One week from today, Patrick Mahomes will lead the Kansas City Chiefs on to the field in Miami for Super Bowl LIV. The tenth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft has been a sensation in the NFL since making his debut later that season against the Denver Broncos. The fit between the Chiefs and Mahomes has been perfect, but would 2017 NFL Draft have worked out differently knowing what we know now?
The first round of the 2017 NFL Draft was full of surprises. Despite being a class heavy on top-end defensive prospects, seven of the top 10 picks were on the offensive side of the ball. There were trades, there were shocks, and there was a run on quarterbacks with three going inside those first ten picks.
Those three quarterbacks have had wildly different careers. As we get closer to Mahomes’ debut Super Bowl for the Chiefs, it got me wondering how the landscape of the NFL would have been altered if the 2017 NFL Draft had gone differently. We know now who can play at the next level, what if we’d known then?
So, using Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), I’ve re-drafted the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
As we only measure offensive contribution using OSM, I will focus on the 11 offensive selections. The original defensive picks still stand. Fans of the New York Jets need not worry, you still get Jamaal Adams to roam your secondary. John Lynch still uses the number three pick of the San Francisco 49ers to select Solomon Thomas. With the first overall pick, the Cleveland Browns still get their pass rusher in Myles Garrett.
Which puts the Chicago Bears on the clock.
2. Chicago Bears: DeShaun Watson – QB – Clemson
The Bears surprised everybody, especially their fans when they traded up to the number two overall spot. The surprise became shock when they used it to select Mitchell Trubisky, the quarterback out of the University of North Carolina. To say it hasn’t worked out quite as hoped for Trubisky and the Bears is an understatement, but more on that later.
Here the Bears select DeShaun Watson instead.
Watson is the highest OSM graded quarterback out of the 2017 NFL Draft with an OSM grade of 25.7. Of all the quarterbacks taken in 2017, Watson has the best completion percentage above expectation in 2019 as per NFL Next Gen Stats. His +1.4% differential between his pass completion (67.3%) and expectation (65.9%) ranks him at QB11.
Watson has shown his ability to consistently move the ball down the field this year, on average, throwing the ball 0.4 yards past the first down marker, whereas Mahomes and Trubisky and throwing the ball in front of the chains and relying on receivers to make after the catch yardage.
Watson leads the quarterback class of 2017 in completion percentage, passing yards, fourth-quarter comebacks (8), and game-winning drives (10).
With Watson driving the offense, the “double doink” might never have happened.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette – RB – LSU
History repeats itself for the Jaguars!
When re-drafting the 2017 NFL Draft using OSM, I made a conscious decision to draft a player in the same position as the team had originally selected. It was, after all, a position of need.
Fournette was the highest-graded running back from that class in 2019, with an OSM grade of 18.23. It represented somewhat of a comeback for a player that many had written off after an ineffective 2018 campaign.
He rushed for 1152 yards this season despite facing an 8-man box on 31.7% off his snaps. Although his yards per carry (4.3YPC) and touchdown (3) stats don’t leap off the page, he’s been the most significant contributor to the Jaguars offense.
Of the two running backs taken in the 2017 NFL draft, Fournette averages more yards per game with some 12.3 yards more than Christian McCaffrey.
5. Tennessee Titans: Cooper Kupp – WR – Eastern Washington
Corey Davis of Western Michigan was the NCAA career receiving yards leader when he was drafted fifth overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2017 NFL Draft. Although he led the Titans in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2018, he has a chequered injury history, and his production is well below expectations for a fifth overall pick.
Cooper Kupp has been a totally different story. He was our WR3 in 2019, with an OSM grade of 38.41, bordering on an elite performance for the season. Davis has an OSM grade of 33.21 (WR42).
The differences between the two are glaring. Despite eight fewer career starts, Kupp has over 700 receiving yards more than Davis and 15 more touchdowns. Kupp is averaging over 20 receiving yards more per game.
Despite giving Davis a 0.9yard cushion advantage at the line of scrimmage in 2019, Kupp created 0.7 more yards of separation at the point of the catch. Kupp is also a safer, more reliable target, catching 70% of his passes compared to just 62% for Davis.
7. Los Angeles Chargers: Chris Godwin – WR – Penn State
Despite injury issues during his time at Clemson, Mike Williams had two 1000+ yard seasons and won a National Championship. He is yet to replicate that form in the NFL after being the LA Chargers’ seventh overall selection. Although 2019 saw him record his first 1000-yard season, he was only our 91st ranked receiver in 2019 with an OSM grade of 27.06.
Some 77 picks later in the 2017 NFL Draft; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Chris Godwin out of Penn State. Here, the seventh-ranked wide receiver with an OSM grade of 37.51 sees himself taken in the seventh overall spot.
Godwin has been one of the safest pairs of hands in the NFL in 2019. He has a 71% catch completion percentage compared to Williams’ 54%. He also makes excellent gains after the catch, with an additional 2.2 yards per catch above expectation. By contrast, Williams made less yardage after the catch than expected, reducing the offense’s production.
Despite starting the same number of games, Godwin has nearly 1000 more career receiving yards than Williams. Maybe Phillip Rivers would have had that elusive Super Bowl ring on his finger with a more dependable deep threat to throw to.
8. Carolina Panthers: Matt Breida – RB – Georgia Southern
Panthers fans are presumably delighted with what they’ve got in Christian McCaffrey. In fact, 31 other teams probably wish they’d drafted him instead of their 2017 NFL Draft selection. However, by our OSM running back rankings, Matt Breida scrapes ahead of him. Breida goes from being an undrafted free agent pick up of the San Francisco 49ers to the eighth overall pick of the Panthers.
OSM grades running backs purely on their performance as a running back. It doesn’t account for receiving statistics, which is where McCaffrey excelled in 2019. He’s also been incredibly efficient, traveling 3.46 yards to pick up a yard, fourth-best in the league.
Breida’s 623 rushing yards may not seem comparable to McCaffrey’s 1387 yards in 2019, but there’s more to the story than that. Despite facing an 8-man box on 30% of his snaps, Breida rushed for an average of 5.1 yards per carry. 2019 isn’t an outlier in that regard either, as he has a career yards per carry of 5.0.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Kendrick Bourne – WR – Eastern Washington
The Bengals suffered a genuine case of “buyer beware” in the 2017 NFL Draft. John Ross was coming off the best season of his college career for Washington when he set a record in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. His career has been beset by injury and an inability to perform at the next level.
Kendrick Bourne is headed to the Super Bowl with the 49ers. He had a productive college career at Eastern Washington but was overshadowed by Cooper Kupp. As a result, he went undrafted in 2017.
In 2019, Bourne received an OSM grade of 35.55 (WR13), while Ross was ranked as the 65th best receiver with a grade of 30.78. Despite having one of the better yards after catch differentials in the NFL, Ross has struggled with the primary job of the wide receiver: catching the ball. Ross has a 50% catch completion percentage whereas Bourne has been much more secure with a 68% CCP.
Despite just 8 NFL starts, Bourne has 1102 career receiving yards with Ross trailing behind with 716.
10. Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes – QB – Texas Tech
Maybe these two were just meant to be together. At the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chiefs leapfrogged over the Houston Texans to select Mahomes as their quarterback of the future. They would have to do it all over again here, as the second-ranked QB available by OSM, Mahomes, would have fallen to the Texans if the Chiefs hadn’t made the trade.
It’s hard to argue with Mahomes’ career statistics. 9412 passing yards, 76 touchdowns to just 18 interceptions, with an average of 303.6 yards per game. There appears to be little he can’t do, with every throw in his repertoire and even improvising with things like the no-look pass.
Despite this, Mahomes doesn’t feature in the top 10 for many metrics that NFL Next Gen Stats use to measure quarterback play. His completion percentage in 2019 has been below expectations (-0.6%). His completed air yards are below his intended air yards by 2.4 yards, which ranks him as QB27. Because of these factors is OSM grade is 22.48, the 17th overall ranked quarterback.
With Mahomes in position to guide the Chiefs to a first Super Bowl win in 50 years, the trade in the 2017 NFL Draft may go down as one of the most important in NFL history.
12. Houston Texans: Mitchell Trubisky – QB – University of North Carolina
On the face of it, the Texans come out far worse than any other team in this do-over of the 2017 NFL Draft. Trubisky’s selection for Chicago with the second overall pick was met with derision by large swathes of the media and the Bears fan base at the time, and the Bears’ inability to succeed consistently on the field has been blamed mostly on inefficient quarterback play.
Of the three first-round quarterbacks from 2017, there’s no denying that Trubisky has been the worst of them. However, his OSM grade of 22.14, just below Patrick Mahomes, speaks to more significant deficiencies within the Bears offense other than only from the quarterback.
Maybe things would be different with a new coach, scheme, and an All-Pro wide receiver like DeAndre Hopkins.
It’s difficult to look past Trubisky’s inaccurate play, however. His completion percentage is lower than the other two quarterbacks in that draft. His completed air yards to intended air yards differential is the worst of the three (Trubisky ranks 33rd of all qualifying quarterbacks). Despite being the most aggressive of the three, he throws some 1.2 yards behind the sticks on average, which leaves him the 26th ranked QB his year.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jonnu Smith – TE – FIU
Tampa Bay selected Alabama tight end, O.J. Howard with the 19th selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. As a National Champion and National Championship MVP, Howard was the top-ranked tight end in the draft. He has shown flashes of brilliance in his NFL career but has also struggled with injury and inconsistency.
If they’d have selected Jonnu Smith, we might not have spent so much of this season talking about Jameis Winston’s interceptions. Smith has been one of the safest pairs of hands in the NFL in 2019. His catch completion percentage of 79.55% is far higher than Howard’s 64.15%.
Smith has excelled in all receiving metrics at the tight end position. He has created 3.7 yards of separation at the point of the catch, 1.2 yards more than Howard. He has made an average of 8.4 yards after the catch, 2.9 yards above expectation, whereas Howard has just 5 yards after the catch or 0.3% above expectation.
Smith’s performances in 2019 have helped drag the Tennessee Titans into the NFL Playoffs. He’s our TE1 and made our OSM All-Pro First team.
23. New York Giants: George Kittle – TE – Iowa
Evan Engram has been far from a bust for the New York Giants. Aside from Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley, you could argue that he has been one of their better draft selections in recent history. He ranks as the 17th tight end in 2019 with an OSM grade of 35.17.
He isn’t, however, George Kittle.
When you look at Kittle’s performances, it seems ludicrous to think that he fell to the 49ers in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He would instantly upgrade the Giants offense.
Kittle can do it all. He creates separation, with 3.3 yards created at the point of the catch in 2019. He catches anything thrown at him, with a 79.44% catch completion percentage. With 7.5 yards after the catch, he’s capable of extending plays on his own. This is before you consider what he contributes from a blocking perspective.
His OSM grade for 2019 of 41.48 represents elite performance. That’s what you get from George Kittle. The 49ers are in a position to win a Super Bowl because of it. It could so easily have been the Giants.
29. Cleveland Browns: Jacob Hollister – TE – Wyoming
The Browns had a bevy of picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, but it wasn’t until the back end of the first round that they selected their first offensive player. They took David Njoku from Miami, who had a proven history of scoring touchdowns in two seasons for the Hurricanes. He has carried that into the NFL with nine touchdowns in his career. However, he spent much of 2019 on the injured reserve.
Jacob Hollister is the third-best available tight end by OSM grade in the 2017 class, with a 37.15 grade from 2019. Due to his injury, Njoku only featured in one game where he earned an OSM, a 34.71 from the Browns Week 1 defeat to the Titans.
After spending two years with the New England Patriots, Hollister has thrived with the Seattle Seahawks, scoring his first NFL touchdowns and adding 349 of his 443 receiving yards. His catch completion percentage of 69% would be a significant improvement on Njoku’s career percentage of 58%, giving Baker Mayfield a more reliable target.