INDIANAPOLIS — A lot of people can identify players with talent and high ceilings in the NFL Draft, but what about the actual value that a player brings to a team?
Not all positions are built the same, and even though you might have a truly elite athlete at one position, he may not be as valuable to his team as a slightly lesser athlete who plays a more critical position.
Recently, Pro Football Focus unraveled its metrics in a unique way once again to see which NFL teams gathered the most valuable class of players in the 2020 NFL Draft.
PFF did this using its metric called "Wins Above Average," or "WAA" for short.
Taking positional value, strength of opponent and the player's PFF grades into play, the statistic measures how valuable a player was to their team in college compared to the average player at their position.
WAA measures a player's contributions to certain facets of their game and how it contributed to wins for their team, comparing that particular player's scores with the average player's scores to come up with the WAA figure.
According to PFF, quarterbacks, cornerbacks, wide receivers and defensive linemen are the most valuable positions contributing to WAA, in that order.
The Indianapolis Colts made PFF's list of the most valuable 2020 draft classes after pulling in nine players in rounds 2 through 6, registering as the fifth most valuable class in the league on this scale.
While PFF doesn't dish on the WAA scores of each player that the Colts selected, they do mention two of the Colts' most notable picks:
"Running backs matter a little bit in college. And that is how Jonathan Taylor (0.54 WAA), the team's second pick, was worth more to Wisconsin a season ago than first pick Michael Pittman (0.42) was to USC."
Let's take a look at what each player brings to the Colts' roster:
Round 2, Pick 34 — Michael Pittman Jr. | WR | USC
PFF considers wide receivers among the most valuable positions, and the Colts got themselves a heck of one with their first pick in Michael Pittman Jr. He was PFF's No. 9-rated wide receiver in 2019 with a grade of 20.0, posting 101 receptions for 1,275 yards (12.6 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. He totaled the fifth-most catches in the country (and the fifth-most in a single season in USC history), was 15th in receiving yards and 19th in receiving touchdowns.
Pittman Jr. should be awfully valuable for the Colts, even right away. The Colts have long-term views of him being a go-to X receiver, which is essentially the alpha dog receiver that faces press-man coverage on the line of scrimmage on the outside, goes over the middle and does a bit of everything.
Round 2, Pick 41 — Jonathan Taylor | RB | Wisconsin
Taylor is one of the most accomplished running backs in college football history, and he did it for a team that relies quite heavily on the run, so his value to the Badgers was unquestionable. In 2019, the Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American earned the third-best running back grade with a 29.0 after carrying the ball 320 times for 2,003 yards (6.3 avg.) and 21 touchdowns to go with 26 receptions for 252 yards (9.7 avg.) and another five scores.
Taylor is being added to a Colts run game that is already quite strong, finishing seventh in the NFL last year. However, starter Marlon Mack has missed eight games in his three NFL seasons, so Taylor providing insurance for Mack as well as splitting carries with him should give him an important role for the Colts' offense.
Round 3, Pick 85 — Julian Blackmon | S | Utah
Teams have a leg up when their players are intelligent and process information quickly, and that's what the Colts are getting in Julian Blackmon. The do-it-all defensive back was PFF's No. 17 safety in 2019 with a grade of 12.8. In 12 games, Blackmon had 60 tackles (four for loss), 1.5 sacks, four interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown en route to a First-Team All-Pac-12 nod.
Unfortunately, Blackmon tore an ACL in the Pac-12 Championship Game in December and is not expected to be a regular contributor until late September or early October. Right off the bat, he could prove to be highly valuable as a third or fourth safety, backup corner or nickel, and special teamer. Being able to play several spots obviously increases his value.
Round 4, Pick 122 — Jacob Eason | QB | Washington
A player that the Colts drafted at the most important position — quarterback — is former Washington product Jacob Eason. He was PFF's No. 20-ranked quarterback in 2019 with a grade of 19.9, including a projected NFL passer rating of 98.3. Eason had new career bests in all statistics in his lone season with the Huskies, completing 260-of-405 passes (64.2 percent) for 3,132 yards (7.7 YPA) with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also netted one rushing touchdown.
Eason isn't expected to be an immediate contributor for the Colts as he develops behind fellow quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett, but he'll get the opportunity to develop into the Colts' quarterback of the future once the starting position opens.
Round 5, Pick 149 — Danny Pinter | OL | Ball State
Pinter was something of a secret stud in the draft this year, coming in as PFF's No. 2 offensive tackle and the top right tackle in 2019 with a grade of 41.7 He was well-balanced with quality grades all-around, earning a 10.1 in pass blocking and a 28.1 in run blocking, as well as a 3.5 in penalty grade. He allowed just one sack all season and earned First-Team All-MAC honors after just his second season as an offensive tackle after converting from tight end.
Given how high Colts general manager Chris Ballard was on Pinter in the draft, he could prove to be quite the asset for them. He earned several academic and leadership honors at Ball State, and his play on the field mirrored the quick learning those awards showed. If Pinter is able to fill the void left by Joe Haeg leaving in free agency and can contribute early as the extra blocker/big tight end, or can play in multiple spots then he'll prove his value very early.
Round 6, Pick 193 — Rob Windsor | DT | Penn State
His stats don't flash off the screen, but Windsor is a head-down, solid worker who earned a quality grade from PFF. He was their No. 25 interior defensive linemen in 2019 with a grade of 22.1 after totaling 40 tackles (five for loss) and 3.5 sacks.
Windsor can bring value to the Colts both on and off the field. He's got a tireless motor on it, and he leads by example off of it. Penn State honored him and a couple of teammates with the Lions Pride Outstanding Senior Player Award, which is given to those who have made the greatest contributions to Penn State Football.
Round 6, Pick 211 — Isaiah Rodgers | CB | UMass
A few years from now, people could be looking at Rodgers and question why he ever lasted until late in the sixth round. He earned middle-of-the-pack grades from PFF as a cornerback, but he was their No. 1 kickoff returner and also named a Phil Steele All-Independent Second-Team member as both a return man and cornerback.
In 2019, Rodgers totaled 42 tackles (three for loss), one forced fumble, one fumble recovered, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups. However, he showed incredibly explosive qualities, racking up 242 yards on interception returns and three touchdowns during his four-year career, as well as three blocked kicks.
As a return specialist in 2019, Rodgers returned 53 kickoffs for a country-leading 1,295 yards (24.4 avg.) and 11 punt returns for 120 yards (10.9 avg.) and one touchdown.
Flying under the radar as a sixth-round pick, Rodgers could be a surprise contributor on both defense and special teams right away, especially if he becomes the Colts' primary backup nickel or a kick returner.
Round 6, Pick 212 — Dezmon Patmon | WR | Washington State
After taking Pittman Jr. with their first pick, the Colts continued adding athletic, big-bodied receivers when they selected Patmon out of Washington State in the sixth round.
In 438 offensive snaps in 2019, Patmon earned a positive grade of 2.5, including a 3.3 in receiving. He totaled 58 receptions for 762 yards (13.1 avg.) and eight touchdowns.
Patmon doesn't have to be an immediate contributor, although he certainly could be. He's still learning to play to his size and is developing as a route runner, so if he doesn't begin the season on the practice squad, he may be a good candidate to develop on the 53-man roster and contribute on special teams. His blend of size and athleticism could make him a very valuable player for the Colts down the line, especially considering his late sixth-round draft status.
Round 6, Pick 213 — Jordan Glasgow | LB | Michigan
Glasgow was a versatile, dependable defender for the Wolverines as a linebacker. He totaled 89 tackles (seven for loss), 5.0 sacks, one fumble recovered, two pass breakups and one blocked kick in 2019, leading to PFF's No. 30 linebacker grade with a 16.9.
He was incredibly accomplished academically and has proven to be a quick learner and capable of playing multiple roles. With the Colts, Glasgow could prove to be the most immediately valuable of the four sixth-round picks as a special teamer. He's currently part of a crowded linebacker room, but his motor, instincts and tenacity could make him an outstanding special teams player.