Talking About Value

by Tommy Lawlor  –

The 2011 draft has come and gone. One of the lingering discussions is about value. Did teams reach for QBs in the 1st round? Was Bruce Carter a reach at 40? Lance Kendricks at 47? Jaiquawn Jarrett at 54? Jonas Mouton at 61? Stevan Ridley at 73? And so on. There were more than a few odd picks.

Value is a complicated subject. There is the perceived value of a player vs what each individual team actually has the player graded at. I used to think Bill Polian was crazy for the picks he made and the way he valued players. Polian did it enough that I realized he simply saw the world differently. He wasn’t reaching for players. He genuinely had them rated that way. His system worked well for him.

Other teams get creative and draft in a unique way, but don’t do nearly as good a job. Look at the Oakland Raiders for most of the last decade. They took some good players, but other times made choices that seemed ill-conceived. They don’t have a good track record so you can’t give them the same kind of credit as Polian. Before you jump on the Polian is a product of Peyton Manning’s greatness bandwagon please understand that he did great things in Buffalo and Carolina while still going against the grain. He’s got a unique vision, but knows how to make it work.

I will never fault a team for taking a player “early” if it makes some sense. After all, the goal at the end of the day is to come up with the right players. Getting them at good value can be important, but it is still a secondary issue. Making sure you get the players is the primary goal.

The problem with focusing on value is that teams can get burned. Let’s go back to 2007. The Eagles really liked QB Kevin Kolb. They wanted to add a DB in the 1st round and then hoped to move up in the 2nd round to get Kolb. The DBs were gone when they picked in the 1st so the Eagles moved back into the early 2nd round. Instead of waiting around and trying to maximize value they took Kolb at pick 36. 2 more QBs went in the next 7 picks. After that the next guy went in the late 3rd round. The Eagles took Kolb at a point where there was a mini-run on QBs. Had they moved back any further, there is no guarantee they’d have gotten their guy.

Jets coach Eric Mangini got burned in 2006 when he did try to move back just a few spots. The Eagles called him about swapping 3rd round picks. Mangini was ready to take LB Chris Gocong at pick 71, but felt moving back 5 spots would be worth adding the extra pick. The Eagles jumped into the #71 slot and took…Chris Gocong. They had kept their interest in him very quiet so the Jets suspected nothing. Great move by Eagles GM Tom Heckert. Dumb move by Mangini. The Jets settled for LB Anthony Schlegel. He was a complete bust. Gocong didn’t set the world on fire, but has proven to be at least an adequate starter. Mangini got cute and paid the price.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have made some reach picks in the last few years. GM Gene Smith doesn’t care about what the other 31 teams think. He focuses in on players that he really likes. Smith doesn’t want to risk losing one of his guys due to perceived value. The comments from Mayock, Kiper, or McShay may not be so kind, but so what. Those guys can take chances on players sliding. They don’t deal with the ramifications of a missed player.

And remember, it only takes one other team to like a player. A couple of years ago the Raiders made what seemed like an utterly ridiculous pick when they took Safety Mike Mitchell early in the 2nd round. Mayock knew what school he went to (Ohio), but not much else. We all laughed at the Raiders for making the pick, but later found out the Bears might have made the pick had Mitchell fallen to them. 30 teams saw things one way. 2 saw them another.

At that point teams have to assess the player and the overall draft. “Is this a player we can’t afford to risk losing?” The team must decide if the player is special or compelling in some way. Great athlete? Incredibly productive? Perfect fit for scheme? NFL ready? Don’t reach for solid. Reach for unique. I wasn’t keen on the Kendricks pick. Good player, but not special in any way. I saw Kendricks as a solid player, nothing more. The Cowboys took Carter at 40 because he was arguably the best athlete of all the LBs in the draft. He has big time potential. The Eagles took Jarrett at 54 because they thought he had great intangibles and could challenge for a starting role from day one. They felt his value transcended the measurables.

Some people have gotten on the Atlanta Falcons for trading up to get Julio Jones. Yes, they paid a steep price, but what if Jones is the difference between them being good and great. The Falcons have established themselves as a good team with Matt Ryan at the helm, but they haven’t won a playoff game. Would the addition of several players have made a difference? Maybe, but I don’t know how likely that is. Jones has special potential. They didn’t just move up for any WR. They went and got a guy that isn’t available every year. I can see the value in them making the move.

There are years when the draft class is deep. If you miss out on a player, you can go down to the next guy on your list without significant drop-off. Other years that isn’t the case. This wasn’t a strong class overall. It wasn’t a good year for TEs. Maybe that’s why the Rams were aggressive in getting Kendricks. There were a lot of RBs. That’s one reason I was puzzled by how early the Patriots took Ridley. They obviously feel he’s a good fit for their system. Plus, Bill Belichick likes LSU players.

In the end, we have to remember what the draft is. We’re not grading players on how well they did in college. We’re not going after workout warriors. We’re not focused on who stood out at the Senior Bowl or Shrine Game. The point of all this is to find the best NFL prospects. We’re rating players on how well we think they will do at the next level. No matter how much NFL teams don’t want to admit it, there is a lot of guess work involved.

Teams do need to be reasonable with value. Don’t take an undersized LB or a slow CB or in the 1st round. Do that in the middle or late rounds of the draft. I loved Brian Rolle to death, but still saw him going late, which he did. I loved Johnny Patrick, but knew he was a mid-round guy and that’s where he went (late 3rd). Value has its place in the equation, but should never be the focal point when assessing a draft class. Value doesn’t win a Super Bowl. Players do. Go get the right players.

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