How To Make An NFL Big Board

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I have made a big board. At the end of the article, I’ll share it with you. But first, I have to talk about my process and how I arrived at the conclusions I did. So, no scrolling down and leaving comments about this prospect or that one. I’ll know if you did.

At the end of this, I don’t want you to be convinced of my personal opinions on any prospect. I don’t even want you to care about them. My goal is, instead, to equip you with a good process with which to make your own big board. If you do want to use mine as an informal draft tracker or cheat sheet, go ahead. I’ll be doing the same. But I’m here to push a methodology, not one particular evaluation or other. Disagree with me on Aidan Hutchinson or Charles Cross? That’s fine. Put them where you want on your own board.

The lion’s share of big boards in draft media are ranking lists. Evaluators take all the players in the draft and rank them by how good they think they are. These all have different priorities for positional value, age, and many other factors that influence a player’s value. But there are so many that those factors even out when folded into a consensus. The consensus of the draft community often rivals the NFL itself in terms of its ability to predict player performance. The wisdom of crowds, and all.

If you’re a draft scout who watches endless college film and takes notes, replicating the process of a professional one, you’ll be inclined to rank all of those players in a team-agnostic way. That is to say, you’ll decide who you think is the best player and the second-best player, and so on. But NFL teams don’t construct their big board this way. For the rest of us who try to play GM instead of scout, we should try to replicate their process instead.

In the NFL, draft boards look more like this horizontal draft board from 2017. They’re sorted out by position (instead of trying to make blanket statements about positional value) and then ranked accordingly. In a few lo-fi draft rooms, it’s still a literal wall of magnets, where players get pulled off as they get selected. This is the format I’ll be using, with information from boards like the consensus board and Dane Brugler’s 399-player big board.

I want to apply a little more practicality, though. I cover the Minnesota Vikings, after all, and they have different needs than other teams. For example, in 2017, defensive end was the furthest thing from Vikings fans’ minds. Everson Griffen was a perennial Pro Bowler and Danielle Hunter was on the verge of a breakout. So while, say, Derek Barnett went at 14 to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings probably go elsewhere if they still had that pick.

So I have adjusted my big board to reflect the Vikings’ needs. Like defensive end in 2017, the Vikings do not need an offensive tackle this year. Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill have those spots locked down. They could use a swing tackle in the later rounds, though, so maybe we consider more tackles there. But let’s not just sleepily shift everyone down a tier, let’s ask the question more practically.

Let’s say Evan Neal, a consensus top-five player, is falling down the board. It’s not likely, but stranger things have certainly happened. There’s no way he should be available at 12. But what if he is? Would you want the Vikings to take him? Or should they resist the temptation and responsibly focus on their needs? Personally, I’d take Neal, place him at guard, and enjoy protecting Kirk Cousins more than the Vikings ever have. Your answer is your own, though. Don’t let me influence it.

Let’s go another layer. If you don’t think the Vikings should take Evan Neal at 12, when should they take him? What if he falls all the way to 46 somehow? What if he’s available in the late 30s, and the Vikings traded up? Would you be happy with that, considering how elite a player they’d be getting? This is how I constructed my big board. By thinking, practically, in real life. Solve for every variable, and imagine the situation. If Neal were available at pick No. 77, without adding a surprise charge of treasonous war crimes or something, we’d all slam it. Move that number up higher and higher until you’re no longer comfortable. Place him there.

In using this, need will naturally incorporate itself into your board exactly as much as you value it. You won’t need to agonize over questions like “Should the Vikings take a WR, even over CB” because you’ll have considered the actual scenarios where it comes up. This methodology forces you to consider the scenario in a real-life context, and dispense with nebulous “all things being equal” hypotheticals.

It also forces you to confront your idea of what a first-round player is, as well as a second-round player, and so on. For example, I learned what it takes for me to consider a wide receiver in the first round. You may notice there aren’t any I would be comfortable with at No. 12. To be comfortable with a wide receiver that high, I need him to be the focal point of an offense. Jameson Williams and Treylon Burks were that to a degree in college. But Burks’ athletic testing is a concern, and Williams’ durability also pushes him down.

I don’t have a problem with taking a wide receiver at 12. You can never have too many, and rings have been won in the past with heavy usage of 10 personnel (four wide receivers and one running back). But even though I am, in principle, fine with taking [Generic Wide Receiver Who For The Purposes Of A Hypothetical Is Worth the12th-Overall Pick] at 12, none of these players check that box for me. If they check it for you, more power to you. Move them up on your version.

We can also think ahead about possible trades, down or up. How much are you willing to spend on Sauce Gardner? We’d probably all spend pick No. 12 on him if he somehow fell that far. But would you trade picks 12 and 77 for him? Twelve and 46? Twelve and a first-rounder in 2023? Wherever you draw the line, that will tell you where to put him.

This also forces you to decide your positional intentions with a player. Say Evan Neal did fall to the Vikings, and they took him. He’d almost certainly move to guard, something he’s perfectly capable of. So I put him in the interior offensive line column, even though he’s much more likely to actually play tackle. This is only considering what the Vikings would do.

Later in the draft, it gets a little fuzzier. What’s the difference between a fifth-rounder and a sixth-rounder? Here are my rules of thumb. They’re not hard and fast, just a general idea of what I expect in a given round to use as a backdrop.

1st Round: Every-down contributor (i.e. starter) after no more than one year of development who you’d want to sign to a 2nd contract after his rookie deal expires.
2nd Round: Every-down contributor at some point over his rookie contract.
3rd Round: Rotational contributor after no more than one year of development, with the potential to become an every-down contributor.
4th Round: Rotational contributor at some point over his rookie contract.
5th Round: Backup and special teams contributor who makes the team in any 3 of the first 4 years of his rookie contract.
6th Round: Backup and special teams contributor who makes the team in any 2 of the first 4 years of his rookie contract.
7th Round: Backup and special teams contributor who makes the team in any of the first 4 years of his rookie contract.
Would Not Draft Potential to someday make a team, but not likely enough to justify spending a resource.

The entire point of this article, however, is to consider each prospect as an individual. A player like Esezi Otomewo from Minnesota, who is dripping with raw, untapped athleticism, straddles a line. He has the ability to be an every-down contributor someday, but he’s not that likely to get there and will need at least two years. I put that in the sixth round. You put it wherever you want.

Obviously, the volume of prospects is prohibitive. You’re not going to consider each of the 500 potentially draftable prospects in the 2022 draft. I didn’t either, I only got 162 down, and that’s okay. If your favorite guy isn’t on here, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t draft him (I have a category for that), it just means I didn’t get around to researching him. I’m happy with the 162 players I did get to.

Within the tiers, the rankings are softer. For example, if I had the choice, I’d take Jaquan Brisker over Jalen Pitre, but only by a hair, and would be plenty happy with either player. This has its uses. In this week’s Mock Draft Monday episode of Locked On Vikings, I was able to patiently wait while both players fell, and minimize the cost of trading up to ensure that I got one.

Now, at long last, I will show you my big board. Hopefully, by this point, you’ve already gotten value out of this article by discussing the process. Go ahead, zoom in, click around, and explore. Have a whale of a time.

One quick note: The red flags are, well, red flags. They’re mostly medical or off-field issues. Some moved players further down the board than others, and I’m happy to answer questions if you have them. If you’re curious about why I put a certain player somewhere, I’m happy to answer, but hopefully after all this discussion, you are more content to simply put the player where you want them and agree to disagree. If you simply must know, just shoot me a tweet at @LukeBraunNFL on Twitter. I’ll try my best to not ignore you.

I’d much rather see your version on this template. Consider as many players as you want to in realistic contexts. Ask “What should the Vikings do if Sauce Gardner inexplicably falls to pick No. 9”? Would you want them to trade up, or keep their second-round pick? Confront those scenarios and you’re thinking like a real NFL GM. And that’s what we all want to roleplay this time of year, right?

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