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Local teen uses his free time to analyze NFL draft

What began as a hobby for 17-year-old Thomas Hielkema ended up being an intense project of grading all 32 teams in the NFL for their selections in the recent draft.

Hielkema, a junior at Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, started with some mock drafts, trying to predict the first round, as well as attempting to project the first three rounds. When there were trades and other surprise picks during the draft, Hielkema decided to start grading the teams.

He dished out all the results on a website (see below).

“It really helps when you have all this time,” said Hielkema, who has aspirations to become a sports writer or some type of communications director for a professional team. “We don’t have to go to school.”

Hielkema began researching college draft-eligible players in March when schools shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Normally, he would have been balancing academics and basketball at Cottonwood, and playing tennis competitively for Volcano Vista. (He doesn’t play football, but then again neither did ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.)

Instead, he was finding out just how deep the wide receiver talent went in this year’s draft class, as well as dissecting who could be the top defensive players.

Hielkema, like many, became fascinated by the NFL’s first virtual draft. He was also intrigued by each of the picks.

His favorite pick?

“(Defensive end) A.J. Epenesa going to the Bills,” said Hielkema, a New England Patriots fan. “I had him going really high and he fell to the 54th pick. I think that was an absolute steal.”

His worst pick?

Thomas Hielkema, a junior at Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, took on the ambitious project of covering the 2020 drafts of all 32 NFL teams. He posted his coverage on a website. (Thomas Hielkema photo)

“I wasn’t expecting at all the New York Giants selecting Andrew Thomas with the fourth pick,” Hielkema said. “He deserved a high first-round pick but not above other tackles like Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills, my top two tackles, and (linebacker) Isaiah Simmons was probably the third or fourth best player in the draft. And the Giants could have used him. I think Andrew Thomas will be a decent player. I just think Wirfs or Wills would have been better.”

Rest easy, Giants fans, Hielkema gave the G-Men an A-minus for their draft. He wasn’t too rough on most teams, as his lowest grade was a C given to a few teams, including the Green Bay Packers.

They deserved an F. What in the world of cheeseheads were they thinking when they traded up to select quarterback Jordan Love in the first round and then took running back A.J. Dillon in the second round?

“They already have Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Jones,” Hielkema said. “So it was kind of confusing for me especially trading up for Jordan Love. The only team that possibly could have taken him with their pick would have been the Patriots. As we see now they didn’t even draft a quarterback so that wouldn’t have been a worry. I think they definitely could have waited even if they did like him. The only reason I gave them a C is because I feel Jordan Love will be a great player. They’ll get a good return out of it. I just don’t know if it was worth it, especially with Aaron Rodgers still playing at a high level.”

Hielkema said it felt “amazing” to finish the grades for each team, and it is something he could do again.

Only if he has a great amount of free time.