NFL Draft Preparation – 1st round tactics & strategies

In the movie classic “Braveheart”, England’s King Edward “Longshanks” invades Scotland at the Battle of Falkirk against the Scottish army led by Sir William Wallace (Mel Gibson).  Longshanks had secretly organized the invasion while sending his daughter-in-law to negotiate a truce.

The English army initiates the attack pushing Irish conscripts to the front, only to have them turn and side with the Scots.  Wallace counters and calls for horseback reinforcements led by Scottish noblemen, but is betrayed in the middle of the fight.  The Scots lose the battle and Wallace charges Longshanks only to be confronted by one of the King’s lancers.  Once again Wallace is betrayed as the lancer turns out to be Robert the Bruce, an ally and contender for the Scottish crown.

It’s a war out there

Strategies, tactics, poor intelligence, risky movements, alliance, and betrayals; sounds a lot like the first round of the NFL college draft.  Over the coming weeks there will be more smoke billowing than a burning English garrison.  The King’s messengers in the form of NFL insiders will be dropping tidbits of intel with every chance they get to jump in front of a camera.  “This team is thinking this, that team is contemplating that.”  False intelligence and leading clubs off track is just part of the game in leveraging your position in the first round.  Every NFL college draft there’s a move that no one anticipated and leaves the media scratching their heads in bewilderment.  It can change the entire complexion of the battle, or the round.

Top 10 tactics

It’s imperative that teams at the top of the selection sequence find a player, any player that will improve their overall talent base.  After all, they’re most likely picking in that position as result of the prior season’s futility on the playing field.  These clubs, especially the top 10, will have almost the entire player pool to enlist an elite talent and must get it right for the opportunity cost and financial commitment.  Moves here are usually subtle with a ceiling blocking too much upper movement and not many willing to pay the price to allow them to venture down.  These decisions are frequently based upon both value AND need for the floundering franchise.  It’s about getting it right, not risking it all.  One wrong move can cost you a year’s worth of work, if not your head.

Successful strategies

With success come the “fruits of victory” and the opportunity to sit a couple hours before you club’s pick in the first round.  For many years, both as Director of College Scouting and General Manager of the Denver Broncos, I had to wait my turn as college football’s best were peeled off the board.  The backend of the draft requires an entirely different mindset.  General Managers and Head Coaches have to aggressively maximize their chances of improving upon their roster, otherwise be content with what falls to them.  A study once showed the likelihood of landing a 56 game starter in the first 5 years was 70% in picks 1-10, 50% over picks 11-20, and then 35.3% from 21-50.

A whole nother ball game

Those numbers may have changed one way or the other since this report was completed, but history has shown that the college player pool can only support so many elites and traditionally those prospects by position incrementally come from the top.  So as the draft transitions to the bottom third of the 1st round and down through the top third of the 2nd, alliances & betrayals begin to take shape in the form of leveraging relationships into trades of opportunity.  The poor clubs want to make moves to secure a missing piece that the successful ones might not have a place for.  Playoff teams are all too willing to step aside in exchange for adding depth to an already strong roster through added mid round selections.

Listen to everything, believe nothing

And so it goes, same battlefield but two different circumstances.  The “Longshanks” GM’s looking to take advantage of the “William Wallace” clubs’ desperation.  The Scottish army teams looking to outmaneuver the English to an unforeseen victory of their own.  Each has their own set of needs & values driving them to success.  NFL fans, and perhaps a few of “Braveheart” as well, understand that the next few weeks is all about disseminating misinformation, collecting intelligence, securing alliances, and developing a strategy that will lead to draft day victory.  Listen to everything, believe nothing.

“Freedom!” …from the top 10.

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