By Ron Jumper
Whenever the draft rolls around, I always am fascinated with the thought process of not only the NFL teams but also the draft analysts and media in general. The lack of genuine understanding from the average guy that works in the media, particularly at the local level, of how the draft process works and everything that goes into it is laughable. As for the NFL scouts and general managers, it blows my mind how the draft is almost a sport of its own, much like recruiting is at the college level, as opposed to being an extension of your overall strategy for how you plan to build your specific franchise into a winner.
Getting all caught up in “best player available” and what have you, which for the record can work if executed correctly, often earns a nice “grade” the day after but doesn’t always translate to success on the field when the season rolls around. With this draft in particular, giving any team’s draft a grade really is incomplete anyways because there hasn’t been free agency due to the lockout. If you choose to address needs by adding veterans then draft best player available that combo can work, it once again is just about the execution more than the strategy. However, not every team has that luxury. Think about a small market team that isn’t able to compete financially, for them the playing field isn’t level.
The best example I can give is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They DO NOT sign free agents, it is not an option due to their financial situation. For them, the draft is how they address their roster from a needs standpoint. They have no choice but to address needs as opposed to best player available, which is what they did in this draft. Coming in, GM Mark Dominik made it very obvious they HAD to get a pass rusher in this draft. The front office and scouting department was basically just trying to pinpoint what defensive ends would be available when they picked at 20. There was some talk of moving up to improve their odds of landing an elite DE but, ultimately, I’m sure they didn’t pull the trigger because they didn’t want to give up any picks because those are at a premium to them more so than any franchise in the league. The Bucs ended up taking defensive ends in the first two rounds, clearly addressing their biggest need.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Lions landed a stud in DT Nick Fairley. At different points in the draft process, Fairley was looked at as a top 3 talent. However, how does he help them? They already have a very good defensive line, with some guy named Ndamukong Suh. I just can’t imagine Fairley makes them much better, where as they could really use a LT to protect Mathew Stafford or open up running lanes. Long story short, the Lions spent some money in free agency last year while the Bucs focused on specific needs and team chemistry on a tight budget. The Lions were much more competitive than in years past but the Bucs won 10 games and are a team on the rise. The point is that having a concise strategy and executing it usually works better than blindly going after talent and throwing money at B-list free agents.