For those of you that missed it, Carolina took QB Blaine Gabbert first overall, and Denver followed up with OLB Von Miller. We strongly encourage you to stop by the announcement post, read my abbreviated rationale for the selection, take in Dan Kadar's reaction to the pick, and to grade it, as well.
After the jump, I've gone into a bit more detail behind the circumstances of the pick, for anyone that's interested. First thing's first: all of what follows happened on March 23. It's not fun sitting on this for five days, wondering if your logic will look sound five days later.
The War Room Approach
I went into this process with three pieces of pre-configured work at my disposal: a tiered ranking of the top prospects in the draft, a two-pick mock draft of what I expected to happen before me, and a big board for the pick that, like Buddy Nix, I'd follow rigidly.
We'll start with the mock. I had Blaine Gabbert going first overall to Carolina, and I had Marcell Dareus going second overall to Denver. It's not a fun feeling when you're already 50/50 in a mock after two picks, but behind the scenes, Denver had Dareus' name on the card. They switched it to Miller at the last possible second. It caught me off guard, but I don't feel so bad about missing the pick knowing that Dareus was nearly the selection.
I did not build my tiered ranking, nor my big board, based on who I expected to be available. Picking so early, and knowing that nothing at the top of the draft is clear cut, the mock was simply designed to set my early expectations. NFL clubs do this in reality, but moreso to project possible trades and the like. That was not a factor here.
Here's what my tiered rankings looked like (players within tiers listed by position, not necessarily in order):
Tier 1: WR A.J. Green, CB Patrick Peterson
Tier 2: WR Julio Jones, DE Da'Quan Bowers, DT Marcell Dareus, DT Nick Fairley, OLB Von Miller
Tier 3: QB Blaine Gabbert, QB Cam Newton, DE Cameron Jordan, DE Robert Quinn, DE J.J. Watt, CB Prince Amukamara
Building The Big Board
In building my board for the pick, I decided to leave Newton and Gabbert as "wild cards" - simply because I, personally, don't have enough conviction in either as a prospect to claim that they'll pan out. But I've made it very clear that quarterback is the team's biggest need, and I wanted to give myself one last opportunity to talk myself into taking either guy.
Keeping that in mind, I essentially went into this pick with three non-quarterbacks and two quarterback wild cards that I'd be choosing from. I based positioning on the big board on need and the aforementioned tiered system. This is what the big board looked like - and I've struck out players that were off the board before I picked:
1. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
2. Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
3. Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
WC. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
WC. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Peterson sat atop the board simply because he's a tier above everyone else. He is an elite prospect. Bowers is on the fringe of that territory, but not knowing how his knee will look this Friday when he has his pro day, Peterson was atop my board for that reason alone. But as I said, I wanted to give myself one last chance to talk myself into a quarterback, so when I was on the clock, it was down to either Peterson or Newton.
Why Peterson Over Newton
Last week, I wrote a piece detailing my checkered history making picks in the annual SB Nation NFL Mock Draft. As I was mulling my decision, I took a look at my top overall picks during those four years.
LB Patrick Willis: Knew I wanted him, went up to get him. Cha-ching.
WR Malcolm Kelly: Talked myself into taking a big, physical wideout to complement Lee Evans. Whoops.
DE Aaron Maybin: Talked myself into taking a speed rusher for Buffalo's defense. Whoops.
QB Jimmy Clausen: Talked myself into taking a QB I had some conviction in, but not complete confidence in. Whoops.
The first trend that stuck out to me: I make stupid decisions when I go against my gut and talk myself into something. Second trend that stuck out to me: I probably tipped the scale of balance between need and talent much too far in the direction of need.
Unlike in years past, I decided not to over-think it this year. I could have pretty easily talked myself into taking Cam Newton. Maybe, for once, I'd have gotten lucky and looked good years later. I was sorely tempted, I'll tell you. But over the years, I've developed a belief that you shouldn't have to talk yourself into the idea of taking a player. It should be obvious that the player can play, and it should be obvious that he'll make the Bills better. To me, Patrick Peterson was the only guy on my short list that obviously fit that description. Everything else falls into place: the Bills need talent, they need playmakers, they need corner depth. Really, it was the only pick I felt I could responsibly make.