One of the phrases you’ll hear over and over for the next 2 months is “Best Player Available”. Every team will tell you this is how they want to run their draft. The smart teams do stick to this philosophy. Others cave in and focus more on need. This can lead to some bad picks (Jaiquawn Jarrett for instance).
BPA sounds simple enough. Let’s take the best player. But I think many people are confused about how this actually works. Good NFL teams have a limited draft board. There won’t be 250 players with a wide range of grades. You are more likely to have 85 to 125 players ranked, with lots of similar grades.
I think many people imagine the BPA mentality means having to take the highest rated player and having literally no choice in the matter. No, not really. Generally speaking there will be players bunched together. When a team puts those players in order, need is factored in. If you have a RB and OLB with the same grade, there is no question who the Eagles will take. If the grades are similar, but the RB is a bit higher, the OLB will still be ranked above him. If the RB is clearly better, then he will be on top.
Teams refer to this as stacking the board. Here is an interesting explanation from Bill Belichick from the past.
Bill Belichick enters his 12th season in charge of the Patriots’ draft. Over the years, he’s detailed how the team executes its “stack”, with one of the most detailed explanations coming back in 2003.
There is the vertical stack and the horizontal stack.
“When you stack your board, you’re going to look vertically … The way we do it, we look vertically by positions. Here’s all the quarterbacks, here’s all the tight ends, here’s all the running backs,” Belichick said at the time.
“[Then] horizontally across the board, you try to get some kind of value of … This cornerback and this guard, and this linebacker and this tight end would have about the same value. They’d come in and they’d be role players for us. They’re never going to be starters. Or whatever their value is.
“And so when you’re sitting there trying to make your picks, you may be looking at three or four guys and they’re all kind of about the same. You’re five or six picks away and whichever one of these guys we end up with, we take them in this order, but we could live with any of them.”
But Belichick also detailed how sometimes there is one player who is far and away above the remaining players on the board. That could spark the team to seek a trade.
“Sometimes you’re sitting there and you have three or four guys in that category and you have one guy that you feel like is sitting up there and is significantly higher and you’re not saying, ‘Well, he’s just going to come in and be a role player and he’ll never be a starter.’ You’re saying, ‘Well, this guy could come in and he’s going to be a starter for us, now it might take a year and he has a little developing he has to do, but we feel like this guy can come in and he can be a starter for us.’ That’s when you sit there and think about, ‘All right, do we want to try to jump up and get this guy if we don’t think he’s going to fall to us and give up whatever we have to give up to move up and get him, or do we want to stay here and hope he’s on the board — he probably won’t be — and we’ll end up with one of these other guys.’
“It just comes down to draft management. Sometimes you try to trade up and get him, and [sometimes] nobody wants to trade with you and you sit there and let it come to you. That’s basically the process.”
I don’t know if this is the system the Eagles use, but it gives you some idea of how things work. Every team does things a bit differently, but the good ones have some similar principles involved.
I think one of the big issues with understanding the draft is that many people don’t understand how choosy teams are with putting together their boards. The Eagles, Niners, Pats, Seahawks, Packers and Broncos won’t have the same players on their boards. There might be a LB that one team covets and the others think is too dumb for their systems. Or maybe they rejected him for medical reasons. Or could be character reasons. Or maybe they just think he doesn’t fit schematically.
The Eagles love all the prospects who end up on their draft board. The same is true for the Pats and other good teams. They aren’t going to have a player listed that they have doubts about. Don’t worry that the Eagles will go BPA and be forced to choose someone they shouldn’t want. That won’t happen.
We see Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock’s “Best Remaining” lists during the draft. Fans wonder how teams can choose some guy from New Mexico State when an All-American from Georgia is right there and both Kiper/Mayock have him as the best available player in the 3rd round. Teams obviously had issues with that star player and he’s not on everyone’s board.
BPA is a smart philosophy when handled the right way. You need to pare down the pre-draft list of targets to players you truly want and think can succeed. When you do that and go BPA, you’re going to get a good prospect for your particular team.
* * * * *
The NFL owners meetings are taking place this week. That means a ton of trade rumors and denials involving the Eagles and DeSean Jackson. You’re going to hear just about everything.
No one on the outside knows exactly what is happening, but we’ll find out soon enough.
Don’t get your hopes up. This trade is going to be ugly, if the Eagles are able to pull it off.