My Draft Bugbears – by Dale Jones

My Draft Bugbears – by Dale Jones
Reading Time: 6 minutes.

NFL fans…rejoice!  The NFL draft is now upon us. It couldn’t have come at a better time as all of us because fans are starved of and desperate for some new NFL content to take in, as we all deal with being locked away at home with no live sports.

Whilst the bright lights of Las Vegas will have to take a back seat, the NFL draft will still take place this week with teams and staff taking part remotely via video & teleconferencing facilities (some of them state of the art, and seemingly some of them not so much…. here’s looking at you, Dave Gettleman). 

The fervour and the excitement may be about to grip us all, but the NFL draft is not without its downsides.  Here I want to take you through a few “Draft Bugbears” of mine, and highlight some of the things about the NFL draft that drive me absolutely insane. 

I know, I know, in these troubling times we could all do with some positivity, but let’s face it we all like to have a little moan every now and then.

So without any further ado, let’s get started:

Mock Drafts

Okay, so I realise I’m swinging for the fences straight from the off here, and I know that many people love producing and viewing mock drafts, and they’re a very popular and enjoyable tool. They make for good reading and interesting debate.  I’ll start by making it clear that I take no issue with the production or indeed the concept of Mock Drafts. More so that they’re so widely used and yet it is impossible to produce an accurate one!

The reality is that it is just incredibly difficult for any mock draft to actually play out even close to the reality.  Whilst it’s fun to mock draft picks based on perceived team needs, typically the most accurate of mock drafts won’t even manage to predict half of the picks correctly.

Nobody outside of each individual organisation knows what any given team is thinking. Nor their own internal view of prospects and indeed their own franchise needs.  To try and replicate picks accurately without this inside knowledge across all 32 teams…. you’ll need to go and find that crystal ball I’m afraid.

Look out for the shocks

Every single year without fail in the first round alone there is always (at least) that one pick that shocks everyone. It typically comes early in the draft and it throws out every single mock draft that was created in the preceding weeks & months.  All of that time and effort, and it blows up within minutes.

How many people seriously predicted the Bears trading up one pick to Number 2 to take Mitch Trubisky?  No, seriously…did you actually?

And yet lo and behold I’ll still gladly read numerous mock drafts each and every year. I’m probably even taking one in as you read this now. Because you know, it’s fun after all isn’t it!.

Immediate Post Draft Grades

My next and perhaps my most egregious “draft bugbear” is the immediate release of post draft grades.  You’ll find them everywhere. Coming from every major sports broadcaster. For the most part you can discard almost every grade given!

The simple truth is you cannot grade a team’s draft for at least 2-3 years after the event, if not longer.  Immediately following the draft, how many of the drafted players have played a single down in the NFL?  Spoiler alert: None of them.

We don’t know how well players will transition to the NFL. Or how well they’ll fit into their team’s locker rooms, schemes etc.  For all of the draft scouting & prospect personality reviews and the like, the draft is and will always be a gamble.  At least half of all first round draft picks will not meet their potential, and that’s the simple reality of it.

What are they basing the grades on?

So what exactly are post draft grades based upon?  Well largely I think it comes down to the individual grading entirely against their own opinion of both players and team needs.  It is quite literally an exercise in self validation.  You mocked a 1st round QB to the Dolphins because you believe that’s what they needed to do. Then they didn’t take one until the later rounds (or didn’t draft one at all)?….Well that’s definitely a grade D then.  There is no intel or knowledge from within an individual organisation upon which to base this.

Hundreds and hundreds of hours are poured into scouting and background checks on draft prospects. Plus there are various reasons why a draft does not play out the way some may expect for specific teams.  Does that mean that their draft wasn’t a success?  There is absolutely no way of knowing this immediately after the draft.

A positive draft grade for a team will often be given when an organisation has drafted based upon perceived needs and covered as many of these as possible.  But even so, does that mean the players drafted are the right ones?  Without having played a down in the NFL, there’s just no way this can be validated.

So please, can we maybe try and let the dust settle on a class before we seek to praise it or chastise it so hastily?

Overvaluing Draft Picks

And my final “draft bugbear” relates to the value placed upon draft picks.  I’ll get some obvious caveats out of the way

  • Building your team through the draft is clearly the optimal way to improve
  • Having top talent on a rookie contract is incredibly valuable

Now that I’ve called out and accepted the two points above, it’s time to stop overvaluing draft picks.  Yes, they are incredibly valuable. And it’s popular for teams to flip players for draft capital, but you win in the NFL with talent, and as I’ve mentioned above the draft is an absolute gamble.  Yes, there is a lot of research that goes into draft selections. But you’re still ultimately throwing a dart at a dartboard and hoping for a good score.  You want to know what’s better than a draft pick? (where in an acceptable scenario you end up drafting a player who can give you good NFL production) …a proven NFL commodity. 

I will however caveat this by accepting that there are always scenarios where teams are not in the position to take advantage of this. Particularly those struggling teams where draft capital is the key to trying to rebuild. So I accept that this plays a part.

It reminds me of the mystery box scene from Family Guy.  For those not familiar, one of the show’s characters, Peter Griffin gives up the chance to get a boat, instead opting to take a mystery box. Justifying this by saying “A boat’s a boat.  But the mystery box could be anything.  It could even be a boat!”.

It’s why I can never understand the criticism and outrage that people tend to show when a team trades for someone and gives up too much during the draft.  Whilst I’ll accept that in general, players obviously do have a general level of trade value, the one big exception to this that typically plays out in high profile during the draft…a trade for a Quarterback.

The Draft value of a Quarterback

I strongly believe that if there is a Quarterback available that you think is capable of becoming your next franchise signal-caller then there is almost no draft capital that is too high to pay.  I will gladly die upon this hill.

The league is split between the have and have nots at the QB position.  If you don’t have a franchise QB, you are nothing.  If you see someone available in the draft that you really think is the guy, you go and get him. It doesn’t matter what it costs.  Look at some high profile trades. Then compare the eventual picks that draft capital were turned into. More often than not it doesn’t equate to the player obtained at the other end of it.

The best possible outcome from a draft pick is an elite level quarterback.  It does not get any better or more valuable than that.  No matter how many draft picks you have, it doesn’t change the best possible result in using one.

It is the case that the more darts you have to throw, the better the chance you have of hitting the bullseye. So I certainly don’t advocate giving them up lightly. But to chase the QB in the scenario I’ve highlighted, you would do it every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

So now that I’ve got these out of the way, it’s time to focus on the positives. Let’s sit back and get ready to enjoy the many great things about the NFL draft.  I might even be willing to try and forgive these bugbears as we now approach the big event. After all I’m sure we are all absolutely desperate for some fresh NFL content!

Do you have any draft bugbears of your own that I’ve missed Or any thoughts on the ones I’ve listed above?  Please leave a comment or let me know. Most importantly enjoy the draft all.

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