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Draft Strategy and the Games of Draft Season


Every year I marvel at the draft process.  I love it.  Prospects moving up or down the various big boards by draft pundits and the media.  The hype machines are spewing words, but unless you read between the lines, are they really telling you anything useful?  This year is no different.  I've heard Cam Newton is fake and a huge bust risk, Ryan Mallett is a downright turd and tumbling down draft boards, Nick Fairley has motivational and off-field issues in addition to being a one-year wonder, etc....  I've read a lot of what I consider to be thoughtful and accurate writing about the process, in addition to all the blogs and draft web sites, including here at Fieldgulls.  In the end, however, I've concluded that 90% of what makes it into the media about how NFL teams feel toward specific prospects is unsubstantiated, misleading, half-truths, deliberate smokescreens or downright lies.  The link below is to a very interesting piece I found over at National Football Post by Greg Gabriel titled "The games of draft season".  If you haven't read it, I recommend it.  Gabriel spent 29 years in NFL personnel roles, including working at various times for Parcells, Bellichick and Couphlin to name a few.  He's been a scout (Giants) and Director of Scouting (Bears).  This is as close to insider information as I've found.   


http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Greg-Gabriel-1873.html

With that as a backdrop, I'd like to suggest that nobody really knows whether Carolina, Buffalo, Arizona, San Fran, Tennessee, Washington, Miami, Jacksonville or Seattle are high on any of the QB prospects or not.  I will, however, make an argument for why Carolina should not spend the #1 pick on any of them.  Notwithstanding the "new regimes mean new QB" colloquialism, the fact is they don't always.  Look no further than Seattle last year where Carroll stayed with Hasselbeck.  True, he took a flyer on Whitehurst, but that is wholly different than spending a top 10 pick in the draft, something they could have done with picks at 6 and 14. 

My premise is that if Carolina drafts Newton, Gabbert or Locker (the 3 amigos), they will sit behind Jimmy Clausen for at least part of the 2011 season, if not the whole thing.  Mike Holgren has said you need to give a young QB ~25 starts to know whether they are going to make it.  Therefore, the jury is still out on Clausen.  Most of the recent rookie starters with success (Sanchez, Stafford, Bradford, Ryan) came from pro-style offenses (exception Bradford).  Locker is the only one with pro-style offense experience, like Clausen had last year, and I don't know anyone who is suggesting he can be prepared to start day 1.  Not even Locker.  Mallett could be an interesting exception.  While he has been tainted in the media by rumors of drug use, off-the-field antics and periodic dickheadedness, he is generally acknowledged to be a student of the game, with pro-style experience, and a howitzer for an arm with accuracy at all levels.  Could he beat out Clausen and start Day 1?  Maybe.  Nonetheless, I'm going to continue with the premise that Clausen would start for Carolina under any circumstances, barring injury of course, and that none of the potential rookies they could draft at #1, would.  If one of the other QB's on their roster (Moore, Null, Pike, St. Pierre) beat Clausen out for the starting role, the premise still holds for them.  Just plug their name in for Clausen. 

There are really only 4 possibilities for Carolina's 2011 season. 

1.  Clausen plays well and they improve dramatically like the Rams did with Bradford.

2.  Clausen plays well and they still don't improve much and are once again drafting in the top 8.

3.  Clausen plays poorly again, but they still improve dramatically and are not drafting in the top 8.

4.  Clausen plays poorly again and they are once again drafting in the top 8.

The significance is that if they are once again drafting in the top 8, they will have a shot at an elite prospect next year (Luck, Barkley, Foles to name a few) and if they aren't in the top 8, the opportunity is diminished.  With option 1, they would presumably not have a great QB need any longer.  Clausen will have earned the right to get another year (2012).  Likewise Option 2.  They could choose to stay with Clausen or upgrade with Luck, etc...  if the opportunity presented itself, but they'd be choosing from a relative position of strength, not desperation.  Option 4 presents the same opportunity, albeit the need would still be great.  Option 3 is the only one where they potentially lose the opportunity to draft one of the best QB prospects in 2012, but it is also the most unlikely to occur.  If Clausen plays poorly again, how likely are they to win a lot of games? 

Drafting one of the 3 amigos won't change any of that.  So, unless they believe one of the 3 will be able to step in and do better than Clausen, they will be once again drafting top 8, with the opportunity to take Luck or Barklay, but unable to pull the trigger because they just invested a #1 pick in one of the 3 amigos.

For my money, the smart play is to trade down or take a "sure thing" position player like Dareus, Peterson or Green.   I would make the same argument for Buffalo, Arizona and San Fran.  It will not surprise me if despite all the pundits the first QB is taken closer to 10 than 1, and that only 3 go in the first round.  My prediction, for what it's worth, is Gabbert to Tennessee at 8, Newton to Jacksonville who will trade up to 9 with Dallas to nab him in front of Washington, who then surprises by taking Mallett at 10.  Buffalo will stick with Fitzpatrick.  Arizona will eventually nab McNabb as a stop-gap, spend their 2nd on Dalton, and continue to develop Skelton.  San Fran will do the same with Bulger while trading up in the 2nd round to grab Ponder.  Seattle will trade 25 to the Eagles for Kolb, because that's the best deal they'll get and because without Hasselbeck's salary, Seattle can afford a big fat contract for Kolb.  Then, Seattle will draft a developmental QB in the 5th round, like Devlin, and that will be the depth chart for 2012, Kolb, Whitehurst, Devlin. 

Fire away Fieldgulls.  What do you think?                 

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