The NFL Draft is nearing with each passing day and many rumors are out there. You hear of rumors of teams not wanting certain players because of character concerns and also because of the fear their abilities will not translate to the professional level. One thing that can be proven over the years is that drafting players to fit a team is an inexact science. The best player on the board could end up being a colossal mistake. And that draft pick you passed over that you did not put much into scouting could end up being the best player many looked over. All in all, there is high stakes at the draft that could make or break teams and also gets some general managers, coaches and scouts fired. There is a lot of trust in what you see. But there is also a lot of trust in some basic principles. Whether teams admit to it or not, there is a fundamental belief as to why they draft players when they do. And those fundamental beliefs have led some organizations to success and others to the depths of despair. Well, what if you were a general manager and you were building an organization? What would be your strategy or rules to go by? Well, since the draft is near, it’s time for the General's six rules for drafting.
Rule 1: Never Take a Quarterback in the 1st Round
There have been great quarterbacks taken in the first round and they have put up good numbers and some have even won Super Bowls. But you don’t necessarily need a 1st round quarterback to win the championship. For example, in the last six years three 1st round quarterbacks have won title (Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers, Eli Manning with the New York Giants and Joe Flacco with the Ravens). But there were also three quarterbacks that were not drafted in the 1st round that won Super Bowls for their organizations. Drew Brees won the title in 2010 as his New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts. The former 2001 2nd round draft pick of San Diego led one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL that season. Ironically, he left San Diego in free agency after a shoulder injury allowed the Chargers to replace Brees with former 1st round pick Phillip Rivers. The Chargers have won nothing while the Saints have some jewelry from the Drew Brees era. Russell Wilson was another quarterback that was not drafted in the first (3rd round pick of Seattle in the 2012 NFL Draft). The Seattle Seahawks were all ready to go with quarterback Matt Flynn the year they drafted Wilson, but they were wowed by the play of Wilson and decided to go with him as their starter. Good thing they did because he has helped lead them to two Super Bowl appearances in three years and has won one Super Bowl. But last but not least there is Tom Brady. The former University of Michigan quarterback was not even given the mere thought of as being a starting quarterback in the NFL, let alone a star. But with his last championship this past February, the former 2000 6th round pick now has three titles and six championship appearances. So with that, there is evidence that a 1st round quarterback is not needed, only good scouts that can actually understand quarterback play.
Rule 2: Only take a running back in the 1st round if you feel it’s necessary
Some of the same rules apply when it comes to taking a running back in the 1st round. If there is an absolute stud in the 1st round, then by all means take him if he fits your scheme. For example, when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson 7th overall in 2007, he fit seamlessly into what the Vikings wanted to do. And off-field issues aside, he is still one of the most solid running backs in the NFL and he is the focal point of that offense. But if you take a look around the league, teams are starting to go more to the passing game and less with drafting the bellcow running backs in the 1st round. Look at the starters of the past five NFL champions and you will notice that there was only one running back that was drafted in the first round started for their team (Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks). You can get better value for running backs later in the draft than you can in the 1st round. And time after time, many teams continue to prove that while teams like the Cleveland Browns swing and whiff at the supposed “stud running back” in the 1st round, only to be disappointed.
Rule #3: When an edge pass rusher is available, take him as soon as you can
The NFL has turned more and more into a passing league every single year. Gone are the days where you can put hands on wide receivers when they run down the field. It seems like all the rules are titled towards the offensive side of the ball. So, to even that out, you draft a pass rusher. There are some teams that are stout against the run, but they cannot put pressure on quarterbacks and that can cost them. For example, if the Dallas Cowboys would have had an elite pass rusher last season like they potentially have now in Greg Hardy, they would have beaten the Packers in Green Bay because Aaron Rodgers was limited in his mobility. The best thing a team that does not have stud defensive backs can do is draft a pass rusher to put pressure on the quarterback. The better a pass rush your team has, the more your defensive backs can be covered up and the less time quarterbacks have to find them and exploit them. Elite pass rushers are a very highly valued commodity and in the NFL, they can put your team over the top. Look at the Seahawks defense for example. They have the Legion Of Boom in their secondary, but they also have two great pass rushers in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and those two help make the Legion Of Boom look better while giving the quarterback less time. Drafting a pass rusher in the 1st round is not as huge a gamble for your franchise also.
Rule 4: Draft for depth for your defensive lines
The middle of your defense should be solid. With the speed of the NFL, teams should not be able to beat you running sideways. If you have a defense that is getting beat by a East/West runner, then the defense is not very good to begin with. The good defenses over the years like the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have all been stout up front. And consequently, those teams have all been very successful over the last few years. You can never have too much depth up to keep guys as fresh as possible inside. From the 1st round to the 7th round, there are always players that are found that can plug a hole on your defense and fit the scheme with which you decide to run. And with that depth, you can wear down an offensive line and then really let loose when it is winning time. The Seattle Seahawks have been using that formula for the last three seasons and no one seems to have an answer for it at all. They tend to find piece after piece throughout the draft and just plug those guys into their system. And in the NFL, it’s a copycat league and many are beginning to learn the value of having depth along the defensive line.
Rule 5: Get as many offensive weapons as possible offensively
Like was mentioned before, the league has turned into an offensive explosion for the most part. Many teams are putting up numbers each and every week. And if you look around offenses in the NFL, there are many teams that are following the same formula. Even though some teams may have had weapons the previous season, they are going out and drafting more weapons at the same position or another position. The more weapons a team has that complement each other, the more chances you can put defenses in compromising positions. Draft for need, but also draft a little for depth with weapons offensively because things like injuries and suspensions can happen unexpectedly and you have to be prepared as much as possible for that to happen. If you are not prepared, then the lack of depth at a position and the lack of weapons offensively could come back to haunt an offense and be the difference between a playoff spot and an early vacation.
Rule 6: Draft offensive lineman with very athletic backgrounds
This may seem like a dumb statement, but there are actually some lineman in the NFL that are not very athletic. You need lineman that are athletic for things like pulling, blocking guys in space and also making that one last incredible block to free your running back for a touchdown. And example of a team drafting athletic lineman is the San Francisco 49ers.If you look at their offensive tackles, Anthony Davis and Joe Staley, both can move in space and can maul the defensive lineman in front of them. And because of these two and the other pieces that surround them up front, the 49ers were known as one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in football over the last couple of years. Athleticism is a key ingredient for lineman to be able to keep up with the speed of the defensive lineman. And with a good offensive lineman doing their assignment well, the quarterback has time to make plays through the air and the running back will have holes to run through.
These are the General’s six rules for drafting and with these strategies, you would have a stout defensive team with a value pick at running back and quarterback that could cost less but be effective on the field. You would also have a team that has an athletic offensive line and depth on the defensive line that can be the lynchpin to what you need to win a title. Building from the inside out is a key essential in making a team that not only is good but has staying power.