A lot of fans get to looking at the draft the wrong way. It comes from a few different sources: Madden, fantasy football, clickbait Twitter journalism. But we seem to get very reductive in our thinking. Raw statlines are the most common basis for player comparisons. A 3,000 yard passer is inferior to a 3,500 yard passer, regardless of passer rating, attempts, the talent around him, etc. Team management is a huge victim of this. In fantasy, if my WR group is weak and my RB group is strong, I’ll trade a RB for a WR and that’s that. If Eddie Lacy isn’t producing, I’ll bench him for Chris Ivory, or waive him altogether. In Madden, I’ll drop my 75 OVR player and pick up a 78 OVR player because it’s a strict upgrade. But players aren’t numbers or statlines. They’re humans, and it makes things more complicated. Tonight, a few beers and one too many draft articles in, I’m taking you all on a journey through the San Antonio Tycoons, a team I just made up to illustrate a point about drafting BPA (best player available) vs need.
The San Antonio Tycoons went 9-7 and almost made the playoffs in 2015. Their offense is solid with few holes, and their defense is also acceptable. On offense, they have a sore need at RT as their perennial all-pro RT just retired. On defense, they could use studs at LB, CB and DE. But the incumbent starters on all three levels are serviceable starters. So on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and ESPN, the entire offseason will be spent debating whether the Tycoons should draft an RT in the 1st or a top-level defender. And both sides will be wrong.
Let’s say the Tycoons are on the clock at pick #19, and there are two players on their big board from which they are choosing. One is a RT that was valued as a high 2nd rounder, and the other is a top-ten CB that fell to them for unknown reasons (think Shariff Floyd). San Antonio will go for the CB every single time. Not because it’s pure BPA, but because it’s BPA within their needs. They’re not neglecting RT- there’s more than one round in the draft. They’re trying to make the roster the best it can be. Say this CB was actually a QB, but the Tycoons are set at starting and backup QB. In that case, they’d go for the RT because pure BPA is a silly way to think about team building.
See, the GM and coaches of the Tycoons don’t think in terms of strictly position or strictly BPA. Nobody in the NFL does. In Madden, when I draft, I’ll look at need because Madden is different and we don’t get the intricate scouting resources that real teams do. So if I need a DT, I’ll just draft the best DT available, provided it isn’t some ridiculous reach. But NFL teams don’t rate players the way Madden does. In this year’s draft, GM Rick Spielman is on record being very excited about the DL prospects. He says the class is very deep. In Madden, a 3rd round DE is going to give you 3rd round value (provided you did your due diligence with your scouting points). In real life, a 3rd round DE could be a 1st round value because there are so many 1st round DEs. Say the Tycoons were also participating in the 2015 draft. Some people may say “we need to spend our 1st on a DE.” But spending a 3rd on a DE can get you similar value at a much lower cost. Come the 3rd round, a star-caliber DE is probably the best player on the board anyways, and it increases value.
Another thing I don’t think people realize when talking about the draft is that each team values players differently. Take two WR-needy teams, the Bengals and Vikings. The Bengals might be way more interested in a player like Corey Coleman to compliment AJ Green, while the Vikings could be high on a different style of player like Josh Doctson (note: that’s a random example, not a prediction. I have no idea what the Bengals’ other needs are). If you have WRa, WRb, and WRc on your board in one order, they could be taken in a different order come draft day because the team with the higher draft pick values WRb over WRa. It doesn’t make WRb a better player than WRa, it just means that WRb fit that team more, and they felt their offense could use WRb better.
It’s useless to talk about whether a team will go with this position or that position. Teams have their big boards that dictate who they target, and those names are made up of several positions. The big boards are absolutely influenced by need, but need doesn’t dictate them entirely. If Jalen Ramsey falls to the Vikings, they could take him, despite drafting Trae Waynes in the 1st last year and being pretty much set at CB. But that’s an extreme example. If you view the Vikings needs as WR, OL, S and LB, you can imagine a board made of players at all those positions. They won’t say “okay we need a WR in this draft” then pick the best WR that’s available at 23. They’ll pick from their board in scenarios they’ve rehearsed time and time again, or trade back, or whatever.
The bottom line is, if you’re a WR purist that thinks the Vikings need to take a receiver in the first round, don’t lose your mind if they pick Reggie Ragland. They aren’t neglecting their problems, they’re maximizing value. The latter has a much more profound long-term impact.