Draft Priorities

(my Superbowl-winning Oakland side on Madden 25 totally gives me the authority to talk about the Draft!)

With the first round of the NFL Draft behind us, including the Bills pointlessly trading up for the fourth pick, the Jaguars surprising everyone by picking Bortles, and Jerry Jones being even more unpredictably by being totally predictable, I have been wondering about Draft strategy. Obviously, each team selects players to fill holes on their rosters – or maybe to sell more replica jerseys in the case of Cleveland’s choice of Manziel – but I’m unsure which is prioritised by teams: position, or ability.

The ‘position’ argument consists of selecting players you need to fill gaps in your squad, perhaps in spite of actual quality; Bortles is a good example of this, as Jacksonville had no decent quarterbacks in their roster before the draft but his ability level is perhaps not deserving of a third overall pick. Another example could be the Patriots’ selection of Dominique Easley, who I’m not too enthused about given his game tape, but fills an immediate hole on the defensive line.

This method means that your roster is full of players, but those player might not be any good; this could be the ‘playing it safe’ method, whereby the General Manager covers all their bases by arguing that they drafted to fit their needs, and that any failures of the rookies is more down to their own poor performance, rather than the GM picking the wrong kinds of players. This is seen in Cleveland’s first-rounder Trent Richardson a few years ago, who filled an obvious need at Halfback, but perhaps lacks the quality to be a franchise player; they’ve since traded the ineffective back to Indianapolis.

The ‘ability’ method is more of a high-risk, high-reward choice, where the team selects the best available player, regardless of need; Houston picked Clowney first overall, because he’s obviously the best player of this years’ Draft class, despite the fact that they have a pretty loaded defensive line with JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus.

While some will see that pick as a safe pick, picking based on ability can often leave a team screwed as it lacks the breadth of quality to compete in the league: we often say that it’s a quarterback-driven league, but those QBs are often left exposed by a lack of receivers, think Cam Newton’s rookie season with the Panthers, and the fact that for his 14 rushing touchdowns they still went 6-10 and missed the playoffs. Therefore, it’s entirely likely that Houston have three Pro Bowl defensive linemen by the end of the year, but get nowhere as a team because Andrew Luck’s torching their secondary twice a year.

This is why Jerry Jones’ non-selection of Johnny Manziel was so surprising: he’s impulsive enough to just pick the best player he can, despite his teams need, and has the job security to do it because he owns the team as well.

Obviously, the best strategy is a combination of the two, where you pick the best player who fills needs at your position, which is why early picks are so highly coveted, because you get the greatest choice of both positions to pick from, and quality players to choose; on Madden, I always go for the ‘position’ approach, arguing that having a team of mediocre players will be better than having a superstar wide receiver and Blaine Gabbert at quarterback.

Just something I was thinking about as I continue to get excited for Eurovision tomorrow.

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