NFL Draft Strategy Part I
When it comes to the NFL draft, there are basically two schools of thought on how a team should conduct a draft. One is drafting based on need or the other is drafting the best player available (BPA). The fact of the matter is, neither strategy is perfect or even the right way to conduct a draft, and should be replaced by a hybrid version of letting the draft come to you.
Why drafting on need doesn’t work:
When teams draft need-based first, two major issues come into play. One, teams assign a hierarchy of their needs but don’t always evaluate positions properly. Either in terms of their need, or their ability to fill it at a certain draft position. The second problem with drafting based on need is that you could force yourself into drafting a particular player even though his value might not be for another 5, 10 or even 15 selections. Over drafting players is one of the surest ways to have a bust of a draft, yet teams do it every year. One example of a team failing in both areas last season was the Kansas City Chiefs, when they selected Tyson Jackson with the 3rd overall pick. Jackson was a first round prospect no doubt, but much more deserving in the 10-15 range. He has a lot of potential as a hybrid end/tackle in the 4-3 or as a 3-4 end that can get up the field. Kansas City decided that, their need for a 3-4 end was great enough to grab Jackson. First off the Chiefs valued a 3-4 end over a rush linebacker. Now I do think quality ends are key to elite 3-4 teams, but Kansas City would have been much better served by grabbing the an OLB to get pressure on the quarterback. Had they drafted Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing or even Aaron Maybin they would have been in a much better position. There are also other directions they could have gone in, but they overlooked better players and more important needs.
Why BPA doesn’t work:
Like drafting for need, there are two fatal flaws with best player available strategy. The first of which is the fact that you are forsaking your needs to grab a player who might not see the field in year one. Unlike baseball and hockey, NFL drafts should produce immediate results, especially the 1st-3rd round picks. If teams aren’t getting significant contributions from those players collectively, then it is hard for them to be successful on the field. Now I say collectively, because it is okay to draft a young player with potential if depth is an issue at a crucial position, particularly if you’ve drafted significant contributors with your other picks. The second main issue with drafting based on a BPA strategy is you really have to hope your board is accurate. Now I’m not saying teams should ignore your draft board completely, but come on how often would we see a draft play out like it did just 6 months later? Draft boards can be wrong, especially when players will get placed on there based on workout numbers or one great season. By drafting solely on their board they can oversaturate a position and ignore others completely. Also whether it is admitted or not the board is usually biased towards team needs.
The perfect example of this backfiring and a team having a bias and oversaturating a position, is the Washington Redskins 2008 draft. The Skins desperately needed receivers and were in the market for big pass catchers since their top targets were Santana Moss, Antwan Randel El, and the undersized tight end Chris Cooley. Washington decided to trade back and with three 2nd round picks drafted two 6’2″ or taller receivers and a big tight end. While they had a need at receiver, that is way too many premium picks on a position that is still in shambles. Also by targeting solely big receivers, the Redskins ignored DeSean Jackson with their first two picks in the 2nd round. Of course they justified this by saying they followed their board and all three players they took had 1st round grades. If that is true its obvious that tall pass-catchers were graded on a curve that year, and instead the Redskins ignored multiple additional needs that still remain.
In Part II we will look at an alternative way to draft, and how the picks should be valued.