Here’s the first fact about assessing how well an NFL general manager did their job during an NFL Draft: their performance can’t really be evaluated until years have passed, allowing us to see the actual value each draft pick brought to the team.
Here’s the second fact about making those assessments: we don’t care. We make an immediate judgment anyway.
So any evaluation of the job Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach did during last weekend’s 2022 selection meeting must be taken with a big grain of salt — and the only way to do it is by comparing the perceived value of the players he acquired to where they were taken.
Sorry... but evaluations of the actual value of these players will just have to wait.
Of course, pre-draft evaluations of prospects are entirely in the eye of the beholder; draft grades vary widely from source to source. That’s why just prior to the draft, we published a consensus ranking of the top players available that averages five major prospect rankings. That gives us a reasonably good idea about how the draft might fall.
Then we can estimate the quality of each pick by simply subtracting the overall selection number from the player’s pre-draft ranking. If the result is a positive number, it’s a reach. If it’s a negative number, it’s a bargain. Then we can create an average for each team, suggesting how well they found perceived value in the draft.
But because the number of both reaches and bargains substantially increases after the third round — a natural consequence of teams having more information about draft prospects than outside analysts do — we’ll consider only the first three rounds. And since it wouldn’t be fair to judge a team that found bargains with just one or two picks in those rounds to another team that had five selections, we’ll also limit our calculations to teams that had a minimum of three choices in Rounds 1-3.
Here’s what we get.
2022 Draft Reaches
(At least 3 picks in Rounds 1-3)
As you can see, the Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens top the list. Both teams managed to avoid reaching with their selections, thereby maximizing the return on their draft capital.
In fact, in every single one of Kansas City’s five selections during the first three rounds, the team acquired the highest-ranked player then available at the position — and that remained true with the players taken in the fourth and fifth rounds, too.
In the fourth, Fayetteville State’s Joshua Williams (15th off the board) was the 11th-ranked cornerback. Acquired with the 135th pick, he came off the board 26 picks later than expected. Then in the fifth round, Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard (the eighth guard taken) was ranked fifth at his position — and at the 145th pick, he was taken a whopping 75 spots after expectation. (We now know that the Chiefs considered Kinnard a tackle, but it doesn’t matter. By the 145th selection, 15 tackles had come off the board).
So while their evaluations were (as always) premature, it’s easy to see why most national writers have raved about Kansas City’s draft: with every significant pick, the team found perceived value. If you consider this to be a GM’s main goal in a draft, Veach really did “knock it out of the park.”
But not everyone agrees that this should be a GM’s primary concern. They would argue that the most important thing is that with every selection, the team is taking the best player that is available to fulfill its current needs. In this view, “winning the draft” by exceeding pre-draft expectations takes a back seat. They would argue that while using draft capital efficiently is certainly important, getting the right players for your team matters more.
At this time, however, that’s much harder to measure. Still, the Chiefs used all seven of their most-significant draft picks on positions of obvious need — and in each case, selected players who could be considered the best available at those positions. While it’s possible to find fault with individual selections Kansas City made over the weekend, there’s little evidence that the team ever ignored either its needs or its draft board.
And quite candidly, that’s not something we’ve always been able to say about every one of the four previous drafts Veach has conducted.
Even Veach’s trade-ups — which have sometimes seemed unnecessary or geared toward players who didn’t pan out — looked solid.
With regard to the trade used to move up eight spots and take cornerback Trent McDuffie in the first round, Veach has said that the Washington corner was among the 18 players the team had identified as being worthy of first-round picks. When such a player is available at 21, it’s not unreasonable to make that deal.
As I noted on Saturday, the price for the trade-up (the 29th, 94th and 121st picks) might have seemed high — but later, Veach recouped some of that value in a trade-down (giving up the 50th selection for picks 54 and 158) with the same team: the New England Patriots.
The price Kansas City paid for the first-round trade — equivalent to a sixth-round pick in the Jimmy Johnson and Rich Hill trade value charts, a high second-rounder in the Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart and a mid-third in the new AV-based John Dixon model — was a head-scratcher at first.
Combining the two trades, however, paints a somewhat different picture. Then the price Kansas City paid to move up and grab one of their first-round targets (and get back in the fifth round) becomes a late fifth-round pick in the Johnson model, an early sixth in the Hill chart, a late third in the F/S model and an early fourth-rounder in the Dixon chart. The price is still high — but not as much as it seemed to be at first. You have to wonder if the two teams agreed to the whole transaction on Thursday.
After using their second trade-up to move 13 spots from that newly-acquired fifth-round selection (at the cost of their 233rd pick in the seventh round), the Chiefs acquired Kinnard — who is arguably their biggest steal of the draft. Should both McDuffie and the Kentucky offensive lineman become solid starters in Kansas City — which even at this early moment, really doesn’t seem an unreasonable expectation — no future analyst is likely to say that Veach’s 2022 draft-day trades didn’t pan out.
The morning after the draft, it was easy to be excited about how well Kansas City’s general manager had handled it. Days later, it looks even better. But years from now, we may find these rosy perceptions were dreadfully, horribly wrong; that’s just the nature of these immediate post-draft evaluations.
Still, given what we know now, it’s also possible that 2022’s draft — which had been widely viewed as one that Veach desperately needed to nail — may ultimately be seen as exactly that: nearly perfect.