This post is sort of my 'NFL Draft Manifesto.' I am laying what I believe to be are 'Rules For Draft Success.' I am anticipating this to be an annual type of post, and am also thinking it may change some over time. Some rules will be tweaked, some added, some subtracted. I believe, though, that I have laid out a solid foundation for drafting success.
Read on and let me know what you think.
1. Draft 'Value' Over Perceived 'Need.' Truth is, you are never certain what your 'needs' are going to be in any given NFL season. Do you think the Giants thought they would be picking wide receivers off the street and putting them into the lineup in 2010? Or that they would be playing a converted tight end at fullback? Or that they would seemingly be picking up street free agent cornerbacks just about every week? You draft the best players, that's how you build long-term success.
The exception to this comes in the late rounds. Toward the end of the draft I believe it is perfectly OK to target a position of need and say 'we have to get at least one player who plays this position.'
One thing that is no doubt true when it comes to assessing 'value.' A team's perception of 'value' has to be impacted by its perception of its 'needs.' My point is this, though. If you believe you need a wide receiver, but there is not one on the board who you believe is a player who should be drafted at that stage of the draft, you don't grab a lower-ranked wide receiver. Trust your evaluation, and take a receiver when the value and the need are a match. In the end, you wind up with a more talented roster that way.
2. Draft For The Long Term. This is really an extension of Rule No. 1. It is great to hit that 'home run' and find a guy who is a star from the moment he walks into training camp. The draft, however, is only partially about the upcoming football season. It is largely about trying to find as many players as you can who will contribute to the success of your football team for several seasons to come.
This is why you take 'value' over 'need.' No one can, with any certainty, tell you what a football team's needs will be in coming seasons. A position that looks stocked one minute can be devastated by injuries the next, or by free agency. You hope, of course, that the best players on the board happen to match areas where you have needs.
This also means not being afraid of taking the high-ceiling player you know might take a while to develop. This is something GM Jerry Reese seems to believe in.
3. If You Don't Have A Franchise Quarterback, Don't Pass If You Have A Chance To Get One. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. If you don't have a top-tier one, you cannot have any type of sustained success. Several years in a row the St. Louis Rams passed on the opportunity to draft a potential franchise quarterback, and continued to spin their wheels. Then, in 2010, they drafted Sam Bradford. Now, the Rams are pointed in the right direction.
If you need a franchise quarterback, think there is one available when it is your turn to draft, and pass shame on you.
The flip side of this rule is do not take the quarterback in the first round unless you are absolutely convinced he can be the face of your franchise for the next decade. If you pick the wrong quarterback, you could well be setting your franchise back that long.
4. Do Not Take Running Backs In The First Round. I will lay this rule out, then Thursday night the Giants will go and grab Alabama's Mark Ingram with their first-round selection.
Why no first-round running backs? The NFL game no longer revolves around the running back. Offenses revolve around the quarterback, the offensive line and the wide receivers. Running backs share the load, with most teams employing two or three and very few dominating the percentage of rushing attempts for his team. Look at offense, and most of your running backs play fewer snaps than anyone else on the offense. In 2010, only five running backs played more than 800 snaps. There were 31 receivers, 118 offensive linemen and 18 tight ends who played more than 800 snaps.
So, unless you believe the player is an instant superstar or the one missing piece to your offense, where is the value in using a first-round selection on a player who will be on the field less than any member of your offense except the fullback? Historically, there are always plenty of quality running backs available in the middle of the draft. Take one then, and use your first pick on an impact player who should, eventually, play every snap.
Denver's Terrell Davis might be the best example. A sixth-round pick in 1995, Davis and the Denver Broncos proved you don't need a first-round running back to be a great running team. Davis gained more than 1,700 yards in 1997 and more than 2000 in 1998.
5. When In Doubt, Draft A Lineman. I don't care how pass-happy the NFL gets or how much the rules change, the game is still won and lost along the front lines. On offense, you have to be able to block for your quarterback and open holes for your running backs. On defense, you have to be able to rush the passer and you have to be stout against the run in the middle. You never want to be caught without enough players who can do those things, so when in doubt draft a lineman.
6. Trade Down, Not Up. There are very few times when any player is worth trading up for, and thus having to mortgage draft picks. You need depth in the NFL, and you can't accumulate it by trading away your draft choices -- which is what you have to do to move up. Generally, it is better to move down and accumulate more draft choices than to move up and wind up with less. Your mistakes hurt less when you have more choices, you can take risks on occasion and -- if the situation is right -- you can actually use some of those 'extra' picks to move up when you feel it is warranted.
When is it OK to move up? If you are moving into the top 10 for a guy you believe is a franchise-changer, or the one piece you need to put you over the top and into the the Super Bowl, that is OK. Also, if you have accumulated so many picks that you it simply isn't possible for that many guys to make your football team you can then use that flexibility to target a player or two.
Normally, though, move down instead of moving up.