A great source of hilarity during draft season, at least for me, are draft pundits who pontificate for months about how NFL teams should draft the best player available (BPA), and then, without so much as batting an eyelid, publish mock draft after mock draft based entirely on need. And finally, to top it all off, once the real draft is over, they rip into NFL teams for not drafting for need.
Of course, all of this comes with the territory. After all, if you were going to do a mock draft based purely on BPA, you might as well just publish your big board and be done with it, and what would the fun be in that?
But the draft is not just about the dichotomy between drafting for need and drafting BPA.
A hotly debated topic in management, leadership, and organizational theory is whether you should invest your finite resources into fixing weaknesses or building strengths.
For some reason, the human brain is wired to focus on fixing weaknesses.
- Think back to the many New Year’s resolution that flooded social media in January. Odds are they were about things like quitting cigarettes, losing weight, spending more time with the family, exercising more, eating healthier - all resolutions that address a perceived weakness. Very few people, for example, resolved to be “even more awesome next year.”
- Think back to some of the report cards you brought home from school in your youth. Odds are you had a smattering of A’s and B’s, but your parents wanted to talk to you only about the few C’s and made sure you invested extra time to “fix” those C’s. For some strange reason, our educational system expects every child to do well in every subject, even though we all know that later in life every one of those children will specialize in specific and increasingly narrow fields.
- Think about your last performance review (if you had one): Odds are that after a few introductory sentences of praise, your boss spent the rest of the time talking about what you did wrong, your weaknesses, and how you need to fix them.
Yet when we look at successful companies, successful leaders, or successful organizations, they are almost always successful because they have very specific strengths that make them better than their competitors.
Management theory holds that to remain successful, you need to invest your available resources, be it time, money, managerial talent - or in the case of NFL teams, cap space and draft capital - to further build your strengths.
The only exception to this rule is if you are dealing with a potentially fatal flaw. Such a fatal flaw needs to be addressed with the highest priority, as it has the potential to render all your strengths moot. If, for example, your company is unable to invoice customers, you had better fix that fast, or you’ll be bankrupt in no time, regardless of how successful you are selling your products.
Sure, every successful company also has weaknesses. But being below average in a given area when compared to a global norm could still mean that you are performing well enough in that area it doesn’t become a detriment to your strengths.
The offseason is when we as fans tend to obsess over a team’s weaknesses and devise costly free agency schemes and elaborate mock draft fantasies about how to address them. But we don’t talk about our team’s strengths a lot. In fact, we may not even be sure what our team’s strengths are.
Heading into the draft, the draft pundits seem to have identified CB, S, and DL as the Cowboys weaknesses, at least going by the positions the majority of mock drafts have the Cowboys selecting in the first round. But would you classify any of these weaknesses as a fatal flaw that needs to be addressed with the highest priority?
To me, none of these feel like a fatal flaw. Sure, they could use help at CB, especially with the departure of Byron Jones, and they’ll probably add a few more players to the CB room in the draft, but are the Cowboys going to lose 16 games because of their pass defense? Or even eight? Probably not.
Same thing goes for the defensive line and safeties. They already upgraded both units in free agency, and sure, further upgrades would be nice, but if you had to prioritize draft capital, I wouldn’t invest too much into those positions.
At the end of the day, the 2020 draft will be a question of building strengths vs fixing weaknesses. And if I were the Cowboys, I’d be looking to build on my strengths.
First, I’d look at wide receiver. Imagine what another top receiver alongside Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup would mean for the offense. Similarly, I’d look at what’s needed to maintain the long-term dominance of the offensive line, especially with Frederick’s surprise retirement.
And once I have all of that figured out, I’d look at what resources I have left in terms of draft capital to address some of the weaknesses on the team.
But in an environment focused on weaknesses, that may not be a particularly popular opinion to hold.
In his latest mock draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Cowboys selecting WR CeeDee Lamb, arguing that ”Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Lamb would instantly become one of the NFL’s top wide receiver trios.” Mike Fisher immediately poo-poos the idea:
“We can argue that given the fact we’re talking about a third receiver, and given the fact that talent at that position is available in later rounds, and given the fact that the Cowboys have holes on defense ... maybe a wide receiver in Round 1 isn’t the wisest use of this puzzle piece.”
Echoing Fish, another writer for the Cowboys Maven site first has the Cowboys selecting WR Jerry Jeudy, but then immediately invalidates his own idea with the need argument.
Best available player: When the Cowboys came on the clock Jeudy was at the top of the board, and since we’re taking best available player regardless of position that’s what I did. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Jeudy. In fact, if you’re thinking about bolstering the Cowboys’ wide receiver corps further he’d be a great selection. But with Amari Cooper under contract and Michael Gallup returning, is another potential No. 1 receiver something the Cowboys really need? To take Jeudy, the Cowboys had to ignore other needs like cornerback, safety and defensive line.
BTB-member BlueFlash summarizes the choice above succinctly:
Translation: The way to remain a middling 8-8 team is to reach for need, when gold is staring you on the face.
In his 1967 book The Effective Executive, the “father of modern management,” Peter Drucker writes:
“You cannot build performance on weaknesses. You can build only on strengths. To focus on weakness is not only foolish; it is irresponsible. It is a misuse of a human resource as what a person cannot do is a limitation and nothing else.”
Drucker writes about individuals, but his line of thinking can also be applied to organizations like a football team. Of course we need to be mindful of both strengths and weakness, especially if one of those weaknesses qualifies as a fatal flaw. But at the end of the day, it is a team’s strengths that sets it apart and makes it successful.
Over to you: what would you do first, fix the weaknesses or build the strengths?