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 less than two weeks to go before the 2015 NFL Draft it is time to once again offer GM Jerry Reese and the New York Giants our best advice.
These rules are my draft beliefs, and I know they change - at least incrementally -- over time. That is why each year I re-examine and re-write these, tweaking the rules and freshening the examples referenced.
1. Draft 'Value' Over Perceived 'Need'
Truth is, you are never certain what your 'needs' are going to be in any given NFL season. The Giants entered the 2014 season thinking they had one of the best and deepest groups of cornerbacks in the league. By year's end, injuries had them plucking players off the street. Two seasons ago, players dropped like flies (albeit very large flies) from their offensive line. 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.'
Does the 'value' over 'need' rule run counter to my argument that drafting a wide receiver would not be the best thing for the Giants to do at No. 9? I don't think so. I have acknowledged that we don't know the grades on the Giants' draft board. If Amari Cooper is miraculously still available at No. 9 and the Giants have him rated as far and away the best player, by all means go ahead and select him. I don't think that is going to be the case, however. I believe that when the Giants pick Cooper and Kevin White are going to be off the board, and the Giants will be picking from a very evenly graded group of players.
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. As one former scout told me, that is simply human nature. My point is this. 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. When grades are equal need and scheme fit come into play. At that point, take the player you feel gives you something you don't already have -- who fills a need. Trust your evaluation, try to match value and need whenever possible. Value trumps need, but need is the deciding factor when values are equal.
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. The Giants find themselves in an awkward position this season when it comes to this rule. They have not made the playoffs in three years. If they don't make the playoffs in 2015 the franchise is probably in for a dramatic change, with Tom Coughlin almost certainly headed out the door. With the direction of the franchise at stake based on how they perform in 2015, can they afford the long view with the ninth overall pick or do they have to go for the player they think has the best chance to help them immediately? Do you take Brandon Scherff, a plug-and-play starter who might not end up being able to succeed at the premium position of left tackle but could still be a terrific addition from Day 1? Or, do you swing for the fences with Ereck Flowers or Bud Dupree, players who have immense long-term potential but might not contibute as much right off the bat?
Considering the importance to the franchise of the 2015 season, the 'draft for the long term' rule might be tested. At least with the ninth pick.
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 Giants aren't yet playing the 'need to get a quarterback' game. In my view even taking a developmental quarterback on Day 3 is a wasted pick. That's what Ryan Nassib is for. The teams to watch here are the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. Maybe even the San Diego Chargers, if you believe what you read. Will any of them make the big move up the board for Marcus Mariota?
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 offenses, and most of your running backs play fewer snaps than anyone else. In 2014, only three running backs played 800 or more snaps. Forty-four wide receivers played that much, and so did 14 tight ends.
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.
The Giants are a great example Tike Barber, Joe Morris, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs -- not first-round picks. David Wilson, Ron Dayne, Tyrone Wheatley, George Adams, Rocky Thompson -- first-round picks.
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.
Year after year teams get excellent play from mid- to late-round running backs. Unless you believe the player is a transcendent, franchise-changing talent, the value just isn't there when taking a first-round running back. This is almost certainly going to be a year when at least one running back, and probably two, end up being selected in the first round. Will Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon justify that decision? To do so, they will have to be very special players.
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 in recent seasons.
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.
We debated the wisdom of the Giants using the ninth overall pick to select a first-round wide receiver for the second year in a row. I believe the circumstance, and the player available, would have to be special, for the Giants to go that route. 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 is the highest draft choice the Giants have had during Reese's tenure as GM. Do I expect them to move down? No. I expect them to stay put and look for an impact player.
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. You could, of course, use this argument to defend the choice if the Giants select a wide receiver in the first round this time around.