As a general rule, NFL teams are better off selecting the best player available when making selections in the draft, as opposed to reaching for a player who better fits a particular need area. There are so few times when a team is truly “one player away” from playoff or Super Bowl contention, so it makes more sense for teams to simply choose the player who offers the most promise in the long-term.
But there are situations when a prospect’s value perfectly aligns with a team’s need. Using Pro Football Focus’ grades and statistics in college and the NFL, we have identified five ideal matches between a player and team in this year’s draft class.
The draft begins Thursday.
Here are five perfect draft fits in the first round:
9. Buffalo Bills: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi
The Bills did not draft quarterback Josh Allen in the first round last year to run a dink-and-dunk, quick-passing offense. They drafted him for his special ability to launch the ball down the field. In the highest-graded season Allen recorded in college or the pros — his sophomore campaign at Wyoming in 2016 — he led the nation in big-time throws (defined as passes that earn the highest possible grade) with 43. That season, he completed the second-most deep passes in the NCAA (43). As a rookie, 19.7 percent of his attempts were targeted 20-plus yards downfield — by far the highest rate in the NFL.
The problem was that he did not have anyone to track down those deep throws for him. The Bills have addressed the lack of talent in Allen’s supporting cast to some degree by signing wide receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown, but both are smaller targets.
Metcalf, on the other hand, has the best combination of deep speed and catch radius in the entire class. He recorded 304 deep receiving yards in only six games this past season, which put him on pace to rank in the top five in the country. Pairing his 4.33-second 40-yard dash speed with Allen’s howitzer is a match made in heaven.
11. Cincinnati Bengals: Devin White, LB, LSU
The Bengals had the worst linebacker corps in the NFL a season ago, and the only member of that group who was even approaching competent play, Vontaze Burfict, is now with the Raiders.
This was most obvious in pass coverage, where Cincinnati linebackers allowed 2,281 yards, which was highest in the NFL by 177 yards. That difference is greater than the yardage White allowed in coverage for LSU all of last season (175). More importantly, White earned the highest coverage grade among Power-5 linebackers a season ago, and given his 4.42 speed, there is no reason to think that will not continue at the next level.
23. Houston Texans: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington St.
Houston’s offensive tackles led the NFL in quarterback pressures allowed last season, with 127, but the Texans lucked out with a draft class that is loaded with talented tackles. Five of them — Jonah Williams, Andre Dillard, Jawaan Taylor, Dalton Risner and Cody Ford — earned first-round grades on the Pro Football Focus draft board, and none would be a better fit for the Texans than Dillard.
Dillard recorded 2,537 pass-blocking snaps, more than any player in this class. In fact, he took more pass sets at tackle last year than any offensive lineman in the NFL — even when including preseason and postseason games. And he has produced during those snaps, earning the highest pass-blocking grade in the country last year.
28. L.A. Chargers: Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame
The Chargers have arguably the best edge rusher duo in the NFL in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but their pass rush as a whole has been hampered by a lack of interior push. The Chargers ranked in the bottom 10 of the league in pressures and pass-rush grade for interior linemen.
Tillery would change that immediately. He tied Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, a likely top-10 pick, for the highest pass-rushing grade in the country last season among interior lineman, and notched 49 total pressures. In particular, he would be a weapon on pass-rush stunts, which are plays that require an edge rusher to cut inside while an interior lineman crosses paths with him and rushes from the outside. His 90.7 pass-rush grade on stunts was by far the highest of any player at his position. Offensive lines would have trouble blocking the combination of Bosa, Ingram and Tillery.
31. L.A. Rams: Garrett Bradbury, C, N.C. State
There is no guarantee Bradbury falls all the way to this spot, but if he does, the Rams should be thrilled. John Sullivan, who was once one of the NFL’s best centers, was a liability toward the end of his Rams tenure, culminating in an ugly six pressures allowed during the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
The Rams chose not to keep Sullivan this offseason, and Bradbury would be an ideal replacement. He could provide an immediate upgrade in pass protection, but it is his ability as a run blocker that makes this a perfect fit. No college football team ran more outside zone rushing plays than NC State last season, and it was not even close. Their 318 outside zone snaps were 114 more than the next-closest school (Appalachian State).
At the NFL level, no team ran more outside zone plays last season than the Rams, and, as you might have guessed, that was not close, either. (Their 217 were 52 more than the second-place 49ers.) Bradbury’s elite athleticism and production — he earned the third-highest run-blocking grade of any center in the nation — would make him a perfect addition to the Rams’ offense.