Last night's first round was certainly interesting. This is usually where I should take a shot at mock drafts, and how they are so stupid, don't know squat, yadda, yadda. I'm really not interested in going there.
What's far more interesting to me is how what I think may be a sea-change draft for analysts and mockers unfolded. Last night's first round is the first to take place where prospects were scouted and boards created entirely under the assumptions of the current collective bargaining agreement. So it's impossible to say right now that some distinct pattern has emerged. We'll just have to wait and see. Nevertheless, a story is unfolding where teams appear to be engaged in unvarnished "drafting for need," which is anathema to many draft experts and mockers.
Seattle's decision to take Bruce Irvin 15th overall after trading back is but one example of unvarnished drafting for need. PC/JS have made clear for months their intent to improve the pass rush early in the draft. Not only does it appear that they limited their first round focus entirely to players with pass rush skills, they chose a player that many characterize as a limited player; a pass rush specialist without a traditional position. In the press conference Carroll was crystal clear that the team sees Irvin as a LEO, in the same role that Clay Matthews played at USC.
Seattle isn't the only case. New York's decision to select RB David Wilson at the end of round one is another. This draft was widely perceived as a one where only one RB (Richardson), two at best (Martin), was thought worthy of first round selection. Similarly, Minnesota's selection of Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith is surprising insofar as no one considered this a two safety first round.
"Drafting for need" versus "best player available" has always been something of a false dichotomy. Teams' perceptions of "best" players are often informed by need as well as their own rules about positional value rather than pure abstractions. (Tim Ruskell, famously, didn't place much importance on interior offensive linemen in the first round.) Drafting for need has been described by some as a near-mortal sin. But, that rationale has always been predicated on previous CBAs where first round selections, particularly top 10 draft picks, were extremely costly. Now that the costs have been dropped considerably (though not radically for mid- and late first round picks) it's not surprising that we are seeing broad diversity in how teams construct their boards. What will be interesting as we go forward is less what teams will do, and more about how the conversation will change among those of us who watch prospects and write about the draft.