want to see a player do what we’d liked him to do in the pros on tape so there’s no question in our mind that the fact that a player who was productive in college is something that is an added benefit to us."
In truth, though, the Browns have tried to emphasize all along that they will use analytics as a tool to help confirm some of the traditional scouting evaluations they make on players. Connecting the dots of the Browns favoring analytics, it shouldn't be a surprise that PFF gave them the highest grade in the draft (along with the Jacksonville Jaguars) with an A grade, as graded by Steve Palazzolo:
Cleveland Browns, A
Day 1: After trading down from No. 8 overall, the Browns secured the same player I gave them in my final mock draft in Coleman. He’s the top receiver on our draft board, as he can separate before the catch and take it to the house after it, all leading to an outrageously good (and best-in-class) 4.88 yards per route last season before his quarterback situation hurt his production (he finished third in that stat).
Day 2: With the No. 3 pass-rush grade in the class, Ogbah showed that he can win to the outside, but he does need to develop a counter-move and use his length better both as a rusher and in the run game. Nassib put together a monster senior season, including a dominant Senior Bowl, and he pushed the pocket and used his good hands to post the No. 2 pass-rush productivity in the class at 18.3. Coleman is a good developmental tackle after grading well in a friendly Auburn system (+27.5, sixth in the class). Kessler is as accurate as any quarterback in this draft (accuracy percentage of 78.2 percent, third in class), but he doesn’t have a great arm and he can be slow to process in the pocket at times.
Day 3: Schobert was extremely productive in college, leading the class with a 22.7 pass rush productivity and slipping blocks with active hands. Payton was adept at getting open for UCLA, leading to the No. 7 receiving grade in the class at +22.2. Drango projects as a guard, but his +29.7 run block grade ranked second among the nation’s offensive tackles. Higgins is a good route runner and he has a great feel for the game that allowed him to post the No. 3 receiving grade in the nation in 2014. Wright was excellent against the run with +34.5 grade that ranked second in the nation.
Not only that, but PFF noted how the Browns picked up an undrafted free agent center who was one of three centers not to give up a sack in the past two years. Browns fans will definitely want to cling to PFF's analytical grade of an "A" vs. the lower grades by other outlets, but only time will tell which one pans out more accurately.