With the Falcons mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, many fans have focused their attention on the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. With Atlanta sitting at a 4-9 record with three games to go, the team could be in position for a very good draft pick—or they could blow it by winning a bunch of meaningless games, a la 2018.
We’re close enough to the end of the season to start estimating where the Falcons are likely to end up in the draft order. Atlanta is currently sitting at the 8th overall pick, and are being hurt in a big way by their strength of schedule (SOS). For those who are unaware, teams that finish with the same record have the “tie” broken by looking at strength of schedule. If you played a more difficult schedule, the NFL considers you “not as bad” as a team who lost the same number of games against an easier schedule. The Falcons .554 SOS is currently the second-hardest in the league, behind only the Bengals.
With three games remaining, there are four possible records that the Falcons could finish with—not counting ties, because I’m not a masochist: 4-12, 5-11, 6-10, and 7-9. To get to a 4-12 record, Atlanta would need to lose out, while getting a 7-9 record requires winning out, and so on for the two records in the middle.
For reference, here are the remaining games on the Falcons’ schedule:
Week 15: @ 49ers (11-2) | Week 16: Jaguars (4-9) | Week 17: @ Buccaneers (6-7)
Taking a cursory look at each of these teams gives us a pretty good idea of the odds for the Falcons to finish at each record. Atlanta is a sizable underdog against the 49ers this weekend, but will be favored at home against the Jaguars. The Buccaneers game is more of a toss-up because it’s a divisional game, but Tampa Bay will be the favorite.
With my very professional, personal guesswork—bolstered by the information I’ve already presented—here are the chances I’d give the Falcons to finish with the following records:
So, to summarize, I see the Falcons as most likely to finish with a 5-11 record, with 6-10 being the next most likely. The Jaguars are really, really bad, and I just don’t see the Falcons losing to them. And while I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Falcons beat the Bucs, I think Tampa Bay should be favored in that game.
So, let’s assume the Falcons finish with a 5-11 or 6-10 record. What pick would that be likely to net them in the 2020 NFL Draft? It’s impossible to predict exactly what records the teams around Atlanta will finish with, so instead I’m going to use a different measure: the historical pick range of teams finishing with the same record. Below are the pick ranges for teams in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 drafts.
2019 Pick Range
In 2019, a 4-12 record was good enough to get you into the top-2, while 5-11 netted a relatively safe top-10 pick. 6-10 had a chance to knock you out of the top-10, while 7-9 got you pushed into the early-to-mid teens.
2018 Pick Range
Only one team finished 4-12 in 2018, and that netted them the 4th overall pick. A 5-11 record produced just about the same result as 2019: a safe top-10 pick between 5-8. 6-10 got you a borderline top-10 selection, while 7-9 resulted in a pick in the early teens.
2017 Pick Range
In 2017, there was once again only 1 team to finish with a 4-12 record—it netted them the 5th overall pick. A 5-11 record, however, produced a pick between 6-7. Somewhat strangely, there was also only 1 team finishing 6-10 (there were a lot of ties in 2017), which got that team the 8th overall pick. Going 7-9 in 2017 actually produced the highest pick range for that record, in the 10-12 area.
2017-2019 Overall Pick Range
The above table shows the overall pick range of each record over the past three drafts. As you can see, there’s surprisingly little variation in the results in recent history. A specific record seems pretty likely to get you a pick within a certain range, about 4 picks on average. However, there does seem to be a lot more variation at 7-9—likely due to a lot of teams finishing with that record over the years.
So, let’s assume the Falcons are most likely to finish with a 5-11 record. In that case, recent history tells us they’d be in line for a pick somewhere between 5-8—or approximately where they are sitting right now. If they managed to win two games—the next most likely scenario, in my opinion—Atlanta would finish 6-10. With that record, they’d likely have a pick between 8-11.
Keep in mind, with Atlanta’s tough strength of schedule, they’re going to lose just about any tiebreaker in the draft order. That means we should adjust our expectations towards the back end of the pick projections. For instance, using the 5-11 record example above, we should probably expect Atlanta to net a pick closer to 8 than to 5.
So, based on this research, I am predicting the Falcons to wind up right around where they’re sitting right now at pick 8. Feel free to draw your own conclusions from the above data, and adjust based on what record you personally feel Atlanta is most likely to finish with.
The 8th overall pick should be high enough to get the Falcons an impact pass rusher—either DT Derrick Brown or EDGE A.J. Epenesa—or perhaps another high-profile player like CB Jeffrey Okudah. Where do you see the Falcons winding up in the 2020 NFL Draft, and who do you think they’ll select?