What philosophy should an NFL General Manager use for the 2012 Draft?

I ran a quick poll on Twitter and asked the following question;

 What philosophy should an NFL General Manager use for the 2012 Draft?

  • Best available player
  • Positional needs
  • A combination of both

The poll only ran about an hour but the overwhelming response was a combination of both and I have to agree with the fans.  To box yourself in as a decision maker for a club, using only the idea of the best player at the moment and not take into regard your current roster (needs or not) makes very little sense and makes for a lot of poor decisions.

Don’t mess it up!

There’s a lot of external pressure placed on clubs to hit on draft picks 100% of the time.  Critics will site this player found late in the fourth round and that player picked up early in the sixth.  They look at the first round as almost a given, that somehow by selecting one of the top 32 young college prospects with your first pick is a “birth right” to NFL stardom.

Before the current CBA that governs the business of football between the League and its players was negotiated last summer, a system of ever expanding rookie contracts was making a top 10 selection almost ludicrous.  Teams were “damned if they did” and “damned if they didn’t”.  Players who had never stepped foot on an NFL practice field, much less inside an NFL stadium, were already guaranteed financial security as a result of “loopholes” found in the system by the agents.

On top of that, NFL Draft interest and coverage was growing exponentially and 24/7 exposure was “mocking” the process a 1000 times over before it ever occurred.  NFL teams don’t even get that many reps before a game on Sunday, yet everyone and everybody has a MOCK DRAFT.  These artificial processes push players up or down artificial draft boards across the internet and airwaves.  Former NFL General Manager Charley Casserly recently reported the importance of NFL Mock Drafts to clubs and how they closely monitor the “word on the street” as it pertains to club needs and interest.

GM’s are people too

The Football Educator has written in the past about NFL decision makers being people too.  They’re just as affected by swings in opinion and external/internal emotions as the fans and the media.  Charley is 100% correct, mock drafts can easily sway an NFL front office into taking a player they either don’t need or that doesn’t deserve the consideration.

Consider the college quarterback whose stats and game film reflect a mediocre career, but whose NFL Combine 40 yard dash or performance at the Senior Bowl has suddenly elevated his “value” into a Top 10 pick.  Take into account the college WR who caught over 100 receptions his senior season for the BCS National Champion but fared poorly throughout the evaluation process compared to his peers (All-Star Games, Combine, Pro Day) and yet still carries the weight of his team’s performance and his conference’s reputation into the Top 10.  You see this story year after year, time after time, draft after draft.

Manipulating the numbers

So as an NFL General Manager, what do I do?  I need a quarterback and starting a rookie is an extremely risky proposition.  I’ve got just a little better than a 50/50 chance of drafting a 56 game starter over his first 5 years.  Historically the position itself ranks just above Kickers in Year 1 impact on the field.  No other position has more 1st rounders as 2-Deep players on the roster.  Monetarily (especially under the old CBA) the investment was staggering.  It’s still substantial, though not as crippling to failure if the player doesn’t produce.  But the fans WANT a QB, my owner WANTS a QB and the media DEMANDS a QB.

I don’t need a WR, but this guy can flat play the game.  His evaluation numbers are suspect, but what about the on field production, the success of his school, the competition in the conference?  There are some holes, but 7 of 10 WR’s at the top of the draft pump out 56 starts over 5 years.  WR’s tend to contribute at a decent rate in comparison to other positions (equal to DT, TE, S).  I’ve got as good a chance in the next two rounds to find a 2-Deep player, but this kid is good.  What should I do?

Consider the BIG picture

Listen to the fans who answered the poll.  Block out the “external noise”.  Take into account the entire evaluation process and not just a fast 40 or membership in a “Mega” Conference.  Know your roster, understand the financial impact, recognize your coaching staff’s ability to develop young talent.  If the best available player is a position of need for your ball club, then no doubt, turn in the card and feel good about it.  But don’t force the issue based on outside assessments of your situation, or the emotions of your fan base, owner and or the media.

Can you spell B-U-S-T ?

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