NFL Draft Strategy Part II
In Part I we looked at what not to do, in terms of draft strategy and assembling your board. In Part II we will look at how teams should approach the draft, and make their selections. If drafting on need or my best player available don’t work, what does? In my opinion, the best strategy of running a draft is allowing the draft come to you.
Now what does that mean, ‘allowing the draft come to you’? Simply put it means not trying to force certain players or positions at your draft selections. The most dangerous thing year in year out, is falling in love with a player (BPA) or a need, and overvaluing them. The second most dangerous thing is valuing the skill positions (QB, RB, WR) higher than other positions. Instead, teams need to realize that the draft process isn’t a singular year process, and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Too often we see teams try to get the next superstar players and go from worst to first, but the reality is while the NFL Draft can help turn franchise’s around, there is more to it than just wanting it to turn your franchise around. The other thing to remember is that you are given 7 draft picks each year (more possibly with compensatory selections). That is a gift and a way to add young talent, and there is both an immediate and long term value to those picks. Yet every year, teams give them up for pennies on the dollar (trust me I know, I’m a Redskins fan). It is not surprising that the best drafting teams are also the ones who have had sustained success in the NFL. Teams like the Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Eagles not only know how to find a star with their top pick, but also frequently find gems in the later rounds. These are the teams that understand about letting the draft come to them, and they are the model for NFL Draft success.
Now going back to my causes for concern in ‘falling in love with a player’ or ‘overvaluing skill positions’, you have to look no further than last year’s draft to see a perfect example of why you don’t do either. The Denver Broncos ended up doing both last year and it cost them dearly. After a couple of trades the Broncos ended up with two first round picks, and three second rounders, giving them 5 picks in the top 64. They should have been in complete control of that draft and ended up with a first rate class. Instead the Broncos quite possibly had the worst draft of any team last year, and it ended up costing them dearly. While no one realized it at the time, but the Broncos were a playoff caliber team last season that ended up falling just short. The reason for their success had almost nothing to do with their top 5 picks, and in fact their lack of production left Denver devoid of talent. The Broncos fell in love with Knowshon Moreno last year, who was considered the top running back in the class, and drafted him with the 12th selection despite having a major need at rush linebacker (with Orakpo and Cushing on the board) and potentially seeing issues at receiver with Brandon Marshall already known as a head case. They drafted Moreno, despite their still being plenty of depth at running back, and the position showing less and less value in recent years. Not to mention the team had also signed a couple of veteran running backs during the off-season putting the need, lower than rush linebacker.
As it turned out the Cardinals and Eagles both benefited, since they took Beanie Wells and LeSean McCoy, who have both shown more value than Moreno so far. Denver then had to fill the need at rush linebacker with their 2nd pick and reached for Robert Ayers (why they didn’t grab Clay Mathews is beyond me). Ayers was a stretch as a OLB and one year later that position still remains a significant need. Also they spent their first two 2nd round picks on a corner (that they traded this year’s 1st rounder for) and a safety. It was a fairly weak defensive backfield draft last year, and they ended up trading a 1st round pick in this year’s draft to fill a ‘need’. The problem is they still don’t know if they have their long term corner, and if they still had their 14th overall pick they would be able to draft either Joe Haden or Kyle Wilson, both of whom could be immediate starters. The Broncos last season might be the extreme example of what not to do, but show the value of seeing the whole board and not falling in love with particular needs or positions. If they had taken Orakpo with their top pick, and grabbed one of the dynamic receivers available with their 2nd first rounder (Maclin, Harvin, Nicks), as well as taken McCoy with one of their 2nd rounders, Denver would have been a playoff team last season, and be poised for a Super Bowl run this year (especially if they kept that extra 1st rounder this year).
While we all love to hear our team drafting a franchise quarterback or a top running back/ receiver we need to realize that, it is not always the smartest move. Drafting a young quarterback is nice, but if you don’t have the pieces around him and/or rush him too early he is going to fail. Having a top running back is great, but you can find starting running backs in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds consistently. High draft pick running backs haven’t been too successful of late with the exception of Adrian Peterson. As for receivers, they are the ultimate crap shoot, some times you get a Calvin Johnson, but as Lions fans know you can also get a Charles Rogers or Mike Williams (USC version, not this year’s Syracuse version). And the fact of the matter is talented running backs and receivers won’t matter if they don’t have the offensive line and quarterback to support them.
Teams need to realize that they can’t have it all, and if you need proof of that, remember that the Saints had the fewest draft picks last year, yet ended up winning the Super Bowl, and the team that they beat got zero production from their top two picks. Both of those teams were successful, because they had for many years forged a high-quality team, that was built to win. Teams need to give up on this idea of overvaluing certain players and positions and realize that, the only way to build a sustained winner is to draft smart and let the draft dictate who you should take not the other way around. Now I realize that seems very backwards to basically cede control to your 31 other opponents, but that is exactly what the Patriots and company do, and that is why they make the best draft day trades every year, and have tons of quality players.