On crisis times, the financial risks are more luxurious than ever, so every NFL front office is more pressed to make the right selection on draft day.
But as in any optimization task, that goal may move between distinct points of view. The rare part of this is football as sport, not necessarily represents the most important aspect; There are other key factors:
Any franchise is trying to keep in business, so they need a face to sell tickets, jerseys, helmets, mugs and almost any thinkable item. So they need to maintain happy their fan base, and if there's no way to move soon your team into playoff, you must give them some hope and that may come from the coolest pick available, one projected to make tons of points, normally a talented QB, WR or RB. Use as example any of both Mannings.
- Drafting is a task that needs a lot of brain and any involved guy must show there's some additional benefit within the selection process. So in order to prove the worth of the scouting crew, several front offices take surprise picks or trades that nobody understands. Picking the unexpected guy, or one projected for later rounds, trading up to draft someone, those are (normally wrong) calculated risks that may help or sabotage the franchise. Do you remember any of this draft cases: Ted Ginn Jr.? Troy Williamson? Shawn Andrews?
- Other face of the business is to maintain sanity among salaries and potential value of the player. Trading up may require more millions for contracts, while trading down may put some gems out of your hands. So front officers must keep in mind their salary cap. Having first overall is a great responsibility in terms of money, but allows you to deal with several guys in order to lower their demands, as shown by Texans some years ago with Super Mario.
- Trading an expensive veteran for draft picks, typically represents obtaining players with smaller contracts and less risk of injuries. But on football that can translate into a very different tale: you are exchanging a well trained guy, one ready to play under your schemes, for guys that will require a lot of guidance. So you trade draft picks if you're one guy away of being a serious contender and you trade players if your team is under rebuilding, because you have different requirements and approaches for drafting. Look at Cowboys trading with Detroit for Williams last season.
Front office also must try to anticipate what other teams are trying to do and deal with that. One way to be better is to lower the power of my conference rivals, so picking their needs may be a smart move. The other side of that is to recognize player that won't be part of other team but fill a hole in mine, if I know that a team will cut a player I need i don't trade for him, but make sure to be ready to deal with him as soon as possible. The same goes for picking a guy that is followed by other teams as trade bait. This approach is valid only for draft gems and those are pretty rare, Eli Manning being the last one.
- Finally, all mocks are contextual to the moment when they were created. Every week we read a lot of information about the free agency, injury recovery, and voices of coaches and team representatives. This data must be used carefully because this guys try to hide or distract the opinion. I remember Nick Saban trying to put smoke before picking Ronnie Brown.
- The safe pick is a general concept of using a high pick in a guy that won't impact too wrong when playing wrong, and can impact more than fine when playing well. There are three normal safe picks: OT, DE, and RB. Both lines need a lot of bodies to resist a season and all of them can help. Young running back come in different flavors but it's easy to use them a lot to carry the load while they're young. If you have no great depth for passer role, QB can count as safe pick, because you may declare open the position, and if given the case that veteran wins, there's no big problem about it. Jake Long was a safe pick last season.
- Best available player is a nice formula, but every draft board has different position for the same player, because draft board contain aspects of the team as schemes, needs, and scouting staff opinion. Vince Young was down on several boards than Leinart but was picked before.
This draft is particularly hard to pick because there's no obvious superior talent in the class, so picking first is more linked to the first three factors.
As homework, check any mock draft and analyze if they are picking just to put a name in the list or following the recipe.