The NFL Draft took place in Chicago last week, as franchises infused their rosters with fresh talent ahead of 2015 NFL season.
This got us wondering just who Aviva Premiership teams would pick if the league were to cancel all contracts and implement a similar system?
For those who don’t follow the NFL or American sports in general, the draft is an annual event where the league’s teams cherry-pick the best talent from the college divisions. Each team has one pick per round, of which there are seven, and the order is decided by performance in the previous year, with the team finishing bottom of the league given the first pick and so forth until the champions pick last.
We have decided to use the same rules for our mock 2015/16 Premiership draft, although with the season yet to conclude, current league position will be used. Bristol will assume the mantle of the promoted team, and therefore first to draft, as they finished top of the Greene King IPA Championship this season. This also conveniently adds Jack Lam to the pool of players available.
Remember, the goal is not necessarily just to pick the best player available (though this has proved quite a successful method in the NFL), but to bolster key positions and/or try to secure players early in positions where there is not a significant amount of depth in the Premiership.
For example, key positions such as fly-half and tighthead prop are both fairly well stocked in the Premiership, but is openside flanker? It could be worthwhile investing early in a Francois Louw or Matt Kvesic and picking up a solid fly-half later.
Right, with no further ado, the 2015/16 TRU Aviva Premiership Mock Draft.
1st Pick – Bristol, Henry Slade, fly-half
Slade is one of the most exciting young playmakers in the world and with George Ford and Owen Farrell the current England incumbents, could be available during international periods. Drafting Slade would lock up arguably the most important position on the pitch for the next decade for Bristol.
2nd Pick – Newcastle Falcons, George Ford, fly-half
Newcastle have a good track record with England fly-halves (Rob Andrew, Jonny Wilkinson, Toby Flood) so taking Ford here would make a lot of sense, despite the fact he’s going to be busy during international periods.
3rd Pick – London Irish, Danny Cipriani, fly-half
Irish have been yearning for a reliable yet dynamic fly-half for years now and Cipriani would give them that immediately. They’ll need to draft a pack to keep him on the front foot, but if they do, he has the ability to make average back lines look great.
4th Pick – Gloucester, Francois Louw, openside flanker
As mentioned earlier, the Premiership’s crop of fetching opensides is limited and Louw is by far the best the competition has to offer. The Gloucester sides of old were built on their formidable packs and this pick continues that tradition.
5th Pick – Harlequins, Dan Cole, tighthead prop
Probably the best tighthead in the world, let alone the Premiership, Quins’ problems up front of late will ensure they look past Cole’s injury worries and draft him early. Cole can anchor Quins’ scrum and allow them to build on a firm foundation.
6th Pick – Sale Sharks, Joe Marler, loosehead prop
With the competition’s best tighthead off the board, Sale respond by selecting its best loosehead. Looseheads are generally a little easier to come by than tightheads, but at just 24 years of age and with less injury concerns, Marler could be a better value pick than Cole before him.
7th Pick – Wasps, Owen Farrell, fly-half
Wasps have lacked a consistent, high-calibre performer at fly-half since Alex King left Adams Park and Farrell, a British and Irish Lion, remedies that problem. Farrell doesn’t always garner style points, but he is a winner, something which should go down well with a club building a fan base in a new city.
8th Pick – Exeter Chiefs, Maro Itoje, lock
Exeter’s commitment to nurturing young English talent continues with the selection of Itoje to be their flagship player. The lock has his entire career ahead of him, is well on his way to being considered genuinely world class and gives the Chiefs a captain to build around for years to come.
9th Pick – Leicester Tigers, Courtney Lawes, lock
There are plenty of fine locks in the Premiership and taking one in the first round could be considered wasteful, but Lawes is a dynamic presence on the pitch and gives Leicester one of the premiere defensive players in world rugby.
10th Pick – Saracens, Mako Vunipola, loosehead prop
Young, durable props would have a high value in a draft scenario, making Saracens’ decision to keep Vunipola at Allianz Park an easy one. Having already seen two of their young stars end up elsewhere, keeping one of the pivotal members of the ‘Wolf Pack’ in North London would buoy fans.
11th Pick – Bath, George North, wing
North is every bit as good as the players taken before him, but with a pack, half-backs and midfield all prerequisites for getting the ball to a winger, the value of the position drops slightly. That said, North is capable of turning games on their head and is a threat to score from wherever, ensuring he doesn’t fall out of the first round.
12th Pick – Northampton Saints, Joe Launchbury, lock
They may have lost Lawes, but Northampton pick up his England engine roomer partner to appease the faithful at Franklin’s Gardens. Launchbury won’t make quite the same impact at the set-piece or as a tackler, but he brings improved breakdown work and carrying.
1st Pick – Bristol, Matt Kvesic, openside flanker
Having picked up a difference-making playmaker already, selecting Kvesic would give Bristol the best opportunity of providing said playmaker with quick, clean ball.
2nd Pick – Newcastle Falcons, Christian Wade, wing
Wade, on the artificial surface of Kingston Park, playing in a back line having its strings pulled by Ford, would be exhilarating to watch for Newcastle fans.
3rd Pick – London Irish, Manu Tuilagi, outside centre
Injuries are a worry with Tuilagi, but the prospect of him latching on to delayed passes at the gain line from Cipriani is enough in itself to make Irish take a risk here.
4th Pick – Gloucester, Nathan Hughes, number eight
One world class back rower is good, two must be better. Hughes’ powerful carrying and offloading game would be the perfect complement to Louw’s industry and breakdown work.
5th Pick – Harlequins, Owen Williams, fly-half
Quins have been blessed with Nick Evans for the last seven years, but the draft would give them the perfect opportunity to find a younger model at the position. Wales’ lack of interest in Williams makes him an even more valuable commodity.
6th Pick – Sale Sharks, Stephen Myler, fly-half
He may now be in his thirties, but with the likes of Evans and Charlie Hodgson showing that significant longevity can be had at the position, picking Myler, who is seemingly off England’s radar, could reap big rewards for Sale.
7th Pick – Wasps, Elliot Daly, outside centre
Having picked up their shiny, new fly-half in the first round, Wasps give him a weapon to work with in the back line, drafting local (until recently) lad and fan favourite, Daly.
8th Pick – Exeter Chiefs, Jonathan Joseph, outside centre
Exeter secure another player who looks set to get even better over the coming years and add incision to a back line which, although yet to be built, has a great foundation piece in Joseph.
9th Pick – Leicester Tigers, Billy Vunipola, number eight
Vunipola joins Lawes in a Leicester pack which already has the look of a unit which could challenge some of the vaunted Welford Road packs of old.
10th Pick – Saracens, Alapati Leiua, inside centre
With the premiere fly-halves all but gone, Saracens add a creative force at inside centre by taking Leiua. The Samoan is also a prodigious running threat and would be available during the Six Nations period.
11th Pick – Bath, Sam Burgess, blindside flanker
Having just worked out how to turn on their latest toy, the last thing Bath would want to do is let someone else play with it. Between Burgess and North, Bath are set well to be the most powerful pound-for-pound team in the Premiership.
12th Pick – Northampton Saints, Rhys Priestland, fly-half
Dan Biggar may have usurped Priestland in the Welsh pecking order, but it wasn’t long ago that Priestland was an international rugby regular and Northampton’s fans are likely to be very appreciative of that fact when he runs out at the Gardens.
1st Pick – Bristol, David Wilson, tighthead prop
Slade sparks the back line, Kvesic controls the contact area and now Wilson anchors the scrum. Not many promoted teams have ever been this lucky.
2nd Pick – Newcastle Falcons, Henry Thomas, tighthead prop
After salivating over a back line boasting Ford and Wade, Newcastle pick up one of the most improved players this season in young tighthead Thomas.
3rd Pick – London Irish, Kieran Brookes, tighthead prop
Having previously agreed to leave Newcastle for Northampton, it’s probably fortunate Brookes was overlooked by the Falcons and ends up with Irish, where he will lay a foundation for Cipriani and Tuilagi.
4th Pick – Gloucester, Anthony Watson, full-back
Having neglected their back line early on, Gloucester add Watson, whose counter-attacking ability makes him a threat regardless of the quality of player that Gloucester selects along the rest of the back line.
5th Pick – Harlequins, Marcos Ayerza, loosehead prop
Ayerza may be the wrong side of 30, but alongside Cole, he should provide Quins with a scrum that is a match for anyone in the Premiership or Europe. With Williams also drafted in the second round, it completes a trio of former Tigers at The Stoop.
6th Pick – Sale Sharks, Dylan Hartley, hooker
Sale’s scrum was bolstered by Marler and now they do the same for their lineout by selecting Hartley. A solid set-piece would be an effective way of keeping Myler on the front foot and improving his prospective longevity.
7th Pick – Wasps, Matt Mullan, loosehead prop
Mullan helped turnaround a Wasps pack which had been struggling in the scrum for years, so keeping him at the Ricoh Arena is a smart move for the men from Coventry.
8th Pick – Exeter Chiefs, JJ Hanrahan, fly-half
Having taken Joseph in the last round, Exeter need someone to put the ball in his hands and as a result, take a punt on Hanrahan. Hanrahan was unable to win a starting job at Munster, but he fits with Exeter’s philosophy and is certainly talented.
9th Pick – Leicester Tigers, Kyle Eastmond, inside centre
Though it’s thoroughly Leicester-like to build fierce and formidable packs, memories of dull and blunt back lines are fresh in the minds of the Tigers faithful, so they add one of the more exciting English backs about in Eastmond.
10th Pick – Saracens, Joe Simpson, scrum-half
The lack of England interest in Simpson up until now increases his value, whilst he also has an X factor which even the likes of Ben Youngs and Danny Care can’t match.
11th Pick – Bath, Jack Lam, openside flanker
One of the better jackals in Super Rugby before his move to Bristol, it’s not guaranteed that Lam would be a hit in the Premiership, but a transitional phase in the Championship certainly won’t have hurt. Lam is another player who would offer the added advantage of being available during the Six Nations.
12th Pick – Northampton Saints, Luke Cowan-Dickie, hooker
There are always picks that make you go ‘oooh’ in drafts, particularly towards the end of rounds, and this is certainly true here. Cowan-Dickie may not have even locked down a starting role with Exeter yet, but his potential is tremendous and Saints may be getting a bargain here if goes on to fulfil that promise.
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