The 'Big Blue View Rules For Draft Success' were created a couple of years ago. They have become an annual part of the NFL Draft coverage here, and with one week to go before the 2014 NFL Draft it is time to break them out for this year.
These rules are my draft beliefs, and I'm sure they will change over time. I am also certain they are impacted by watching what the New York Giants have done over the years in the draft. Anyway, here they are.
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 start six different tailbacks and two fullbacks last season? They let Ahmad Bradshaw go prior to the season hoping to get younger and healthier at running back. How could they know heading into last season that they would be churning through offensive linemen like crazy? Do you think the Giants thought they would be picking wide receivers off the street and putting them into the lineup back in 2010? You draft the best players you can without locking yourself in to the belief that you 'must' draft a player at a certain position. 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 OK to target what you believe to be 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' is impacted by its perception of its 'needs.' Teams undoubtedly set their draft boards based somewhat on perceived needs and fits for their systems. My point is this, though. If you believe you need a wide receiver, but there is not one on the board who you believe 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.
This, I believe, is the way the Giants have historically handled the draft
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. Those players rarely come along. The draft is only partially about the upcoming season. It is mostly 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 believe you have needs. The draft is unpredictable, however, and available value does not always match perceived needs.
Drafting for the long term 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, but might be tested this year. A player like UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr might fit this description. The Giants need to find at least some players in this draft who can help them in 2014. CEO John Mara has been honest in saying that the team has missed on some risky picks in recent years, and been honest in his assessment that the Giants "have not gotten the production that we wanted out of certain draft slots."
3. If You Don't Have A Franchise Quarterback, 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. If you need a franchise quarterback, think there is one available when it is your turn to draft, and pass on drafting him 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.
The 2014 NFL Draft will severely test the 'get a quarterback' philosophy. The Giants pick at No. 12 in the first round and, depending on who you believe, anywhere from one to four quarterbacks could come off the board before the Giants get to select. Several more could be selected before the Giants pick at No. 43 in Round 2. Obviously, the faster the quarterbacks are selected the better it is for the Giants.
4. Do Not Take Running Backs In The First Round
Why no first-round running backs? The NFL game no longer revolves around the running back, that's the biggest reason. 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 2013, only four running backs played more than 800 snaps. Thirty-nine wide receivers and 15 tight ends played 800 or more 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.
The Giants, of course, violated this rule when they took David Wilson with the 32nd and final pick of the first round two years ago. Well, technically they violated it. GM Jerry Reese has said in the past that picking any time after 25th is sort of like picking in the second round, anyway. In this draft CBS Sports has 25 players ranked with pure first-round grades, meaning that's how many their analysts consider obvious first-round picks. The jury is still out on Wilson, but the early returns haven't been good enough.
Year after year teams get excellent play from mid- to late-round running backs. Except for very rare instances, the value just isn't there when taking a first-round running back.
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. The Giants have learned these lessons the hard way the past two years.
You can always find quality linemen in the middle to late rounds, especially on the offensive side. David Diehl, a fifth-round pick, was a great example. Rich Seubert was not drafted at all and still had a long, productive career for the Giants. Elite linemen, though, are only available in the very early stages of the draft.
It will be very interesting to see if the Giants prioritize adding weapons for quarterback Eli Manning in this draft, or adding beefy blockers to keep him upright. My rule? Blockers first, weapons second.
6. Trade Down, Not Up
There are very few times when any player is worth trading up for, thus causing a team to mortgage valuable 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 Super Bowl, that is OK. Also, if you have accumulated so many picks that 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.
This, according to most analysts, is a deep draft. The 'move down and add picks' philosophy seems tailor-made for a draft like this one.
7. Don't Ignore Your Strengths
This is purely something I might call the 'New York Giants Rule.' It comes from the Giants consistent belief in adding pass-rushers, especially pass-rushing defensive ends, even when it looks like there is no place for them to play. The idea is that when your team is built around a particular philosophy, the way the Giants defense is built around pass-rushing defensive ends, you make sure that you always have enough of those guys. Going back to 'value,' if the right player is there -- like Jason Pierre-Paul was in 2011 -- you grab him.