Clearing Up The “Best Player Available” Nonsense
The Green Bay Packers’ brass claim that at draft time they take the best player available (BPA). They don’t and they’d be stupid to pick in that manner rather than pick players at the positions where they have gaping needs to fill.
Here’s how it really works. Teams start out by ranking the positions in which they have the greatest needs. Then they almost always look to those who are still available at the top needs position. Usually, there are only two or three players who are rated (by almost everyone) as relatively close in ability. So then it’s just a matter of picking a favorite among just two or three closely-matched players. Not complicated at all.
The above is highly applicable to the first two rounds, as there is general agreement as to who the best available players are in these rounds. In round one in particular, there isn’t much dispute at all as to who are the top prospects. Below is a look at how the Packers have come up with their first-round selection in the last three years. Things might not be as cut and dried in 2017, however, as the Packers have gaping needs at any number of positions.
2016 – Defensive Tackle
In 2016, the Packers were looking for a defensive tackle. How do we know? Because they chose Kenny Clark, who certainly was not rated as the BPA at the time. The consensus was that Clark would be taken about a dozen picks later. By the time the Packers came to choose at No. 27, the only defensive tackle already taken was Sheldon Rankins at No. 12. Among the defensive tackles still available were Clark, Robert Nkemdiche, and Vernon Butler – all closely ranked by the experts. Ted Thompson picked Clark, Arizona chose Nkemdiche at No. 29, and Carolina chose Butler at No. 30.
How’s it looking for the Packers? It’s very early, but of the 2016 draftees, Nkemdiche only got into five games, producing one tackle and one pass defended. Butler has played in 10 games, had 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one pass defended. Kenny Clark played in every game, started two games, and had 21 tackles, two passes defended, and two fumble recoveries.
2015 – Cornerback
In 2015, the Packers were in search of cornerbacks – so much so that they used both of their top picks for cornerbacks. Factoring in to making this position most attractive, it was considered to be a strong class of cornerbacks that year. That was borne out, with the No. 11 pick (Trae Waynes, Vikings), No. 16 (Kevin Johnson, Texans), No. 18 (Marcus Peters, Chiefs), and No. 27 (Byron Jones, Cowboys) picks all going before the Packers’ turn came along.
At No. 30, there was only one defensive back prospect left, prior to there being a major drop-off in talent, so the Packers went with Damarious Randall. Though he was primarily a safety at Arizona State, the Packers planned from the outset to switch him to cornerback. It wasn’t until 12 picks later that cornerback Jalen Collins went to Atlanta at No. 42, and the next CB after that was Eric Rowe, taken at No. 47 by the Eagles.
Randall’s story is well known. When not injured, he’s been a starter both years. His rookie year was promising, followed by a disastrous season in 2016. Collins, the next cornerback selected, has yet to distinguish himself, though he has started eight games in two years.
Eric Rowe, taken 17 selections after Randall, is an interesting story. He started five games as a rookie with Philadelphia. Prior to the 2016 season, however, New England traded for him – quite unusual for a high-round choice after only a year in the league. Did Bill Belichick see something others missed or were the Eagles disappointed in him?
Either way, the Patriots put him right to use, starting him in seven regular season games, and he was on the field for 65 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps in the Super Bowl, making four tackles and defending one pass. And what did Belichick cough up for this young starting cornerback? An unspecified conditional draft choice!
2014 – Safety
In 2014, the Packers needed a safety. The failures of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian had created an emergency. With their unusually favorable pick, at No. 21, they went with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The only safety chosen higher was Calvin Pryor, picked by the Jets at No 18. The two were considered virtually equal in ability by scouts. The other top safeties were separated a bit: Deone Bucannon went at No. 27, Jimmie Ward at No. 30, and Lamarcus Joyner at No. 41.
In three years in the NFL, Clinton-Dix has the edge on Pryor. In addition to being named second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler in 2016, Clinton-Dix has career marks of 274 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 8 interceptions, and 16 passes defended. Pryor has 191 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 14 passes defended. I’d score one here for Ted Thompson, except that he didn’t get to pick between the two players – Pryor had already been chosen.
Later-round Draft Picks
The pattern breaks down by the fourth round, partly because by this time teams have lesser needs to fill at several positions, and also because there is not by then as clear a consensus as to who are the best players left. However, this is where some of the most brilliant picks are made and bargains are to be found. Over the past 10 years, I would think that Pittsburgh’s selection of receiver Antonio Brown in round six in 2010 ranks highest, though that man Belichick might take the all-time prize with his sixth-round pick of Tom Brady in 2000.
The Packers have picked some great dark horses too, including Donald Driver, out of Alcorn State, in round seven in 1999. And then there’s Bart Starr, the Packers’ round 17 pick in 1956.