With analytics continuing to play a big role in the world of sports, it should come as no surprise to see it applied to NFL mock drafts as well.
NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund on Tuesday released her second analytics-based mock draft, which makes selections according to which player will maximize a team’s wins in 2021.
While some picks may alter the course of the draft, there’s no real change when it comes to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 16 overall.
The Frelund 2.0 mock has the Cardinals taking cornerback Jaycee Horn out of South Carolina, a prediction that has become more and more popular as April’s NFL Draft approaches.
Adding Horn to the net impact of free-agent signings CB Malcolm Butler and DE J.J. Watt is a big gut punch to opposing passing games.
The only other NFC West opponent that has a first-round pick in this year’s draft is the San Francisco 49ers, who traded up from No. 12 to the No. 3 pick last week.
Frelund has GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan taking quarterback Zach Wilson out of BYU after the New York Jets take offensive lineman Rashawn Slater out of Northwestern at No. 2 overall, as the analytical model has QB Sam Darnold (4.25 wins) at a higher win clip than Wilson (3.93).
The 49ers traded up nine spots — giving up two additional first-rounders and a third — to target one position and one position only: quarterback. They’re not even trying to hide it at this point, with head coach Kyle Shanahan admitting that the Niners feared being “left at the altar” in the QB derby if they had stayed in their original draft slot. Exploring a draft pick at any other position in this blurb would just seem like a pointless pursuit at this point. So, which QB would San Francisco take if Trevor Lawrence were the only one off the board?
And while the 2021 NFL Draft is now less than a month away, the Cardinals have a unique opportunity to even the playing field in what is arguably the best division in football.
Arizona and San Francisco — the two teams in the division who failed to make the postseason in 2020 — are the only two NFC West squads to have first-round picks in this year’s draft.
Then looking ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft, you’ll realize that the Cardinals are the only team in the division that will have a first-round selection.
That’s because the Niners traded theirs for the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, the Seattle Seahawks traded theirs to the Jets for safety Jamal Adams and the Los Angeles Rams traded theirs to the Detroit Lions for QB Matt Stafford.
The 2021 NFL Draft is set to take place in Cleveland from April 29 to May 1.