March 22, 2018

SOTT Draft Watch: Drafting For Need vs. BPA

Rick Smith at the NFL Combine

Rick Smith at the NFL Combine

I’ve always been a big believer in taking the best overall player in terms of draft strategy, but of course there is an exception to every rule. I hate the idea of reaching for a need position early at the cost of talent because you still have chances to fill your need later in the draft or with a trade. With career shortening injuries more prevalent and a hard cap in place, taking the best overall player in the NFL is even more important than it is in the other two major sports. Creative coaches can find ways to get talented players on the field even with a log jam at a position; reaching and missing on players gets people fired.

What can look like road blocks for an incoming rookie sometimes quickly disappear. For a recent example with the Texans, it wasn’t long ago that the linebacker position seemed loaded.  In 2011 Connor Barwin reached double digits in sacks, Brooks Reed had a strong half season filling in for Mario Williams, and Brian Cushing and to a lesser extent DeMeco Ryans played really well during their first season in Wade Phillips’ defense. Going into 2014, adding linebackers is arguably the Texans second biggest priority after quarterback. Mario Williams and Connor Barwin left in free-agency, DeMeco Ryans was traded, Brian Cushing has suffered season ending injuries in back to back seasons, and Brooks Reed’s performance has dropped off dramatically; in a flash their strength became a weakness.

The strategy of the New York Giants in this area deserves some study and praise for how they’ve handled this situation with their defensive ends. In 2005 they drafted Justin Tuck despite already having Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora on the roster. Two seasons later, the trio combined for 33 sacks and led the Giants to their first Super Bowl victory since 1990. Strengthening a strength again in the 2010 draft, the Giants selected Jason Pierre-Paul in the first round despite already having Tuck and Umenyiora on the roster. Being able to get pressure with just their down lineman once again led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory over the Patriots the following season.

Taking the best overall player is the right call in almost every situation, but there is a sliding scale that needs to be discussed. How much better does a player have to be if he plays at a position of strength, to be taken over a lesser player at your biggest weak spot? The importance of the position also has to be a major factor. Even if safety, running back, or guard is your biggest overall need, you wouldn’t pass over a better player at quarterback, left tackle, or a pass rusher to fill that need. The Texans have been faced with this decision twice before when holding the number one spot in the NFL draft. In 2002 they took need/face of the franchise over the best overall talent with the selection of David Carr over defensive end Julius Peppers; we all know how that worked out. In 2006 they went with the best overall player instead of the popular choice at quarterback, but to be honest, every position was a need going into that draft.

With several months remaining before the start of the NFL draft, one of the most debated issues will be whether to take presumed best player available Jadeveon Clowney or to take a potential franchise quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater. On ESPN’s rankings, both Clowney and Bridgewater rank as a “rare prospect”. They define rare prospect as:

Player demonstrates rare abilities and can create mismatches that have an obvious impact on the game. Is a premier college player that has all the skill to take over a game and play at a championship level. He rates in the top 5 players in the nation at his position and is considered a first round draft prospect.

Clowney is the top rated prospect by ESPN with a grade of 96 (0-100 scale) while Bridgewater was given a grade of 92. Is that gap big enough to justify passing on the top rated quarterback? Over at CBS, their draft guys have Jake Matthews rated as the top overall prospect, followed by Clowney and Bridgewater. If the Texans aren’t sold on Bridgewater, both Matthews and Clowney provide interesting alternatives. Both guys play one of the three most important positions (QB/pass rusher/OT) and both would fit a big need for the Texans. If the choice is Matthews, it also potentially gives the Texans the option of trading back and picking up an extra pick. In my opinion the pick should be one of the three above mentioned players.

So now the decision; which of those three players should the Texans take with the first overall pick? If the players are close, and they are at least according to ESPN’s ratings, then you have to take the quarterback. The evaluation process is far from over with the combine and pro-day workouts still to come, but unless another player is significantly better, than you take the quarterback. Some of you will immediately shout at you computer that the Texans should take Clowney or Matthews and then take a quarterback in the 2nd or 3rd round. That worked out recently for the Seahawks and 49ers, but banking on finding your franchise quarterback in the middle rounds is a flawed strategy. Sure, you could end up with a gem like Wilson or Kaepernick, but you’re more likely to end up with Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, Dave Ragone, or Pat White.

Putting all your eggs in that basket is an example of great hubris in my opinion. What you’re saying with that strategy is that you’re willing to risk the future of your franchise on your scouting department being better than the other 31 teams. If the Seahawks and 49ers knew for sure that Wilson and Kaepernick were capable of this level of play, the wouldn’t have waited until the second or third round to draft them. Taking a quarterback first overall or in the first round doesn’t guarantee success, but not surprisingly more Pro-Bowl quarterbacks have come from the first round than other rounds.

From 2002 through 2011 (didn’t include the 2012 or 2013 drafts because I think three seasons is needed for a good evaluation), ten quarterbacks taken in the first round have made at least one Pro-Bowl roster and that list doesn’t even include Joe Flacco who was the Super Bowl MVP last season. By comparison, only three quarterbacks taken in the combined second, third, or fourth rounds have made a Pro-Bowl roster. Those quarterbacks are Matt Schaub, David Garrard, and Andy Dalton; don’t think many teams are dying to build their franchise around any of those players right now. Making a Pro-Bowl roster doesn’t definitively make a quarterback a great player, but it clearly shows that, by a wide margin, most franchise quarterbacks are selected in the first round. Taking a quarterback in the first round gives you your best chance to land a franchise guy.

Not that I’m breaking news here, but a star quarterback is also more capable of carrying a team on his back than stars at other positions. J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the league and his team finished with a 2-14 record. I’m not saying he didn’t try or play well, but even the best defensive player in the league doesn’t impact a team’s chance of winning or losing like a quarterback. In 2010 the Green Bay Packers placed damn near half their original roster on the injured reserve list, but they still ended the season with the Lombardi Trophy in their hands thanks to the brilliant play of Aaron Rodgers. Another example, coming into this season Tom Brady lost his top five receivers (except for six starts from Gronkowski) from the year before yet the Patriots still finished 3rd in points scored this season. New England also lost their top two defensive players (Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork) yet they won their division, earned a first round bye, and got back to the AFC Championship Game for the third straight season. A great quarterback can impact a team more than any other position and deserves extra consideration in the draft.

Will Bridgewater, Bortles, Manziel, or Carr reach that level? Most likely not, but if the Texans evaluation of prospects finds a quarterback capable of reaching that level, they have to draft him. In almost every situation drafting the best overall player is the right decision, but when a quarterback is involved, the situation deserves more thought. If Clowney is determined to be significantly better than the best quarterback available, then take Clowney. However, if it’s close, the Texans should pass on the best player and take a chance on landing a potential franchise quarterback.

2 Responses to “SOTT Draft Watch: Drafting For Need vs. BPA”
  1. cartooner says:

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] For those thinking the Texans should risk their future on a second or third round quarterback, click here to read my previous article on the situation. […]

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