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The Good, the Bad and the BPA

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The standard idea for drafting is up for debate

Lee Van Cleef Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you talk about Draft picks and which player is best for your team you invariably hear the term “best player available” or BPA. It has been a well founded rule for teams and fans alike to consider the BPA as the right way to pick for your team.

It sounds simple. Find the highest rated player (no matter the position), and that is your pick. You often hear GMs with mid 1st round picks say, “We were surprised he was there,” or, “He was the #1 player on our board”. Now is that the truth? Only the GM and his closest confidants know whether that was truly the case. I submit that in the vast majority of cases it was total coach speak or as we call it in real life a total lie.

In marketing you always accentuate the positive and diminish the negative or at least marginalize the obvious downside. The NFL is a marketing machine second to none. Teams always give you the, “It worked out perfectly for us,” gibberish no matter whom they selected. It is amazing how the Draft worked out, “Great,” “Better than we thought,” “We got lucky,” or the usual, “We got who we wanted.” At the same time many teams stay for decades at the bottom of the standings.

Quick question before we go on: Steve Young was drafted first overall in the USFL and CFL Supplemental Draft. With the 49ers he had 221 TDs, 107 INTs, 29,907 passing yards, and a 91-33 record as a starter. He was the 1992 & 1994 NFL AP MVP, 1992 & 1994 PFWA MVP, 1992 & 1994 Bert Bell Award (Player of the Year), 1992 & 1994 AP Offensive Player of the Year, and 1994 Super Bowl MVP. He was a 7 time Pro Bowler, and 3 time 1st team All Pro. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. My question is do you thing Steve Young was the BPA as the #1 pick? Remember that Reggie White was the 4th player selected in that draft along with Kevin Mack, Mike Rozier and guard Gary Zimmerman.

If BPA stands for the best player available then why are other players drafted later in many cases better? If someone is the best talent shouldn’t he be the player who does the best of anyone selected after him? So Aaron Rogers (the 24th pick in the 2005 draft) can light up the scoreboard year after year and be the league MVP in an offense that can be disjointed with minimal talent at times; yet Alex Smith (the #1 pick in the same Draft) who played in a much more structured offense with better talent around him was not nearly as special.

What gives? I can understand that a team can like or fall in love with a player or get mesmerized by his stats and select the wrong guy, but what about the other 22 teams that passed on Rogers? The Dolphins, Browns, Bears, Buccaneers all had needed a franchise QB for decades (before and after that Draft). They picked right after the 49ers but didn’t select Rogers while he was sitting right in the green room at the Draft. It was kind of hard to miss him with the cameras on him every five minutes. This is only one Draft but you could go back and look at most years and find similar results.

The Dolphins selected RB Ronnie Brown #2. He lasted 6 nondescript seasons with the Fish with one season over 1, 000 yards. (1,008 to be exact.) He also had 187 receptions that averaged almost 8 yards a catch.

Cleveland drafted Braylon Edwards at #3.He averaged less than 50 receptions a year with a lot of drops included. He had a couple of decent years with the Jets but was considered a huge bust in Cleveland.

The Bears took Cedric Benson #4 who lasted only 3 seasons in Chicago averaging 531 rushing yards a season, another bust.

The Bucs took the third best RB, Cadillac Williams, at #5, but he was probably would have been best of them all if injuries had not derailed his career; two knee tendon tears were to much too come back from. The Bucs were only two years away from winning the Super Bowl yet only had Chris Sims as a starter and Brian Griese as a backup. The QB guru Jon Gruden was the coach. Why then take the 3rd best RB instead of a QB with a superior arm a 66.1 completion % his junior year with 43 TDs and 13 INTs in his 2 years at Cal? You would have to figure that Gruden would work his magic with Rodgers, wouldn’t you?

The Jets outdid them all...

The Jets had the 26th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft but smartly traded it away to Oakland for a 2nd round pick and TE Doug Jolly. Jolly had 27 receptions for 313 yards the previous year with 2 TDs. What a great move!!

This is exactly what was written in the New York Times about the deal;

The trade resolves two Jets problems: it addresses the vacancy created last month when the starter Anthony Becht left for Tampa Bay as a free agent, and it disposed of a late-first-round pick. The Jets apparently felt there would be no prospects worth selecting at No. 26.

Last week, at the Jets’ predraft news conference, General Manager Terry Bradway strongly suggested that they would not use their first-round pick on a tight end like Virginia’s Heath Miller, who is widely considered the top prospect at the position.

”Oh, I think there are a couple guys that could come in and start, yeah,” Bradway said when asked about tight end prospects. “I don’t think they can come in and beat out Baker at this point in time.”

By the way, Roddy White was drafted at #27, Heath Millera #30 and Logan Mankins at #32 so yeah there was no prospect worth selecting at #26. Also in 2005 for the Jets Brooks Bollinger started 9 games, Vinny Testeverde started 4 games, and Chad Pennington (with his usual assorted injuries) started 3 games that year, so there was no need for a QB at that time. The Jets could have easily traded up a few spot and nabbed Rogers if they thought no player was worth drafting at #26. The Packers had a huge need for a QB. Well not right away, since they had a future Hall of Fame QB who would hang around for another 3 years.

Doug Jolly was was a steal! He played one year with the Jets. He had 29 receptions for 324 yards and a TD. He played the next year in Tampa lasting 11 games and then never played again. That guy who couldn’t start for the Jets, Heath Miller, had 39 receptions for 459 yards and 6 TDs as a rookie. He played a total of 168 games with 592 receptions, 6,569 yards and 45 TDs for Pittsburgh. Those all would be New York Jets records by a wide margin. Added to that, Miller was one of the best blocking TEs in the league for years. It just adds to the shear incompetence of Bradway and his staff.

It seems like the New York Times writer (who has little knowledge of players) asked Bradway “Do you want to draft a Hall of Fame type talent (he mentioned Miller by name) who will solidify your TE position for a decade” Bradway said, “Nah we prefer a middling talent like Jolly who will play one year for us instead.”

I realize Terry Bradway was not a great GM, but how could he have done much worse? I also understand the Jets were trying to pick up a player who would help them get to the Playoffs, but a GM must always build a team with talent and an eye to the future. Miller would have been better than Jolly in every way, even as a rookie, so obviously there was a poor scouting job done in this case. Also why would Bradway even be discussing the Jets’ true Draft strategy with the press just before it happened?

Before Mike Maccagnan became one of the worst at scouting the draft there was Terry Bradway. Bradway was GM of the Jets from 2001 to 2005, and his first Draft class was one of the best in Jets history with #15 pick WR Santana Moss, #49 pick RB LaMont Jordan, #79 pick OT Kareem McKenzie (played in the league for 11 seasons in 161 games with 153 starts). Sadly it went downhill from there. He traded up in the Draft in 2003 sending #14, #22 and a 4th round pick to the Bears for #4 overall. He picked Dewayne Robertson who was a huge bust. He smartly drafted Jonathan Vilma in 2004 who was traded to the Saints 4 years later (so Vilma could win a Super Bowl) for a 4th round pick. He picked a kicker in the 2nd round (Mike Nugent) in 2005. He traded Moss to the team from Washington for Laveranues Coles who the Jets originally drafted in 2000 and who Bradway allowed Washington to sign away from us. He was reassigned after 2005 but somehow stayed with the Jets (working in the Draft room) for a total of 14 years. He helped pick Kyle Wilson (1st round) and Vlad Ducasse (2nd round), helped trade up for Stephen Hill (2nd round), and helped draft Vernon Gholston (6th overall). When Bradway was finally sacked it was one more sack than Gholson had in his entire career.

Ok...enough with the Jets’ futility in the draft

Teams have huge scouting staffs. (The Jets have 9 scouts.) Most scouts stay on the road 8 to 9 months a year a year. They have game tape from colleges, interviews, medical reports, background checks and so much more info on players. Each team spends between $3 to 4 million on just scouting college players.

I understand that different positions have varied degrees of effect in a game. I also realize that some positions are more prominent so a DT will have less effect on a game than a QB, but in relation to their positions (comparing QB to QB and DT to DT) this shouldn’t be the case.

We need to decide what is going on here. The draft is set up so the worst teams get the best players, so why then are the best teams always the same? The reasons are varied and many but not pertinent to this discussion. What I want to examine here is whether the BPA systems works and if not, why. Lets look at the possible reasons.

  1. Scouts change teams regularly, especially when a regime change happens. You would think that scouts would have a regimented scouting checklist so each scout would grade each prospect about the same, no matter which team he is with but this is not the case. Scouts all have their own ideas on how to grade prospects They usually learn their trade from a person who has scouted before and has showed them the ropes. These scoust have their own ideas about which traits are most important. The differences are not completely dissimilar to each other, but there are subtle variations; maybe enough to move a prospect slightly up or down a Draft board. Coaches change teams as well (Adam Gase anyone?) so for Gase to come to the Jets he would need to tell the Jets what type of players he would need and the best skillset for his offensive system. There could be distinct skills that a scout finds less desirable in a prospect than a coach. Could that be a reason?
  2. Who is deciding who is the BPA? I consider this as exhibit “A” as not a symptom but a root cause of the problem A GM can scout a player himself, but is he really the best judge of that players qualities, and is he seeing what he wants to see because of need? Great players slip through the system all the time, but good teams seem to do it less than poor teams. The GM can only do so much, and must rely on his scouts to give him good information. Yet what if that information is swayed by need. The GM gives a higher grade to a player (even if unintentional) because of the urgency to fill a roster weakness. Could a GM viewing a player in a position of need with rose colored glasses be a possible reason?
  3. Great teams have better systems which allow those teams to thrive while others flounder. Teams like the Steelers and the Patriots have run the same highly effective offensive systems for more than two decades. It seems they can take lesser talent and make it work for them while many teams waste the talent they have. Other teams like Kansas city and the L A Rams have explosive offensive schemes that can enhance talent, making the player reach the peak of his abilities (of course not always in the Playoffs). So is the system making the players better; is that the reason?
  4. Players are not robots and do not fit into every NFL system. So a better prospect that is a poor fit in a system is really not a better prospect for every team. A zone corner doesn’t fit well in a man to man scheme just as a offensive lineman who is suited for a power based system would not be as great in a zone scheme. So if you run primarily man systems, and a player drafted after you becomes an All-Pro in a zone based system, it may make you look like you missed out on a great player. The fact of the matter is that player would not have been an All Pro in your system so it’s like comparing apples and tuna sandwiches. In this case the true BPA for the entire NFL (not just looking at your team) would not have worked.
  5. Some teams are better at developing talent than other teams. You see Andy Reid taking the time to sit on the bench during a game to coach his QB while Todd Bowles stands on the sidelines and barely says a word to his players all game. Coaches should be coaches all the time. I realize there are various decisions to be made during a game, but an in-game adjustment or a nuanced change with the players can be the difference between a victory and a loss. Is poor coaching skewing the possible BPA of players?
  6. Teams with more tenured coaches and front offices develop players in the same scheme that over time turns the veteran players into on field coaches. This allows for more cohesiveness between players. Also rookies become more entrenched in their schemes because of veteran leadership and tutoring. Rookies react to plays without thinking about what to doif they are even needed to play. The better a player knows his system, the more natural talent can become readily apparent if a player instantly reacts to a play. More established teams might not need a player to contribute right away while poor teams may need to start players who are not ready.
  7. In that same thought, some teams develop players better than other teams. Dante Scarnecchia of the Patriots seems to take middle of the road talents and makes them into a cohesive blocking unit. Some QBs will be running for their lives with supposed great talent while Tom Brady rarely takes a hit. Those teams with great assistant coaches usually keep those coaches until they become coordinators themselves. Developing players of lesser talents into Pro Bowl type players makes a Draft look better than it might actually be. So is better coaching the difference in making a less talented player look better, thus warping possible BPA ratings?
  8. Should teams spend more resources on scouting? The salary cap this year is $190 million but if the Jets spend $4 million on scouting.That is barely over 2% of the team’s salary cost for just the players, not even the organization. The NFL is a business, but a normal multi-billion dollar business will spend between 15 to 20% of gross income on R&D. So if teams devoted more assets to finding talent, would that increase the ability of that team to Draft better which in turn would help distinguish which player is the BPA?
  9. Are bad teams destined to be bad teams because they are so flawed with their Drafting, development, and use of players and/or is their team talent and coaching just so bad the teams can’t sustain even minimal success? Example: The Tampa Bay Bucs selected Steve young 1st overall in the 1984 Supplemental Draft for USFL and CFL players, and he signed with the Bucs in 1985. Young played two years for Tampa going 3-16 as a starte. The Bucs were 2-14 each year with Young throwing only 11 TDs and 21 INTs while completing fewer than 55% of his passes. The Bucs viewed Young as a bust and picked Vinny Testaverde 1st overall in the 1987 NFL Draft.

Enter the Good

Bill Walsh, the head coach of the 49ers, felt Young had talent and traded for Young giving Tampa a 2nd and 4th round picks. Walsh felt Young would be at worst a great backup for Joe Montana, which he was from 1987-90. Young needed an opportunity which came to him in the 1990 NFC Championship Game when Montana suffered a severe elbow injury that caused him to miss the entire 1991 season.

I remember watching some tape of Walsh coaching Steve Young and teaching him the timed, rhythm passing offense. Walsh was telling Young to drop back five steps and throw the ball to a certain spot. Young said he couldn’t do that for fear the WR would not be there; Walsh explained it was the WR’s job to be there. The two went back and forth an extended period of time over this. Finally Walsh said, ”Just trust me it will work,” so Steve Young did. At his Hall of Fame induction ceremony Steve Young said that just doing what Bill Walsh said without question was one of the biggest reasons he was being enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Without Bill Walsh to guide him it is doubtful that Steve Young would have been a Hall of Fame player. Also with the talent the entire 49ers team had you could make the same argument that Steve Young would not have been a Hall of Fame player.

Now if Steve Young had been traded from Tampa to say the Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions and had a so-so career you would say that Steve Young was overdrafted, that the BPA assumption (that he was worth a #1 pick) was incorrect, and he was not the best player available.

What if Young was not traded at all and continued to struggle in Tampa? He would have been considered one of the biggest busts in that decade if not in league history. How many other players fall into that possible scenario? Would David Carr, Akili Smith, or Ryan Leaf had more success with teams who tailored and offense for their skillset? What if David Carr had an offensive line who could block, or any of these players had more talent and coaches around them?

So when we look back at past Drafts, how much does coaching and total team talent subvert the BPA model? You look back and can safely say that Peyton Manning was the #1 pick in the 1998 draft and the BPA without too much argument. That was easy, but in 2016 Jared Goff went #1. He was horrible his first year. Then a new coach arrives, and two years later he is in the Super Bowl. How much of that change was due to his personal talent, and how much was due to the coaching and the talent around him? The jury is still out on that entire Draft class, but the dramatic change in Goff’s viability as a QB is still astounding.

I asked the question earlier if Steve Young was the BPA in the 1984 Supplemental Draft. What was your answer, and what do you think it would have been if Steve Young never played for the 49ers? Would it be the same answer? If not is BPA just a mystical pipe dream made up by shrewd GM’s to bamboozle the fans like a circus barker? Are there just too many variables for it to even exist?

Remember the Peyton Manning Draft that we looked back on? Yeah, Peyton was the easy choice looking back now, but leading up to the Draft it was a toss up for most scouts between Peyton and Ryan Leaf. Leaf ended up being the #2 choice of the Chargers. He lasted three dreadful years, putting up 14 TDs and 36 INTs. In fact, of the first five selections in the 1998 Draft Peyton and Charles Woodson are in the Hall of Fame. The three other players are Ryan Leaf, Andre Wadsworth and Curtis Enis, total busts. So where was the BPA principal there? If it was used, how could it go so wrong for Cardinals, Chargers and Bears?

If you look back at previous Drafts you can throw out a few mistakes because of injuries or mental problems, but it’s just a small percentage. The rest of early round mistakes are just pure whiffs by GM’s who at times are worse than an average fan (Christian Hackenberg) and poor scouting. There is no excuse for such poor results, but GM after GM just does the same thing as all the other poor GMs with the same feeble results.

My question to you is whether BPA just a buzz term that fans are used to hearing from GMs that will make them accept a pick without question, giving the GM a pass on a selection? Or is it really just a magician’s trick to get you looking one way while the GM is hiding his considerable flaws as a talent evaluator? Or, third is BPA a real thing, I have just lost my mind, and the Jets actually have great Drafts and the finest talent?

Secondly (if I’m not insane)

The Bad

Why after so many poor selections don’t the media hold a GM’s feet to the fire to explain those picks? In most cases there is video of the same GM yearly touting his picks. and after a few years (as with Mike Maccagnan) it should be relatively easy to show his foibles. Remember, a team spends considerable amounts of money and manpower on scouting the college draft so why so many horrible whiffs?

The press love to consider themselves the Fourth Estate. So then why doesn’t our NY media use it? The term Fourth Estate refers to the press and news media both in explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame issues. Though it is not formally recognized as a part of a system, it wields significant indirect social influence.

Why not wield this power and influence? I’m looking at you Manish Mehta and Rich Cimini. Why does Mike Maccagnan get a pass? Why is he not written about as a failure when he was brought here because of his acute scouting acumen but has delivered meager results? Do they fear having their access to the Jets hindered. If so, how spineless is such a writer, and how can we believe anything they write?

I mean just think about it if you were a press person in the room when Macagnan went to the podium and expounded his reasoning for his Draft picks. Would you sit on your hands and let him recite rhetoric for his explanation, or would you corner him and ask why he drafted an ankle grabbing WLB who cannot get off blocks with the idea of making him an ILB with the 20th pick in the draft? This is not some dart throw in the 6th round. This was the 20th pick.

Would you ask him why every note worthy draft scouting company had Christian Hackenberg as a late 6th round pick or UDFA, and you drafted him 51st overall when your team was in dire need of a talent infusion. Why do you think you are smarter than everyone else when when the player you selected with a premium pick never plays a down for your team? How can you be so foolish with a premium Draft pick on a team that is out of the playoffs with few if any bankable talents? These are just a token couple of a hundred questions you would make Maccagnan answer about his Drafts and free agent signings. Remember, these are the same media members assigned to the Jets who sit in on every press conference, They should know every move the Jets have made and whether it was good or bad. With the Jets picking at the top of the Draft again why aren’t the questions more pointed, and why does the press not demand an explanation for the awful results?

It is hard to think of a good FA signing with Maccagnan. Maybe Andre Roberts would qualify, but he was a below average returner with the Falcons who did well for the Jets. Trumaine Johnson was a megabust to whom we owe substantial guaranteed money. He was supposed to a leader, but he was awful as a player ad then became a malcontent. He was burned repeatedly by a UDFA receiver who the Bills didn’t even put on the roster until 3 days before a game and a QB who didn’t even know the plays. He just didn’t show up for meetings and practice time prior to Week 17. Is this the guy the Jets signed to be a great player and leader on the team? You could have signed a UDFA for more than $70,000,00 less money and not have done much worse. All of a sudden the Jets now have buyer’s remorse over the signing of Trumaine Johnson. This would be hysterical if it didn’t make you want to cry.

How can you be a professional writer who covers only one team and not understand the abhorrent Drafting and free agent policies by the Jets in the last few decades? Why have you not spotlighted it for the readers? Is the reason is because you are so incompetent at understanding the basics of football team building you let a guy with a nice suit influence you into non action?

One of the problems is these writers have no idea what a good football prospect is and applaud when the selections are made. Once the curtain is pulled back, and the Draft picks are exposed as awful (after numerous years) does the writer actually write about how terrible the Draft was? Well any fan can do that, and usually they make raucous overtures long before the writer even takes notice.

You can see there is very little good in this article, but at least the good is very good. The bad is the group of hacks who allows the term BPA to subvert the Draft process by deceiving the fans. They give the deficient GM merit with their silence or indifference. No GM is ever perfect, and we don’t expect perfection. At the same time we await competence. To use premium picks on the likes of Christian Hackenberg, Devin Smith, ArDarius Stewart, Lorenzo Mauldin, and Darron Lee would be laughable if it wasn’t so depressing. We can never go forward if we are always taking two steps back.

I wish I could write an article on how great we are doing, and although the drafting of Sam Darnold is a good start you can’t build a sturdy franchise with one good player.

I look at the Draft as a lifeline to build our team into a consistent winner, and you can’t do that if you annually whiff on your picks. You can build a team from the ashes fairly quickly if you Draft wisely, which is all most of us want. By building through the Draft you can build a dependable winner that you can sustain for years with the right coaching.

This is what was written on the New York Jets website prior to the 2017 season:

Entering his third season as general manager, Mike Maccagnan has re-shaped a roster he inherited in 2015 with a keen emphasis on building through the draft while focusing on the long-term objective of constructing a team that consistently competes for the playoffs.

“Our goal is to be a team that competes for the playoffs on a consistent basis,” said Maccagnan. “Our plan is to build the nucleus of this team through the draft. This core group of young players will be our foundation and, ideally, we want to have a good group of veterans. Some of these veterans can be players that have been with us for their entire career. Some of these players will be veterans that we’ve added through free agency. We’re all on the same page and success can’t happen fast enough for any of us, but we also recognize that it will take time to do it right. Every decision we make will be based on what’s best for the team in the short term and the long term.”

Since that time the Jets have 9 wins and 23 loses that is a .281 winning percentage.

Maccagnan has had 4 draft classes, and this should be the time when you have to re-sign the picks from the 2015 Draft. The only player left from that class is Leonard Williams, and the Jets have so far let him ride on his 5th year option with no real desire to extend him. You could say Williams has underperformed the 6th overall pick. His PFF grade last year was 30th best interior defensive lineman. Grady Jarrett who was the 1st pick of the 5th round in that same draft class is now poised for a huge contract. His PFF grade is 5th best interior defensive lineman.

The Jets should have about $100 million to spend in free agency this year because none of the their Draft choices are worth resigning. Maccagnan re-signed Brian Winters to a huge contract, but that was a real head-scratcher since Winters is an average guard at best. Quincy Enunwa was re-signed this year, but is just a slightly above average playe. Some believe he is not even that good. That is it. Only two players drafted by the Jets have received a 2nd contract and are still on the team.

A great Drafting team should have at least one or two players who need to be either extended, franchised tagged. or rework their contract because they have outperformed it every single year. These go along with other players who need to be resigned who may not be stars but play vital roles on your team like key reserves and special teams guys.

I know I am hard on this management team of the Jets, but I will not apologize for wanting greatness instead of mediocrity. This is a crucial time. We finally (we think) have a QB to build around, and the players we need are sitting in front of us waiting to be picked. All we need to do is to pick the right ones, and we are on our way. It will not be done overnight, and there will be setbacks along the way. We all know this. It is time to stop settling for OK or waiting for next year. The time is now. Let’s just get it done. It could be glorious.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes is a Latin phrase for “Who is guarding the guards>” and the answer of course is we are.

Maybe the question about BPA is not really a question at all. If we all think that BPA is a philosophy that has merits then maybe it is just the application of the philosophy that has defects, and BPA is really a solid ideology. The problem may lie in the spurious charlatans we hire to execute our doctrine.

NFL Drafting will never be an exact science simply because humans are involved on both ends of the process. The GMs aren’t skilled seers of truth, and the players are mortals with frailties like all of us, not robots. Yet many teams do much better in the process than teams who historically pick poorly. All I ask is for someone with the savvy to select quality players on both sides of the ball with abilities to make a cohesive unit and maybe a little luck thrown in as well. Do so year after year, and I will even allow a couple of mistakes along the way as long as we head in the right direction.

This is the only way to make us winners and keep us competetive for a length of time.

So what do think?

and

et vade gagates

(Latin for Go Jets)