Understanding the Strategy of the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is just over 24 hours away as this is written and I’m watching ESPN and NFL Network listening to all the pundits speak with expertise at teams Draft Strategy, Value Picks, and teams Trading Down.  These things are all vital to the NFL Draft day process but what teams do it best.


There are really only two ways that teams drastically improve their rosters based on draft strategy:

new england patriots head coach bill belichick1. Teams like the New England Patriots will use high 1st round picks, trade that pick for several lower round picks in an attempt to gain quality players that are not predicted to go early.  These players will generally wind up being quality contributors and fan favorites, but may never make a Pro Bowl.  In the Patriots example New England over the past few seasons have stock piled 2nd round and third round picks to draft talented players that fill depth needs to keep a team fresh and healthy over the course of the season.  This strategy also allows the team to make the first round picks they deem necessary as in 2008 with the selection of Jarrod Mayo.  As you can see, this strategy works – once you have talent to begin with.

Daniel Snyder Washington Redskins2. The best example I can give on the second strategy is Daniel Snyder and the Washington Redskins this season.  Washington traded 3 first round picks, in essence sacrificing the future development of their team because they can draft a roster changing talent in Robert Griffin III.  This strategy has its merit if the player you’re going for is able to come in right away and perform, remember what the Jets did to get Mark Sanchez.  Although your team may add a future Hall of Fame type talent, there is not much else a team can add by sacrificing so many picks.

A third but very rarely used Draft Strategy is trading current players on your roster to add Draft Picks.  Now I am not an NFL Owner, General Manager, Head Coach, Asst. Coach, or even a member of the concessions team, and I freely admit that this reference is not divined from reality, but give this a chance.  John Madden Football, the best selling sports franchise video game of all time, has a feature where you get to build your own team, Franchise Mode, and the people at EA Sports do an EA Sports John Madden 13excellent job of making the Franchise Mode as real as possible.  Building a dynasty  is not an easy thing but with a solid draft strategy is very possible.  So here is the most effective Draft Strategy, first players who hold out, do not sign franchise tags / restricted free agents tags, these guys are gone, traded for draft picks and traded early before the combine and player values begin to be assigned.

After players who do not want to be here are gone, now we focus on draft picks.  Ideally  we want to be in a situation after trading away talented proven players to have 2 first round picks and hopefully a few (3 or more) third round picks.  Now we begin working on moving those first round picks.  First we identify the players who should be going in those spots, mid first round picks are normally going to be Wide Recievers, Corner Backs, and both Offensive and Defensive Lineman.  Now that we know who should be taken, its time to locate the teams that will want to take them and begin the offering process.  We are trying to work our first round picks into multiple second and third round picks, positions were value is still evident, but the cost of each player is much less.

If all goes well the draft position changes should break down in this manner:

Start of Offseason By the Combine Draft Day
pick number pick number pick number
13 (RD 1) 13 (RD 1) 34 (RD 2)
45 (RD 2) 22 (RD 1) 39 (RD 2)
77 (RD 3) 45 (RD 2) 45 (RD 2)
109 (RD 4) 66 (RD 3) 66 (RD 3)
141 (RD 5) 77 (RD 3) 71 (RD 3)
173 (RD 6) 90 (RD 3) 77 (RD 3)
205 (RD 7) 109 (RD 4) 88 (RD 3)
  173 (RD 6) 90 (RD 3)
  205 (RD 7 109 (RD 4)
    173 (RD 6)
    205 (RD 7)

By trading down and stockpiling picks in the second and third round an NFL Franchise is able to draft in this scenario 8 of the top 90 players available.  The team would be able to add a quality player at almost every position on either offense or defense.  This is the way a team builds depth and talent at a reasonable cost.  This is a variation on the Bill Belichick philosophy towards the draft but with a bit more aggression.

The main two strategies are what you will see during the 2012 NFL Draft.  You will see teams like the Minnesota Vikings trading down, possibly twice to stockpile players, which they need.  You may see the New York Jets, jump up and give away next years draft in order to get Trent Richardson.  But almost undoubtedly you will see Bill Belichick trade at least one of his first round picks for a second and a third, still get the player he wants with that second round pick and once again, have the best draft strategy.


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