The NFL Draft for Dummies
The NFL Draft takes place each year in late April at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City (this year the draft is April 25-27). The draft provides new hope for the fan bases of every NFL team and is also deemed to be one of the most pivotal means of ensuring a great balance amongst all 32 teams. The NFL thrives on the belief that any of the 32 teams can beat another on “any given Sunday” and the NFL draft strongly helps maintain that competitive balance.
The order of the draft is determined by each team’s (win/loss) record during the previous season, resulting in the 1st pick going to the worst team and the 32nd pick going to the super bowl winning team. This gives the weak teams from the previous season an opportunity to pick the top 5 or 10 college players in the draft. As good as the college talent has been lately, teams can turn their franchises around in just one great draft!
Alfred Morris celebrates with Robert Griffin III.
For example, the Washington Redskins have been a horrible team for the past few years and finished the 2011 season with the 6th worst record, earning them the 6th pick in the 2012 draft. In 2012, in order to secure a superior draft placement, they traded their future 2013 and 2014 first round draft pick positions to move to the 2nd overall draft pick in 2012. This action resulted in the ability of the Redskins to acquire super human rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III. In the 6th round of the draft, where star players are rarely found, the Redskins found a gem in rookie running back Alfred Morris (who finished 2nd in the league this year in rushing yards).
Here is a highlight video that I created myself, showcasing some of Robert Griffin III’s immense talent and athleticism:
And here is a short video of Alfred Morris’s punishing run style and won’t-stop-mentality:
The Dreaded “Bust” Label
The draft is not without its risks, and a first round pick can sometimes go horribly wrong. The San Diego Chargers franchise found this out the hard way when selecting heisman finalist quarterback Ryan Leaf one pick after Peyton Manning in the 1998 draft (#2 overall). The Chargers thought that Leaf would be their franchise quarterback for the next 10+ years but they were very wrong. Leaf was a prime example of a great college player that couldn’t handle the fame and pressure that the NFL brings. He had run-ins with the media, his teammates, and most recently, the law. Leaf played in only 25 games in his career throwing just 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions and is considered by most to be the biggest bust of all time.
When teams invest such a large amount of money in their first round pick, they expect that player to come in and make an immediate difference on their team. If that player fails, it can come with big consequences, usually to the head coach or GM. If you fail on a few first round picks in a row, you can set your franchise back 5 years or more. Take a look at this article by @rgroveslaw detailing the talent the Jaguars have passed on in the past 10 years.Here is a short video of the top 10 worst draft picks of all time:
A general view of war room tables during the 2010 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall.
In the first round, each team has 10 minutes to make their pick. It may seem like a lot of time, but every person I’ve talked to that’s been in there says it goes by in a split second. Between the general manager, head coach, assistants, scouts, and other team personnel, the draft war room is extremely hectic. There’s discussion about which player the team should pick, or whether they should trade the pick away and move back in the draft to gain valuable picks. Teams typically use method if the player they really wanted has already been picked, and the next player they want isn’t projected to go until after their upcoming selection…or close enough to risk it at least. Each team has 7 minutes to make a pick in round 2, and 5 minutes in the last 5 rounds.
Strategy for success – Build through the draft
Teams that are the most successful in the NFL today focus on building the their team through the draft. The dominant teams of the last decade (New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers) all used the draft to find and retain the majority of their players. Having a successful free agency and making smart trades are the other two ways to build a team in the NFL, but these normally aren’t as effective as having a great draft.
Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson all had incredible rookie seasons in 2012 (although many spectacular rookies can often have a “sophomore slump”).
As for the positions that are targeted the most in the draft, they are constantly changing as the NFL evolves. The league has become extremely “pass happy” over the past few years and because of this, the quarterback position has never been more important in the draft. Teams will go all in and draft a quarterback in the 1st round, hoping to turn their franchise around and give their fans immediate hope for the upcoming season. It usually leads to increased ticket sales, and more theme parks for owners like Daniel Snyder. As Chargers found out with Ryan Leaf these gambles don’t always work. Sometimes desperate franchises will over reach on a quarterback with some known flaws, and hope that he can quickly overcome them, and become the face of the franchise. The pressure can sometimes become too much, and that leads to situations like Jamarcus Russell in Oakland (but that’s another story entirely – written by @tonymanfred).
When you look at the opposite end of the spectrum you could draft a quarterback like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, or Russell Wilson and be just fine. These three magnificent quarterbacks came in as rookies in last year, and absolutely took the league by storm. Thats the intrigue of the quarterback position in the draft.
There are still game changing running backs like Adrian Peterson featured above, but the Vikings haven’t exactly thrived in Minneapolis recently. If you don’t have a decent quarterback, you can’t win in this league.Running backs be found in later rounds and still have very productive careers in the right scheme (see: Terrell Davis, Arian Foster, Alfred Morris, Lesean Mccoy and many more). There are a lot more running back by committee schemes then there were 5-10 years ago, so the position isn’t drafted nearly as high as it used to be.
Since the quarterback position has become so important, so has the position of the guy that protects his blind side. Joe Thomas (featured above with the intense pancake block) is one of the best LTs in the game, but like Minnesota, there is no sign of a quarterback in Cleveland. This year’s upcoming draft features two LTs (Luke Joeckel and Eric Fischer) that could be drafted
href="http://www.sportlobster.com/hashtag/1"> #1 overall and 4 offensive lineman that could be taken in the top 10.
Wide Receivers have always been a flashy position, and the physical specimens like Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson go in the first 5 or 10 picks in the draft normally. As for the rest, they tend to fluctuate in draft position with each passing year, based on the overall talent pool that year in college. The majority of wide receivers tend to get drafted towards the middle rounds of the draft, as they can take a few years to develop and adjust to the NFL game (safeties also tend to follow this trend). Like anything else, there are definitely exceptions to the norm like AJ Green and Julio Jones. This dynamic duo was drafted #4 overall and #6 overall in the 2011 draft and have quickly become superstars in the NFL at their position. Here’s a video of two young and very talented wide receivers:
Over the past 3 years, linebackers (LBs), wide receivers (WRs), and cornerbacks (CBs) have been the most drafted positions by far. I expect this trend to continue as the league stays with the pass happy mentality.
Seattle Seahawks starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are widely considered the best cornerback tandem in the NFL.
Teams focus heavily on drafting the perfect cornerbacks for their particular defensive scheme to counter the growing number of “elite quarterbacks” in the league. While cornerbacks have traditionally been under 6 feet tall, the Seahawks have opened a lot of eyes the past two years with their tall, long cornerback tandem of Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Look for teams to emulate Seattle in the upcoming draft and draft some of the bigger and longer cornerback prospects in college.
As I’m sure you could have already guessed, the guys in charge of rushing and hitting the quarterback are also drafted quite frequently. Linebackers that can rush the passer have become hot commodities in the draft lately, and there have been some truly remarkable athletes at LB drafted the past few years. Here is a video of two of the best outside linebackers to be drafted in the past 5 years, Aldon Smith and Von Miller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaPulnHX7ak
The NFL draft is getting more and more popular each year, and has received better television ratings than the NBA Finals at times. It’s a great event for the fans, the players, and for the balance of the NFL. Teams that are near the bottom of the league can have a great draft or two and with a little luck, completely turn around their franchise. The system works. In the last 15 NFL seasons, there has been 10 different teams that have won the Super Bowl.
The ability to search for the top talent and find “late round gems” has gotten progressively better since the popularity of the internet, and that’s only made the draft even more crucial for NFL teams. Even with all the information and expert scouting on college players, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get with a draft pick until they get on the field and start playing. As a fan, there’s always going to be excitement, drama, and the chance that this is finally the year when your team hits the jackpot. This is the year that your team goes from the bottom of the division, all the way to hoisting the Lombardi trophy in February
This was for last year’s draft, so just let me know what you guys want for part 2! Tweet @sportsaddresssf or comment below!