How To Draft For A Title

It’s draft season, the season of hope for college players, NFL front offices, and all the fans. Fans, of course, are looking at the type of things they typically look at this time of year, things like running back Christian McCaffrey’s versatility, wide receiver John Ross’s amazing 40 time, and tight end O.J. Howard’s play-making skills.

Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi craves not these things.

You wanna draft like a champ? Let’s look at how champs draft.

Let’s take the last five Super Bowl champions and look at what positions they took in the first round (the positions they value most) for the five years prior to their title (because that’s how long you can extend a rookie first rounder’s deal and that’s the time period when they are ascending and in their prime).

In this window (five teams in a sliding five year window), there were seven cases where no pick was made by the team in the first round. Six times, this was because the team traded out of the first round – good teams know the draft is a crapshoot and that your best odds are having more chances. The one other time, there was no pick in the first round because of league-imposed punishment on those dirty, dirty cheaters, the New England Patriots – of course, the Patriots keep winning because they keep cheating and they don’t care.

Accounting for those seven no-picks, plus instances where teams traded back into the first round for multiple first round picks, there were 20 player selections in those 5 five-year windows.

Here is the rundown of what positions were selected:
7 Defensive Linemen
5 Linebackers
4 Defensive Backs
3 Offensive Lineman
1 Quarterback

Interesting, isn’t it? There’s a lot to be inferred from those picks.

Things that jump out as key takeaways are:

  • 16 of the 20 picks were defense, most of them in the front 7 – defense wins championships
  • 3 of the 4 offensive players were linemen – the game is won and lost in the trenches
  • The 1 other offensive player was a quarterback – the most premium of premium positions. It’s also a position that takes time to mature; winning teams usually have veteran QBs. In this case it was Joe Flacco, who won in his 5th year.

Notice what you don’t see? The only non-specialist positions that aren’t represented are running back, wide receiver, and tight end. Flashy positions, the positions fans fawn over. But successful GMs, championship GMs, go for defense and lineman in the money round.

Don’t infatuate yourself with the athleticism of the skill position players, you can find receivers in the second. The Packers traded down to get an extra 4th round draft choice when they picked Jordy Nelson in the second round. The Falcons, on the other hand, traded two 1sts, a 2nd, and two 4ths for the right to pick Julio Jones – who looks smarter? The Packers avoided running backs in the first round of the 2013 draft and ROY Eddie Lacy fell to the second round as did Le’Veon Bell – do you need to spend a top-5 pick on Ezekiel Elliott when guys like Le’Veon Bell make it to the 2nd round? Rob Gronkowski made it to the second round, too. OJ Howard is creeping into the top 10 in some mocks drafts – why do that when you find Rob Gronkowski in the second?

There’s a lot of reason for this, which will be explored further in tomorrow’s article, but the key for today is that the recent champions didn’t build their team by taking backs and receivers in the first round. The Cowboys took Zeke number 4 overall and he had a great year , but went one and done in the playoffs. For as amazing a return as the Vikings got on AP over the years, they never hit the promised land. The Patriots, Broncos, and Seahawks don’t have a lot of highly-drafted receivers, but they do have the last 4 Lombardi’s.

This is how you do it.

You can get skill position guys later, spend premium picks on defense and lineman. it’s not exciting, it’s successful. Don’t get starry-eyed – the recent champions have a proven approach: get defense and linemen early. Better yet, trade down.

2 thoughts on “How To Draft For A Title”

  1. I’ve thought of so many ways to respond to this…

    So, you’re saying You won’t take Jordy Nelson’s clone at pick 29 because you shouldn’t get skill positions in the 1st round? He was taken 36th overall; a mere 4 picks out of the 1st round.

    I get the general premise and basically agree with it; blowing your draft load on Ferrari’s is a bad way to build a team. But, it should always be bpa.. or, best value based on where you are picking. How many 1st round grades are in any given draft, 15, 20? Once you are out of that blue-chip grab-bag draft the best football player you can get. Inside that window if you draft a skill position you had better be getting a future hall-of-famer with absolutely no off-field issues.

    Totally agree on Ezekiel Elliot. what a waste of 4th overall… Remember Justin Blackmon?

    1. That’s really pushing the hypothesis!

      Overall, I agree with BPA, but you can also join value with need by trading down. I think that’s what the Packers did with Jordy Nelson. He was a guy that needed time to develop, only averaging about 400 yards over his first 3 seasons. He wasn’t the flashy, immediate impact guy that most teams want in the first round.

      I think the Packers took him at 36 because that’s as far down as they could trade back at the time. I wonder how far he would have fallen if they hadn’t drafted him there.

      Given a guaranteed Jordy Nelson career, I think you’d be hard pressed to not trade the 29th pick for him, but there are no guarantees in the draft, so I would lean away from skill position players. There’s an abundance of them, as our next article explains.

      A lot of people don’t remember Justin Blackmon, the two-time consensus All-American wide receiver, but I’ll bet most Jaguars fans do. A few picks after him, there was a run of defensive players – Luke Keuchly, Stephon Gilmore, Dontari Poe, and Fletcher Cox, four Pro Bowl defenders, all went back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

      There’s no guarantees, but there are strong trends.

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