Analysis

2018 NFL Draft: Josh Jackson heads Day 2's best value picks

On Thursday, I used a model that predicts future player performance to identify the five best value picks of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. While the players selected in Rounds 2 and 3 have already been passed over by almost every team in the league at least once, Day 2 obviously still presents a tantalizing opportunity to extract serious value. So I turned to my model once more to zero in on the five best value picks of Day 2.

Note: For an explanation of how the model works, click over to the list of value picks from Day 1.

1) Josh Jackson, CB, Green Bay Packers

Drafted in Round 2, No. 45 overall.

OK, let's level-set about the Packers' secondary first. Last year, only one team allowed a higher passer rating to opposing quarterbacks than the Packers (102.0), and that was the Browns (102.2). The Packers allowed the 10th-most passing yards per game (236.8) and were tied for second-most in passing touchdowns allowed (30).

Now here's how Jackson showed out last year, which was his only year as a full-time starting cornerback: Teams took their aim at him (91 targets, per Pro Football Focus), but the net effect was basically for him to create a highlight reel that included eight interceptions, 15 defensive stops and 17 pass breakups, resulting in a sub-40 overall passer rating allowed (37).

Despite a smaller sample size of him being lined up in other positions or defending certain routes, he still managed to achieve one of the key benchmarks that connects corners who are successful in college with those who are disruptive in the NFL. His passer rating allowed in all but one of the routes defended was at least 20 points lower than the average for each quarterback he faced.

Jackson's profile ranked No. 27 overall in my model, and -- especially in the Packers' secondary -- this could be one of the best picks of the whole draft.

2) Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins

Drafted in Round 2, No. 42 overall.

I'd been debating between Gesicki and the 49th overall pick, tight end Dallas Goedert, who was taken by Philadelphia. I am ultimately choosing Gesicki because the projection in my model gives him more of a receiver-like output in the Dolphins' offense immediately, while Goedert projects to stand in Zach Ertz's shadow a bit more in terms of flashy stats. Let me be clear: Goedert is a great value, too, though.

Two main attributes distinguish Gesicki, based on trends from Adam Gase-run offenses. First, Gesicki scored four touchdowns from the slot last season (third-most among FBS tight ends, per PFF) and second, he caught nine of the 11 contested passes he faced last season, more than any other draft-eligible tight end.

The Dolphins ranked last on third down (31.7 percent) last season, and their tight ends only accounted for four of their 24 receiving touchdowns last year. Gase's play-calling past would suggest that figure should be more like eight or nine touchdowns. Gesicki also had the fourth-lowest drop rate among FBS tight ends in 2017, per PFF, which adds to his effectiveness as a weapon in the passing game. The fit in Miami actually shifted Gesicki's projection to be the best tight end in the draft (he was No. 2 prior to adjusting the projection for fit).

3) Mason Rudolph, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Drafted in Round 3, No. 76 overall.

Even before he was drafted by the Steelers, my projection for Rudolph was already very favorable. No quarterback in this draft class threw more touchdowns over 20 yards than Rudolph (17) in 2017. Over the past three years, he started 13 games each season and improved his yards-per-passing-attempt mark each year (from 8.9 in 2015 to 9.1 in 2016 and 10.0 in 2017), due to improvement in his deep passing production.

Now I know he played in the Big 12 in a system with plenty of receivers who could inflate these results ... but a deeper dive reveals that not only did he improve on more difficult passes outside the numbers, but he also averaged more than 25 air yards on go-route targets. He improved on tight-window passes inside the numbers, leading him to earn 2017's second-best passer rating on third down among draft-eligible quarterbacks (112.2). And under pressure? Only No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield had a higher passer rating in this draft class in 2017.

Once adding his resume to the Steelers roster AND factoring in that they drafted wide receiver James Washington, who was Rudolph's OSU teammate and deep-ball threat, the pick became even smarter.

While Rudolph did not get selected in the first round, he has attributes that match and exceed those of several former first-round draft picks over the past five years.

4) Deadrin Senat, DT, Atlanta Falcons

Drafted in Round 3, No. 90 overall.

This offseason, the Falcons parted ways with nose tackle Dontari Poe, who signed with the Panthers as a free agent. Poe had 36 pressures in Atlanta last season when lined up as a nose tackle in just over 780 snaps. To be able to acquire a nose tackle with the ability to fill those snaps in the third round might be the definition of an excellent value.

PFF ranks Senat as the fourth-best in run-stops among interior defenders in 2017, and my computer vision model has the 6-foot-1, 305-pounder ranked in the top eight among interior defenders in terms of leverage (not getting pushed back) on rushing downs, and in the top 15 on passing downs. After adding to their wide receiving corps in Round 1 and defensive backs in Round 2, the Falcons addressed a need with a high-upside choice in Round 3, making this a top-notch value.

5) Connor Williams, G, Dallas Cowboys

Drafted in Round 2, No. 50 overall.

I'm not going to lie: Taking two-time All-Pro tight end Jason Witten (who, it was reported Friday, is expected to retire) out of the Cowboys' roster in my model made things for Dallas' offense less predictable. But Williams does help, especially when he's projected as their left guard. And when you factor in that this addition came at pick 50, the value gets even better.

Williams is an immediate starter, but you have to look to his college tape from two seasons ago (he was injured last year). Do you know how many pressures he allowed as a tackle at Texas in 2016? The answer is FOUR. That's ridiculous. Moving him to the interior of the O-line accentuates his strengths (he was eighth-best at blocking on rushing downs over the past two seasons and 24th on passing downs). Adding him to a unit that already includes the elite Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin makes this line an even better place for Dak Prescott to throw behind and an even more potent facilitator to help Ezekiel Elliott create first downs.

Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter @cfrelund.

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