The 2014 NFL Draft will be the eighth annual pro football selection meeting that we have covered here at Buffalo Rumblings. Over the years, we have seen and heard pretty much every argument fans can make regarding certain players, needs and the direction the team should take in a given draft.
Recently, I was asked by a long-time reader (who does not comment here, so need to play the guessing game) for suggestions on how he could change up his approach to following the draft. Intrigued, I mulled the question for a few days before getting back to him, then wrote up this three-step approach for avoiding the typical rabbit holes of draft talk and getting the most out of this process as a discussion-starter for the community. I have no idea whether or not my anonymous friend found any of this useful so far, so any feedback you'd like to provide will be welcome. This is a fascinating subject to me, particularly this time of the year, when many people are just beginning to mull the idea of studying up on the draft.
Rule No. 1: Keep an open mind.
If someone asks you what you think the Buffalo Bills will do in the draft, the only acceptable answer until the team is actually on the clock is "I don't know." It'd be great if that were your answer when asked what the Bills should do, as well. It's not a cop-out. It's a way to keep your head above water.
Draft discussions tend to hone in on three particular topics: team needs, specific players and mock drafts. Really, if you're talking about the draft online before the big day, the chances that you're landing in that territory are astronomically high. There is a tendency to get so immersed in those conversations that you end up prioritizing those team needs, or you become smitten with specific players, or you obsess over every possible scenario before the Bills pick. That all takes place over a three-month (this year, a four-month) process that erodes your mind into hard opinions on draft day - and then when things don't turn out as expected, the discussions turn heated with everyone wielding sharpened opinions as weapons.
Don't let that happen to you! Understand what the team needs without committing to a specific set of circumstances to address them. Try your hardest not to fall in love with certain prospects. Deny yourself the urge to fall into the same rhetorical trappings of years past. Formulate opinions, certainly; just don't swear by them. This thing truly is a crapshoot. There's no need for us to eat each other in our own comments sections after months of the same arguments, right?
Rule No. 2: Study team and league trends. Slowly.
The best way to explain this is to have an example: in each of the past two seasons, Bills fans have toyed with the notion of the team taking extremely well-thought of guard prospects David DeCastro and Chance Warmack in the first round. The odds of that happening were virtually non-existent, based on how the Bills have gone about building their line and how the team values that position specifically. (They let Andy Levitre walk as a free agent for a reason, folks.) Yet the idea persisted, simply because someone noted that the team needed a guard pretty badly.
Any and every factor that could possibly influence how a team drafts should be considered by fans, waltzing well beyond team needs and draft philosophies. If the Bills were to draft purely by need, or purely by taking the highest-graded player on their board, then we'd be looking at very different draft results from the past few seasons. Positional value, finances, the depth of a draft class, a player's floor as well as his ceiling, etc. - there are countless variables to pay attention to.
Study the methods by which the Bills, under this regime (dating back to 2010), have acquired talent at specific positions. You begin to understand how their positional value differs from the league's, which can be determined simply by looking at the league's franchise tag values. That's just one example. Collect these factors in the back of your mind, and use them in your discussions in an effort to stay out of the ruts of need, BPA and grades.
Finally: don't rush through your studies. Take your time. Mull over each topic you read up on or unearth, and apply it to how you already approach this beast. We're not looking to transform the way you think about this; just evolve it. We have four months. Learn as much as you can.
Rule No. 3: Listen to smart people.
By this, I really mean "get out of your own head." Never settle on an idea based on your own beliefs or discussions. Pay attention to what smart, league-connected people are saying about the draft class and certain teams as draft day approaches. They're in a far better position to make judgments and pronouncements than we are.
Here's a list of my six favorite draft analysts to follow - beyond the Mayocks, Kipers and McShays of the world, at least. It's a group that I lean on because of their diverse skill sets and measured analysis (i.e. they don't say things constantly, so when they do speak, it's easy to pay attention), and it's a list that is tweaked on an annual basis. Feel free to come up with your own list, but put proper work into it; you want as well-rounded an analytical experience as possible.
- Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks): NFL Network analyst that spent years in the league as a scout. He has front office connections galore, and sees things the way living, breathing talent evaluators see them.
- Greg Cosell (@gregcosell): The NFL Films veteran is known in particular for his pre-draft quarterback evaluations, which are as valuable a study resource as anything you'll find this spring.
- Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline): Pauline runs his own draft site, and has quality league connections that lead to a large number of scoops. Case in point: he called the Manuel-to-Buffalo thing last year. It caught pretty much everyone else off-guard.
- Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman): A new addition to my own list largely because of this article from last spring. So far, I like his approach to covering the draft. We'll see how this goes.
- Doug Farrar (@SI_DougFarrar): He became an invaluable resource over at Yahoo! with his Shutdown Corner scouting series; he's now at SI. I'll be interested to see where his draft coverage goes under a new roof.
- Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia): Joe B is the only local guy I go with during draft season. He puts in the work on prospects, but more importantly, he gives draft coverage its necessary Bills twist without sacrificing objectivity. Joe is good for the occasional scoop this time of year, as well.
These are not the only analysts to pay attention to, clearly, but personally speaking it's my core group. Perhaps it can launch your own quality lists, as well.
That, Bills fans, is the advice that I passed on to my good friend looking for a different draft season experience. What would you suggest?