How to Draft Part I: Valuing Positions/Players


Apr 26, 2012; New York, NY, USA; NFL shield logo before the 2012 NFL Draft.  Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Valuing Positions/Players- The Basics

Today’s article is going to be the start of a series I’ll write about drafting- who teams should target, how they should value players, when they should trade, etc.  Since the Titans are the team I know the most about, I’m going to use this upcoming draft as a template.

So let’s start with the basics- how do you assign value to positions/players in the draft?  A lot of people, especially pundits, emphasize the BPA (Best Player Available) draft strategy, and there is something to be said for this.  But when pundits use it, they usually use it in a very misguided way; the simple fact is that the BPA to your team is probably not the BPA to the majority of other teams.  Why?  Because the schemes your team runs on offense and defense can vastly change the likely value of a player.

Take, for instance, two of the top defensive ends in the draft: Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.  Both players have about equal draft rankings- likely top 15 picks.  But, ceteris paribus, the Titans would place a 2nd round value on Mingo, and a top 15 value on Montgomery.  That’s the difference between the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses; Mingo is far too small and weak to be an every-down 4-3 end, but could be an every-down 3-4 OLB.  Even though Mingo would be an impact player for the Titans as a pass rusher, his potential value is much lower, simply because in a 4-3 (outside of the wide 9 system) he couldn’t be an every-down player.  The “fit” of a player, regardless of his raw talent, can change his value to you immensely.

Yes, the difference between the 4-3 and 3-4 is one of the most obvious.  But these sort of valuation differences occur everywhere: man v. zone v. hybrid corners, zone v. man blocking OLineman & RBs (CJ cannot run in a multiple-read zone scheme for his life), 4-3 NT v. UT, Right Def. End v. Left Def. End.  Once you add in the idiosyncrasies of every coordinator’s system, you’re looking at a lot of variation.

Next, you face the risk-reward matrix.  In all rounds, teams face a tradeoff between “developmental” prospects and “contributors” (players with lower potential, but less risk).  Anyone remember the athletic wonder known as Chris Henry and his exact opposite, Lendale White?  This is just player valuation under the BPA method; once you add in all the factors that determine “need”, the draft board changes even more dramatically.

“Need”, just like talent, has a lot of factors.  Of obvious importance are the holes on your team.  The Titans, for instance, would be insane to take an OLB in the first four rounds- both SLB and WLB have clear starters, and the only reason we’d draft someone there is for depth.  On the other hand, Leroy Harris, Fernando Velasco, and Deuce Lutui will be free agents, Amano (besides being terrible) is coming back from a major injury, and Steve Hutchinson is 36; clearly we have holes to be filled on the interior.

Need also includes age- if you don’t forecast retirements and age related dropoff of your current players, you end up like the Chiefs (who had one of the best Offensive Lines of all time in the early and mid ‘00s, but has had awful to mediocre lines since).  Then you take into account things like potential free agents over the next few years (yours and everyone else’s), the salary cap and your situation, likelihood of injury etc.  “Need” clearly adds an enormous amount of complexity into your draft valuations.

But to me, “Need” is the far more interesting category than mere “Talent” because it incorporates what I think is perhaps the most overlooked part of football- “schematic necessity”.  SN refers to the relative value of positions within the scheme you run (and is generally a much larger factor for defenses).  This will likely be the subject of my next article in this series, but for an overview, look at my article from Nov 18th “Colin McCarthy and the Two-Deep Zone” .

Finally, you have to evaluate the distribution of talent in the draft (and the next few drafts).  Is there a big dropoff from the top 5 picks, but relatively constant from 6-20? Well if we’re at pick six, we should trade up (for one of those top 5) or down if we want to maximize value.  Is defensive end really deep with talent this draft, but defensive tackle has only two high level players?  Do you think you can find “developmental” prospects at your positions of need, or are the only late rounders at those positions “contributors”, which you already have?  I’ll take a look at the upcoming draft through this lens in a future article.

These are the basics of draft valuation: talent, need, and distribution.  I think you could write a book on each, and we’ll dive into some of the intricacies leading up to the next draft.  By the end of this series, I’m hoping to have applied all of this to the Titans, and make some predictions about our choices come April.

Myles M.