In the hours before the Buffalo Bills took down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football, rumors swirled about the team’s inactive list, suggesting there might be a plot twist for the night. It turned out to be in regards to cornerback Kaiir Elam. I’ll let Buffalo Rumblings writer Sean Murphy’s words do the summary for this:
The 2022 first-round pick is a healthy scratch so that the Bills can play 35-year old Josh Norman, who hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since the final week of last season. Yikes.
Or if you prefer the long form, here’s editor in chief Matt Byham on the matter.
For Kaiir Elam, it’s been either bewildering or frustrating news all season. Where the label “bust” was being whispered, it’s now being screamed. I won’t do anything to discourage the use of the word here. With the extra time before the Bills’ next game though, I felt my two cents might stir up some good conversation.
I’m not telling you “how to fan”
Let’s get one thing straight right out of the gate: Unless your fanaticism is causing active harm to someone, I’ll never ask you to fan differently. I know this conversation is probably going to stir up some debate and that needs to be on the table. This whole article started as a debate between the Buffalo Rumblings editorial team, as a matter of fact.
To be more specific, it’s possible you’ll see some arguments below that you may believe place the front office above criticism. That’s 100% not the case. In fact, I’ll try to emphasize that criticism is warranted. There’s a “but” though. Criticism is warranted, but in my opinion it’s not the fatal flaw that I see some suggesting.
In case you need it, “GIGO” stands for “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” It’s often used in relation to data analysis, stats, etc. The premise is pretty simple: If you’re putting bad data into the system, you’ll get bad results.
Often I think we’re predisposed to assume that draft misses are a case of GIGO. General manager “Brandon Beane missed an important part of data/facts on Kaiir Elam and that’s how he got it so wrong!” It makes sense, but it’s not necessarily true.
Further, this assumption can exacerbate our perception of the situation. Often critique is framed in the light of future events. If a flaw exists now, it’s more likely to exist in the future and therefore create a chance that type of mistake will be repeated. For the record, I completely agree with that sentiment.
So this raises the question then: Is Kaiir Elam a case of GIGO? My best answer is that I’m not part of the team and no one has given me any of their scouting records to go from, so I won’t be claiming to know for sure. What I’ll do is give my best guess on the matter with known information. You’re free to suggest that I’m completely wrong in the comments (within community guidelines of course).
Interview and Hiring
Let’s take a second and pretend that the NFL Draft is a lot like the interview and hiring process for any regular job. That should be easy because that’s 100% what it actually is, if you weren’t aware. Jobs often include an application/resume process. Candidates who are attractive to a particular company are asked to come interview. Based on the total body of evidence, the company will work to extend offers to the most-desirable candidates.
Under this model, a GIGO flaw could be conceptualized as a few different ideas. Maybe Brandon Beane missed something in the resume. Maybe he prioritized the wrong qualities in the candidate. Maybe a red flag was missed, or perhaps a candidate was capable of selling the team some falsehoods about themselves. If one of these flaws is true, the remedy is to change the faulty process. So let’s go through what we know about Elam and the draft process, and see if these are realistic flaws of which the Bills fell prey.
For the NFL Draft, this is also known as the person’s college film. I can go into this more at length, but I think the short version will suffice. Most draft analysis on Kaiir Elam regarding his college performance centered around a player with a high-potential ceiling who would need to be coached up. Here’s one profile to that effect from Lance Zierlein.
A lot of analysis focused on Elam’s top physical traits as his biggest “pro.” A lot of the “con” list focused on the need to learn a wider range of skills to be successful in the NFL. In the case of the Buffalo Bills’ scheme, it was said from the get go that Elam would need to grow into a zone system player.
So far, none of this seems to have been inaccurate. Everyone seemed to know this. Is it reasonable to think that the Bills and Beane missed it? I would argue they knew it too.
No one has given me a transcript on what may or may not have been asked of Elam during conversations with Buffalo’s representatives. I’ll have to go on what I know from other sources. Clearly, One Bills Drive was fine with how things went or they wouldn’t have selected Elam.
One of the first quotes we got from Elam was to put the playbook on the plane. It’s not a ton to go on, but the best guess is that Elam comes across (and very well could be) someone who is eager to learn, aka is “coachable.” If this was the interview impression, then it would not be a GIGO situation. This is highly desirable input.
We know NFL teams will dig into backgrounds, talk to teammates of a desired player and more. The simplest guess is that Buffalo did in fact do these things for Elam and saw nothing they were concerned with or that nullified the above.
So hold on Skare. You’re saying that Beane wasn’t blindsided by Elam’s flaws, that Elam likely interviewed well, and there was nothing else that was seen as a major issue? How, then, can a team so badly miss on a player?
Remember this is a job interview. The hiring process should start with asking “What are we looking for” and then use the above resources to try and find it. The above resources are good starting points but are finite. Sometimes good information isn’t good enough.
Taking this a step further, under my assumption that Beane and company knew all the things the rest of the world did about Elam, it leads to the conclusion that they drafted a player who matched what they were looking for at cornerback. In other words, I think they wanted a high-upside player and were willing to gamble on his ability to be coached. Elam presented as being highly coachable, which would mitigate the gamble from a hiring perspective.
If I’m correct (and of course I think I am), the flaw would be that the Bills were willing to gamble with a premium asset. And yes, I think this flaw is accurate and likely to continue. For more information on this topic, see; “Allen, Joshua.”
There’s one other potential flaw that I think needs to be addressed. That is: the possibility that the Bills are arrogant in their ability to coach up players. Being Devil’s Advocate here, in the case of defensive backs, I believe a little hubris may be warranted. See; “Hyde, Micah,” “Poyer, Jordan,” “Wallace, Levi” and more for further review.
Doubling down on opportunity
It’s only natural that the Bills’ apparent miss in drafting Kaiir Elam has caused a lot of ire within Bills Mafia and the larger NFL world. It’s a simple tenet that a negative difference between outcome and expectation is directly correlated with the emotional reaction to the outcome. This is exacerbated when a high level of initial investment occurred in trying to obtain a desired outcome.
What in the world does that paragraph even mean Skare? Let me illustrate with two gambling examples.
- You purchase a $1 scratch-off with a top prize of $5,000 and 100,000:1 odds of winning
- You purchase a $100 raffle ticket with a top prize of $5,000 and 5:1 odds of winning
In scenario 1 you’ve invested little and have little expectation of a positive outcome. In scenario 2 you can practically feel the oversized wallet from the stack of cash you expect to be sitting on (though that would be bad for your back).
Sure, but what does this mean in Buffalo Bills terms? Well it means this is why a lot of the fans base has expended more energy being angry about Kaiir Elam than they are celebrating Christian Benford. We won the five grand after all.
Circling back to my initial point — yes, we should still be critical. Brandon Beane purchased both tickets. I’m happy one of them was a winner, but I can also point out that the other wasn’t and that there were resources lost in the attempt.
Is Kaiir Elam the dreaded “B Word?” It’s looking that way for Buffalo.
Do both Beane and the Bills deserve criticism for the pick? Absolutely.
Did they make a “mistake” during the selection? Not in my opinion. I think they knew what they were getting into and lost. And that’s my criticism because I know they’ll do it again with a smile on their face.
Can I accept this trait? I can — it’s also how we landed some great players after all. Your tolerance for their shenanigans, though, is entirely up to you.