Why is the draft such a big deal?

It’s already been almost a day since Houston pulled one of the biggest upset’s in recent draft day history and they still have no win’s to show for it. Appalling! You mean one of the most-hyped and talked about decisions pay’s absolutely no immediate dividend’s? My point being that the rest of the media spend way too much time analyzing these draft day decisions and not so much analyzing what’s actually important, the real impact of the decisions on the field, one year, three years, or even 10 years later.

Explain how Reggie Bush went from the consensus, head-and-shoulders first-pick in the draft at the end of the season to getting passed up…without playing any games in between. And better yet, his USC teammate Matt Leinart goes from being the possible top pick and a definite top-3 pick in LAST year’s draft to dropping like a rock all the way to 10th. By the way, in the time between the last year and this year all Leinart did was lead his team to a third straight National Championship game with an undefeated regular season, and within 2 minutes of another title. I guess it’s clear why Leinart dropped so much…he performed great on the field over the course of the entire season and didn’t wow scouts for the handful of throws and sprints they watch at the combines. Can someone remind me what the goal of an NFL team is? Best combine team? Lowest average 40-yard dash team?

Without having the tools, time, or staff at my disposal to do the research, it seem’s that the best draft strategy is not to make the one big-name splash on draft day, but to stock pile a handful of low-risk, high-reward players at position’s of need. Less glitz leads to more glamour. When was the last time the New England Patriots were the most talked about team on draft day, or made some unbelievably bold move (see signing on Mario Williams or trading the mother load for Ricky Williams) that left everyone talking. How about the Colts, the last time they were part of the hype it was for selecting Peyton Manning first over Ryan Leaf. And when you consider that, they had the first pick, held it, took the consensus first pick (no matter what you say about Ryan Leaf coming out, Manning was still the easy pick), and went on with their business. Year after year they made their pick, no hoopla, no huge trades, and went on with their business. Next thing you know, regular season power and playoff contender. What about the Steelers or the Eagles? Less press on draft day leads to more press come play-off time.

My theory on the draft is to go with the lower risk players early in the draft, try to make a quiet steal in one of the less-discussed but often beneficial later rounds, and don’t trade the house to move up. The highest percentage of successful high draft picks seem to be linemen, particularly offensive. Clearly not the glamour pick, but it’s usually someone that can be plugged in immediately and usually be a stalwart for 10-12 years. The other high draft pick strategy I’m in favor of is the talented player who drops for unbeknownst reasons. Sometimes its valid, like the kid doesn’t have his head on straight, or may have injury problems. But other times its a story about his past, or his combine workouts, or maybe NFL scout’s didn’t like his selections in the NCAA tournament. Who knows? Yesterday it was Leinart, baded on arm strength questions, dropping into the hands of Arizona. Great pick. Years back it was Dan Marino and Warren Sapp falling based on reports of drug use that were clearly blown out of proportion like the discussion of many of these players. The other part of the strategy is be very careful when taking a big-name, skill position player. Make sure you really, really like the guy for the right reasons. For every John Elway there are two Ryan Leaf’s, and three Joey Harrington’s between every Peyton Manning.

The other part of my strategy is to pay attention to the guys you take later in round 1 and in rounds 2-4. That’s where the best VALUE is. How many of today’s starting wide receivers or quarterbacks were top 10 selections? I don’t have the number handy, but the point is there are a ton of Tom Brady’s, Matt Hasselbeck’s, Drew Brees’, Steve Smith’s, and Hines Ward’s out there? No talk on draft day, big talk when it matters. Nobody talks about the guy you passed up that year when you took fill-in the blank, or who the pick’s you traded to take so and so with turned out to be.

Maybe it’s way too conservative and maybe I’m way off. But I just think that this has turned too much into an imprecise science based on unsubstantiated numbers, rather than an evaluation of talent and determination of which player’s will help a team win games. The hype is mostly media driven like so many other things nowadays. In the end, the best pick’s seem to turn out being the same guys who were either the best during college, whether it be pure talent or team player. Go for the big hitter in free agency. Salary cap’s are tight in the NFL, it seems like a better strategy to use a higher percentage on proven NFL commodities and players you have nurtured and spreading the rest of the wealth across a lot of low risk players.

Case in point, a great ESPN.com article on the biggest draft busts: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=schoenfield/060427

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