Thinking Man’s Guide to the NFL Draft

NFL Draft Coverage – Reviewed

The annual NFL Draft is a prolific topic on sports channels, social media, and the web. Information that is distributed ranges in quality, and coverage builds to a crescendo, culminating in the ratings-giant, three-day draft extravaganza. As with any popular topic these days, much of what you hear or read is nonsense, or at least, “near nonsense.” DraftBlaster takes on the draft’s juggernaut of silliness, with this “Thinking Man’s Guide to the NFL Draft.”Enjoy.

Question: What is the major dichotomy of types of mock drafts?

Answer: In a perfect world, all mock drafts would have to state clearly whether the selections are what the writer thinks the teams WILL do, or what the teams SHOULD do. Unfortunately, there is a lot of hedging of bets, and most mock drafts contain a mix of both. By literal interpretation, a mock draft should always be a representation of what the writer thinks each team will do instead of their opinion on what the team should do in the draft. However, mock drafts that are purely based on what a writer thinks a team should do are refreshing and can tell you a lot about the writer’s football acumen.

Question: What is the difference between a mock draft and a “big board”?

Answer: This should be very clear in the description before either.  A mock draft is a prediction of the actual draft results.  A big board is a rating system of players’ quality.  This throws out all other variables such as team needs, supply and demand, etc. Big boards are a more difficult analysis, as assigning a raw number of quality to players regardless of position is a tricky proposition.

Question: I see a lot of mock drafts out there, what are some initial qualities that I should look for to judge if a writer is doing a good job or not?

Answer: Analyzing all of the NFL teams and making informed, thoughtful assessments of how they should draft is an exhaustive process. The first assumption you might want throw out is counter-intuitive, but important: don’t necessarily judge a mock draft by how accurate they have been. NFL drafts involve human beings as the “product,” and it is a process of guessing, albeit highly educated guessing.  Look for writers that explain themselves logically and thoroughly.

It is easier to do a little elimination of many mock drafts right from the start. You want to avoid mock drafts that:

  1. Assign players to teams in their mock most often because the current player on that team is… and insert pejorative comment. This will clear out a large amount of mock drafts.  An example is “The X Team should draft Y Player because their current play A is just terrible.” Football is a much more complex game than that, and you don’t want to invest in a mock draft that reads like a local talk sports radio show.
  2. Are in love with descriptions in “absolutes.” There is a time and a place for absolutes, such as “Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all-time.”  This is sports talk, so it doesn’t need be 100% a definitive truth, but just near it. However, more often than not you will see so-called analyses that are drenched in words like “the worst,” “the best,” “the most powerful,” “the greatest athlete,”, etc.  It is lazy, and loses power when over-used.
  3. Frame up arguments that give the writer a position of complete infallibility.  Professional sports writers and analysts fall into this trap often. In a mock draft it goes like this: “If the Titans don’t draft X, they are just stupid, but they probably will draft X.” The writer is giving himself an “out.” They are putting forth an opinion, and if option A happens where the team does what they say, they are smart, and if the team goes with option B then they are stupid, and the writer still looks smart. Unfortunately, this thought process is the world we live in now.

Question: What prep work should I do on my favorite team to be prepared for the draft?

Answer: This is where it should always start, not by first looking at shiny new players and how they would help. The NFL draft is simply an exercise in allocating finite resources.  By understanding how your team uses and needs resources, you can be well prepared to enjoy the draft process.  Consider:

  1. If you have a returning GM and front office, you should try to learn their patterns.  Do they more often lean toward either defense or offense in the draft and the other in free agency?  Does your front office adhere to a best player available, best player that fits a need, or more pure need type philosophy? If you have a new front office, it is not difficult to study the philosophy of where they learned.
  2. For key positions, understand the player type based on that system. West Coast Offense wide receivers have different desired skill sets than Air Coryell type wide receivers. First know the type of system that is going to be used for each part of the offense and defense, and know the desired type of players for those schemes.
  3. Remember what you just saw the year before.  It is not a cheap cliché that the NFL is a copycat league. This is not as reckless as it sounds, as it is more accurately a reactive league. For instance, if a few teams realized that slot corners can’t cover the new breed of “move” tight ends, and have been carving up defenses, you will most probably see an increase in the value of athletic, pass-catching tight ends in the draft.
  4. Look around the division for major personnel changes. Front offices put a lot of weight into the actions of those teams they will play twice a year.  If a team in a division has a fast rising QB and WR combo that was hard to handle the year before and only getting better, the cornerback position will become more of a premium.
  5. Take a look at upcoming contracts. The draft is a great way to trim payroll.  When there are declining players with big salaries, teams will look to find a young player with a manageable cap hit to replace them. A position group that contains players with high salaries on a team will be a position group that increases in value for that team in the draft.

Question: Where should I get my draft information?

Answer: Start locally. Covering the entire league is a daunting task, so if you start by studying what the folks that cover your team day in and day out say, you are logically getting more focused opinion. That is not a given, as local sports coverage varies greatly from town to town and reporter to reporter.  You should be able to identify the thoughtful, intelligent reporters from the goofballs.  Next, for overall draft coverage triangulate. That is what DraftBlaster is all about, providing multiple, and diverse sources of analysis on each player. If you identify a player you are interested in, read a few player profiles from different sites and look for patterns. Next, for national analysis on your team, look for analysts that played, coached, or are familiar with your teams systems.  For instance, if your team employs the West Coast Offense, you would give a little more weight to what someone like Steve Young says, as he played in that offense during his Hall of Fame career.

Question: Now that I am prepped about my team, and have a good understanding of team needs, what other factors should I look for in players available for the draft?

Answer: Your expectations for the draft will come crashing down if you don’t prepare yourself by knowing the supply and demand dynamic of each position.  For instance, your team might be desperate for a RB. Your local sports radio shows and columnists are saying how your team must draft a RB in the first round, as it is their biggest need. The first round comes and goes, and your team picks up a defensive end. The sky falls, and the local sports press panders to the lowest common denominator thinking, and the calls flood in to the afternoon shock radio station. As Aaron Rodgers says…  R-E-L-A-X.  Just because your team NEEDS a player at a certain position, don’t necessarily assign that to where they should take them in the draft. Look at the entire RB class as a whole.  Are there a few superstars that were gone when your team picked?  Is there a large grouping of the next level of RB’s after the elite ones? Is there a history of mid to late round RB’s thriving in the draft? More often than not, teams that seem to always hit their top need in the first round are simply reaching.

The draft process is a moving target, and what you think you need at that moment can change very quickly with free agency, injuries, surprise low rounders or undrafted free agents. What you need to do is look for patterns.  What do the best teams seem to do in the draft?  If you said pick the best player available most of the time, with some, but not total relation to need… you are correct.

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