Monday, February 22, 2010

Getting Drafty

So I promised to talk about drafting strategies this weekend and here it is. Please note that this isn't a guide to picking best players on the board etc, more a strategy of how to use the draft to help you build a franchise. Credit for the first 6 points you're about to see goes absolutely to Senior analyst Pat Kirwan, from whom I basically I stole these points. 1. Stockpile draft talent; pick smart, with an eye on the future. 2. Make a big move only when necessary. 3. Try to avoid having to rely on the draft for immediate help. 4. Make a tough decision and cut losses when necessary. 5. Know when the team is too good to make use of all its draft picks and sell a few for future years. 6. Stay ahead of problems. I'm going to add two more to the list as well; number 7 I feel is very important and number 8 is something that Jamie Dukes has been hammering on about this past week on NFL Network: 7. Draft players that fit your system 8. First and Second round players must contribute. So let's get down to it and take them one at a time. Stockpile Draft Talent; pick smart, with an eye on the future This has basically been the Pittsburgh Steelers draft strategy since time immemorial. Picking players who will help your ball club in a few years time is basically the whole point of a draft. The idea is that you're picking up good players and then giving them one or two years to develop in your system. This has hit a snag of late though. That snag being that most coaches don't get 2 years to build a system. They get a season. If you fail, you're usually on the chopping block. No-one has any patience anymore, except maybe the Texans (for whom all that patience may just pay off big next season). Another good example is Belichick at New England, who will routinely deal away his higher picks in order to get multiple shots in lower rounds. He can now pick up several players who will probably not see a huge amount of playing time. They're projects, designed to come to fruition later down the line. Make a big move only when necessary A.k.a. that Jets taking a shot on Sanchez. They knew they needed help at the QB position and it wasn't going to come in free agency. So Rex Ryan and the organisation took a bold step and went high, snapping up their future franchise QB and I think this will pay off big time. He's not ready yet, still a lot of polishing to be done, but he has attributes such as leadership that are very desirable and it won't be long before he's a big threat through the air for the Jets. Coupled with their run game and an aggressive and talented defensive Head Coach, the future looks bright for the Green half of New York. Try to avoid having to rely on the draft for immediate help Too often I think teams believe the draft is going to bring them glory next season. A good example of this is the Philadelphia Eagles believing that the draft was going to bring them a Superbowl by finding new weapons for McNabb. Now it may do in a few years, probably with Kevin Kolb at the helm by then, but the expectation of instant success was unrealistic. I think Al Davis suffers from this problem down in Oakland as well, believing in that college mentality that pure athletes will walk on to your team and suddenly make it ten times better. Which is a shame for Raiders fans, because it doesn't happen. A much better strategy is to trade off those picks for players or restricted free agents. A perfect example is Brandon Marshall, who may indeed be well known for off field issues, but is said to be worth only a second or third round pick. I think Marshall is a great player and many of his arguments with the Broncos have been down to their mismanagement of him and his contract, as well as arguments with head coach Josh McDaniels. I think he'll fit in well somewhere like Baltimore, where he can start fresh with a young QB and a solid & sensible head coach. This would certainly be better for the Ravens than trying to dip into the draft for game changing talent at the wide receiver position. Make a tough decision and cut losses when necessary How odd to finish the last point talking about the Raiders only to begin this one with them as well. One name; JaMarcus Russel. If ever it was time to cut losses, this is it. As an enthusiast of Texas Hold'em poker I'm well aware of the dangers and pitfalls of sinking large sums into big pots. You just look at that big pile of cash, look back at your cards, realise your bluff has been called or the card you hoped for hasn't come up, and it just seems so tempting to cling on in there. But sometimes you just have to appreciate that you've lost this hand, that your hopes of winning are done, and now you have to bail out before you sink any more cash into a lost cause (government members and their aids should play more Texas Hold 'em!!). JaMarcus is just such a character. The Raiders badly need to cut their losses, ditch him, take the hit of paying his salary for him to warm the bench, and then move on and find themselves a true franchise QB. The Seahawks could do with a dose of this attitude as well and move on without Hasselbeck, whose injuries and poor play would indicate he's not going to take them very much further. Know when you're team is too good to make use of all its' draft picks and sell a few for future years Again we comeback to the Patriots under Belichick, who has diligently marshaled his picks during the ripe years as insurance against the lean ones. This is one of the reasons that the Patriots end up with so many second and third round picks (in the 2009 draft they picked 4 times in the second round, including 3 of the top 10 picks, then twice more in round three). A few good examples from this year that will be interesting to watch are the Packers and the Cowboys. These are two teams that really found their groove this year and when you look at their lineups, there are some holes, but not many. They really have solid players on both sides of the ball and it'll be interesting (to me at least) to see what they do with their draft choices, whether they tuck these away for another year or not. Stay ahead of problems Someone should really copy this one and post it to the Browns, Rams and Lions. Not that it matters now as it's too late. These are three teams that have left themselves in a position where they're looking at the draft and saying "what do we need?" and the overwhelming response from their personnel department should be "everything!" You simply can't let yourselves get into this state. Take the Vikings for example. Their getting old at the defensive tackle position and Antoine Winfield is struggling with injuries. Couple that with the fact that they're relying on Brett Favre to comeback for another shot at the big one and you have an emerging issue for this team. They need to draft wisely this year to stay ahead of expected problems that they will likely have in the 2011 season. Unless Peterson goes down injured this season, in which case it's panic button overload. Draft players that fit your system Jason Campbell of the Redskins is not your prototype West Coast Offense passer. That's why he wasn't such a great fit for the system they've been trying to run. Honestly, you'd rather have Jeff Garcia (who I still rate) come in and run that offense. It just seems that sometimes teams pick players without really looking at their system and saying "how will this guy fit in?". Now there are some exceptions. For a guy like Tebow I'd gladly switch to the shotgun more and just spend a year getting him some practice reps from under center before switching to full on under center the next year, but by and large you do yourself no favours by picking players that will find it hard to adjust to what you do. This I think has a lot to do with why the Eagles have been consistently very good since And Reid came along, because they've pick up players who often fit their system very well (as noted, he picked up Garcia as an insurance policy last year). It's just a shame that Reids' play calling is questionable along with a few other decision making processes, other wise the Eagles would be perennial Superbowlers. First and second round players must contribute It's a fact of life that NFL coaches hav, on average, a short life span. This is why it's important to use those first and second round picks, and the money that goes with them, on players who will help you now.This is probably the main reason that Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy will go so high in the draft, because they can come in and make a quick impact. Maybe not change your teams fortunes around single handedly, but definitely help make an impression. Third round and below is where you go looking for projects, players that you will either mould into future superstars or who will mould themselves into dropouts. But with all the money up for grabs at an early stage, first and second round picks must deliver something. I'm not talking about game breakers, but they should at least play. And if there's no one you feel can do it? Follow the advice given previously and cut your losses, trading down and/or into the future. Don't waste the valuable pick, make it work for you. So that just about wraps that up. I hope it's been informative in some degree and again credit for the first six has to go to Pat Kirwan and number 8 is really thanks to Jamie Dukes. Just looking forward to the NFL combine and I'll try and give you my thoughts as the days go by. Whatever you're up to this week, have fun.

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