Draft Fiction, Fallacies and Flubs

NFL Draft Coverage

2024 NFL Mock Draft

Any particular area of study is guilty of it- a little subculture is created, and along with all of the excellent advances that are made, there is a bad habit of repeating things that aren’t true.  These are normally concepts that are either “apparently” true, but with a little logic are shown not to be, or that give the person saying them a temporary sense of power and superiority.  The NFL Draft, unfortunately, is set up all too well for these concepts.

People who write about the draft (and we don’t exempt ourselves from some of these sins) constantly justify their opinions by using little logic tricks like: If X Team doesn’t pick X Player they are (insert insult) because it is a huge need (says the writer) and he fits perfectly (says the writer). Fans are passionate, and want their teams to draft well, so often they pick up on the bad habits of lazy writers, pandering local radio hosts, etc.

The fact of the matter is that there are some excellent football writers and mock draft sites out there, but most sports media is not there to analyze, it is there to generate negative reactions from viewers to increase their audience.  Negativity sells, and more often than not is mistaken for insight.

When writing a mock draft and football articles, we first set out with a set of rules such as trying to never attack anyone personally, trying to avoid superlatives (it is lazy writing), and a host of other “Peccadilloes” that we try to avoid. Here is a list of not only what we have found as the most common false phrases and comments (fiction and fallacies), but also some of the most common mistakes that teams make with their draft philosophy (flubs).

“I think X Team should trade down”

This was particularly popular before the draft pay scale was in place, and when the Patriots were doing it every year. While trading down can be beneficial, it is mentioned so often on local sports radio you would think that there is a big red button a team can press to initiate a trade, like the red “Easy Button” in those Staples commercials.  The fact of the matter is that it is difficult to find a trading partner.

The only times when it is fairly easy to trade a first-rounder is if your team holds the top one or two selections when there are very highly rated quarterbacks coming out, and your team doesn’t need or want to draft one of them, –or– your team is drafting at the end of the first round and a team at the top of the second round wants to jump up and grab a player.  The move from high second to low first is popular because, since the last CBA, you control a player that is drafted in the first round one extra year.

Other than that, it is not easy to trade picks and let’s just all agree that every team is listening to offers on draft day. Finally, when the Patriots were constantly moving down was also a time when they weren’t really drafting well.  Yes, they do draft badly from time to time. More Accurately Stated: “Team X should be open to offers to move down on draft day.”

“This guy is a no-brainer pick / he is a lock”

It is a very easy exercise to go back and look at each year’s draft and see how many true locks there are. Maybe two or three seem worthy of that in the history of the draft.  The fact is, draft analysts should be a lot more careful with their language, and all of the hyperbole each year makes people trust them less. There are ex-GM’s currently on shows covering the draft that made terrible decisions in the first round using the terms “No Brainer” and “Lock.” Along with other draft experts who used these terms in the past on seemingly can’t-miss prospects, it is part of the draft hysteria that repeats itself every year. More Accurately Stated: “Player X is probably the best prospect for the first pick.”

“The (insert team) doesn’t need an (insert position)”

One recurring lesson that doesn’t seem to set in is that drafting players is like hitting moving targets- team needs can change in an instant, and in a big way. Injuries are the main culprit, but also teams are always looking to shed big contract hits if they can replace them with a player in the draft.  Teams are always looking to get young, cheap players in place to time with the cutting of older, high-priced players.

This over-emphasizing team needs in the draft falls at the feet of people who cover the draft and mock draft sites like ours.  Yes, teams do have primary needs, and at the top of the draft it is a bit more of a concern because of resources spent, but teams don’t necessarily draft in line with needs at the time of the draft.

This is the fault of “snapshot logic” where we look at what a team needs at one particular moment and try to fit in exact draft picks to fit those needs.  The best teams seemingly always look like they have a convoluted draft in terms of their needs.  That is because they are looking to draft the best players, knowing that the draft is one part of the process that is about putting together the best possible roster. More Accurately Stated: “We have more pressing needs.”

“They will just draft the best player available”

This one has some merit but essentially is incorrect.  And yes, we use this phrase from time to time as well. However, it is much more accurately stated: “They will just draft the best player available – at a position we value highly and don’t have a lot of resources committed.”  That is pretty long, but far more accurate.  The point is, when you see a playoff team pick a player that isn’t their primary need, this is where this gem gets thrown out.  However, they most probably have a player or two that is actually higher on their board. Normally, they have defined a few positions that they are open to drafting high because they both value that position and have room for that player. More Accurately Stated: “They draft the best available, all things being equal.”

“The Underwear Olympics”

This one is just passive aggressiveness coupled with non-cleverness. It is the smarmy term for the combine by sports writers/hosts who like to be negative to feel empowered.  First, it is a jab at the players in track-type gear working out… but isn’t “underwear Olympics” an idiotic term?  Watch the Olympics, this is what they wear.  All Olympics are Underwear Olympics, it is like the term the “Frozen Tundra.”  Tundras are frozen, no need to state that.  “Underwear Olympics” is like saying “Wet Ocean.” More Accurately Stated:  Nothing.

“He (insert college QB) played in the spread so he didn’t (insert QB skill)”

This one falls heavily on ex-players and coaches who cover football that never played or coached in a spread.  It occurs every day on the major networks covering the draft, and here is the problem- players and coaches who have no experience in the spread very often (to a very disappointing degree) lump all of them together in the evaluation of quarterbacks. The problem is that spread offenses in colleges vary widely in what they ask from a quarterback. The blanket understanding by many of these analysts is that spread quarterbacks in college don’t make reads, have progressions, call plays, or make changes themselves before the snap.

In many instances, this is true and a quarterback runs the “joystick offense” that the coach controls.  The quarterbacks purely execute a play to a predetermined read. However, most of the best teams in college that run the spread AND have an experienced quarterback, will put a lot more on their QB’s plate.  Deshaun Watson made checks at the line, had to read defenses, and went through progressions. When a paid analyst makes sweeping generalizations about spread quarterbacks in college, you have to question their football acumen, or at very least their commitment to doing their research. Instead: Research what a QB actually does in their specific spread system before speaking or writing about a college player.

“I really love this kid from X school”… when you never actually saw a game he played

It seems crabby to bring up, but this one can get annoying.  It is a symptom of parroting what you hear, and that is just bad with sports, politics, etc… Not everyone is a draft nut, and people have lives, that is understandable, but if you are going to call into a sports show, make a social media post, etc., don’t just say, “I really like this kid out of X college for us.  What do you think?”   As the draft draws closer, this is a really popular call in question to shows on NFL Network on Sirius, and on local radio shows.

DraftBlaster gets a lot of emails, and thankfully, almost all of them are more along the lines of “I like or don’t like your pick for X team because this player fits or doesn’t based on X, Y, Z.”  Those are exceptional and really force more research, making the site better.  The draft is fun because it involves so many different talented players and seeing where they land on teams that have so many different strengths and weaknesses. If you are reading this, you surely wouldn’t do this, as you are a draft junkie as well, and take the time to read and research. More Accurately Stated: “I really like this kid from X school BECAUSE he does such and such well and that fits us as we value X, Y, Z.”

Flubs (based on history, common mistakes teams make in the draft):

Being deeply locked into scheme fit vs. talent

During the heyday of the West Coast offense and the subsequent Tampa 2 defense, this rigidity to what each player at each position must “look like” was the downfall of many teams.  This happened a lot in the late 90’s through the mid-2000s and it got a lot of coaches and coordinators fired.  Eventually, teams that adapted their West Coast Offense and their Tampa 2 defenses to different types of talent succeeded, while the hardcore scheme guys fell along the wayside.

Most teams today are extremely versatile – they run offensive plays from different offensive philosophies, and, on defense are constantly switching from zone to man coverage, and have multiple fronts.

However, there are going to be bad teams with GMs and coaches on the hot seat that are going to proceed with a draft reaching for players that exactly fit their system instead of putting more of an emphasis on talent and altering their scheme around talent.

Waiting one year too late to find a replacement for a player

This is one of the things that the Patriots do better than other teams.  They don’t wait for players to get over the hill, where they normally get a high paycheck at the end of a long contract. What you want to do is replace a player a year BEFORE they don’t have value on the open market, and not a year AFTER that happens.  A few other teams do a nice job at this as well, and that is why you see a few playoff teams each year get compensatory picks.

The pay scale that is assigned to the draft from the last CBA has had a major change in how teams are built, as you can see a lot of veteran players looking for teams at the start of the season. There is a huge value in the draft, particularly the first round, where if you hit on a player, you can have an excellent value at traditionally high-priced players.  The Seahawks struck gold with a left tackle and QB in a draft, the two highest-paid positions, allowing them to spend money on other players.  It allowed them to win a championship. Sentimentality can kill a team’s roster, and you never want to be paying a player for what they did in the past.

Not adapting to changes in the game

When coaches get fired, fan bases will often vent that the coach didn’t know what he was doing, and other such niceties. The truth might not be that far off, however.  It is not that a lot of unsuccessful coaches don’t have a wide breadth of football knowledge, but what is fairly common are football coaches who get locked into football dogma, and lack the wisdom and vision to see how the game is changing from year to year.

Probably the most recent and still prevalent example of this is the “real football” vs. spread, and any other sort of scheme or plays such as read-option, wildcat, pistol, etc. Most of the coaches being fired today are “real football” type guys who aren’t adapting.

On offense you need to get first downs, convert third downs, control time of possession, not turn the ball over, and get touchdowns when in the red zone.  How you do that is by finding ways to get matchup advantages. In today’s game that especially means running backs that can catch and tight ends that can do it all.

On defense, we are seeing a big need to neutralize these matchup problems.  You need safeties that can tackle, and linebackers that can cover. The super safety is not a luxury, but a necessity.

The other teams in the league are creating these mismatches and teams that don’t adapt are falling behind. A great way to judge how aware the coaching staff is of this is how they come out and play in the third quarter. Teams that perform badly in the third quarter often have a philosophy that is too rigid and can’t adapt, even when they are in the middle of a game.

Overlooking chronic character problems

The keyword here is “chronic.”  Young men make mistakes, and sometimes they are pretty terrible. However, even when a player does something very, very bad, it might not be as scary to a team as much as a pattern of bad behavior. If a player makes a mistake and goes a few years completely keeping his nose clean and at least appearing to have taken the situation seriously, it is less of an indication of a problem than when a player keeps getting in trouble, even if each individual act is much less severe.

This isn’t a matter of morality but of practicality.  It is also something that can be tracked.  Multiple offenders in college are big, big trouble. This could be as simple as positive tests for marijuana to fight in public, but when a player gets in trouble, gets disciplined, and does it again, you must really do your homework, because history tells us it is going to happen again. When a player does something bad, even if it is really bad, and then can go a few years without any trouble, you might actually feel better about him than a chronic offender of lesser transgressions.

Teams don’t need to be motivated by doing the right thing.  It is about being pragmatic.  The league is coming down hard on bad behavior, and it is not worth it to draft guys who are not going to be available due to suspensions. What is known is the tendency of players who got into trouble multiple times in college to continue to get into trouble when in the league.

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