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Draft Strategy

This is the first of a multi-part series on long term strategies to upgrade the team. There have been several discussions on drafting best player available or drafting for need. These need not be mutually exclusive. The ideal case is where the best player available fills a need. So the best strategy for a team is to be in position where that occurs routinely.

Background

First one has to define what characteristics to measure for each position. Different coaches have different philosophies. Tom Landry wanted smaller, more mobile OL. Jimmy went for mass. Nate Newton said that the OL was just a bunch of fat guys until Emmett started running behind them.

Bill wanted muscle not just fat. He wanted to change the off-season workouts for LA. Who knows what Phillips wanted as the team drifted and the OL got old.

Garrett has changed the OL significantly over a period of years getting much younger in the process. After years of folks complaining about the OL, Garrett bit the bullet and rid the team of high cost low performers. The team actually used a #1 pick on the OL, along with the #4 and #7 picks and signed other FA and UDFA.

The first dynasty of Dallas was based on good scouting. Dallas used to go to small schools and look at other sports, at a time when scouting was reading the local sports pages. Dallas found better players and eventually that led to a competitive advantage. Dallas used new computers to store, sort and analyze data in an era when mainframe computers took up a full air-conditioned room. Now your laptops, even smart phones and tablets, have more computer power than those mainframes.

Further, the league eventually caught up with the combine. The combine has been a good place to help the identification of many characteristics. One can get standardized information that one can rely upon. Schools have been known to say players are taller, bigger, and faster than they really are. Here we get the real data for everyone and that levels the field.

Draft Sites

Further, many draft sites have popped up that rate each player in many ways. Rabblerouser provided a good evaluation of various sites:

http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2012/2/13/2792946/dallas-cowboys-draft-scouting-the-scouts-2012-edition#storyjump

My favorite was Wes Bunting of the nationalfootballpost.com Unfortunately, he has left to work for a NFL team and the site has changed. His site had several parts – a ranking of all players overall, a ranking of each player by position, and of what round he expected each player to be drafted. Lots of sites do that.

One thing that Bunting did that other sites did not, even his replacement of Lande at NFP, was to use a rating scale based on absolute value. He said the highest rating was based on a player being a Hall of Fame player and needless to say, there were few of those, if any, in any draft class. If fact he would not give the highest grade, if he did not think any were worthy in a given year.

Many just use a relative scale – the best OG is still the best OG no matter how a given year's class compares to other draft classes. One might get some inkling by what round he estimated and the depth/distribution in a class, but that is not the same. We have heard of the best in a decade player, but it is hard to evaluate relative values over different years. Bunting scales showed how rare it was.

Needless to say that helped to answer the harder question of should one get the best OG or the 3rd DE even if they were both first rounders. Other sites would have their overall rankings for all players, but one could only guess why.

One could create a draft board along tiers with all the players grouped by round and separated by position. Not every position would be present in each round. OCC provides just a board each year.

Further, Bunting had a short description of the player’s skills. This helped to sort players for different schemes. There are different characteristics based on schemes. The 3/4 DE is different from the 4/3 DE. Now many sites are sorting players according to scheme. Yet, reading the description one could further see if a CB was better for zone or for press coverage even if they were rated similarly overall.

Some positions lend themselves to this more than others. For example, it has been shown that the OT’s arm length is important, not so much for the interior of the OL. All other things being equal, a team would rate a given OT candidate with a longer wing-span higher than one with shorter arms.

Yet all factors are NOT equal. It is hard enough to say what the characteristics are for each position. Yet even if the characteristics could be identified, some teams weigh them differently. For example, Oakland rates speed as more important than other characteristics.

Then teams have other philosophies that impact the decision. One is risk tolerance. Do you want a player with character issues?

Players to be drafted are relatively young. That brings into several issues. One is risk tolerance. Do you want a player with character issues? Are those issues a function of just maturity?

Further draft picks are a long term player acquisition so we have to project the player several years into the future. Does a team want a player who is ready now or can you wait. Put another way, do you look at player floors or player ceilings. The quality of depth of existing players on the team helps determine that issue.

Internal team evaluations

So while an examination of the players is important, so is the team itself. Each team should have a full evaluation of each player and for each position. That includes both talent and cost.

The salary cap effect for each player is important as each team gets approximately the same money to spend each year. [There still is some cap year shifting due to bonuses and the Mara enhancement] The cap delays cutting players with high cap costs. The June 1 rule spreads some of the cost over two years helps minimize the effect but does not eliminate it.

One can eat dead money and eventually it comes off the books leaving the team ready to go forward. At some point in the future, a team can get out of cap hell and not worry about the cost of existing players. Getting there can be painful, but it is a short term pain.

The opening premise is that the ideal drafting situation is where the BPA is for the player at need. The only time that can be assured is if a team has no needs. With salary cap limits for each team, that is probably a fiction. Yet one can minimize needs to the point of just wanting a player upgrade instead of a hole.

There are several team major concepts to keep in mind. One is that the NFL is a star system, where the best players get an abnormally high salary compared to even better than average guys. The salaries do not go up in a straight line.

Thus spend too much on stars and you tend to skimp on quality backups. When the inevitable injury occurs that leaves holes that other teams can exploit. So you have to let quality players leave if they get too expensive.

In order to do that, teams better have young players being developed ready to step up. Teams that do not have to draft for need.

One method to minimize that effect is to sign mid-range mid-dollar role model FA’s. Bill Parcells did that and then upgraded the talent through the draft. Garrett also used that tactic. We signed Pool, who did not make it out of TC, and Connor who showed himself to be a backup, as insurance before we knew how well Carter would play.

Much paper and electrons have been spent on Livings and Bernadeau. Yet they were primarily signed to give time to develop the young players already on the roster. Bernie, in particular, was chosen as a model for the young guys. Still relatively young himself, he has improved every year in the NFL and was ready to break out in the opinion of the scouts.

The point of these players is not that they were ultimately great, terrible or in between, but that the team did not have to spend draft picks on those positions. The team could choose to draft a safety in Johnson and a LB such as Wilbur, if they saw value in them, but not have to.

Conclusion

We shall see if the draft classes actually pan out. Yet the strategy was to fill holes in FA and then upgrade the talent overall in the draft. Rinse and repeat – over several years the talent and distribution of talent depth should increase to the point that there are no holes. Then drafting for need is not required and a team can go strictly BPA.

With BPA, a team can upgrade from a solid player to a great player at any position that they desire. Then any discussion of drafting a guard with a first round pick would be moot. If you want a guard, get the best guard available. The opportunity cost would be minimized.

In the next of the series, I will discuss how to minimize risk in the draft.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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