A good FanPost by GGN member Mets Jets Devils Nets 16 got me thinking. He asks whether fans would be all right with the Jets drafting Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith is widely projected as one of the top talents in the 2016 NFL Draft. Mock drafts had him being selected high in the first round before he suffered a serious knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl.
Ian Rapoport had this to say from the Combine.
Difficult day for #NotreDame LB Jaylon Smith, who had his medicals. Ankle & knee nerve issues, teams believe he's out for 2016 -- at least— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 26, 2016
I want to get this question past just Jaylon Smith. At the end of the day, none of us are really qualified to say whether or not he will be able to make a full recovery. We haven't seen his medical reports, and most of us don't have the medical expertise to comment even if we did.
I'll open this up as a broader hypothetical. Let's say the doctors indicated a star player would make a full recovery and be the exact same player after a serious injury. The catch is the player would have to sit out his entire rookie season. Would you draft him?
The argument against drafting such a player is the rookie production lost. Drafted players are the best value on the roster. If you pick a good one, you can get star production for four to five seasons at the price of a bargain bin free agent. By sacrificing the player's rookie year, you lose a substantial part of that value.
Even understanding this sacrifice, my answer would be yes. Even if you are losing that part of the rookie contract, one year seems like a small price to pay for a star level player. Not only do you get that player for his rookie deal, but you get the inside track on signing that player for long beyond. Let's face it. Most of the true impact players in the NFL never make it to free agency. They tend to get locked up by their original teams. Those who do hit the market require a bidding war. The way I see it, you aren't just taking a guy for his rookie deal. The rookie deal provides the best value years, but successful Draft picks last into second and third contracts.
This is the type of long-term thinking that we frequently see teams eschew in the NFL. That is because general managers and head coaches are under immediate pressure to win. A bad season could mean they lose their jobs. They sometimes can't afford to take a player who will not contribute as a rookie because they might not be around when that player can help. This is one such example of why stable franchises do have an edge in this league. Their people are allowed to think long-term.