Drafting for need against drafting the best player available is a fundamental decision every team must make in the NFL Draft. No team uses purely one or the other, though. Every pick is a combination of the two. Nobody would take Ryan Mallett in the first round if they had Sam Bradford as their starting quarterback. It wouldn't matter if Mallett was the top player left. On the same note, nobody aside from Al Davis would take a kicker in the first round, even if that was the weakest spot on the roster.
There is a fundamental debate, though, as to whether need or pure ability should be the primary consideration. The question is how much focus should be on one relative to the other. I fall on the side of looking more at talent than need.
Let me give a few examples.
In 2007, the Cardinals seemed to be set at running back after signing Edgerrin James. They really needed an offensive tackle. In the first round, they took Levi Brown over Adrian Peterson.
In 2008, the Steelers had a lot of offensive line issues. There was nobody of good value available in the first round relative to the remaining talent on the board. They took Rashard Mendenhall even though Willie Parker was coming off a 1,300 yard season.
Just a few years later, Arizona looks really dumb for making that move. Their running back position is nothing special. Pittsburgh still does not have a very good offensive line. Parker is gone, though, and Mendenhall's big AFC Championship Game against the Jets is one of the biggest reasons they are in the Super Bowl.
Look at Mike Tannenbaum's run with the Jets for more examples.
He traded up to get David Harris in the second round in 2007 even though the team seemed to be set at inside linebacker with Jonathan Vilma and Eric Barton.
He traded up to get Dustin Keller in the first round in 2008 even though the team seemed to be set at tight end with Chris Baker and Bubba Franks.
He traded up to get Shonn Greene in the third round in 2009 even though the team seemed to be set at running back with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.
None of the incumbents then are even with the team now. The three guys selected have established themselves as excellent players. Needs vary from year to year. Guys who are not at the top of their games find peaks and valleys. The ability to add elite talent at a position prevents that spot from becoming a need in future years. Inside linebacker, tight end, and running back might all well be needs today had Tannenbaum not invested in top notch talent. Now they seem set for a while.
The best situations are when best player available meets a need as with Darrelle Revis in 2007, but adding the best talent available is almost never a mistake. Neglecting it to fill a hole might work in the short term, but it is almost always a mistake in the long term.
Do you agree?