Every offseason, the NFL draft process is a very extensive one for analysts, front offices and fans, who do as much research they can to dictate what is the right approach to take to bolster their team’s roster. However, during this time, fans get a lot their information from draft analysts, but unfortunately, they are often misinformed. Even worse, teams fall into this same trap, as many are rooted in conventional wisdom, which has proven to not be true at all. So, what are the ten greatest misconceptions that often occur in the NFL Draft? Let’s rank them, going from least harmful to most harmful.
#10: Being Pigeon-Holed Into a Specific Strategy
While NFL teams want to have a “Plan A” approach to the draft, they too often get stuck into one specific strategy. Whether it’s targeting a specific position, or being aggressive or conservative, it’s always right to go in with a plan. However, mock drafts only get about 1/8 of the first-round selections correct, which speaks to how unpredictable the draft can be. Due to that, teams often have the chance to select a player they didn’t think would be available, or won’t be able to select a player they thought for sure they could draft at their spot. Several teams in this draft, such as the Eagles (receiver), Bucs (offensive tackle), Browns (offensive tackle), and 49ers (receiver) are expected to target a specific position, but if their top targets aren’t available, they’ll need to not only have a secondary plan, but a “Plan Z”. In other words, it’s paramount that teams just let the draft play out, and although it can lead to disappointment from their fanbase, being flexible is the best way to get the most value out of each selection.
#9: Comparing Players To The Rest of The Draft Class
In this year’s draft, there are plenty of talented prospects at wide receiver and cornerback. Therefore, most mock drafts have teams passing on the top players at those positions, and having them circle back to address those positions in the later rounds. Yet, that shouldn’t apply for top-tier players. The gap between CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy, compared to anyone who’ll be available later in the draft, is as massive as other position groups, and at the end of the day, teams are looking for true #1 receivers. Not only is it never a good idea to think that a prospect will fall to you with their next pick, but even if the draft class is deep at a position, that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to be anywhere close to as productive as a blue-chip player. Additionally, if a draft class is weak at a certain position, there isn’t any reason to push players at that position up the draft.board. For example, this is a weak edge rush and linebacker class, so rather than reaching for a player at one of those positions, teams should simply wait until the draft is deeper at those positions to get optimal value. That would seem to be an obvious strategy, but most of the time, we only compare prospects to their draft counterparts, rather than strictly grading them as a player.
#8: Not Understanding Position Scarcity
There are specific positions in the NFL where it’s easier to find starters later in the draft than others, which should alter draft boards. For instance, offensive tackle, quarterback, and cornerback are difficult positions to draft after the first round, so teams should target players at those positions early. However, on the interior offensive and defensive line, as well as at safety, tight end, running back, and linebacker, teams have had far greater success finding “late-round” gems; the difference between who you’d select in the first round and fifth round will be far less significant at these positions. So before pushing for your team to select an interior offensive lineman like Cesar Ruiz, a running back like D’Andre Swift, or one of the linebackers in this draft, it’s important to take into account positional scarcity. By doing this, teams can put themselves in the best positions to land as many future starters as possible through the draft.
#7: Drafting Players at Non-Expensive Positions
One of the most valuable parts for the draft is that if you hit on a player, you’re getting a young, cost-controlled starter for the next 4 to 5 seasons. At expensive positions like quarterback, edge rusher, wide receiver, and offensive tackle, that can be immensely talented for building a well-rounded roster, as it just gives a team much more flexibility. Yet, on the contrary, first-round running backs tend to be the highest-paid positions in the NFL, while linebackers and safeties also are usually available on affordable contracts. Therefore, you’d be wasting one of the main benefits of the draft by drafting a player early at a non-expensive position; why draft a player at a position that is easy to address through free agency?
#6: Trading Up For a Non-QB
Although trading up for a quarterback is risky, the upside in finding your franchise quarterback is so enormous, that it’s often worth doing if it’s someone you believe is a franchise quarterback. However, there isn’t another position in the NFL where one player will “move the needle” enough, so trading up for non-quarterbacks generally doesn’t work. The draft is always a time of uncertainty, as there is no way of knowing for sure that a prospect will ultimately be a star at the next level. Therefore, having multiple picks, which means multiple shots on finding an impact player, is always more beneficial than sacrificing all the resources on one player. Heck, even if the prospect you’re trading up for is a superstar, it usually doesn’t matter if they aren’t a quarterback. Take the Falcons with Julio Jones as a prime example. Atlanta traded a future first-round pick to land the star receiver, and even though it helped them initially, they weren’t able to address other long-term needs with their roster down the road; their lack of success between 2013 to 2015 actually proves that the decision to trade up for Jones was a mistake. So, if you’re going to “lose” the trade even if the prospect reaches their ultimate ceiling, what’s the point of making the trade. This is something that front offices, especially those of the Broncos (receiver), Falcons (defensive player), Saints (receiver/linebacker), Bucs (tackle), and Eagles (receiver) must ponder before trading up for a non-quarterback.
#4: Building Through The Trenches- The “Foundational Positions”
The NFL has continued to evolve, but unfortunately, not everyone has caught up. There was once a time where it made sense to build through the trenches on both sides of the ball. However, this is now a passing game predicated on speed on the perimeter, so positional value has changed. In fact, the defensive front seven, especially the defensive line, is actually not very valuable at all, and although it’s important to have a strong offensive line, it’s more about eliminating weakness that having stars. Therefore, teams need to push interior defenders, such as Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw, down their draft boards, and that’s even true for star pass rusher Chase Young. Instead, they should place a priority on upgrading at receiver and cornerback, which have become much more important areas when it comes to winning games. It may be uncomfortable for people who grew up in a different era of football, but we’re in a new time now, and being stuck in old ways can be consequential; it prevents analysts from giving proper analysis, and prevents teams from building their roster properly.
#4: Valuing Athleticism/”Upside” Over Proven Production
NFL athletes are faster and stronger than what players face in college, so there is definitely an athletic baseline needed to play in the NFL. However, analysts and front offices tend to over-valued athleticism, leading them to identify players as “high upside” prospects. Yet, if they couldn’t use their rare athletic traits to produce in college, how are they supposed to do so against players that are just as freaky as them and better than what they previously faced? Justin Herbert, for example, failed to progress at all during his four seasons at Oregon, yet due to his size, arm strength, and athleticism, he’s seen as a top-five pick, similarly to Blake Bortles and Mitch Trubisky before him. Meanwhile, edge rushers such as K’Lavon Chaisson and Yetur Gross-Matos, who weren’t productive at all in college, are seen as far superior prospects to Curtis Weaver and AJ Epenesa, who dominated. So while athleticism is something that needs to be taken into account when projecting to the NFL, it tends to get blown out of context. At the end of the day, you need to have actual football skills, and too often, teams don’t take that into account. It’s definitely a major factor behind players eventually being “busts” after being drafted in the first round.
#3: Thinking That One Star (Non-QB) Can Change Your Franchise
This goes hand-and-hand with misconception #6, but even when you don’t trade up for the player, too many teams become infatuated with a star player, thinking they’ll change the course of your franchise. Personally, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that superstar edge rusher Chase Young will change the Redskins franchise, as many cite Nick Bosa and the 49ers as an example. Yet, for San Francisco to become the NFC champions, they had to go from “worst-to-first” in terms of pass coverage, upgrade their playmakers, and had to get their quarterback back healthy. Plus, they didn’t just add Bosa, but also Dee Ford, who also played a major role in them having an elite pass rush. Football is a game that is predicated on depth and avoiding weak links, and that’s without counting for the high amount of injuries there are. You’re never actually “one player” away, as the Bears (Khalil Mack), Saints (Marcus Davenport), Steelers (Devin Bush), and Rams (Jalen Ramsey) have learned, so for the Redskins, they certainly shouldn’t be locked into Young- if they have a chance to trade down and add multiple players, the combination of those players will be more valuable than one edge rusher.
#2: Drafting For Short-Term Need
When draft season comes around, most mock drafts consist of analysts and fans aiming for what a team needs in the short term, while completely discounting their long-term needs. Therefore, they often too much think of the draft as a way of just filling holes, but in reality, teams that think like this often have poor draft success. Not only is drafting for short-term need potentially discounting the chance to add valuable players at other positions, but it’s also placing foolish expectations on the incoming rookies. As Pro Football Focus has shown with recent studies, rookie learning curves are a legitimate factor when projecting players to the next level; it usually takes them until their second or third year to reach their peak performance. In that case, what’s the point of trying to fill a hole on the roster? If the rookie is going to be unreliable anyway, it makes much more sense to not only draft the most valuable player available, but also draft with regards to the future, rather than the upcoming season. The Saints in this year’s draft stand out as a clear example. Many have suggested that they should draft a linebacker, but as we discussed, this is not a very expensive position; New Orleans is a team without much salary cap space for the future, so why not take advantage of the rookie contract by drafting a quarterback, receiver, or cornerback? Just remember, the Jaguars in 2017 drafted running back Leonard Fournette over cornerback Marshon Lattimore, safety Jamal Adams, and quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson because they didn’t have any “pressing needs”. It’s safe to say they could desperately use any of those players right now.
#1: Trying To Draft All-Pros Rather Than Players Who’ll Help You Win
Even when the draft is over, I believe we tend to not properly assess draft success. Many believe the selections of Saquon Barkley (RB-Giants) Christian McCaffrey (RB-Panthers), and Myles Garrett (EDGE-Browns) have panned out, since all have excelled since being drafted. Yet, all of those teams passed on players at more important positions, and thus are all picking in the top ten in this year’s draft. Sure, it’s great if a player you draft achieves great accomplishments individually. However, the goal should be to do whatever it takes to build a winning team, so even if a player like Chase Young or Derrick Brown projects to be a fantastic player, even their “95th percentile” is not going to make a difference. We’ve already covered the over-valuation of star players, trench players, and non-quarterbacks in general, but most of all, we too often look back at the draft and only look at a player accomplished, rather than how they actually affected the team’s performance. This is easily the greatest misconception, and is extremely evident in this draft.