The 25 Golden Rules When Drafting as a Team in the NFL

By Chris Ransom

For people who have never followed the NFL Draft this is an educational segment that will teach you about drafting by need.  There are 25 golden rules to drafting enjoy.

Rule #1 Always Draft A Quarterback if you believe he is good enough and you need a franchise quarterback.  A Hall of Fame quarterback is defined as someone who wins a Super Bowl, and franchise quarterback is defined as a quarterback who can turn a rebuilding project team into a playoff contender because the NFL is so competitve.  If a franchise quarterback fails to win a Super Bowl by age 32 there no longer considered a franchise quarterback.  This quarterback is still servicable as a backup, but is not franchise material.  If you believe you can get a franchise quarterback and if you need a franchise quarterback you have to take one period.

Rule #2 Build around your quarterback.  The NFL is a pass first league not a run first league.  Did Barry Sanders, LT, Shaun Alexander, or Adrian Peterson win a Super Bowl?  The answer is no.  You always draft a left tackle or a wide receiver with Calvin Johnson’s talent to build your quarterback around when you have nothing to work with.  Once those pieces are in place the rest of the dominoes will fall into place allowing your quarterback to blossom into a special player.  Your quarterback can succeed if he has those two complimentary pieces at left tackle and wide receiver.  Otherwise he has to have 5 really good players on his offense to succeed.  Or he has to be in the proper offensive philosophy.

Rule #3 Never draft a boom or bust quarterback in the top 5.  The reason I say that is because Stafford, Bradford, Eli Manning, and Carson Palmer were considered NFL caliber quarterbacks with pro bowl potential coming out of college.  If a boom or bust prospect falls out of the top 10 I can understand the reasoning to take a flyer on him if your team believes he is a franchise quarterback.  I think both Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton are boom or bust projects.  Meaning unless these quarterbacks are put in the right scheme, have the proper coaching, and an offensive line that respects there authority in the huddle as a signal caller they won’t succeed in the NFL.  I believe Blaine Gabbert is the poor mans Carson Palmer and Cam Newton is the poor mans Byron Leftwich.  Both quarterbacks have the upside and potential to succeed, but both quarterbacks are very raw compared to Pac 10 2012 prospects in Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley.

Rule #4 Draft an Immediate Impact Player if your drafting in the top 5.  If you have a quarterback and a left tackle you have to draft an immediate impact player who can step in right away.  I think 5 guys in the 2011 NFL Draft have this potential with AJ Green, Julio Jones, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, and Prince Amukamara.  The con with this is you also need to draft by need.  I’ll go into more details about need at rule #10.

Rule #5 Never draft a right tackle in round 1.  Teams are drafting bookend tackles who start out as right tackles before working there way into a left tackle role.  Players like Bryan Bulaga, Jordan Gross, Max Starks, Sebastian Vulmer, and Bryant McKennie are bookend tackles, while players like Gosder Cherillus are a right tackle only.  This year may be the exception though with Tyron Smith being the top prospect in the draft.  Smith plays right tackle, but at USC the left tackles playing across from him were Charles Brown and Matt Kalil.  I think Smith is going to be worse than Trent Williams, but he is considered the top prospect in the draft at offensive tackle.  So I’m not sure whether to call Smith a bookend tackle or a right tackle.  I believe he is more of a right tackle though.  Why would he lose a left tackle gig to a sophomore during his junior year.

Rule #6 Try to screw up your division rivals draft.  Lets say AJ Green falls all the way to Dallas.  A great strategy is to trade down and find a team that will take AJ Green because Dallas does not need a wide receiver and by trading down they get more picks and keep the Redskins from getting a premium player.  New England may be a team that pulls the trigger for a premium talent in this situation.  If the Bengals draft AJ Green this could screw up the Browns draft, but the Browns have so many needs so I doubt this rule affects Cleveland.

Rule #7 Trade down if you have more than one need. Let’s say AJ Green, DaQuan, Bowers, and Nick Fairley are all available when Cleveland picks 6th.  Cleveland can trade down to get Julio Jones and another defensive lineman or they can get a 4-3 right end and a defensive tackle while trading down.

Rule #8 Make sure your pass rush has an identity.  A team that fails to record sacks and a team that has no identity in terms of pass rushing is going to get picked apart by franchise quarterbacks.

Rule #9 Look at the depth of players in the draft by position.  Some drafts are strong at certain positions and weaker at other positions.  You need to take this into account especially if you pick early.

Rule #10 Draft by need when picking in the top 5. Teams who fail to draft by need when picking in the top 5 are the same teams picking in the top half of the NFL Draft each year.  That’s why drafting by need and passing up on an immediate impact player is sometimes the better business decision in the long run.

Rule #11 Do not draft the best available player on a draft board when you pick first unless it is a need.  2 examples of this are 2007 with JaMarcus Russell and 2010 whe the Rams could have taken Suh over Bradford.  Anyone who thinks the Rams made the wrong decision by selecting Bradford has managed to eat their own words or just does not understand the reality of the situation because Bradford has silenced most of the critics who doubted him.  The amazing thing is there were more critics who doubted Bradford than there were who doubted Jimmy Clausen.  Besides Todd McShay and my dad everyone I knew said Clausen would pan out while blossoming into a franchise quarterback. 

Rule #12 Take a quarterback, left tackle, or 4-3 right end with the top pick in the draft.  These are the positions that usually go #1 overall and are the positions that have the most impact in football.

Rule #13 Don’t draft a running back early?  Teams do not draft backs early anymore because they know the NFL is a pass first league.    1/4 of the starting running backs in the NFL are undrafted free agents.  Running the football is important, but it is not as important as passing the football.  Its much easier to find a running back with great speed, ball carrier vision, and the ability to break tackles than it is to find a franchise quarterback who has hall of fame potential.

Rule #14 Do not draft a quarterback in the 2nd round?  Only Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Matt Schaub are exceptions to this rule.  Henne is an honorable mention, but until he throws more touchdowns than picks I refuse to put him in this discussion.

Rule #15 If you cannot build your offense around your quarterback build it around your running back.  Lets say all the franchise quarterbacks are gone.  Your not sold on the remaining prospects and you do not feel like trading down.  You decide your going to build your offense around your running game by taking a running back and a run blocking left tackle.  Then you draft other offensive lineman who are run blockers.  Also you can get a 2nd back or a 3rd back if you want to have a 1 2 tandem with a seperate 3rd down back.  Its pretty obvious Buffalo was not sold on Tebow or Clausen and decided to follow rule #15 in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Rule #16 Only resort to using a run blocking offensive line when necessary.  By this I mean build your offensive line around pass blocking and protecting the quarterback unless you have a quarterback with a quick release who picks apart coverages quickly or a dual threat quarterback who can scramble by compensating for your offensive lines ability to block well in pass protection.

Rule #17 Take a quarterback with good intangibles and bad mechanics over a quarterback with good mechanics and bad intangibles.  Mechanics and throwing motion are coachable.  Intangibles, body language, dedication, and work ethic off the field are not coachable you either have the it factor or you don’t it really is that simple.  Both John Elway and Jimmy Clausen didn’t win in college.  Elway had the work ethic and Clausen didn’t.  Blaine Gabbert has made some Tebow like throws when lining up to release the football.  Cam Newton does not make those throws in terms of mechanics, but his intangibles when reading coverages and firing accurate passes need some work at the next level.

Rule #18 Size isn’t everything. Its good to have a player that has the size to play a certain position in the NFL, but it is not a necessity.  Drew Brees was undersized when he entered the NFL.  Hines Ward was undersized when he entered the NFL, but his workouts off the field have turned him into one of the most physical possesion receivers in the NFL who embraces contact.  Even if you hate how Ward reacts off the field when the Steelers lose, you have to respect and admire the way he plays on the field unless your a fan of the team playing against him.  Sometimes it is better to take an undersized player who you know has the mental capacity over a player with the size to play a certain position.

Rule #19 Grade a players physical attributes. A players physical attributes determine how much throwing power a quarterback puts in to releasing the football.  They determine how strong a left tackle is in terms of pass blocking strength and run blocking strength.  Can your left tackle knock defenders on the ground by pass blocking.  You can determine a players physical ability by seeing what they bench press at the combine along with looking at what they do in the weight room.

Rule #20 Grade a players durability attributes. You never want a player with an tedious history of injury problems on your team.  Its good to know how durable a player in terms of his head, shoulders, arms, legs, feet, and knees.  If everything checks out move on, but one injury concern can give some scouts a bad impression.

Rule #21 Grade a players size attributes.  Size isn’t everything like I said, but when your drafting early you want a player with size like a 6 foot 5 230 pound quarterback, a 6 foot 5 320 pound left tackle or a 6 foot 7 280 pound right end.  Or  a 6 foot 5 230 pound free safety.

Rule #22 Grade a players learning rate.  You need to know how fast a player can comprehend plays in a sophisticated NFL playbook.  You need to know how smart he is in terms of football knowledge from this point.  You need to know what kind of schemes that player has played in high school and in college in terms of offensive or defensive philosophies.

Rule #23 Grade a players intangibles.  Different positions have different intangibles.  Quarterbacks intangibles include, short ball accuracy, medium ball accuracy, and deep ball accuracy.  An offensive lineman’s intangibles include pass blocking, run blocking, and zone blocking which requires excellent footwork while pass blocking or run blocking.

Rule #24 Grade a players production.  Is he a winner?  Does the player give you the results you want when the game is on the line?  Is the player a clutch player?  Does the player have a high draft grade?  All of this has to be taken into account when evaluating production.

Rule #25 Use these attributes to find a players potential.  What you do is pick a number between 1-99 and use that to evauluate each of the six qualities I told you to grade.  Then you add the 6 numbers up and divide the total by 6 to get your players potential.  If the player has a potential below 85 avoid taking him in the first 2 rounds.  I have an excel file of doing this when scouting prospects and I’ll post it when the draft nears.

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