With the NFL draft fast approaching it seems there is no better time than now to discuss the importance and value of draft picks in the NFL. Draft picks are considered gold to NFL teams. They are the wood, hammer and nails with which to build your house. Without draft picks, you can not build a team and if you can not build a team, well then, you’re in the wrong business. The NFL has the biggest rosters of the four major sports. With a 53-man active roster, eleven men playing on each side at a time and numerous packages and plays that call for different players, you can say that the NFL is a revolving door of sorts. With the tight salary caps and the flexibility to release a player seemingly at will, the draft is what makes or breaks a team. The ability to replace a player who gets paid $10 million a year with a new younger player who can do it at less than half the price has owners and general managers across the league salivating. At the end of the season, there are hundreds of these discount players chomping at the bit to get a shot in the league. Only 224 of them will get drafted. Others will be brought in as undrafted free agents on non-guaranteed contracts. These are the bargain shop players. All they have to do is prove they can replace the production of a player who gets paid more and just like that, they’re in and the expensive player is out. Think of draft picks as coupons, they get you the same product at a discounted price.
All NFL teams have their own approaches toward team building. The best and most consistent teams in the league seem to be the ones that take their time and value their draft picks, opting not to trade them for the flashy player of today when they could potentially get the great player of tomorrow with their picks. We’ve seen the value of draft picks in recent trades. Just this year alone the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles gave up a ton of future picks to move up to the first and second overall picks respectively. Time will tell if these trades will pay off for those two teams but as for their partners, it seems like a good deal already. The Tennessee Titans were able to get the 15th, 43rd, 45th, and 76th overall picks from Los Angeles and also a couple of future draft picks. That’s a lot of coupons. In a similar deal, the Cleveland Browns acquired the 8th, 77th, and 100th overall picks and a few more picks in the future as well from the Philadelphia Eagles. While the Rams and Eagles are looking to score big with the top two picks in the draft, the moves are still considered big gambles by many. The reason being, there is no guarantee that the Rams or Eagles will hit big with their top picks and if they don’t, they have a lot less tools now to build with. The Rams and Eagles are going to be under a huge amount of pressure to make these picks count while the Titans and Browns can take some risks with their extra picks.
When you have an abundance of draft picks, it allows you to take some chances on guys who may have had injuries in their past, questions about their character or off the field issues. What makes it all worth it is if the players talent trumps those red flags. A team is more inclined to take that risk when they know they have a few more picks to get it right. The Rams made a similar move on the opposite end just a few years ago when they traded the #2 overall pick to the Washington Redskins in exchange for a bundle of draft picks. Washington ended up using that pick on Robert Griffin III. The Rams were able to turn those picks they recieved into a few quality players including defensive tackle Michael Brockers, cornerback Janoris Jenkins (who is now a member of the New York Giants), outside linebacker Alec Ogletree and their starting left tackle, Greg Robinson. Washington on the other hand got an amazing rookie season out of RGIII only to be followed up by a slew of injuries, a demotion and eventually the release of their once highly coveted quarterback. Using that specific trade as an example certainly makes one ponder the decisions of both the Eagles and especially the Rams to mortgage their futures on top picks in this years draft. The Rams were the beneficiaries of poor decision making just 4 years ago and now they’re making the gamble themselves.
The draft gives NFL teams the chance to hand pick not only the player they want but also the person. Certain teams have certain styles and swagger in the way they go about their business. The New England Patriots are a perfect example of this. They have a no nonsense style that is spearheaded by their monotone coach, Bill Belichick. When a team like that goes into “the war room” as it’s called, they know what kind of talent and personality they are looking for. When a team needs to fill a position via free agency, they may not have the luxury of picking that player’s personality. The draft really gives teams the opportunity to mold their team a certain way. A defensive minded organization may have a tendency to use their higher picks on defensive players who maybe have a high motor or a bit of an edge where as a flashier offensive minded team may look for players like Odell Beckham Jr. who are lightning rods for the media and fans and incredible athletes on the field.
The NFL draft gives teams the flexibility and ability to choose the direction their team is going in the future. It’s like walking in to a car dealership and having your pick of any car that’s left on the lot. Some teams like having a wide selection while others just want to get there first. Time will tell how the moves at the top of this draft will pan out, but recent history tells us the Titans and Browns are in a much better position than the Eagles and Rams. The trade market requires you to sacrifice in order to receive. The free agent market requires you to open up that checkbook and often pay enormous sums of money to get the player you want. When it comes to the draft, whether you want the next big thing or cheaper alternatives to the players you already have or if you just want more tools in which to build your franchise, the draft can satisfy all your desires. It’s what keeps general managers, scouts and front office personnel up at night and often determines whether they keep their jobs or not. It is the most bitter sweet time in the world of the NFL and often determines which teams will be winners and which teams will be losers for the years to come. So many decisions and so little time. To the Los Angeles Rams, you are now on the clock.