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Why the term over-drafted is worthless

We’re here to upset the internet experts.

Southern Miss v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

With the 2018 NFL draft now behind us, the season of debating drafted players is now upon us. Fans love to debate whether their team should have drafted XYZ player, especially when another player of choice was still on the board. We argue and get passionate about why our choice would have been the difference between a winning team and a failing one.

That said, one term that gets thrown around a lot - even by professional sports writers - is over-drafted. It’s the idea that you drafted a player far too soon in the draft. Besides the fact that it is nearly impossible to prove, it’s also completely worthless when viewed in the appropriate light.

Here are some thoughts on why the term is worthless, even as it’s still bandied about.

Internet rankings vs actual NFL scout rankings

Let’s be honest: this is the primary reason this term is completely useless. The internet is an incredible tool, but it has also empowered a large community of so-called experts who claim to have insights into the NFL that the regular fan doesn’t have. While guys like Mike Mayock and Daniel Jeremiah are heavily respected, they are often mentioned side-by-side with dozens of other online analysts whose credentials are bolstered by their “hours” of analyzing “film” (youtube videos).

That’s not to say that these rankings don’t have value. They make for great off-season fodder and speculation. It gets fans deeply involved in the game, even as we are months away from seeing real action. However, there is an over-reliance on these rankings that leads fans astray. Just because you were able to get Keanu Neal “in the late 2nd round” on some mock draft website does not mean NFL scouts agreed.

And to be clear, that was a real assessment of Neal during the 2016 draft. Many fans and writers thought he was a “reach” or “over-drafted” in the first round. He has since proven that to be laughably false, showing that the Falcons scouting department and coaches had placed the right value on him all along.

Expectations by round

The other problem with this term is that it is applied way too soon. In many cases, we really don’t know how well a pick will work out until 2 or 3 years down the road. Here are some reasonable expectations of what you should find in each round:

1st round: immediate starter or high % rotational player, long-term pro-bowl potential

2nd/3rd round: potential starter or rotational player, long-term starter potential

4th - 7th round: special team contributor with upside, long-term potential starter or rotational player

Keeping these expectations in mind, it’s nearly impossible to determine if a 4th round player was over-drafted until they’ve had some time to grow into their role. As a fourth round pick, I doubt anyone would really say Devonta Freeman was over-drafted now. In fact, given his current production, he would easily have been worth a pick in the early rounds.

Ultimately, analysis of the draft after it concludes is worthless overall. The best and most meaningful analysis is done well after these guys have had a chance to prove it on the field.

Finding guys that fit your scheme

Ultimately, this is what the draft should be about. It also happens to be what the Falcons have done very well since Dan Quinn came in and established his vision for the team. The best NFL teams understand what they want to accomplish and how they want to accomplish it and they find the guys that fit that mold best. If you’re looking for a linebacker that can fly around and cover tight ends, don’t draft the big, hulking run-stopping player just because he’s high on someone’s draft boards. If you’re looking for a lighter interior offensive lineman that is quick on his feet, don’t draft the 350 pound behemoth that is a great pass blocker but can’t run to save his life.

It’s not rocket science, but for some reason this is constantly overlooked during the draft process. You can easily see what the Falcons are trying to accomplish with each of the picks in the 2018 draft class. They fit the mold of what the team is trying to do on offense, defense and especially special teams. That’s not a guarantee that all of the picks will work out, but the vision for the type of player they’re looking for is crystal clear and it dictates why the team may choose one player over another, regardless of where they fall on someone’s big board.

This time of year can be difficult. We have several months before we see real NFL action again and the free time lends itself to speculation and argument. Ultimately, the success of this draft class will be fully measured over the next several years. At that point, we may not care if any of these players were over-drafted.