On the Armchair General Manager's Obsession with Draft Value

Short version:

Evaluating a draft immediately after it happens, using mock drafts by websites and magazines as evidence, is as silly as loving or hating a song after only reading its name. We can argue about whether we met the right needs or picked the right players, but let's have something better to go by than what secondhand Todd McShays thought last month. Nobody likes the actual Todd McShay.

Very long version (Falcons stuff towards the end):

Robert Gallery is a can't-miss.

-- Mel Kiper (and everyone else)

Chris Johnson was the 2010 Offensive Player of the Year, and many felt he should've been the MVP too. Here's how consecutive sensible, informed, passionate Titans fans felt immediately after drafting Chris Johnson:

WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Awful.

wow... We never make the pick I think we will.

johnson?

ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

did we become a track team last night?

Well... at least he can return kicks.

wow didn't see taking him with that many ppl left... could've gone with jenkins, merling, sweed, balmer, jackson, hardy, cason

Well, Ainge does not look like that bad of a pick now.

That I don't understand. Could've got him in round 2. Argh.

Via musiccitymiracles.com

By no means is this post meant to suggest that keeping up with pre-draft guides is a waste of time, or that enjoying mock drafts is a stupid pursuit. I found draftcountdown.com and others to be extremely helpful while putting together our mock drafts here. It's good to be informed and opinionated and have some bleary sense of who's going when. And by no means is this a Ha Ha Fans Are Dumb post -- I think we all realize hindsight's 20/20. On the contrary, even a brief glance around SB Nation's stable of fan-edited blogs turns up content that rivals any professional sports site or publication. Billion-dollar publications are every bit as capable of whiffing as fans are. For instance,

 check out USA Today's assessment of the 2008 draft class. The Chiefs earned the highest grade for drafting Glenn Dorsey, whom the general public seems to consider a bust. Meanwhile the Titans got the league's lowest mark due to reaching for Chris Johnson, the closest thing to a one-man offense since Barry Sanders. If the 2008 draft were done over, GMs would be thumbing each others' eyes to get a crack at drafting Johnson, USA Today be damned.

There aren't many perks when you go 2-14, but choosing first is one of them. In fact, it's the only one. But the Texans are the Texans because they keep shanking the gimmes. Picking the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was a gimme, a football tap-in. All they had to do was tell Burguieres to jot down one of the most familiar four letters in the state of Texas: B-U-S-H.

-- Gene Wojciechowski (and everyone else)

What I'm arguing against here is using those pre-draft guides and day-after grades as gospel during and after the draft. "Could've got him in round 2" is the most interesting comment from the Titans' thread: Reach! The Titans reached! The fan who made that comment assumed, after having read resources like sportsillustrated.cnn.com, that Chris Johnson would be available later. But for all we know, the very next team may have spent all offseason waiting to snag Chris Johnson. This worldview seems to assume that all 31 other NFL teams were in cahoots and had also agreed with the same free sportsillustrated.cnn.com projection. "My fellow GMs, we've determined Chris Johnson shall be drafted between picks 35 and 40. Anybody who wants him: trade into that range." Does this sound like a strange assumption? Yet we all make it. Does it sound similar to assuming both Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin base their decisions on cranked-out Time magazine editorials? Would we tell Tlaloc, god of storms, that the Weather Channel says it can't rain today?

Good Moves: Taking Mike Williams, the best player in the draft, was a great decision. All of the Lions' draft choices were great.

Bad Moves: None. It's difficult to find any flaws with Detroit's draft picks.

...

Obviously, Charles Rogers will give Joey Harrington a great target for the next decade. Second round pick OLB Boss Bailey was the best linebacker in the draft.

-- Walterfootball.com on Detroit's 2003 and 2005 drafts. Grade for both drafts: A+ (They've revised both grades: F, D.)

Serious persons admit evaluating a draft seconds after it ends is an exercise. We can express confidence or doubt based on the evidence. And that's it.

In 2010's draft, Jimmy Clausen was drafted #48. But his draft projection provided to the public for free by cbssports.com clearly stated he should be a top ten pick. Apparently cbssports.com's projection didn't square with reality. "My bad," says reality. Jonathan Dwyer fell over five and a half rounds after 32 football-obsessed general managers failed to simply dial up fftoolbox.com's free scouting report. It was sitting right there on the internet the whole time!

To assume mock drafts should provide a script for the actual draft is to think in fantasy football terms. When drafting fantasy players, we have several seasons worth of data to consult. We have a decent idea what we're getting. But with rookies, publications are guessing. And they're guessing with far fewer time, money, access, and expertise resources than NFL GMs have to work with -- and NFL GMs themselves get it wrong all the time. 

SB Nation's Raiders blog was in fine company with this assessment. You know who else was impressed by JaMarcus Russell? Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, a football expert if there ever was one, who gave the Raiders 2007's second-highest draft grade. Who got #1? The Browns. For drafting Brady Quinn. Who else was in the top 5? A certain team that drafted Jamaal Anderson, Chris Houston, and Laurent Robinson. Think about that. Quite possibly the most respected NFL writer ever gave very high marks to Jamaal Anderson, Chris Houston, and Laurent Robinson. What can you do but throw up your hands?

Round 1, pick 2. Everyone thought this was a good idea. Via dailycomedy.com (seriously)

We just signed Colin Peek as an undrafted free agent, which is strange because draftcountdown.com assured us he'd be drafted between rounds 3 and 5. How did that happen? Did no NFL scouts check draftcountdown.com in time? At least Comrade found draftcountdown.com after the draft, smacked his forehead, and hurried to fulfill prophecy by signing Peek, right? I was happy to hear about Peek's signing (because I've seen him play for a national championship team, he bumps the number of drafted Yellow Jackets from 4 up to 4.5 (LA LA LA LA NOT HEARING YOU), he's apparently a barrel of monkeys, and Bama expert Adam assures us he's good), but not because he was ranked a full eleven spots ahead of Jim Dray in the tight end projections. (Who's Jim Dray? Oh, he was a 2010 NFL Draft pick.)

Round 1, pick 3. Everyone thought this was a good idea. Via bengals.com

Jarrett Brown, Javarris James, LeGarrette Blount, Tony Washington, Ciron Black, Brandon Lang, Lindsey Witten, Harry Coleman, Justin Cole, and several others went undrafted despite being projected as mid-rounders. That means their draft rankings based on evaluations by GMs were all about three rounds lower than their rankings based on evaluations by writers.

New England. J.R. Redmond will be the every-down back by Oct. 1. Not bad for the 76th overall pick.

-- Peter King's entire evaluation of New England's draft class that included Tom Brady. Can you blame him?

Jeremy Williams, ranked several rounds ahead of Kerry Meier according to draftcountdown.com, went undrafted. Kerry Meier was drafted. If we'd drafted Jeremy Williams in the 6th round, we would've been happy. Great value! Says right here he was supposed to go in the 4th! But all the NFL GMs who didn't like Williams would've laughed at us for drafting a UFA player.

Our beloved Matt Tennant? 32 NFL teams took a rain check an average of five times each -- apparently none of them have found the free resources available at nfldraftbible.com, where he was projected to go in the 2nd round. You and I  were all aboard the Matt Tennant Express as of last week. But Comrade thinks Joe Hawley is better than Matt Tennant. Should we riot on Flowery Branch, or should we find out why Comrade prefers Hawley?

Via thefalcoholic.com

(This was one of the most optimistic comments from the draft that provided Matt Ryan, Curtis Lofton, Sam Baker, Kroy Biermann, Thomas DeCoud, and Harry Douglas -- likely the best draft in team history.)

It's not a mathematical formula. War rooms aren't filled with printouts from espn.com and Madden ratings.

"The shit's chess, not checkers."

Donovan Warren went undrafted despite having an nfl.com pre-draft grade of 7.0. This means the website's staff thought he was as good as Javier Arenas, Jordan Shipley, and Mardy Gilyard, and better than Riley Cooper, Reshad Jones, or Pat Angerer. Corey Peters went in round 3 despite having an nfl.com pre-draft grade of 2.5, which means the website's staff found him to be less valuable than most punters and kickers. Which do we trust more -- nfl.com draft grades or NFL drafts?

We get Dorsey!

i'm crying right now. Happy tears.

God is so good to the Chiefs

It looks like we got Glenn Dorsey... It's hard to be pissed off when I have been calling for Dorsey all morning, but that trade looked awfully good. Still, I am glad we actually took Dorsey. WOOHOO!

I like!

Via arrowheadpride.com

How does this happen? How do highly trained professionals with limitless resources come to different conclusions than fans who read websites that sell ads?

We should draft Glenn Dorsey, not Matt Ryan.

-- Me and almost all of you

(At least, more of you than would admit it. Go dig through your blogs, comments, and forum posts from April 2008. I just did. I wanted Glenn Dorsey and Brian Brohm. Yikes. Maybe we'd just gotten used to bad drafts? Maybe that's why we were pulling so hard for the safe pick instead of Ryan?)


Maybe if someone had called up a few NFL GMs and showed them the free resources of nfldraftdog.com, they could've properly drafted Jevan Snead well before Dan LeFevour instead of not drafting Snead at all?

Jeff Schultz, doing it right. Though he was wrong about the player, he was wrong for a good reason -- not because espn.go.com's draft thing told him what to think. Here's Schultz from today on grading drafts immediately after they happen.

If we'd drafted Everson Griffin or Bruce Campbell in round 3, we would've all been excited. Great value. Got first round talent in round 3, according to my iPhone draft ranker app. Except those guys fell to round 4, meaning they would've still been reaches. Maybe we should inform highly paid team executives, who field teams of scouts that do nothing but break down film all day long, that all these free resources are available to the public?

This is what a bad draft looks like. Our first two picks lasted a total of five seasons in Atlanta. In the first two rounds alone, we missed an entire Pro Bowl starting lineup PLUS 3 Hall of Famers. Imagine if we'd drafted Michael Irvin and Thurman Thomas with our first two picks... The Falcons reached twice! Bad value!

Surely the Falcons scouting department spent less time scouting Corey Peters than nfldraftscout.com did, leading to the Falcons mistakenly drafting him in the incorrect round. The Falcons only personally worked out Peters and analyzed every play of his entire college career -- the internet's anonymous experts, however, were able to formulate their opinions based on who knows what.

Position: HB

College: Utah

Projection: Undrafted free agent

Role: Special teams, practice squad

Some of us have expressed disappointment at the 2010 draft. If you look at the Falcons' 2010 draft class and see the end of the world, especially after the great success of 2008 and strong potential of 2009, then you just aren't a dirty bird yet. It's ok to be new at this, but you really need to toughen up before you go all in -- things have been known to get bleak around here. We saw '88 up above, but go back and look at our 2002 and 2003 drafts. From '70 to '74 we drafted 84 players, one (1 (uno (less than two))) of whom ever made a Pro Bowl. '94 through '97 turned up Travis Hall, Jamal Anderson, and many warm bodies.

Presuming Sean Weatherspoon doesn't convince Mike Johnson and Dominique Franks to force Shann Shillenberger to stab Kerry Meier in the neck at midfield in front of Roger Goodell's children, do you foresee any scenario in which our 2010 haul is anywhere near one of the fifteen worst drafts in Falcons history?

Do you think Comrade & Co. have earned a little patience by now?

This post was mostly inspired by ajc.com commenter types, not the standard Falcoholic commenter. We're very proud of our intelligent readership. And mind you, we absolutely encourage dissent from the team HQ party line when it's merited. Go back and read Dave's work from the valley of the shadow of P*trino if you don't believe me. This isn't about being yes-men and homers. It's about being smart fans who know when to admit we don't know yet.

This post isn't directed at anyone in particular, in case one of our draft-value heads takes offense. We were all stunned and initially dismayed by the Corey Peters pick, for example, as most of us had never heard of him and everything we turned up suggested he may have been available later.

But we started doing our homework and came to understand the reasons for the pick... Defensive line depth wins Super Bowls. We don't yet know what we have in Peria Jerry. Jonathan Babineaux can't do it alone. Vance Walker is a great backup, but is he a starter? Peters led SEC DTs in tackles for loss and earned academic honors. JCush discovered Cleveland was very, very interested in Peters and was drafting right behind us. Dave suggested Peters has the physique to also play defensive end. Still though... why take him in the 3rd? He may have been around in the 5th, according to pre-draft projections.

Everybody's got a newspaper draft board until they get punched in the mouth, as the champ would say. Defensive tackles were flying out the door -- thirteen in the first 3 rounds -- and we had to pull the trigger.

That's the kind of thing that mock drafts, projections, grades, and ratings made by fans and publications can't predict.

And that's what I'm getting at, I guess.

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