Here's a roundabout way of me opining that I've grown excessively bored with the word "need" in NFL Draft-related discussions.
Last week, as fictitious GM of the Buffalo Bills in the 2011 NFL Mock Draft hosted by SB Nation's NFL writers at MockingTheDraft.com, I picked LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson with the third overall pick. I explained the rationale behind the pick, and for the most part, the pick was received fairly well.
However, the vocal minority - and it is a minority, considering that 83% of readers graded the pick either 'A' or 'B,' making it the most popular pick in the Top 5, and the fourth-highest graded pick in the Top 15 - has been dinging me early and often for picking Peterson. Some of you have seen fit to email me and insult my intelligence. (Seriously? You're that bored? I'm honored and all, but the stakes aren't particularly high here, folks. In fact, they're not high at all. Probably they're even non-existent.)
Reading through those borderline-vitriolic comments from various sources, one conclusion was obvious: Bills fans are incredibly entrenched in their own personal NFL Draft philosophies. Every single commenter blasting me for the pick went out of his or her way to talk up Peterson as a player, then explained the various reasons why they hated the pick. All of that interaction got me thinking, and when I think, I tend to ramble. Rambling commences after the jump. I hope you'll consider following along.
The overwhelming majority of people openly disliking the pick cited need, and the Bills' league-worst run defense in particular among those needs, as their reasoning. I get that. I knew I'd get those comments when I made the pick - I figured I'd get more of them, actually - because when push comes to shove, every single fan, Bills fan or just NFL fan in general, has their own interpretation of the word "need." In this case, need is applied in its most common form.
The most popular pick made in the Top 15 of this mock draft was when Cleveland took Alabama DT Marcell Dareus at No. 6 overall; 92% of readers graded that pick either 'A' or 'B,' a significant enough spike above the grade I got for Peterson for me to realize that most people would've preferred I take Dareus before I was ceaselessly reminded of it. Why does that preference exist? Well, to fix the run defense, of course. The Bills need to fix their run defense.
Most fans bringing up Dareus in their Peterson rebuttals cited need, and were very obviously viewing need through the lens of positional (group) need. "Fix the run defense" or "find a franchise quarterback" or "get an elite pass rusher" are all need arguments based on the philosophical belief that need, ultimately, means filling holes on your football team. It's how the term is commonly applied in NFL Draft discussions, and the most widespread basis of pick-bashing.
But "need" can be used in many different nuanced ways. The Bills need good football players, period - regardless of what position they play. (That's how I grudgingly use the term, and I tried to make that very clear when I compared Buffalo to last year's Super Bowl participants, Green Bay and Pittsburgh, leading up to the big game.) You could also say "the Bills need instant impact," "the Bills need high upside," "the Bills need a safe prospect," or "the Bills need to take a risk for once." Need, need, need. I hate using the term these days, because the thousands of arguments you could make about what the Bills "need" are ultimately meaningless. They're meaningless because there is only one thing the Bills truly need, and I guarantee that every single fan would agree.
Here's a secret for everyone. The secret doesn't help us in formulating pre-draft opinions, but the more people converse with each other truly understanding and appreciating this fact, the less angst there will be.
The secret: the only thing the Bills "need" is to get it right.
I realize that's a bit open-ended an ambiguous. Nor is it particularly profound. That truth also won't do anything to mitigate much of the divisiveness that formulates every spring as the Bills gear up to pick their latest crop of rookies. Fans already have their own beliefs on what's right and what isn't. It's not something that you can evaluate right away, either, even though people annually insist on passing judgment on a draft class immediately (I'm just as guilty as anyone of this). Maybe it doesn't help us at all. But I'm not sure I believe that. I'm also not sure enough Bills fans converse with each other here every day with that fundamental truth in mind.
It is the truth. Buffalo has made so many "wrong" picks over the last decade that - hey, whaddya know?! - they've missed the playoffs in 11 straight seasons. When they pick on April 28, somebody out there isn't going to like the logic of the pick. That doesn't mean they'll be right. The only thing that matters is that the Bills are right. That's the only way Nix and company can get this sucker turned around.
If I had the power to do so, I'd abolish the word "need" completely. Some other synonym would pop up, and we'd be right back to square one. Maybe it's a vain hope (OK, it's definitely a vain hope), but it'd be nice if more people talked draft with some form of background acknowledgement that their interpretation of "need" isn't universal. If you don't agree with someone's viewpoint, don't tell them what the Bills need - we're all well aware of what they need, and the word permeates several different philosophical levels, as well as several different levels of the team itself. All you're telling them is how you interpret the word. We all know, and we all agree on, what the Bills need - to get it right.