With NFL rookie contracts coming in at a far more affordable rate than they used to, the most effective way a team can build a cap-friendly roster involves nailing a few draft picks every year, and carrying those players on cheap deals for the first four years of their NFL careers. And given how important it is to get those picks right, teams are increasingly shying away from players with off-field, character, or injury concerns, which might derail their NFL careers or result in suspensions down the road.
A team like the Browns provides a case study for how drafting high-risk, high-reward players can backfire — heading into the 2015 campaign, Cleveland’s best receiver, Josh Gordon, is facing a season-long suspension for repeated drug violations. Meanwhile, the team’s first-round quarterback from a year ago, Johnny Manziel, is coming off a stint in rehab, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to bounce back from a forgettable rookie year and contribute to an NFL franchise.
In 2015’s draft, a handful of players who would have been first-round talents, or even top-10 picks, had a number of question marks swirling around them as the draft approached. In some cases, those players still went about where we expected — cornerback Marcus Peters didn’t fall far, going 18th overall to the Chiefs, and defensive end Frank Clark was a second-round pick despite an alleged domestic violence incident that got him kicked off the team in Michigan.
Still, most players who had off-field questions or injury concerns slipped precipitously on draft day. Potential drug concerns for Shane Ray and Randy Gregory resulted in them going 23rd and 60th respectively, rather than in the top 10. Dorial Green-Beckham, Ronald Darby, and P.J. Williams had very strong cases to come off the board on day one if not for off-field question marks. And health concerns caused players like Jaelen Strong, T.J. Clemmings, and Jay Ajayi to fall further than expected.
In some cases, teams’ wariness may be warranted. But given the talent these players possess, I expect at least a couple of them to have long, successful NFL careers, and to make the teams that passed on them regret it. It’s just a matter of identifying which of these players is most likely to overcome the roadblocks currently facing them.
What do you think? Which of the following picks will provide the best value?