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Newz Forum: FOOTBALL: The NFL Draft Produces Parity?

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posted on Apr, 26 2006 @ 05:11 PM
The whole idea behind the NFL draft - and the entry draft in every other professional sport of any stature in the US - is that the teams at or near the bottom rung of the ladder should have the first pick in the entry draft. That position in the draft will help them to get better; and thereby, produce parity within the league. When that doesn't happen more often than not, many folks merely point out that some organizations do a bad job of talent evaluation and/or player evaluation and therefore don't draft well. It's easy for people to make a case for that kind of thinking.

A team took Ryan Leaf with the #2 overall pick in the draft and that did precisely nothing to make that team any better than it had been. A team traded up to draft KiJana Carter with the overall #1 pick in the draft. Granted he was injured for most of his career, but Carter's career made no difference to any team on which he played. Every team in the league passed on Tom Brady for multiple rounds of the draft and Brady's on-field results have been nothing short of spectacular ever since he took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in New England.

Now that I've tossed out those glaringly bad draft day decisions by teams, you might be tempted to tell me that if teams drafted well, that would bring parity into the NFL to an even greater extent than has the salary cap. And if you were to succumb to that temptation, I might have to tell you that I think you'd be wrong.

Let's assume a 'perfect world' for a moment here where all of the NFL teams have good and competent scouting systems and that they all use the same methodology to rate and rank players. If you find that offensive for some reason - equating the Arizona Cardinals scouting with the Pittsburgh Steelers' scouting for example - then imagine that there is a super-computer out there which can infallibly rank all of the players eligible for the draft in any given year. Oh yeah, and all the teams have passwords to get access to the results of this super-computer's calculations.

So, now all the teams know the ranking order of the players from first through last among the draft eligible players; and assuming for a moment that all of the teams are rational actors (a favorite assumption among economists worldwide), what would happen on the day of the draft?

Yes, I know. There would be no drama for the TV coverage of the draft and that would encourage Chris Berman to come up with even more outrageous antics so that people would not turn off in disgust or nod off in total boredom. Forget that, I mean what would happen to the teams in the league.

The worst team last year would take the best player; let's call him Player #1. The best team in the league will take Player #32 - on the assumption that there have been no trades to send draft picks to other teams. Then the worst team will get Player #33 and the best team Player #64 and so on. So for seven rounds of the draft, the worst team would get Players #1, 33, 65, 97, 129, 161and 193. The best team in the league would get Players #32, 64, 96, 128, 160, 192 and 224.

If you are willing to accept that the super-computer would not find a world of difference between Player #32 and Player #33, then you should also be willing to accept that pairings of players at #64 and 65, #96 and 97, #128 and 129, #160 and 161, #192 and 193 will be similarly small. In fact, for all of those pairings, the best team in the league is getting a new player who the super-computer calculates to be every so slightly better than the one that the worst team will get.

The only real advantage for the worst team in the league on draft day is this:

Worst team gets Player #1

Best team gets Player # 224

That's it; that's the significant difference. All the other picks are very close in their ability to play football and the 'edge' in all those marginal cases goes to the best team in the league. And this is the system which - if conducted accurately and rationally - is supposed to produce parity in the league?

Maybe it's actually beneficial for the NFL and for fans that the NFL Draft is not a science. Maybe it is a good thing that they assemble the draft eligible players and time them in 40-yard dashes and count the number of times they can bench press 225 lbs and even give them Wonderlic tests. Maybe all that data clouds the minds of the people trying to make the decisions and prevents the NFL Draft from seeming to be anything close to an accurate and rational decision process. And maybe that's good for the league and good for the fans.

So even though some teams 'succeed' and others 'fail' on NFL Draft Day, their fans should neither gloat nor sink in to depression. The draft is not all it's cracked up to be. Take heart in the words of Joseph Heller:

'Success and failure are both difficult to endure. Along with success come drugs, divorce, fornication, bullying, travel, medication, depression, neurosis and suicide. With failure comes failure.'

But don't get me wrong, I love sports... ... ...


posted on Apr, 28 2006 @ 12:28 AM
I definitely agree that it is not the NFL draft that produces parity. Without a doubt, it is the salary cap and free agency that enable the competition to be close. Gone are the days when a team such as San Francisco or Dallas can string together 10-20 straight winning seasons. Sometimes draft picks can turn a team around--or send it downhill--in a hurry, but more often than not it is free agent acquisitions--or losses--that make that difference. Once a player has been in the league for a few years, he can establish himself as an impact player. Then he can really influence a team that picks him up.

A great example of this ebb and flow is the 49ers. The Niners established themselves as a power before the salary cap era, then were able to sustain their success afterward with the help of great players Steve Yound and Jerry Rice. They made free agent pickups here and there to stay competitive, but the most impressive thing was when they went 12-4 in 2001 after having posted a combined 10-22 record in 1999-2000. After two good seasons, though, the Niners collapsed. They were drastically over the cap befrore the 2003 season and had to get rid of a bunch of guys. The same was true in 2004, and they had to deal Jeff Garcia, their quarterback. Now they are a miserable team.

Yes, there have been some teams that have managed to maintain greatness for a while. The one that comes to mind immediately is Denver. After John Elway retired, the Broncos regrouped and were competitive again within two years. They are now one of the strongest teams in the NFL. How did they do it? Well, one reason is that they can put just about anyone in the backfield and he'll gain 1000 yards. But those running backs are free agent acquisitions, as is Jake Plummer, who found his career rejuvenated at Denver.


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