In this four-part series, I'm using my context-based data models to evaluate some of the top draft prospects at four key positions -- pass rusher, quarterback, cornerback and wide receiver -- while providing a pro comparison and ideal team fit for each.
The goal for the comps: showing some of the strengths, weaknesses and unknown résumé aspects for each prospect, while offering a perspective to approximate how team analytics departments might view the player's potential NFL impact.
The goal for the team fits: maximizing the draftee's 2022 win share, factoring in what we know about each team's personnel, coaches and strategy right now. And of course, as much as possible, I'm aiming to present realistic matches, ones that could actually come to fruition on draft day.
Let's start off the series with the pass rushers ...
PRO COMPARISON: Jared Allen, retired
After entering the NFL as a fourth-round pick out of Idaho State in 2004, Allen went on to reset the edge rusher market in 2008 (in fact, his six-year, $73.3 million deal made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league at the time) and earn first-team All-Pro honors four times. So, yes, this is a lofty comp. Just like Allen, Hutchinson combines rare height with speed and reaction traits which rank in the 85th percentile of my 20-year sample. Pro Football Focus credited Hutchinson with an 18.3 percent pressure rate in 2021, which led the Big Ten and was second-best among all Power Five players with at least 200 pass rushes (trailing only Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto). He also tied for third-most total QB pressures in FBS last season with 74. Hutchinson used bull rushes at a high volume in 2021, but he was slower (60th percentile) on lateral speed measurements, per Computer Vision.
TEAM FIT: Detroit Lions
The Jaguars, Lions and Texans -- who hold the first three picks of the draft -- could all use Hutchinson, but Detroit is the best fit by a small amount. This is based on the similarities between the front and scheme Michigan used and what the Lions put on film last season, creating a faster learning curve.
PRO COMPARISON: Rashan Gary, Green Bay Packers
Walker's 34 QB pressures in 2021 were tied for 13th-most in the SEC, per PFF, which is not the blaring stat line usually associated with a likely top-10 selection. However, it's the rare blend of traits that is driving his value. Like Gary, Walker's physical testing was exceptional, especially for their height (6-5). Computer Vision reveals that Walker had far more consistent results against the run in his college career, while he is still developing as a pass rusher. Aidan Hutchinson has the safest floor in this class, but Walker's potential ceiling is higher than the other edge defenders. I base that assessment on Computer Vision showing that he was improving over the course of last season in a pattern that resembles similarly athletic edges who made big jumps in the NFL.
TEAM FIT: New York Giants
With a relatively low number of snaps played at Georgia and a pass-rush skill set that's still developing, Walker's game will be maximized by a team with a great teacher and enough pieces to make use of his run-stopping ability while his true pass-rushing chops are cultivated. Don "Wink" Martindale is perfect for the mentoring role. And playing with former Georgia teammate Azeez Ojulari creates even more favorable conditions. And the Giants boast a pair of top-10 picks (Nos. 5 and 7).
PRO COMPARISON: Josh Allen, Jacksonville Jaguars
The way I do comps is by rating traits and comparing them to current NFL players, a process which yields several matches. Pre-draft chatter has produced a wide range of NFL forecasts for Thibodeaux, and his comps support this. There are shades of Khalil Mack, as well as just as much Vic Beasley. From a body perspective, his traits fall in the ranges of ideal -- i.e., the ones that are most correlated with success. And his Computer Vision-measured game speed and change-of-direction quickness also fall into this sweet spot. His 2021 pass-rush win rate of 22.9 percent, per PFF, ranked sixth-best among all Power Five players with 200-plus pass rushes. The red flag here is his inconsistency from snap to snap, as he seems to overly rely on his natural physical gifts. (Computer Vision shows this most on non-zone run plays.)
TEAM FIT: Seattle Seahawks
While it would be great for Thibodeaux to pair with a team that has more overall certainty (fewer glaring needs), he forecasts to contribute at a level where his individual impact is great enough to merit this match. But ... As of today, the chances of Thibodeaux being available at Pick No. 9, according to my model: 14 percent. So this might be wishful thinking.
PRO COMPARISON: Whitney Mercilus, retired
Johnson is another player who profiles as reliant on physical attributes, as opposed to technique, in moments of stress. This is not a positive or negative note, but if he can use NFL training programs and teaching as a way to gain better body control (a Computer Vision measure of center of gravity and balance), he projects to take huge strides forward. Mercilus' physical style was a big asset, but he had greater body control. With 46 pressures, per PFF, Johnson ranked fourth in the ACC in 2021. One note here: Johnson is already 23, which is young in real life, but kind of old for an NFL draft prospect. Some evaluators will view this as a knock against him.
TEAM FIT: Atlanta Falcons
If everyone could learn defensive concepts from Dean Pees, we'd see a lot fewer points scored in the NFL. Johnson's best chances to succeed in the pros come from harnessing the physical to deploy it efficiently. Atlanta holds the No. 8 pick in the draft, and our latest mock draft -- courtesy of Peter Schrager -- has the Falcons scooping up Johnson.
PRO COMPARISON: Ryan Kerrigan, free agent
Trey Hendrickson also pops up as a comp, so that's another favorable note. According to Computer Vision, the Purdue product had the best fatigue measurement -- meaning his speed and force stayed the strongest through the fourth quarter -- among all edge defenders in this draft class last season. And he played at least 49 snaps in all but one game. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked second in QB hits (14) among Power Five defenders in 2021. One area to improve is his speed rushing, as it's far less effective than his bull rush, per Computer Vision.
TEAM FIT: Chicago Bears
OK, I had to suspend disbelief a bit here, as the Bears don't select until the second round, where they hold Pick Nos. 39 and 48. My model has Karlaftis still being around at No. 39 just six percent of the time. Maybe the Bears can package picks and move up? Chicago is where Karlaftis' win share is maximized, especially given new head coach Matt Eberflus' track record.