View Full Version : Who Needs to Draft for Need?

05-10-2011, 06:51 AM
If been thinking about different draft strategies a lot recently and looking at some articles by media members. I make no qualms that this piece comes down on the side of drafting for value but I was looking to see what other people thought, because it clearly seems at this time of year if you didnt fill every need youre clearly screwed for next year.


It’s that time of year again, everyone is rushing to get out their draft grades and announce who the big winners and losers were in the 2011 NFL draft. This is a pretty simple exercise; find out who got the best players and filled all their needs. Easy, right? Well sure it is so long as your basing your assumption off that every team uses the exact same draft strategy and are expecting, particularly highly drafted rookies, to come in and make a significant impact early. It appears that most fans and media think alike. Instant gratification. Fans want their team to go out and grab their favourite player at a need position. It makes lots of sense. You have a position of weakness and surely the best way to improve as a team is to strengthen any weaknesses. You can see it weeks, even months, in advance of the draft. Fans will post messages on draft sites like “Give the Bucs Ryan Kerrigan” or have their ideal draft posted. Taking heads on TV are exactly the same. Mock drafts start to crop up on TV a few weeks out and they are slotting certain players in at different spots because “it makes sense”. The Giants have a huge need at offensive line so they’re going to take Castonzo. Simple, right? Not so much. This is where value comes in.

The NFL is a cutthroat business where success breeds stability but failure ultimately will be the undoing of many qualified head coaches and GMs. It would be difficult enough for a head coach to convince himself that drafting a player who is not at the top of their many needs is the best method to use, let alone persuading GMs who may be one year away from being fired. Very often this leads to teams reaching on needs higher in the draft, and as long as these players don’t become busts in the NFL it is easy to say that these teams have had successful drafts. Watching draft coverage on ESPN or NFL Network you will see a constant stream along the bottom of the screen displaying team needs. It makes sense to fill your top need early with the best available player at that position rather than wait and pick up a lesser player in the later rounds. However, not all decision makers think this way.

Bill Belichick described the New England Patriots draft strategy the week before the draft and stated “When we value the players, we value them kind of on a generic basis: if we were starting a franchise, not who do we have playing here. So we’re not grading players based on what the quality of player we have is at a position, but in terms of: is this guy a starter in the league, is he an immediate starter in the league, is he a back-up, is he a multi position back-up, is he a practice squad player…whatever it happens to be”.

Teams adopting this approach are doing their best to make sure that each draft they are coming away with a good player, not necessarily a good OLB, a good TE, a good CB etc, but good players. The Patriots made this approach obvious in the 2011 NFL draft by time and again passing on an OLB to rush the passer. Every analyst on TV had the Patriots’ biggest need as a pass rusher. There was even talk of them trading up for Robert Quinn the day of the draft. However by the time they made their selection at #17; Von Miller had gone to Denver, Aldon Smith had gone to San Francisco, Robert Quinn had gone to St Louis and Ryan Kerrigan had gone to Washington. It was no major surprise that they didn’t reach on Jabaal Sheard or Brooks Reed at this point. With the 28th pick they traded to New Orleans for a future first round pick and their second round pick. This trade was probably too good to pass up and thus they didn’t take Reed or Sheard there either. 33 is where it got interesting. Most experts had both Sheard and Reed rated somewhere between 33 and 45 so the value wouldn’t be too bad here and there was an obvious need. However, obviously Bill Belichick thought that Ras-I Dowling would be a better player than either pass rusher. Not as big a need but a better player.

It’s easy to blast this approach straight after the draft. Why draft a CB when you have a pro bowl player on one side, a veteran starter coming back into the fold and some young depth at the position, especially when adding an impact pass rusher would help out the secondary? This sounds eerily familiar to last year when they were lampooned for drafting Devin McCourty while both Jerry Hughes and Sergio Kindle were still available. Hindsight is 20/20 but this happens so often with people judging the draft on filling needs, not drafting good players.

In 2008, USA Today gave the Tennessee Titans a D+ for their draft and in particular blasted the selection of Chris Johnson in the first round. Why draft a RB in the first round when they already had LenDale White and Chris Henry on the roster?

In the same article they lavished praise on the Jacksonville Jaguars for selecting both Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves. Their logic was that to stop Peyton Manning they needed to pressurise him. However not only did neither player amount to anything in Jacksonville, the Jags also gave up a lot in terms of compensation to get Harvey.

In 2007, WalterFootball put out their draft grades. In regards to Philadelphia they wrote, “Kevin Kolb? Kevin Kolb!? Easily one of the dumbest picks I have ever seen”. They didn’t upgrade their secondary or get WRs for Donovan McNabb. They were awarded a D for their efforts despite bringing in who is now the most sought after trade asset in the NFL, Stewart Bradley and Brent Celek.

Or quite possibly the finest draft grade ever produced, FoxNews.com gave the Carolina Panthers an A+ for their 2010 NFL draft. I understand at the time giving them a good mark for drafting Clausen at 48th overall after many thought he could have been a top ten pick. However they stated that bringing in WR help was a must and they got both Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards. Players taken after both included Tony Moeaki, Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez, Geno Atkins etc. They saw a huge need and reached on those players. This is not even taking into account that the pick used to get Armanti Edwards was in essence the 33rd pick in the 2011 draft.

When handing out draft grades straight after the draft it is only natural to look at teams who addressed their needs and assume they had done well. Likewise it is easy to assume teams who failed to address needs performed poorly. But is it a coincidence that the majority of consistently good teams adopt a BPA approach to the draft? The Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers had needs going into the draft. They could have used a 5 technique DE to add depth and possibly replace Cullen Jenkins who may leave in free agency. They could have used a bookend pass rusher to compliment stud OLB Clay Matthews. They could have used a defensive back to learn from Charles Woodson. Yet this year they drafted their second consecutive offensive tackle in the first round and drafted a WR/KR in the second who may compete for the 4th WR spot this year.

Better teams have the luxury of taking players of value rather than need; however the Packers, Ravens, Giants, Steelers and Patriots have used this method for years, not just when they were winning Superbowls. Clearly it seems to be working.

Drafting a certain position because there is a need does not necessarily mean that the area is not still a need, especially if the player you take is not as highly rated as the spot he is selected in. If a team consistently reaches on players in the draft then eventually that team will be full of lesser talented players. The one thing you are ensuring as much as possible by drafting on value is that you are getting the best possible player. Sure some players will bust, some will get injured and some will be poor fits; however if you trust your scouting department and your draft board then the right move is to go with your highest rated player. As for valuing the players, some teams have differences of opinions. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

05-10-2011, 07:13 AM
The other side of it is evaluating who might fill a need, and how well. When a player fits both bills, being agressive is important.

Since the Patriots are under discussion, that is also their history. They were willing to overpay for Jerod Mayo in order to insure they did not miss him. Last year Jacksonville shocked almost everyone when they took Tyson Alualu half a round earlier than any published mock. Back in the day, Jimmy Johnson launched the Cowboy Dynasty by trading up for Emmitt Smith. See also Troy Polamalu, Eli Manning, etc.

Of course, when the Jags took Harvey, they felt that they were doing exactly what I describe. They saw a player that they felt was both a top player at his position, and they top need of their team. Their analysis of Harvey turned out to be completely wrong, but they had a lot of company in their assessment.


05-10-2011, 07:36 AM
Yeah for sure if there is someone you like enough to reach on then I am all for being aggressive. The Ravens done it two years ago as well with Michael Oher. However it is teams who draft solely on need that can often lead to problems. I also believe in the cases of Mayo and Alualu both the Pats and Jags had each respective player more highly rated than most others

05-10-2011, 10:49 AM
I really think "drafting for need" is only for those middle of the road mediocre teams who would be better if they could fill a gaping hole at one or two positions. Generally teams that are picking low are good teams that aren't terribly hindered by their holes (and every team has holes, #1-#32) so they can certainly afford to maximize value with minimal concern for position. On the other hand, generally teams that are picking high are bad teams who more or less just need talent wherever they can get it.

Were I a GM the only import I would give to "need" when I draft is "can this guy make the roster, and will he end up starting/playing for us" and beyond that I'm not going to consider "needs."