Common Tendencies of the NFL Draft
It may be fun to look in hindsight at previous National Football League (NFL) drafts. Some might laugh at seemingly reasonable draft choices that turned out for the worse, and impressed at how some teams were able to develop into championship contenders from a single draft. One can also be impressed at how some players fell to the late rounds only to mature into all-pro talents. The last couple of draft classes gave us some talented players who have made a substantial impact on the NFL. I wish to present here a few points that stood to me from each of the last few draft classes.
As stated earlier, there have been many cases of a team having a great draft class that turned them from having an abysmal performance into a Super Bowl contender. A recent example of this was the New Orleans Saints in 2017. The Saints hit a roadblock in the Drew Brees era from 2014-2017 when they consistently failed to make the playoffs in addition to being at the bottom of their division each season. In the season following the 2017 draft class, the Saints had a 12-4 record and were at the top of their division. This year, the same players who were drafted in 2017 nearly brought the Saints to the Super Bowl. For the Saints, the 2017 draft class is expected to continue their exemplary performance.
The most notable case of a team turning around the fortune of their franchise is the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers. Being a constant last place team and an unknown franchise before 1974, the Steelers drafted four future Hall-of-Famers which launched the most powerful football dynasty of the decade, with them obtaining four super rings in a six-year span. A point I wish to establish here is that a draft can give hope and change to any team, no matter how poorly they did in the previous season.
A second point I would like to emphasize is that there is much to learn regarding quarterback picks from previous drafts. Many were skeptical to draft Patrick Mahomes because he didn’t play in a pro-style offense in college but instead played an air-raid style that is very passing friendly and creates bloated statistics. This did not stop Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs from taking a second look at him. They saw his ability to make any throw on the field and his adaptability to the complex Reid offense style. Mahomes recently won the NFL Most Valuable Player award and seems to have much potential to continue his success in the years to come.
In the 2012 draft, many teams passed on Russell Wilson because he looked too small to be a pro quarterback; they thought his size would affect his playing ability. However, the Seattle Seahawks saw someone who had the mobility and football I.Q. to dominate the game. Russell Wilson helped the Seahawks win their only super bowl in franchise history in the 2013-14 season and has been one of the top quarterbacks since joining the league.
Arguably the most famous example of a great quarterback being overlooked in the early rounds of the draft was Tom Brady, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft class. Many teams passed on him for reasons such as his lack of mobility, his inability to throw under pressure and his lack of arm strength. No one saw his work ethic and his heart. Brady knew how great he could be, and he proved just that with six Super Bowl rings.
The bottom line is that many teams have a lot of bias when looking at quarterbacks. Teams prefer their quarterbacks to look and play a certain way; they want them to fit a specific mold. In my opinion, they must rid themselves of their biases and judge quarterbacks on the video footage of games to see how they actually perform.
My third point is that teams should ideally draft players based on need and not want. Many teams will draft skill positions — colloquially known as highlight-reel positions — like receivers or pass rushers. To put the value of these positions into perspective, the average team will have 65-85 offensive plays in a game, a good receiver will catch 8-10 passes a game and a running back will touch the ball 20-25 times a game. Simply put, at best receivers only affect 20 percent of plays while quarterbacks and offensive lineman affect every play on offense. Pass rushers can only affect obvious passing downs while the offense generally won’t show their hand and make pass-rushers ineffective on most plays. To summarize, I believe that teams shouldn’t draft receivers or pass on rushers early in the draft. Finally, a team must draft defensive players early in the draft. Most defensive players affect every single play when they are on the field. The priorities in drafting should be to land a franchise quarterback, protect him with a good offensive line and draft defensive players. The teams that are most successful in the NFL more or less follow this formula.
My final point is that the scouting combine and pro-day are not valid methods for a team to evaluate a prospect. During the NFL Scouting Combine of 2017, many viewers were blown off their seat when they saw John Ross run the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds, a finishing time which broke the previous record. Many draft experts immediately declared him to be a top receiver in the draft class. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted him as the 9th pick in the draft, with the expectation of greatness from him. This past season Ross had only 210 receiving yards; a receiver drafted in the first round is expected to post 1,000 yards in a season. After two years in the league, it is clear that John Ross hasn’t been worthy of the number nine pick and was a draft bust. The Bengals have been trying to trade him in the off-season.
In 2007, scouts journeyed to Louisiana State University to watch a pro-day of a hopeful quarterback prospect. Many draft analysts were astonished at the skills the prospective quarterback showed that day. This prospect was Jamarcus Russell. Russell is currently regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. Subsequent to the draft, Russell had a terrible run with the Oakland Raiders; in three seasons in Oakland, he started in just 25 out of 48 games and won only 7 of them.
Many prospects suddenly gain value after performing well in a combine or a pro-day. If the NFL was boiled down to players running drills and dodging cones, then those events would be a good forecast for the futures of prospective players, which, of course, is not the case.
We have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming 2019 draft. We all can be more aware of the draft process and the repercussions of certain draft choices. We should be aware that a good draft choice can potentially turn around a franchise. In addition, there is no exact science to evaluating quarterbacks. Furthermore, teams are more likely to have better records when they draft positions that affect the game more than highlight-reel positions like a receiver. Finally, the combine and pro-day shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Photo Caption: Tom Brady
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons