NFL Draft Preparation – “Failure to plan is planning to fail”

How many scenarios are accounted for in NFL draft preparation to ensure a team is well prepared in the event that a highly rated player, one who has been targeted as the team’s top prospect, is selected just before they are on the clock?

The Football Educator thought this was a rather intriguing question and one that deserved a closer look as we continue to dissect the various aspects of draft preparation.

If there’s a positive

One positive gained from the numerous mock drafts posted throughout the media is the ability for clubs to gauge the thoughts of competitors as they build strategies and tactics for the 1st round.  Prior to rookie contract reform initiated by the newest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), few clubs were willing to venture into the top 10 (unless otherwise earned).  Trading up wasn’t unheard of, but was more restrictive due to the financial commitments necessary to secure the player.

Most clubs were willing to wait and select from the remaining players left in the pool.  As a result, those selecting in the top 10 were able to predict with some degree of certainty how the early choices might ultimately fall.  An unanticipated trade or choice was a possibility but not a frequent occurrence.  That quickly changed as you ventured outside of the upper third of the NFL Draft.

Best made plans

Trades, club needs, and the unexpected “monkey wrench in the machine” scenario can crush a year’s worth of work in an instant.  The Football Educator has addressed the fine line between drafting for value and drafting to upgrade a particular position.  Both should be carefully analyzed and fully prepared for.  Understanding the context of where player talent has historically fallen will help any General Manager in their draft preparations.

Walking a tight rope

So to answer the question, an NFL GM must prepare for either side of the value vs needs tight rope when it comes to the first pick.  As you evaluate your team and the entering college player pool, it becomes apparent where there are holes to be filled and who might be available to fill them.  From a needs based perspective, it’s necessary to thoroughly identify the college prospects that fit your criteria for the positions in question and are worthy of the investment about to be made (both financial and opportunity).

It’s not unheard of to address multiple scenarios should the entering player pool support them, but don’t be tempted to “force a square peg into a round hole”.  Recent trends have pushed some less than worthy QB’s into the first round that otherwise wouldn’t be considered, solely on a “need” basis.  If the player doesn’t fit your predetermined checklist, it may be time to turn to the best player available.

Situations and scenarios

For example, your team has a pressing need to find an impact player at linebacker, defensive tackle, or wide receiver with the 17th pick.  Player Personnel and the coaching staff have formulated their evaluations and identified players everyone feels carry the required resume.  Your chances of finding impact production between picks 1 and 20 are greater with LB, then DT, and followed by WR.  But history has shown the top linebacker to be gone by #14, the top defensive tackle by #11, and the top two wide receivers by #9 & #14.

First round talent has been available for all three positions after your selection, but for one reason or another, the player doesn’t fit your requirements.  Do you force the need and take the next best player available at any of the positions knowing there’s been a significant drop in the percentage that go on to be impact starters?  Possibly.  The next LB falls on average at #24, DT at #19, and WR at #20.  But this class can’t support that depth and your evaluations don’t either.  The phone’s not ringing and you’re on the clock.

Been there, done that

The prepared staff doesn’t flinch and turns to an alternative board in the War Room, looking past needs to acquire high value talent.  Safety, tight end, guards and centers have traditionally produced at an outstanding level in this range.  All four positions normally don’t see the first player taken until after the 17th pick.  Here’s an opportunity to add the number one prospect from any of these four groups.  You see an athletic, hard hitting, ball hawking free safety and jump on him without question.

The staff had mocked out at a minimum 4 scenarios in NFL draft preparations that led to the decision; the first 3 taking the top LB, DT, and WR off the board, and the fourth dealing with the wildcard selection of an impact safety.  Crisis averted.

“Failure to plan is planning to fail.”

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