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Old 01-09-2008, 05:17 AM   #1
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Default Best Available Player VS. Need

Draft Theory
The Dichotomy between concepts of Best available player and Team need in a salary cap era


Let us begin this draft theory article with a cautionary tale, one that should be familiar to astute draftniks but still bears repeating for the record.Even though the following is not a tale from the football world, the relative simplicity of the this draft structure and starting roster requirements in this example lends more relevance to the football draft than most would realize. A draft is a draft; the setting of this story simply has fewer variables than the current manifestation of the greatest selection process in the greatest of sports: the NFL draft.

In 1984 the Portland Trailblazers had a roster full of talented guards and small forwards (including Clyde Drexler), and logic dictated they needed a center to complete the puzzle. Their pick was second overall, just out of reach of the real premium center that year, current Hall-of-Famer, Hakeem "the Dream" Olajuwon out of Houston University's Phi Slamma Jamma.

The consensus second best player was an explosive and dynamic player from North Carolina, a young shooting guard by the name of Michael Jordan. But the Blazers didn't need a guard, they needed a big man.

Hence they picked for need and selected Sam Bowie out of Kentucky, letting the best available player (a.k.a. the BPA or the BAP) fall to the Chicago Bulls picking third and the rest is history. Bowie had an injury-addled career as a journey-man and Jordan went on to be what many consider the greatest of all time (a.k.a. the G.O.A.T.). It should also be noted that future Dream-Teamers Charles Barkley and John Stockton were picked at 5 and 16 respectively.

So what's the moral here? Always draft the best available player and forget about need, right? Well, that was a quick draft theory entry. Class dismissed.

Wait, hold on a second. As noted earlier the NFL draft is not nearly as simple as this example; an NFL team has to fill over four times the amount of starting slots as an NBA team and has to deal with hard salary cap constraints.

In addition the variable of offensive and defensive systems comes into play - for example a player that might fit well as a penetrating defensive tackle in the 4-3 defense might be completely out of place reading and reacting, occupying blockers in a 3-4 defense. An offensive lineman who would excel in a zone blocking scheme might not be the best fit for a team with a man blocking scheme. Yet another factor is the team culture - some teams prioritize character to such an extent that certain players will not be on their draft board. Other teams have no such reservations. Determining how a player fits into the team's systematic and character philosophies also contributes to the idea of that player's relative value.

In the NFL it often is too complex to issue any blanket statements, however that is not going to stop us from issuing the following: the optimal selection BOTH fills a team need and is the best available player on the board. Unfortunately this is a rare situation and things aren't usually so cut and dried.

For every team and every pick there is often a delicate balance required between drafting the BAP and drafting for team need. As more variables are entered into the equation the border between a bad decision and a good decision becomes less distinct.

What is a team to do, if for example it is their selection and the BAP on the board is clearly a QB. However the team already has one of the highest paid (and best) QB's in the league on the roster? These two players together would take up over a quarter of the cap and only one can play at a time.

Meanwhile what if this same team has a below average left tackle and wants to protect the blindside of its most valuable commodity - the aforementioned franchise QB - but the top left tackle that is on the board when they pick is projected to go 10 to 20 slots later? Do they "reach" to fill team need?

In this case the correct move would be to try to broker trade down with a QB hungry team (as QB is one of the few positions teams will trade up for routinely) get an extra pick and the player they wanted anyway at a lower price. Trading down and draft value are entirely separate topics and will be addressed in future articles. However the point here is that from the perspective of the BAP, the best available player should always go higher than the player determined as a best fit for team need. Once a team puts team need over BAP it is making a mistake, reaching for a player of lower value than the draft slot.

Let's take two other examples, first that of the New Orleans Saints who in 2001 drafted running back Duece Mcallister in the first round, despite mortgaging an entire draft only a couple years earlier on Ricky Williams, and more recently the New York Giants selecting defensive end Mathias Kiwaunka despite having Michael Strahan, Osi Umeniora and Justin Tuck on the roster. At the times these moves were looked upon at as BAP gone wild, so to speak, taking the most talented players on the board, but putting them in a log jam for playing time that would ultimately hinder their effectiveness. Of course both players proved useful as trades, injuries and age removed existing players from the equation to varying degrees. In these cases taking the BAP over team need, even working toward a position of strength was the correct move as the rosters of NFL teams are far from static. There is also the idea drafting toward a position of strength with the intention of forming a "super unit" (which will be discussed further in future articles).

It is also important to establish the difference between consensus BAP and real BAP. In 2001 the Patriots selected Georgia defensive tackle Richard Seymour with the sixth overall selection. In Mel Kiper's final pre draft mock just a day before the draft, Seymour was projected to be taken around slot 20 in the first round - this was essentially his consensus value as a late first round (or early second round) pick. At the time it appeared that the Patriots were making the classic mistake of putting team need ahead of BAP value, and the pundits at the time commented as such.

However as the years have passed it became apparent that the Patriots had actually pulled off the optimal draft pick - one that satisfied both team need and the condition of being the best available player on the board. In hindsight Seymour may have been a better pick than Gerard Warren taken at 3 overall! The point here is that if as a team your scouting process has identified a certain player as better than consensus value (and further if your scouts take character and systematic values into concern) then you should have faith in that scouting process and it's correct to disregard the consensus value.

So with all these variables how can a team pursue the best available player but at the same time fill the needs of the franchise? The best drafting teams often fill all of their obvious needs via free agency (which opens for business roughly eight weeks prior to the draft), so that on draft day they can make their selections without the pressure for filling needs clouding their judgments. If they miss out at the stud at position of need, at least there will be a quality veteran lining up on opening day who can do the job. Even if this team gets the stud at position of need, the veteran can buffer the transition time as the rookie finds their place in the big scary world of the NFL.

There is a saying around the league that is relevant to this discussion: a bad team that looks to the draft to fill their immediate holes will remain bad. For the most part this is a true statement. While all NFL teams want immediate impact from their draft picks, this is gravy - the industry standard period of time for player development is a range from three to five seasons (i.e. the length of an average rookie contract). With talented juniors declaring every year, many of these players come out as boys and must first grow into men before they can truly be effective on the gridiron.

In conclusion, teams are generally better off sticking to the BAP philosophy over team need whenever it is possible. Team need is always a consideration, especially in terms of planning salary cap investment over years, however getting a good player at a position of strength is always preferable than a mediocre player at position of weakness.
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Old 01-09-2008, 08:27 AM   #2
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Default Re: Best Available Player VS. Need

Steelers need to draft the best player available (who is an offensive lineman)
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Old 01-10-2008, 06:53 AM   #3
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Default Re: Best Available Player VS. Need

First of all, Great read. I will elect to try to play this game.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lamberts-lost-tooth View Post
In conclusion, teams are generally better off sticking to the BAP philosophy over team need whenever it is possible.
Steelers are now on the clock to pick at position 24. The major area of need is Left OT and the steelers may resign Starks to cover that position. (good teams fill needs via Free agency)

According to five sites that rank players they have picked the players in bold over the others available.

The top nine to twelve players left at position 24 could be something like this according to each site.

nfldraftscout.com players ranked 24 - 35
Hardy (WR) Caldwell (WR) Baker (OT) Sweed (WR) Balmer (DT) L. Jackson (DE) Johnson (RB) Bennett (TE) Groves (OLB) Bell (OLB) Talib (CB) Justice (C)

ESPN.com ranked 24 - 32
Otah (OT) Baker (OT) Kelly (WR) Talib (QB) Highsmith (OLB) Stewart (RB) Oher (OT) Manningham (WR) Carlson (TE)

nfldraftcountdown.com 24 - 32
Crabel (OLB) Cason (CB) Okam (DT) Groves (DE) Henne (QB) Booty (QB) Douglas (WR) Blake (DE) Balmer (DT)

drafttek.com 24 -32
Groves(OLB) Campbell (DE) Williams(OT) Adibi (OLB) Sweed (WR) Tribble(CB) Baker(OT) Oher (OT) Castille(FS)

Condraft.com 24-32
Otah (OT) Mendenhall(RB) Baker (OT) Henderson(LB) Porter (CB) Groves (DE) Jenkins (CB) Cason (CB) Woodson (QB)



How would you rank each websites performance if they stuck to the BAP philosophy and they stayed true to their ranking boards?
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Old 01-11-2008, 08:53 AM   #4
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Default Re: Best Available Player VS. Need

The Steelers never draft BAP, at least not in my memory. They always draft for team need.
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Old 01-11-2008, 07:26 PM   #5
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Default Re: Best Available Player VS. Need

I'm kind of surprised to see Sweed ranked around 26 in some of these. I've seen him in a lot of rankings near the tail end of the second round. I like his height and where he comes from, but there's no way the Steelers should be drafting a WR in the first round.
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Old 01-11-2008, 08:32 PM   #6
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Default Re: Best Available Player VS. Need

Quote:
Originally Posted by Crushzilla View Post
I'm kind of surprised to see Sweed ranked around 26 in some of these. I've seen him in a lot of rankings near the tail end of the second round. I like his height and where he comes from, but there's no way the Steelers should be drafting a WR in the first round.
I think his injury has a lot to do with how he is viewed between different sites. Also a lot of tall WRs have not adapted to the NFL as well as initially expected

I think this is one of the few times where I like what ESPN has written. Otah or Baker would be very acceptable.
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Old 01-11-2008, 10:57 PM   #7
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Default Re: Best Available Player VS. Need

It depends on what the positional needs are. If the best player available is a quarterback, you skip to the second best player since you already have Ben.

Usually it's not clear who's #1, 2, 3, etc. among the remaining players anyway.
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Old 01-11-2008, 11:12 PM   #8
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Default Re: Best Available Player VS. Need

Quote:
Originally Posted by revefsreleets View Post
The Steelers never draft BAP, at least not in my memory. They always draft for team need.
Actually Rev...

according to Cowher, that was EXACTLY why they picked Roethlisberger.

They said that they wouldn't be that high in drafting for quite some time. As a result, they were going to pick the best available player, which was Ben.

At that time, they were still pretty happy with Maddox.
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Old 01-12-2008, 01:19 AM   #9
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Default Re: Best Available Player VS. Need

i think it depends on the position that the BPA plays. if it's a RB or QB i would think the steelers would bypass them.
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Old 01-12-2008, 01:12 PM   #10
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Default Re: Best Available Player VS. Need

Quote:
Originally Posted by ?teeldude View Post
i think it depends on the position that the BPA plays. if it's a RB or QB i would think the steelers would bypass them.
I agree, in fact I'd be pretty upset if they drafted either of these, unless there is some player slipping like crazy, but then if that happens you may move down a couple slots with a trade, kind of like Dallas did with Cleveland last year.
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