A Meta-analysis of Team Building – Beyond Drafting Where Value Meets Need


"Editor’s Note:  This post is from new Black & Teal contributor Zain Gowani.  He’s incredibly thorough in his posting (as I’m sure you’ll discover).  He’s a welcome addition to the B&T community."

David DeCastro. Luke Kuechly. Peter Konz.  What do these guys have in common?

These are all elite players at their position.  Studs, one might say.  And yet they are all players the Jaguars, among other top ten teams, may be less than likely to consider.

They are the clear cut best players available at their position, but each of them has an asterisk by their name – not because of character questions or a poor pro day, but because they play at a position that has “less value” in the first round.

Every draftnik, scout, and GM talks about maximizing value during the draft.  The formula for maximizing value: lining up a team’s positional needs with the Best Available Player in the draft, while taking into account positional value (QB < DE/LT <<<<< RB/G/C/LB… any other position?).  AKA, find the best one or two QBs, DEs, or LTs in the draft and try to position yourself  to be able to draft them… no telling what the teams that pick after 6 do.

But as all GMs, scouts, and fans know, that’s much easier said than done.  Moving up and down the draft can be costly and it’s easier to find a prom date these days than it is find a willing trade partner.  So in order to maximize value in other ways, teams do things like reach on workout warriors, high upside project players, or, our personal favorite, drafting small school players.   But I’m not a set-in-my-ways general manager, so I’m not writing to tell you about how to develop the next project player, find the next small school star, or even unearth the next Tom Brady.  I’m here to talk about finding your inner Maverick.  About bucking trends, the evolution of football, and maximizing value on a macro-scale.

In this short chronicling of the success of the 3-4 defense and it’s relationship to Bill Belichick, the writer makes the point that every year since 2006, a 3-4 team has led the league in total defense (still true).  The article features players like Ray Lewis and analysts like Mike Mayock praising the defense for its creativity, flexibility, and relative worth.  But as of last year, Belichick began the switch back to a 4-3, and when asked about the  switch, Belichick refers to how the 3-4 is essentially the same defense functionally as a 4-3.  But that still begs the question Billy – why are you switching?

The Belichick answer?  Variety is the spice of life.  Translation?  The third round Joey Porters of the world are now being snatched up earlier and earlier – they’re now the first round Ryan Kerrigans and Brian Orakpos.  No longer are the fast but too small college defensive ends undervalued.  Now they have a position, 3-4 rush linebacker, and therefore, command a pretty premium that Billy B is unwilling to pay.  On the flip side, the 4-3 end draft market is gaining in value.  4-3 ends with potential, like Boise’s Tyrone Crawford, are now seen as probable mid-3rd  rounders, while 4-3 ends just a few years ago with similar career stats, like Phillip Merling (Dolphins, 2008), were late first, early second round picks.

Well, the Jaguars run a 4-3 – so we’re in good shape right?  Right, but that’s not really the point.  The point is that the number one way an organization can find value in the draft is to buck the fad-iest current trend and start moving the other way.  One type of player that has taken the biggest hit in recent drafts is the traditional strong safety.  In the pass-happy league the NFL is now, safeties have started playing further and further back, and as such, are requiring far more speed and WR-coverage ability.  The problem is, this leaves tall, productive, safeties with good coverage skills that played in big-name conferences (but run 4.65 40s) like Tyler Sash (Giants, 2010) without a real position, and thus they become 6th round picks and relegated to special teams duty.   So, where could you use a guy like Sash besides special teams?  How about as a coverage linebacker on third downs?  Most cornerbacks and linebackers simply don’t have the combination of size, speed, toughness, and coverage skills to cover a new breed TE like Aaron Hernandez on third down, but how about a 6’1 strong safety?  Finding a way to utilize talented players whose skills don’t match up with NFL positional trends is the number one way to get ahead in the NFL… Aaron Hernandez, and what he and Rob Gronkowski have done for the Patriots offense, is proof of that.

But bucking current trends isn’t only about drafting players – it’s about finding weaknesses in those current trends too.  Like the Dallas Cowboys and their ever increasing use of the draw-play on third downs in the blitz-happy NFC East.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Philly, NY, or Washington dial up another 3rd down blitz on 3rd and 6 just to have Felix Jones scamper for a first down.   The Dick LeBeau’s have made the NFL an increasingly blitz-happy league, particularly on 3rd downs, and one of the ways to counter that is the wonderfully simple delayed handoff known as the draw.

What other weaknesses in current trends should we (and the Jaguars) be looking at?  Should we be snatching up all the big power-run blocking guards and tackles that are being passed over for quick-footed, pass-protectors, and bring back smash-mouth football?  I know a certain ex-Jags writer that would love that!

At the end of the day, I just have two requests for Coach Mularkey as he joins the trend-bucking cavalry of Gene Smith.  First, take the road less traveled.  Analyze the current NFL trends and capitalize on their weaknesses…  you’re a creative young mind and the Jags brought you in to not only develop a quarterback, but to develop a team, a system, and a culture of winning.

But second, always remember our past.  When you and Bobby Bratkowski are choosing what to run on third down, channel your inner Del Rio circa 2009, and RUN THE DRAW PLAY!

– Zain Gowani