Judging a draft is a tricky thing. It's not like judging other things, where the answers can be black and white, yes or no, good or bad. For a draft, the answers are murky. They are evasive. They can take years to be teased out and are impossible to be discerned immediately.
Which is exactly why grade grades are essentially an empty gesture. Do I still like reading them? Absolutely. But are they a real indicator of the level of talent cultivated during a particular draft. Not really. Just look at the panning that most pundits gave the Seahawks draft last year. And then realize that those same Seahawks made the playoffs last season led by their 2012 third-round pick, Russell Wilson. See my point?
So why drag up the weary topic of draft grades? Because the fine folks over at Bloggingtheboys.com put on their detective hats and managed to reconstruct the majority of the Cowboys' war room draft board--thanks to a Jerry Jones interview taking place in said war room--which allows us to compare the Bengals' picks against an actual NFL measuring stick. In essence, we are able to remove the middle man of draftniks and go straight to the source, swapping intangible draft grades for a significantly-more-tangible draft board.
So how did the Bengals' draft stack up? The answer might surprise you.
Below is the reconstructed, round-by-round board from Bloggingtheboys.com.
As you can see, this board follows a slightly different format than the actual draft, as the first round ends at the 18th pick, meaning that the Cowboys only pegged 18 players as first-round talents. Considering that the Bengals picked at 21 and still ended up with a top-15 guy in Tyler Eifert, they were already off to a great start when they turned in their first card according to the Cowboys' board. So how did they follow up their first-round pick? By snagging two more players in the top-30 with Giovani Bernard at 37 and Margus Hunt in the 53 spot.
All good things must end, however, and so too did the Bengals' streak of collecting top talent. After hitting home runs on their first three picks, the Bengals eventually settled into a more middle of the road approach, alternating between hits and misses from a value perspective. On the defensive side, the team selected safety Shawn Williams, who carried a seventh-round grade according to the Cowboys, with the 84th pick, but then followed that up by taking linebacker Sean Porter, who carried a fourth-round grade, in the middle of the fourth-round. One good, one not so good. But overall a nice first four rounds.
During the fifth round, the Bengals focused all their remaining attention on the other side of the ball, opting for five straight offensive picks. Out of those five, two players, fifth-rounder Tanner Hawkinson and seventh-rounder T.J. Johnson, were absent from the leaked board, making them misses from the Cowboys' perspective. Of the remaining three, however, two were projected to go much earlier than their actual draft slot (both Cobi Hamilton and Reid Fragel had fifth-round grades on them), while the final pick, sixth-rounder Rex Burkhead, was graded exactly where the Bengals took him.
So, from a strictly value-based approach founded on data from another NFL team's actual draft board, it looks like the Bengals did indeed come out ahead of the curve. Obviously, differences in scheme, character evaluations, and health assessments will alter how each team looks at a player differently, but the fact that the Bengals' draft so closely followed another team's board is pretty interesting.
So what do you think, Bengals fans? How would you compare the Bengals' draft to the Cowboys' leaked draft board?