If, during the understandable excitement over the news about the Dallas Cowboys getting the deal done with Tony Romo, you did not read a very intriguing article by Coty Saxman about the real value of draft picks, you need to go do so now. I'll wait.
His article is related to my point here. This year's draft is very strangely distributed. It has been noted all over the league and in the media.
Overall feeling from GM's around league; 15 players have legitimate 1st round grades while close to 60 players come with 2nd round grades...— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) March 29, 2013
Those sure fire hits are a bit scarce, but when you are looking for those second round players who may not be immediate starters, but who offer an excellent chance of becoming starters fairly early in their careers - you know, players like Sean Lee and Bruce Carter - it is deep out there. And when you look at those 60 or so second round quality players, it is not terrible easy to figure which player is better than another in terms of BPA. Todd McShay, an ESPN draft guru, was on ESPN radio today at a time I happened to be listening, and he discussed how much variation there is in how teams see players this year. He said he is running into multiple cases where team A has a clear first round grade on someone and team B has them in the third round. And in reality, there is some merit to both views, based on the needs of the teams. McShay said he sees some likely first and second round players that he sees a range of 20 positions for. In other words, they could go at 10, or 30, and either would be justifiable, at least in his opinion. He used Luke Joeckel as an example. There is a consensus emerging that the Kansas City Chiefs will make him the number one pick overall, and the off season moves by the chiefs seem to support this idea. They signed Alex Smith, which is expected to take them out of the market for a quarterback. They signed free agent G Geoff Schwartz to bolster the interior of the offensive line, but released T Eric Winston.
However, they also franchised T Branden Albert. So maybe they might go a different direction. You can't trust what NFL teams say or do, especially in the weeks leading up to the draft. If the Chiefs go a different direction, McShay said he could see Joeckel sliding five or even ten spots. It is just that kind of year, and the qualitative differences between players are not that huge. This means the draft is going to be much less predictable.
It also means that teams are likely harder to figure out. If talent is fairly flat, so that you have several players with roughly the same grade on your board, then obviously you are going to lean towards need. Just to give an example, suppose you were in charge of Dallas' draft. You go on the clock, and you have three players left on your board with a first round grade: S Kenny Vaccaro, WR Cordarrelle Patterson and CB Xavier Rhodes. They are essentially in a dead heat as far as your evaluations can tell (this is just hypothetical).
With no way to differentiate BPA at this point, you are going to go to need. With all the O line candidates gone (and based on several mock drafts, including the BTB FPW mock draft, that is a real possibility), you are most likely going to throw out Rhodes and Patterson as not being high needs. Dallas gets a player a position of need without straying from BPA.
But the point is that teams may have a hard time figuring out who is really BPA here, and this is going to push them to fill needs. Since they are all playing a bit of liar's poker, you can't be sure just what their real priorities are. So strange things can happen. I've already mentioned that some mocks are showing all the top five offensive linemen gone before Dallas comes up. But others show two or even three still being there.
The first round is going to be a bit confusing. The second and third rounds are looking like chaos may prevail, at least as far as trying to predict things. Looking at various draft boards, there are exactly the kinds of variations that McShay was talking about from board to board, and on the same board from week to week. I don't have a way to be certain, but the impression is absolutely that things are more volatile this year than normal. And there is a ton of talent in that group of 60 or so players. if you are looking, for instance, at wide receiver, there are at least eight players that many would consider worthy of a second round choice. It just stands to reason, of course, if the judgement is that there are almost twice as many worthy players as there are selections in the round.
It would be a great draft to trade down. Albert Breer says that teams in the top 10 spots are already trying to locate trade partners. The problem is that pretty much everyone sees the same picture. The only team that seems even likely to want to trade up is the San Francisco 49ers, with a stunning 14 overall picks (three of which are compensatory and not tradeable). They have very little chance of finding room for 14 new players, so it would make sense to go for quality. But outside of them, almost all other teams would be much smarter sitting with what they have rather than trade to move up. Just because that is smarter does not mean that all teams will do it the right way, of course, but we can't depend on too many teams blundering here. (And, yes, if Jerry Jones or whoever comes up with some plan to trade up in the draft, it will be a mistake. Giving up a second or third round pick this year is simply too high a price.)
The best news is that it will take a lot of work or some just incredibly bad luck to mess up things. Dallas' scouting department has been pretty credible the past three years, and they should be able to get real quality in both the second and third rounds. With a little good luck, they might see a player still there in the fourth that merits a third or even second round grade. This draft is going to be the battle of the scouts, I think, and the teams that make the best judgments are set up to reap huge benefits this year. I think this may be a rare year in that every team has a chance to come out of the draft with players that help them. Expect to see a bit of the unexpected this year, as well. Of course, I really only care that the Cowboys do well.