Don’t let anyone tell you predicting the NFL draft is easy. The amount of variables involved in the selection process can drive even the best scouts and general managers to the brink of insanity.
The draft is a practice in calculated risk-taking. Finding the perfect players to fit the right system is essential, but everyone evaluates talent differently. Player X may be perfect in Seattle, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be equally productive in, say, Tampa Bay. In short, one size most certainly does not fit all.
What it all boils down to is finding the best value in a given draft position and that skill set to add the players who present a team with the right fit. "Value" is a relative term. General managers know what kind of value they are getting with every pick.
Still, there are teams that simply must address positions of need early in the draft. They are mainly franchises with glaring holes to fill at positions of great importance. For the others, selecting a quality talent regardless of position based on the "best player available" method is often the best choice.
We’ll take a look at the teams that can afford to gamble on the best players on their draft boards, as opposed to organizations who are willing to reach to address priorities. It’s sometimes a gamble to use a high draft pick on a player who doesn’t fill an immediate need, but some of the best teams in the league know how important it is to take advantage of value.
|1. Kansas City||9. NYJ||17. Pittsburgh||25. Seattle|
|2. Jacksonville||10. Tennessee||18. Dallas||26. Green Bay|
|3. Oakland||11. San Diego||19. NYG||27. Houston|
|4. Philadelphia||12. Miami||20. Chicago||28. Denver|
|5. Detroit||13. Tampa Bay||21. Cincinnati||29. New England|
|6. Cleveland||14. Carolina||22. St. Louis||30. Atlanta|
|7. Arizona||15. New Orleans||23. Minnesota||31. San Francisco|
|8. Buffalo||16. St. Louis||24. Indianapolis||32. Baltimore|
The Bengals don’t have a ton of holes to fill on either side of the ball. They finished the 2012 regular season with a 10-6 record and boasted the No. 12 scoring offense and No. 6 total defense in the NFL.
The tandem of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green combined to produce some of the best numbers in the league in 2012. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Michael Johnson combined for 24 sacks, leading a pass rush that ranked third in the NFL.
Johnson will be a free agent this offseason, but the Bengals will likely look to tie him up with a new contract. Safety and inside linebacker are the only two positions Cincinnati may be forced to address early in the draft, as Rey Maualuga’s future with the team is in question and the Bengals didn’t have a quality strong safety to play next to Reggie Nelson.
With so few glaring positional needs, the Bengals can afford to take a risk on whichever player sits atop their draft board when they select at No. 21. Any number of top-tier players could still be available when they draft, including some exceptional pass-rushers, speedy receivers and a handful of underrated defensive backs.
Cincinnati may focus on shoring up some areas of weakness early in the draft, but they won’t be forced to key in on any one particular position in the first round, meaning taking a gamble on their best player available could certainly be in play.
Apart from a defensive line that took a hit with the late-season ACL injury to Chris Clemons and the lack of a true No. 1 receiving threat for Russell Wilson, there aren't really any facets of the game that Seattle needs to address this offseason. April’s draft should be an opportunity for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks to load up on talent, just as they have done several times in recent years.
Need-based drafting won’t be especially important for Seattle. They finished the season a balanced No. 9 in scoring offense and No. 4 in total defense, falling just short of the NFC championship game with a last-minute loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Some teams have an opportunity to gamble on high-risk, high-reward prospects in the draft, but don’t all take advantage of being in that position. Carroll has done an excellent job drafting the players high on Seattle’s draft board, just as he did with Bruce Irvin last year.
The Seahawks selected Irvin with the No. 15 pick in last year’s draft. He wasn’t widely regarded as a first-round candidate, but he proved to be an excellent pick, amassing eight sacks during his rookie campaign. Carroll took a risk and it paid off in a big way.
Seattle could look to address a few positions of need this year (defensive end, wide receiver and, to a lesser extent, tight end), but they have enough quality talent in place to take another chance in the first round this year. The Seahawks can afford to gamble on whichever player sits atop their draft board when they pick at No. 25.
Green Bay Packers
Packers general manager Ted Thompson has always been terrific at blending need-based drafting and high-value selections to bolster Green Bay’s roster in a big way. He did it with linebacker Clay Matthews in the 2009 draft and again with cornerback Casey Hayward in 2012. Neither player addressed a position of glaring need, but each contributed for the Packers immediately.
It’s always a risk to pass on areas of need, but it’s a short-term risk. The Packers need a center for the 2013 season with Jeff Saturday retiring, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will use their first-round pick on a center. Instead, Thompson can focus on the highest-rated players on the draft board when his team selects at No. 26.
Green Bay can afford to take a risk or two in April. Despite some obvious flaws that sank their 2012 season in the playoffs, the Packers don’t need a complete overhaul or a singular focus on a particular position.
This year’s draft class is incredibly deep and it’s a pretty safe bet that Thompson will find a player he loves toward the end of the first round. It may seem like overlooking a need is a gamble but, as any general manager in the league would tell you, the entire draft process is a gamble. No player is a “sure thing.”