There are numerous avenues a General Manager can take when piecing together an NFL roster. Veteran free agency is a quick fix system that usually requires a substantial investment on the club’s part and can lead to fiscal disaster if your evaluation is errant. Most argue the prudent route to take is through the NFL Draft; selecting young talent and then developing within your own organizational structure. That’s hard to argue with. Certainly free agency has its place within NFL roster building, but the draft has shown to be a more stable system from which to upgrade a club’s professional football talent.
All things pro football
Perhaps no other professional sport has as much interest attached to the evaluation and eventual selection of the entering college player pool than football. Once the season is over all focus shifts towards everything NFL Draft related. One of the biggest debates annually revolves around the strategies and tactics of individual team selection. Many in the media have their own opinions that they’re all to welcome to share with the draft ravished fan base. Mock drafts, once a semi-reliable indicator of market value and team interest, have now been super-saturated to the point of irrelevance. No self respecting War room is really going to pay too much attention to what the pundits post after every hack on the timeline to the NFL draft’s first pick.
Best available player
However that still doesn’t stop the debate of which direction your favorite NFL team should head when “on the clock”. There is one school of thought that the very best at attacking the annual selection process do so with only “value” in mind. That is to say they select not with their roster as a guide, but rather purely off the best talent available at the time. If there’s a hole at defensive tackle but the next player is a tight end, then write the tight end’s name on the card.
Pressing team needs
The other side of the coin revolves around filling team needs. Clubs may be lacking in talent, numbers, or just plain production at a particular position, and will set out to fill that need by drafting the player they feel best fills that hole. It doesn’t make much sense to draft another wide receiver when your club already has four stars at the position. Find your most apparent weakness and fortify it with youthful strength.
Each strategy has its own areas of strength and weakness. Clubs that go primarily after the value pick risk not addressing the very things that ail them. Too many resources spent on one side of the ball or at an individual position can adversely tip the balance of your roster. Clubs that set out to specifically fill a void by drafting for need risk misevaluating a player and suffering the long term consequences of both financial and opportunity costs.
Understanding the combination
The answer really lays somewhere in between drafting for value and selecting for need.
The most consistent competitors in the National Football League have a firm understanding of the various aspects of their roster; age, experience, production, contract, leadership, and so on. They take into account each of those dynamics and how they integrate into the big picture of a 53 man roster, as well as both the short and long term effects of adding or removing personnel.
There are a number of ways to keep your finger on the pulse of your roster as a General Manager and one of the techniques that I liked to utilize was former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch’s 20/70/10 approach. I also explain in my new book Taking Your Team To The Top the concept of “blueprinting” and how to assess both your current personnel situation and the available opportunities to improve.
Statistical analysis of the draft and relative production of players/positions in relation to where they are selected leads me to lean towards drafting early (1st & 2nd round) for need. This does implement the risk factor of selecting a “bust” but the very best players to build your foundation upon historically come from the top of the board. Afterwards a General Manager would be better served to shift to value at positions that are historically productive in the later rounds. Wide receivers aren’t usually going to produce from the 5th or 6th in comparison to safety or tight end.
Key is not to force the situation and back your club into a corner by selecting a player that doesn’t “fit” and yet must now contribute. Overloading because the board happens to say that’s the next best player available isn’t sound in today’s cap & cash driven environment either. The successful GM walks the tight rope between value & needs, hoping he doesn’t slip and fall in either direction.