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NFL Draft Results: Cowboys Drafted Using "Best Value Available"

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Prior to the draft, a large part of the build up was spent debating whether the better philosophy was to draft the best player available, or to draft at a position of need. As it turned out, fans of both were disappointed with one aspect or another, as it appears the Cowboys adopted neither philosophy. Rather, the Dallas Cowboys employed a "Best Value Available" philosophy, and we ought to figure out how it works.


Through the preceding months of draft coverage, a debate emerged regarding the best strategy for selecting players in the draft. The approaches of Best Player Available and Position of Need soon arose as seemingly the only possibilities.

The best player available mentality seemed to indicate purity. Objectivity. Science. Selecting the objectively best player available at that point in time. This involves a disregard for depth, scheme, team structure, etc. and introduces the myth of the objective player evaluation - assuming that there is one superior way of evaluating talent. In practice, this 'objective' evaluation turns out to be the opinion of the team - the objective framed subjectively. And yet the subjective opinion is meant to exclude relevant information about the team. It's somewhat like trying to state the objective boiling point of water without considering the altitude at which the experiment is taking place. Heisenberg also comes to mind.

The opposite pole of the sphere was to select the position of greatest need. Rank your top (number of picks) positions of need and go get them in that order with your draft picks. If the BPA approach was guilty of assuming objectivity where none was possible, this PoN strategy is certainly guilty of embracing too strongly one aspect of the condition of the team - team makeup. This is the evil, flawed tactic applied by what we like call bad football teams. Most of us were convinced that we needed to make our way toward objectivity. Towards science and rationalism.

Those eager to find a fence to straddle invented another strategy - the 'best player available' at a 'position of need.' Much like Big Foot, everyone seems to get the gist of what this strategy implies, but there's no solid account of what it really means. It's possible that this means striking from the draft board every player who plays at a position of strength (of course, this strategy necessarily means that you aren't building any new strengths), necessitating that every player you draft plays at a position of weakness. There's another philosophy that entails that the tie breaker between players of completely identical ability should be the need at the position they play. Yet another philosophy (admittedly better in that it doesn't assume the existence of identically capable players) entails choosing prospects within a certain range of the best available (of course, without a set range) that fit a position of need.

Jerry Jones, of course, is a billionaire. His team is a business, and it is run as such. There's an economy within the NFL, with all 32 teams trading in both human resources and real currency. Value is king in any economy, and this one is no different.

One major shortcoming of the previous positions is that they did not include consideration for trades. Many people would suggest deferring to either the Harvard chart or the Jimmy Johnson chart for advice on trading. But even deferring to those charts, at what point is a trade a better value than a player selection? If you trade the 18th pick for the 31st and 50-somethingth, and come out on top in the 'trade value chart,' but in the process passed on a player whose position on your draft board was worth more points than the picks you received, would you still be getting better value with the trade? It comes back to the notion of objectivity vs subjectivity. The trade chart is a guideline, meant to be objective, while the decisions are still very much subjective.

Clearly, we need to establish a grounds for subjectively stating the value of a player. Every variable needs to come into play. Production, health, personality, leadership, skillset, position, measurables, scheme fit. Normalize each of these values (and whatever else you feel is important) in a way that suits your preference for them, and then assign them each coefficients representing your personal feelings regarding the scale at which each of them should be considered. Done? Great. Now you have a player value system. No, it probably won't resemble the Cowboys' system much at all, but at least you'll have one on which to base your praise and complaints next draft.

Now, you need to organize all of the players in the entire draft in order by this 'score,' and assign that value to each of the 254 draft slots (understanding that many of them are unattainable due to the inability to trade supplemental picks). And then you choose a number less than or equal to 1 and greater than 0, which will represent the rate at which you are willing to buy draft picks at each slot, and multiply every value in the table by that. This will ensure that you maintain your preferred margin of profitability in each trade you consider.

Finally, you assign the unadjusted values for each draft position to the picks in your possession. If your first round pick, at number 18 overall, was adjusted from 100 to 90 because you want a 10% gain whenever you trade into a draft spot, your 18th pick is still worth 100 points to you. This is because devaluing picks in your possession would negate the decision to adjust the value of picks you don't have.

Now, you're ready to make your pick. Look at all of the players on the board with their values. Consider the value of the currency (draft pick) you're investing, and consider the values of each of the picks offered for trade. Take the highest value available. It doesn't matter what the other team thinks it's getting in terms of value - only that it accepts the deal. It really doesn't matter how the value looked on their end (of course acknowledging that one should always try to maximize value in the deal).

I'm confident that the Cowboys engaged in a practice similar to this. They likely made additional considerations for 'holes' in the draft - draft slots they were confident would be used on players that had no value to the Cowboys - but such considerations also allow for the possibility that there will be no agreeable value at the time of the selection which necessitates either poor value drafting or poor value trading.

This is undoubtedly a painstaking process - but this is also a process undertaken by a full staff at a multi-million-dollar business in a multi-billion-dollar industry. It involves work. If you prefer to stick to mock drafts, I can't blame you, but don't be surprised if it doesn't land you a job with the Cowboys.