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Football 101: Drafting for the NFL

Best Player Available

By Patty, PackerChatters Staff

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Every year around the middle of March, fans start talking about the NFL draft. What does their team need to fix a problem and which players are the best ones on the board. We debate and sometimes argue over many players and try to choose for our respective teams. Of course there are the diehard draftniks who are already talking about the next draft 9 months before it happens.

There are many theories concerning the draft and the pathways that teams take to determining the player they select when it is their turn. Best player available is probably one of the most used terms when talk is about drafting a player. The problem is or comes down to, how is BPA determined.

Another approach used by some teams is to draft for need. You select positions where you have a perceived need. Within that approach, you can either flood a position or simply draft for a few positions. By flooding, I mean you concentrate on a certain position. For example, if you have a desperate need for WR, you could draft three in a row so as to feel relatively certain that you will fill your need.

Another approach is the shopping list type of selecting. This means you concentrate on getting multiple positions filled and not necessarily work on areas of weakness.

There are some other approaches that I will touch on them in this report. Whatever method is used everyone recognizes that the draft is literally a shot in the dark. A team spends hours and hours on studying and scouting players but still one never knows for certain. The player might decide they have had enough and suddenly give up. He might get injured. He might have maxed out in college and will not improve, thus leaving a team second guessing their scouting.

The objective of every GM is of course to improve and upgrade the team. You want to make the correct decisions and take the correct approach to every draft. Also an important thing to consider is that you might not draft the same way every year. One year you might need to work on specific positions and the next year you can be more varied. I believe this is what drives fans to a frenzy when they try to predict what their team is attempting to do.

As fans we gobble every draft publication we can get our hands on and we start making lists. We come to some determination about the general rankings of players and think this is how they should go off the board. When our team selects a player ranked as 8th best on our position list and the 4th best is still on the board it upsets us. Our perception is that our team reached. This may not be the case at all. For example, perhaps our team needs a DL and is going to select a DL with their next pick. Our defensive scheme is such that we need a strong 1 gap type of DL. The rankings have the DL listed, but it is quite possible that the listed players are good 2 gap players but not as good in a 1 gap system. The player who is 8th on our list is a fantastic 1 gap player. Why select a 2 gap DL and have to spend time developing him when you have a very solid 1 gap player on the board? Now the GM has to weigh the athleticism and instincts of the 2 gap player against the experience of the 1 gap player. He might come to the conclusion it would be worth taking a gamble on developing the more athletic 2 gap player, or he might decide to go with the more developed but less athletic 1 gap player.

Following are the approaches used by GMs in the NFL to stock their teams in the player draft.

I. Drafting the Best Player Available

Teams that utilize this method of selecting players in the draft are generally teams that already have adequate talent. When I see a team consistently draft BPA it is usually a team with an eye on the future. They generally have their core needs met on their roster with more than competent players and therefore feel free to just improve their overall talent base. Drafting the best player is also based on the notion that drafts are not primarily about fixing a weakness on the team for next year, but rather are part of a longer term building process.

Since the start of free agency more and more teams are beginning to use this method or approach to drafting players. Generally, your chances of hitting on a player goes up when you concentrate on best athleticism. In selecting BPA you determine which players fit the criteria you implement in determining the rankings. Factored in are instincts, desire, heart and smarts - in other words the intangibles. Of course you look at their speed, strength, quickness and technique along with their overall production as well. With free agency, a team can hope to address areas of weaknesses on their team and allow them the luxury of drafting young players who meet the criteria of BPA.

The problem with drafting BPA is you sometimes do not fill positions of need and in the short term it can cripple your team. Then injuries happen which just make the issue even worse and suddenly you have huge gaps on your team. If you have "guessed" wrong in Free Agency and the veteran does not come through you end up on the short end of the measure. You may find yourself in the division championship game playing a WR as a CB. Therefore, some teams draft using a compromise approach to BPA. They draft for need with emphasis on taking the athleticism if possible.

I have lost count of the times a team said they took a certain player because he fit a need but he also represented a selection with huge upside. What does this mean, huge upside? In simple terms it means that it's thought the player has not completely developed and still has more he can do. It means he shows the promise of getting even better. He might become a tad faster and a tad quicker and has room to grow, adding bulk and getting stronger. So that player was the BPA at the time when you factor in his long term development. And he plays a position of need.

For example, perhaps your team desperately needs a WR. In the general rankings the best WR on the board might be ranked in the mid level group but you have a LB on the board who is very good. He meets your criteria of measurables: good instincts - great drive and heart, smart, fast, strong and makes plays. This LB is ranked in the upper level group. If you draft solely based on BPA then you select the LB. But a team might see that WR on the board who has what is perceived as a huge upside and might have explosiveness to his game. Within a year or two under their coaching they might feel said receiver might be a star. Therefore he gets bumped up and the team selects him and said he was the best player on the board. This confuses most fans because they saw that LB on the board who was ranked by every draft publication as maybe a top 40 type of player still on the board at pick 60.

As one GM said this past draft: "What is considered BPA for team A may not be BPA for team B."

So you can see there are many variables involved in selecting BPA. It is more than just taking the highest ranked player left on the board regardless of position he plays. It is left up to each GM and team to define what they mean by BPA. But whatever definition, the teams who use this method or approach are most likely not as concerned about "fixing" a weakness as they are about building long term strength.

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