The Seventh Annual Joe Thomas Draft


It’s time once again, boys and girls – time for the annual Joe Thomas Draft! My favorite time of the year, by far.

We started the Joe Thomas Draft on our old website in memory of Thomas’ long, fruitless career; one of the best to ever play the game toiling away in the Factory of Sadness in Cleveland. Thomas never got to play a single postseason snap, because the Browns were a disaster. And he’s not alone – every year, over half the league’s teams have to stay home in January. This deprives us of superstars who we would like – no, damn it, who we deserve – to see on the grandest stages of them all. The Joe Thomas Draft allows us to imagine a landscape in which the league’s best players don’t spend a decade at the top of their game missing the playoffs on teams at the bottom of the standings.

It also lets us take a look at the weaknesses each playoff team has as we enter the playoffs – the spots where they can be attacked, the spots where injuries have left them at a disadvantage, the spots where they are getting by on bailing wire and hope. It’s too late past the trade deadline to do anything, but hey, with the Joe Thomas Draft in effect, teams could rent a solution for a month! It’s the best of all what-if scenarios, if you ask me.

The Joe Thomas Draft allows each of the 14 playoff teams to draft players from the 18 squads which ended up not reaching the postseason — the sixth and seventh seeds each get an extra pick at the end to give them the biggest boost. And, for the first time ever this season, we’re doing it after the playoffs have already been locked up, so there’s no mucking about with trying to predict the future to see who is in and who is out. No, it’s just one level of nonsense. 

One final reminder of the rules:

  • We have 14 playoff teams and 18 non-playoff teams.
  • Every playoff team may pick, in reverse order of seed, one player from any eliminated team.
  • Picks alternate by conference. The NFC picks first because the Ravens ended up with the best record in football.
  • Only one player may be selected from any eliminated team. If Justin Jefferson goes off the board, the rest of the Vikings go with him.

So, without further ado, welcome to the…

Seventh Annual Joe Thomas Draft

1. Green Bay Packers: Sauce Gardner, CB, New York Jets

Qualifying for the playoffs means Packers fans have set down their torches and pitchforks and paused in their quest to chase Joe Barry out of town. They’ll pick that up again in a week or two when Green Bay washes out. Despite a good showing against Chicago, the Packers ended the year 27th in defensive DVOA at 8.2% – a very bad result which would have been the worst among the playoff teams had Philadelphia not imploded in Week 18.

So as tempting as it would be to shore up the interior offensive line with a Chris Lindstrom or a Quinn Meinerz, adding more warm bodies to the defensive side of the ball seems like top priority here. Now, Green Bay did return Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage last week. That at least lets you consider adding Demario Davis up the middle, helping against being gouged by the run and improving their 26th and 27th-place rankings in DVOA allowed to tight ends and running backs as receivers. But Eric Stokes was put on IR two weeks ago, and the pair of Keisean Nixon and Carrington Valentine is uninspiring at best. Technically, Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson is first in the brand-new cornerback DVOA at -51.7%, but Sauce Gardner isn’t that far behind at -31.7%, and he has the longer track record. Gardner it is.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: Geno Smith, QB, Seattle Seahawks

The Steelers’ offense has gotten more sensibly put together since Matt Canada was fired, but spending another Sunday afternoon watching Mason Rudolph does not spark joy. Rudolph has managed a 23.9% passing DVOA in very limited action, but his slow-motion processing is a liability more often than not, and isn’t going to work against a playoff-caliber pass rush. Are you willing to trust your playoff life to a quarterback whose sole qualified season had a -23.0% passing DVOA? As much as I’d love using Pittsburgh’s first pick as a T.J. Watt replacement, getting an NFL-level starting quarterback in place has to be first priority. 

It’s just a matter of which one. Had the Bills failed to make the playoffs, the choice would have been easy. Instead, the top quarterback available in terms of DYAR is Trevor Lawrence (793), the top in terms of DVOA is Jake Browning (11.7%), and in second place in both categories is Geno Smith. Browning’s lack of track record and Lawrence’s injuries make this a rather open and shut case. He’s got the arm strength to push the ball downfield to George Pickens and Diontae Johnson, and the accuracy to do it more regularly than Rudolph can manage.

3. Los Angeles Rams: Jaylon Johnson, CB, Chicago Bears

There’s a lot of different ways the Rams could go, as they’ve been gelling together well over the back half of the season and don’t have a glaring, flashing weakness. The interior offensive line has been a bit squidgy, so a Chris Lindstrom or Quinn Meinerz would make sense. It never hurts to add a pass rusher like Maxx Crosby or Khalil Mack, and the Rams are just 16th in pass rush win rate. But in the end, Los Angeles ranks 21st against the pass with a 10.3% DVOA. Derion Kendrick in particular has been vulnerable, putting up a 9.8% cornerback DVOA – 86th out of 110 cornerbacks. While both Ahkello Witherspoon and Cobie Durant have been better, when they fail, they fail hard, with both in the bottom 10 in yards per completion. More help on the back end would do wonders.

This time, we will go ahead and take Johnson, first in cornerback DVOA this season. Cornerback play is very volatile from year to year, at least according to advanced stats, but the 2020 version of Johnson is near the top of whatever metric you use. With just 4.2 yards per target and a completion percentage allowed of just 36.8%, Johnson should let Los Angeles feel a little more comfortable with their secondary in big moments.

4. Miami Dolphins: Maxx Crosby, ER, Las Vegas Raiders

The Dolphins lost Andrew Van Ginkel against the Bills; he could miss the entire postseason with a foot injury. Bradley Chubb tore his ACL the week before. Jaelen Phillips tore his Achilles two months ago. The Dolphins are down to Emmanuel Ogbah and Melvin Ingram at edge rusher, with scraps left behind. It was an easy choice of position is what I’m trying to say.

With all due respect to Josh Allen and Khalil Mack, Maxx Crosby is the best healthy pass-rusher sitting on the sidelines this year. Crosby led the league with 91 pressures and 63 hurries – and, while he was at it, finished second in ESPN’s run stop win rankings. Reinforcements arrive just in time to face off against Patrick Mahomes

5. Philadelphia Eagles: Kenny Moore, CB, Indianapolis Colts

When A.J. Brown went down with a knee injury against the Giants, I toyed with the idea of adding Justin Jefferson to the Philadelphia offense. Just reload the receiving corps and try to have the Eagles win every game 42-41. Why not?

But with Brown looking good to go, we look at that 29th-ranked pass defense (21.3% DVOA!) and cringe. The switch from Sean Desai to Matt Patricia didn’t exactly help things, and the return of Darius Slay won’t be enough to staunch the bleeding against the duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin next week, much less anyone who might be waiting after that. So let’s throw some more warm bodies at the problem. There’s a good half-dozen corners the Eagles could choose from; we’re taking Kenny Moore here in large part because he has the best DVOA of any of the remaining eligible cornerbacks at -30.1%. If you prefer a Paulson Adebo or a Mike Hilton or a Darious Williams, you certainly have arguments.

6. Cleveland Browns: Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

Yes, it’s a bit bonkers that, in the year 2024, we’re OK with Joe Flacco starting a playoff game for an NFL team. And yet, here we are. The Browns offensive DVOA with Flacco has been 2.5% — nothing to write home about, but above water.    With every other quarterback, it’s -18.4%. The difference between keeping Flacco and dumping Mason Rudolph, besides track record, is that Flacco is creating offense, scrambling around and chucking the ball with chaotic abandon. It’s working for now, so let’s get the man some weapons.

Justin Jefferson is still the best wide receiver in football; putting up a 19.3% receiving DVOA with the motley crew of receivers the Vikings have trotted out there this season is nothing short of a miracle. Put Jefferson next to Amari Cooper and David Njoku, and all of a sudden, the Browns’ passing attack is something to be feared, even with the grizzled Flacco throwing the ball.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dexter Lawrence, IDL, New York Giants

Sometimes, you just grab the best player available and call it a day.

The Buccaneers are below average in the trenches. They’re 27th in adjusted line yards and 17th in adjusted sack rate, as well as being below average in both pass rush and run stop win rates per ESPN. That is not the fault of nose tackle Vita Vea, so adding another nose is, at first blush, an odd choice. Lawrence is more than just ‘another nose’, though; with respect to Aaron Donald and Chris Jones, he’s the best interior pass rushing force in the league at the moment and a hell of a run stopper, to boot. Lawrence and Vita may be superfluous when the Buccaneers are in base defense (though I suspect Vea would be just fine sliding out to end in the 3-4 look), but good luck to any interior line in the game stopping Lawrence and Vea when dropping back to pass.

If you’re picking just for need, you’re probably taking Chris Lindstrom here to try to keep Baker Mayfield upright, or maybe Trey McBride to replace Cade Otton as a weapon. Neither player is likely to have as big of an impact as Lawrence, however.

8. Houston Texans: Darious Williams, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Injuries have done a number on the Houston secondary. Tavierre Thomas, Jimmie Ward, Eric Murray, Grayland Arnold and M.J. Stewart are all on injured reserve. The Texans rank 28th against #1 receivers and 31st against “other” receivers. Amari Cooper just put up 265 receiving yards against them. Yes, some of that came from Flacco having all day to throw without Will Anderson or Jonathan Greenard pressuring him, but all the corners who were out there that day will be back, and could use a little bit of help.

Unlike the other corners we’ve taken in this draft, Williams doesn’t necessarily become the Texans’ top option; Derek Stingley is having a very good year himself, with a -23.8% DVOA since Week 10. Williams is at -39.8% over the back half of the season, though, significantly ahead of Steven Nelson’s -12.7%. Nelson’s four interceptions are misleading; he’s allowing 9.7 yards per target which is in the bottom 10 for cornerbacks. Williams has four interceptions of his own, but he’s got 18 pass breakups to Nelson’s 8, and is allowing just 6.3 yards per target.

9. Detroit Lions: Paulson Adebo, CB, New Orleans Saints

OK, I promise this is the last cornerback for a while. But the Lions have never really recovered from early-season injuries to Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson; they rank no higher than 20th against first, second or third receivers. Detroit will be trotting Cameron Sutton and Kindle Vildor out as their outside cornerbacks this week; Sutton ranks 84th in DVOA over the second half of the season at 14.8%, while Vildor only became the starter two weeks ago out of necessity. As tempting as it is to replace Sam LaPorta, this is a bigger problem, and we can do better.

Brian Branch is just fine in the slot, so we need a boundary guy. That rules out someone like Mike Hilton, and probably leaves us with Paulson Adebo or Jonathan Jones in the rapidly shrinking pool of non-playoff corners. Adebo is fourth in the league with 15 pass breakups and allows a full yard less per target than Jones; while Jones has the better DVOA and has finished the season a bit stronger, Adebo has been the better player over the whole season. Plus, hey, he’s from Michigan originally, even if he moved to Texas at age four. If that’s not a tiebreaker, then I don’t know what is.

10. Kansas City Chiefs: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

I was really considering being contrary for the sake of being contrary here. Even with all the drops, Kansas City is still eighth in passing DVOA, because Patrick Mahomes is really good. Meanwhile, they’re 27th in run defense and have gotten gouged in most of their losses, with both the Raiders and Broncos controlling the clock by controlling the ball, keeping Mahomes frustrated on the sidelines. Adding someone like Derrick Brown or Jahlani Tavai would have a significant impact on the defense, helping get off the field with more regularity.

Then I remember that Ja’Marr Chase does this…

…while Kadarius Toney does this.

OK, sometimes the obvious choice is obvious for a reason.

11. Dallas Cowboys: Derrick Brown, IDL, Carolina Panthers

If the Cowboys have a weakness, it’s being run on while trailing. They’re 27th in run stop win rate, and while their adjusted line yards are fine, they’re only 24th in power success. The Cowboys want to stay in dime, harassing your quarterback and forcing you to throw to try to catch up. They’re not particularly built to stop you from running the ball down their throats while sitting on a lead, as the Cardinals, 49ers and Bills can all attest to, and a small deficit can become a giant hole in no time.

Derrick Brown is first in ESPN’s run stop win rankings among defensive tackles and is one of the few players the Panthers have that would be a legitimately good pick in this exercise.

12. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, ER, Los Angeles Chargers

Von Miller hasn’t really worked out this season, to the point where he was actually a healthy scratch against the Patriots in Week 17. Recovering from an ACL takes time, and the 34-year-old Miller is struggling – no sacks, and just 14 hurries on the year. He’s trying to fight through it, but he’s run out of time for this season.

The last man standing on the Chargers defense, Khalil Mack finished fourth in the league with 17 sacks, 5.5 more than anyone else still eligible to be picked at this point. And, hey, he was a Buffalo Bull in college! Bonus!

13. San Francisco 49ers: Chris Lindstrom, G, Atlanta Falcons

One of the best teams in DVOA history, the 49ers don’t really have many weak points. Yes, there are some injury concerns re: Arik Armstead and Ambry Thomas, but almost any addition here is adding strength to strength. If there’s any point of concern, it’s the interior offensive line. Right guard Spencer Burford was benched for Jon Feliciano late in the season, but Aaron Banks’ turf toe put him back in the lineup for much of the late run of the season. Depth is a concern, with the 49ers almost having to resort to using tight end Charlie Woerner as an emergency lineman against Washington.

When fully healthy, the 49ers interior line is fine, but it’s not more than that. Lindstrom is much more than fine – an athletic marvel with near pristine technique, with just three holding penalties in his five-year career. The 49ers could either start Lindstrom and Feliciano, or go with Banks and kick Feliciano back inside to center. An improvement in both quality and flexibility

14. Baltimore Ravens: Quinn Meinerz, G, Denver Broncos

One of the best teams in DVOA history, the Ravens don’t really have many weak points. Yes, there are some injury concerns re: Kyle Hamilton and Odafe Oweh, but almost any addition here is adding strength to strength. If there’s any point of concern, it’s the interior offensive line. Left guard John Simpson is the closest thing the Ravens have to a liability on offense. He’s tied for the seventh-most penalties in the league, including six holding calls, and he allows more pressure than you’d like from a starter on an all-time great team.

We’re down to Quinn Meinerz or Sam Cosmi as plus interior linemen available, with Meinerz getting the nod here. One of the bigger Pro Bowl snubs in the league, Meinerz is fantastic at getting to the second level and just pancaking guys. And, if we’re specifically talking about upgrading over Simpson, Meinerz has just two holding calls in his career and 0 in 2023.

15. Green Bay Packers: Jahlani Tavai, LB, New England Patriots

We’ve looped back around, as the sixth and seventh seeds get two picks apiece. Hey, remember back in the first pick, when we were concerned about the Packers’ being gouged by the run and struggling covering tight ends and running backs? That’s hasn’t gotten better in the past 15 minutes, so we’ll double up on defense with Tavai, one of the very few bright spots for New England this season. Tavai ranked fifth among linebackers with 4.9 yards allowed per target, and is a rangy, instinctual defender against the run, too. Tavai also brings versatility, able to play both on the line and as an inside linebacker in the box; he even has nearly 100 snaps lined up as cornerback, including occasionally being used out wide early in the year. For the 15th pick in the draft, you can’t do much better.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers: Zaven Collins, ER, Arizona Cardinals

Oh, right, T.J. Watt. We should do something about that, too.

With just the Cardinals, Commanders and Titans left, we’ve got to look at every warm body they have on the edge. If Washington had kept Chase Young or Montez Sweat, this would be an easy call, but they didn’t. Instead, we go with Zaven Collins in his first season as outside linebacker. He only has 3.5 sacks, but part of that is because the Cardinals use him in coverage and in the box more than your typical edge rusher. He’s earned more snaps as the year has gone along and he’s gotten more comfortable in his role, too. He’s not a poor man’s Watt. He’s not even a destitute man’s Watt. But he’s the best option left out there, a useful body for the depleted Steelers defense with some athletic upside. Without a pass rushing stud available (perhaps you like Arden Key?), we’ll take the versatility.

17. Los Angeles Rams: Sam Cosmi, G, Washington Commanders

Ah, yes, that aforementioned squidgy interior line – 21st in pass block win rate and 15th in run block win rate. Rookie Steve Avila has showed promise and has been good for a rookie, holding up OK in pass protection. That’s good for the future, but we can do better for the next couple weeks.

Sam Cosmi hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 6. I remind you that Cosmi plays for the Washington Commanders, quarterbacked by Sam Howell, a human sack magnet. What Cosmi has done, especially over the back half of the season, deserves awards and plaudits and maybe should be studied by science. It remains to be seen if he’s actually taken a step forward this season or if this is a one-year blip, but for now, we’re taking the hot hand and plugging him into the lineup.

18. Miami Dolphins: Aaron Brewer, C, Tennessee Titans

The Titans are pretty much the worst-case scenario for the Dolphins when it comes to the last pick. Who are Tennessee’s best players? Derrick Henry and DeAndre Hopkins. The Dolphins, of course, need more skill position players like they need holes in their heads. If you just want to throw up your hands and pick Henry because he deserves to go to the postseason again, more power to you, and you could make an argument for a power back bringing something different to the table.

Instead, we’re deciding between center Aaron Brewer and cornerback Roger McCreary. In real life, you probably go with McCreary, because it’s easier to get a new corner up to speed quickly than changing the quarterback-center exchange. But Brewer is the light, mobile guy that Miami would love to have in the middle of their line, and Liam Eichenberg has been a liability in all three of his seasons in the league. Brewer it is!

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