Draft day is my favorite day of the year, and this is my 21st year watching and following the draft. Over that time, I've put together a set of draft day guidelines.
It's nothing scientific. My list isn't deep on logic. It's just historical trends that I've picked up upon. Consider it something akin to Parcells' draft guidelines for quarterbacks: taken at face value. With that, here's my draft guidelines:
1.) Never pass on a franchise quarterback if you don't already have one. This is a pretty easy one to figure out. The league is a passing league that revolves around the quarterback. Consistently good teams have franchise quarterbacks.
2.) Draft off your board and rankings, whatever they are. At least you'll be consistent. Draft boards are different for every team. Regardless, I've seen teams get in trouble when they get away from their draft board. Roscoe Parrish is a great example of this. Teams have also hit big by sticking with their draft board, no matter what the TV prognosticators say. Cincinnati had a great experience with Levi Jones, despite what Mel Kiper had to say about the pick.
3.) Never reach for need. Unless that player is a quarterback. Having blue-chip depth at a position is better than a red-chip starter. It's better to have two great linebackers than a great linebacker and an above-average tackle, even if you need a tackle. If drafting the better player means you end up with two great players but only one position for him to play, trades can always be made.
4.) When the best players available have similar grades, only then pick the player that fills a need. If your draft grades for two or more available players are close when it's your turn to select, then draft for need.
5.) Build from the football out, according to your system. This rule mostly applies for the third day of the draft (used to be the second day). Later in the draft, lots of players will have similar grades. Focus a lot of energy from the football out. This rule also applies to teams that go with the WR over the lineman with similar grades in the first round.
6.) When you have no idea what to do with a pick, select a pass rusher or offensive lineman. Teams like the Steelers and Patriots collect linemen, particularly later in the draft. If you're stuck with the pick and have multiple directions to go, it's hard to go wrong with a lineman.
7.) Unless you can draft a sure-fire All-Pro running back, don't draft a RB in the first round. Unless you have Barry Sanders or Adrian Peterson available when you select, pass on a running back, regardless of the grade. Good running backs can be found later in the draft.
8.) Running back should be the last high pick added to the team, as their careers are shorter. The idea is to build a contender, then add the running back last. If you add the running back early, you'll end up drafting another running back a few years later.
9.) Don't draft a talented player with character issues. Let someone else draft him, and if he proves himself and stays out of trouble, you might be able to sign him as a free agent. If he busts, then it's no loss to your organization. A lot of organizational energy gets wasted on Ryan Leaf-types. Even guys like Marshawn Lynch are to be avoided.
10.) Evaluate toughness. Toughness matters more than combine numbers on 3-and-short. Toughness matters when you're in the later stages of a big game.
11.) Evaluate leadership and character. Particularly in your quarterbacks. Leadership and character bring teams back from deficits, in games and in seasons. A great leader or two can galvanize an average team with high character players, and make it great.
12.) Evaluate competitiveness. A competitive player seeks to actively get better. You want constant improvement from your team. A team with players that are competitive will continue to grow and get better. In game, you get high effort. Teams full of competitive players rarely get blown out.
These are the factors that I'll be looking for during the draft. While these aren't air tight guidelines, they've worked for me over time. Take care and have fun!