We’re into April and that means it’s NFL Draft month. It also means it’s time to post the updated “Big Blue View Rules for Draft Success.’
If you aren’t familiar with these rules, I created this guide to my draft philosophy a few years ago. Each year the rules get tweaked with new examples and, on occasion, modified to reflect the changing realities of the NFL. I also try to relate them to decisions currently face as well as ones they have made in recent years.
1. Draft ‘value’ over perceived need
I always push back against the idea that the Giants need to take position A in Round 1, position B in Round, position C in Round 3, etc. That is how you make mistakes - how you leave better players on the board while selecting lesser ones.
Truth is, you are never certain what your ‘needs’ are going to be in any given NFL season. You never know where injuries may strike, or where players already on your roster may under-perform or over-perform expectations.
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. You take a player who, on your board, has a grade that makes him deserving of being picked in that spot. 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 -- the player 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.
Giants’ GM Dave Gettleman explained it this way during his 2018 pre-draft press conference:
“You’ve got to stay with the value. You have to stay with the value because you guys have heard a million stories, I’ve heard a million and one and you’ve probably heard half a million where a guy says, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll be there in the next round.’ Then the next round comes around and he ain’t there. You have to stay with your board, you have to stay with value. You can’t get too cute.”
You take ‘value’ over perceived ‘need.’ 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.
2. 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. You can have a good year, or a good stretch within a year, but you simply can’t be competitive year after year without one. 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.
This is why the Sam Darnold vs. Saquon Barkley debate took place a year ago, and why despite Barkley’s absolute brilliance many still question the wisdom of the Giants’ choice at No. 2 in the 2018 NFL Draft. It is why those who believe in Dwayne Haskins or Drew Lock will be critical of the Giants if and when they pass on those two players — as they probably will — at No. 6 this year.
Simply put, quarterback is more valuable than any other position on the field. Having, or not having, one does more to change the fortunes of your franchise than a player at another position possibly could.
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. You can’t pick a guy because Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, some other TV talking head, media member or the fan base says you should. You are marrying that player. You are putting the fortunes of the franchise in his hands. If you pick the wrong quarterback, you set your franchise back. Gettleman calls it “a five-year mistake.”
As a side note, one of the interesting things about the Giants is the decision-making dynamic. Not only do Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur have to agree. The Giants have the league’s only 50-50 ownership split, meaning they have to get John Mara and Steve Tisch to also agree. That can perhaps add a layer of difficulty to reaching a unanimous verdict.
In this draft, some believe in Kyler Murray. Others in Haskins, Lock or Daniel Jones. Others might be fans of Will Grier or Ryan Finley. Other might support trading for Josh Rosen or waiting until 2020. The amount of disagreement gives you a hint as to the difficulty of the choice.
“It’s a massive decision. This is the face of your franchise,” Gettleman said.
Remember Carl Banks’ words in our look at why NFL teams have such a spotty track record when it comes to quarterback evaluation:
“The one position that has the most mistakes in the history of football, guess what it is? Quarterback. There have been more misses at the quarterback position than any other position in football.”
There is no clear path. No perfect answer. No guarantee that the Giants will be right no matter what decision they make.
3. Do not take running backs in the first round ... unless they are franchise-changers
This is a modified, softened version of the previous “don’t take running back in the first round” rule. It reflects the reality that teams do it, sometimes with good reason. Like the Giants did with Saquon Barkley.
Here is what I believe. If you are going to invest a first-round pick in a running back — especially a top 10 pick — that guy better be a super star. He better be more than a running back. He better be a franchise-altering three-down back who can be a pivotal part of your passing game. And, you better have the pieces in place at quarterback, offensive line and wide receiver to take advantage of the player’s skills.
The NFL game no longer revolves around the running game. 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. Running backs are rarely the centerpiece of an offense, they are complementary players. As constructed, the Giants would be an exception.
I have been told that former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi’s rule was always that quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher were the most important positions, and that running back was near the bottom of the list. The way the game is now played, I would add pass coverage guys (corners and safeties) to the premium positions list.
To get true value from a running back at No. 2 he would have to end up having a career far superior to any player at a premium position who could be taken in that spot. 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 at a more important position.
The Giants are a great example. Tiki Barber, Joe Morris, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs were not first-round picks. David Wilson, Ron Dayne, Tyrone Wheatley, George Adams, Rocky Thompson and Tucker Fredrickson -- were 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. A more current example is Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A second-round pick in 2013, Bell is perhaps the game’s finest all-around back. Last season, Leonard Fournette went fourth overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had a nice rookie year with 1,342 total yards from scrimmage in 304 touches, but averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. Alvin Kamara (67th overall, New Orleans Saints) had 1,554 yards from scrimmage in 201 touches — 212 more yards in 103 fewer touches.
There is no doubt he is a great player, but did the Giants do the right thing drafting Barkley? They still have a quarterback question. They were, despite his brilliance, still 30th in the league in rushing efficiency. They won only five games. Barkley couldn’t lift the franchise all by himself, and whether or not they ever win while Barkley is at his best still depends on the answer to questions that have nothing to do with how great the running back is.
Going back to what I said earlier, ideally the Giants would have drafted Barkley — a running back with a limited shelf life — as a finishing piece rather than a building block.
4. When in doubt, draft a lineman
This applies to both the offensive and defensive lines.
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 should be able to 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 usually only available in the very early stages of the draft. This is something the Giants have tried to do in recent years, but they haven’t hit on their developmental choices.
My rule? After you get your quarterback, or if you already believe you have him, you build from the inside out. Year after year I advocate for the Giants to select an offensive lineman high in the draft.
Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur believe in this rule. Both have often spoken about continually using resources to supplement the offensive and defensive lines, something the Giants got away from in the later years of Jerry Reese’s time as GM.
5. 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, more chances to get it right. You can take risks on occasion when you have more choices, 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? First and foremost, if you are moving for a guy you believe will be a franchise quarterback. If you are moving for a player at another position 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 extra picks perhaps then you can use that flexibility to target a player or two in the draft or via trade. This, really, could be called the ‘New England Patriots Rule.’
Normally, though, move down instead of moving up.
Entering the 2019 draft, the Giants are in position to use draft assets to move around the board as they see fit. Having accumulated 12 picks, two of which are in the first round, they are in position to move up, down, or do both at various points in the draft. With eight picks on the final day of the draft I believe you have to anticipate the Giants trying to package some of those assets to move up for a player or players they covet. They also have draft assets to use for a player like Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen, should that be an avenue they want to pursue.
If the choice were mine, I would not mortgage draft assets to trade up for Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Just about any other move, though, would be on the table.
6. Don’t ignore your strengths
“You can’t be afraid to draft over a player, OK? So you’re in the draft, you’ve gone through free agency, you’ve got all your stuff going, and you’re sitting there and you’ve got a good player at a position, and a young kid comes up at that spot and is staring you in the face. You can’t be afraid to draft him just because you already got one. The more competition you can create, the better your team will be. And you have to create competition at every position. You have to.”
That was Gettleman speaking at the Combine. The statement plays into this rule. If your strength is your pass rush or your offensive line and you continually ignore supplementing or adding to those areas, eventually those are no longer strengths.
I always used to talk about this rule in the context of the Giants and pass rushers. I still believe in the rule, but when I look at the Giants’ roster right now perhaps the only thing that would be completely indefensible would be using an early-round pick on a running back. Chase the value. Take the best players who fit what the Giants are trying to do. Along the way, hope that value meets need and your decisions are correct often enough that you don’t enter the season with too many glaring deficiencies.