Over the past three drafts (2019-2021), I have made a point to accumulate data on different NFL Draft analysts’ big boards. Why? Because I have fun in weird ways. More seriously though, I gathered this data because there is no true assessment for NFL Draft analysts. That is not to say that I want to point out analysts who are lesser than others, as each of these analysts is extremely knowledgeable and has strength in different areas. I want to highlight which analyst might put together the most useful list of cornerback prospects, or which analyst has a knack for finding mid-round talent. Knowing these types of things can only help us form our opinions on prospects while we read through all the scouting reports we can find online.
Grading Big Boards in Hindsight
Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric (AV) has been used heavily in this analysis. They describe AV as “putting a single numerical value on any player’s season, at any position, from any year.”
AV is awarded to players based on team stats per drive relative to league average and divided up among each player. In addition, points are awarded for being games started, All-Pro, and Pro Bowl recognition, among other criteria.
AV for every player in each draft class was used in conjunction with the big board data to compare big board rankings with NFL success. Here is an example using the top five prospects for the 2020 draft class:
- 2020 Draft Picks (Orange): The first grouping represents the first five picks in the 2020 draft.
- Most Productive 2020 Draft Picks (Blue): The second grouping represents the 5 players in the 2020 draft who have accumulated the most AV. The combined AV of these 5 players represents the “Available AV” in the first five picks. Because in a perfect world, the 5 best players would go in the top 5 picks.
- Dane Brugler’s Top 5 2020 Draft Prospects: The third grouping represents the top 5 players in Dane Brugler’s 2020 big board.
- Mel Kiper’s Top 5 2020 Draft Prospects: The third grouping represents the top 5 players in Mel Kiper’s 2020 big board.
To calculate a grade for how well each analyst capitalized on the talent available, I divide the AV of the Analyst’s top five prospects by the AV of the five most productive players from that class. I followed this up by doing the same with the top 10, top 25, top 50, top 75, and top 100. Finally, I reached a final grade by averaging the six scores together.
Ranking Analyst Big Boards
Now that the process is clear, we can get into the rankings. The rankings are based on average scores for the past three draft classes. I have tried to add as many notable draft analysts as possible. One of the requirements I put into here is three years of big boards being available. The bottom three analysts (Jeremiah, Bleacher Report, and Pro Football Network) do not currently meet that requirement. Therefore, they are limited to honorable mentions.
The only other requirement to enter is having a top 100 big board. If you have any suggestions to add to this list or would like to be included, feel free to email me at ButkusStats@gmail.com.
Using this methodology, only one big board had a better top 100 big board than the NFL Draft over the past three years. The Athletic Consensus big board earned the top ranking overall.
When it comes to identifying the top rive players, no analyst has been better than the NFL Draft itself, but The Athletic, Kiper, Zierlein, and Scouts Inc. have come very close. In contrast, seven analysts have proven to be more adept at identifying the top 10 players in the draft class than NFL teams have drafted.
The top 25 and top 50 groupings have similar results, with multiple analysts on par or better than NFL teams have drafted. Maybe that is a question of drafting for need versus drafting the best player available, as that is hard to factor in here but would play a role. Where the NFL teams set themselves apart is in the 50 to 100 range. None of the analysts reviewed were able to rank prospects better than the NFL drafted there.
Positional Big Boards
Scouting and ranking an entire class of players into a single big board that approaches the success of NFL teams is impressive. However, the thing I am more interested in is which analyst has set themselves apart in certain position groups. Here, I ranked each analyst’s average score for different position groupings.
Once again, we see that The Athletic Consensus big board came out on when it comes to identifying talent within specific position groupings. We also see Dane Brugler and DraftWire jump up the rankings, suggesting that these analysts might be better at identifying within position groups than ranking across positions. Meanwhile, Scouts Inc. dropped a fair amount in this ranking, suggesting that they might be better at overall rankings than looking at individual positions.
For each position, sample size varied depending on how many players at each position are regularly on the field. The volume is five prospects per man on the field. For example, there are typically five offensive linemen on the field. Therefore, I reviewed the top 25 (5×5) offensive linemen from each class. The process here was a little bit different. Instead of doing the top five or top 10 as a group, each player was put through the same process individually and the total of the group was averaged together.
Quarterback Big Board
The NFL evaluators have proven to be king at evaluating QB play. It is shocking when you think about how poorly QB selections have gone over the years, but this is a highly variable position to scout and difficult to get right. Among analysts, the most reliable scouting of QBs comes from Mel Kiper, The Athletic, and The Draft Network. These are the big boards I would weigh most heavily when thinking about ranking QBs.
Based on the average grades for the entire group of analysts, QB is the second most difficult position to rank. The analysts averaged a grade of 73.4% in ranking QBs.
Running Back Big Board
The Athletic beat out the NFL Draft order when looking at running back rankings. The most reliable RB scouting amongst analysts comes from The Athletic, DraftWire, and Dane Brugler. These are the big boards I would weigh most heavily when thinking about ranking RBs.
Based on the average grades for the entire group of analysts, RB is the third easiest position to rank. The analysts averaged a grade of 77.8% in ranking RBs.
Wide Receiver Big Board
The NFL Draft order comes out on top when looking at WRs. The most reliable WR scouting amongst analysts comes from Lance Zierlein, The Athletic, and Scouts Inc. It is not a surprise that Zeirlein comes out as the top analyst here, as his WR scouting profiles are incredibly in-depth and detailed. These are the big boards I would weigh most heavily when thinking about ranking WRs.
Based on the average grades for the entire group of analysts, WR is the easiest position to rank. The analysts averaged a grade of 79.4% in ranking WRs.
Tight End Big Board
Now we get an interesting one. Seven analysts grade out better at ranking the TE position than the NFL has drafted. The most reliable TE scouting amongst analysts comes from DraftWire, Dane Brugler, and Mel Kiper. I cannot recommend Dane Brugler’s draft guide through The Athletic enough. These are the big boards I would weigh most heavily when thinking about ranking TEs.
Based on the average grades for the entire group of analysts, TE is the third most difficult position to rank. The analysts averaged a grade of 74.3% in ranking TEs.
Offensive Line Big Board
The NFL Draft order rises to the top when looking at OL. The most reliable OL scouting amongst analysts comes from The Athletic, Scouts Inc, and Mel Kiper. These three sources are basically on par with NFL drafting. These are the big boards I would weigh most heavily when thinking about ranking OL.
Based on the average grades for the entire group of analysts, OL is the fourth easiest position to rank. The analysts averaged a grade of 77.8% in ranking OLs.
Defensive Line + EDGE Big Board
The NFL Draft order continues to reign supreme in the trenches. The most reliable DL and EDGE scouting amongst analysts come from The Draft Network, PFF, and Mel Kiper. However, these three sources are behind the draft order a little more than we see with OL. These are the big boards I would weigh most heavily when thinking about ranking DL and EDGE.
Based on the average grades for the entire group of analysts, DL is the fourth most difficult position to rank. The analysts averaged a grade of 74.7% in ranking DLs.
Off-Ball Linebacker Big Board
Mel Kiper jumps to the front of the pack when looking at off-ball linebackers, edging out the draft order. The most reliable LB scouting amongst analysts comes from Kiper, The Athletic, and Dane Brugler. These are the big boards I would weigh most heavily when thinking about ranking LBs.
Based on the average grades for the entire group of analysts, LB is the second easiest position to rank. The analysts averaged a grade of 79.1% in ranking LBs.
Cornerback Big Board
At CB, we have another position where multiple analysts have outperformed the draft order, with The Athletic leading the way. The most reliable CB scouting amongst analysts comes from The Athletic, Dane Brugler, and Lance Zierlein. These are the big boards I would weigh most heavily when thinking about ranking CBs.
Based on the average grades for the entire group of analysts, CB is the most difficult position to rank. The analysts averaged a grade of 68.6% in ranking CBs.
Safety Big Board
Finally, we find that no analyst beats out the draft order regarding safeties. The most reliable safety scouting amongst analysts comes from The Athletic, Dane Brugler, and Scouts Inc. These are the big boards I would weigh most heavily when thinking about ranking safeties.
Based on the average grades for the entire group of analysts, safety is right in the middle for the difficulty to rank. The analysts averaged a grade of 76.6% in ranking safeties.
One of the most interesting aspects of researching and writing this article was looking at how difficult each position is to evaluate. I am surprised to see CB come in ahead of QB in difficulty. Maybe that speaks to the sometimes consensus nature in QB rankings. The top guys are typically a clear choice when looking at QBs. But it is not as obvious when looking at cornerbacks.
As stated in the introduction, I have loads of respect for all these draft analysts. I highly suggest anybody with interest to read reports from every one of them.
Lance Zierlein’s NFL draft prospect profiles are an absolute must-read for any prospect and have been for years. Dane Brugler’s NFL Draft Guide through The Athletic is one of the most in-depth scouting documents you will find available. PFF’s Big Board and draft guide throws an advanced stat spin on prospects and finds a way to put things like contested catches and elusiveness into numbers. Kiper is a character and is always entertaining, but his depth of prospect knowledge is borderline obsessive. Bleacher Report recently brought on Nate Tice and Brandon Thorne, two individuals I hold in very high regard, to head up their prospect profiles. Meanwhile, Daniel Jeremiah is a star in the industry and could likely be at the top of these lists next year.
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