NFL Draft 2014: Why Player Development Ranks Above Draft in Matter of Importance

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NFL Draft 2014: Why Player Development Ranks Above Draft in Matter of Importance
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

It's that time of the year again. 

Every NFL fanbase has listed what they believe are their team's needs and ranked the level of importance of each of those positions heading into next season. 

The next step in this process is to take that list and compare it to the players available in the upcoming draft. 

This is a process that almost every diehard NFL fan goes through every offseason. They find what they believe are the areas that need to be immediately improved and they look at the best option available out there to fill that spot. 

So much of the news cycle right now is dominated by the over-analysis of every draft prospect out there that it's become assumed every player discussed could suddenly step right in and contribute right away.

Whether they're a top-five pick or a "sleeper" late in the draft, it doesn't seem to matter.  

The optimistic side of fans comes out on players they want for their team and the guys they "mock pick" to their favorite NFL franchise, expecting and hoping those players step in and contribute right away.

Because after all, the whole reason you mocked them to your team is that you determined it was a position in need of immediate improvement. 

This line of thinking, which in some form spans across all fans of every franchise, is inherently flawed.

It doesn't take into consideration the players you might have been so excited about just 365 days earlier, but who might not be currently dominating the news cycle and might have been forgot about when looking at the "next big thing."

Those players were not given a chance to develop and improve and get your benefit of the doubt when looking outside of the roster to find replacements for these "needs" you have determined. 

 

Coaching matters

All of the young players who might be getting their first real NFL offseason with a professional coaching staff and strength trainer, or maybe even those in their second full offseason, those are the ones who are really going to determine how quickly your team gets to the level you obviously want. 

It's not about the rookies having to step right up and contribute, although that's obviously a great thing too. But it's the second-, third- and fourth-round picks from the previous few drafts who are going to determine where you head as a franchise. 

Obviously, veterans, free agents and late-round picks make up the roster as well.

But for as much is made about NFL teams having to hit on their first-round picks every year—based on everything we hear on TV before the draft—if you miss on mid-round picks in consecutive drafts, it won't matter if you hit on your first-round guys. 

The process in which those mid-round picks go from special teams guys and role players early in their careers to stepping in and starting is called development. 

It's the most underappreciated aspect of building a football team and one of the biggest influences on where you head as a franchise. 

In this piece from Danny Kelly of FieldGulls.com, he quotes Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on how defensive backs develop in their system.

Kris Richard [defensive backs coach] and Rocky Seto [passing game coordinator] have done a fantastic job of training them. They're really, really, strict, and if you guys could appreciate it, they (the corners) all look the same, somewhat.

The way they step, the way they challenge at the line of scrimmage, the way they finish in the things that we teach.

This is a long, long process, to get these guys to where they are. But, now they're in the system, and it doesn't matter who steps in and plays. It's impressive.

So, it's a process, but it's kind of a systems thing for us.

If the players you bring into your organization aren't getting better and finding roles after two or three years in your system, there's a problem. 

Sometimes it's the player, sometimes it's the guy who decided to draft or sign them and sometimes it's the coach who wasn't able to develop or reach them.

There's no use in pointing fingers at that point because if you have to start signing veterans to make up for spots your young players couldn't develop into, the problem will be obvious, and the pressure will only continue to build. 

So while the draft matters in terms of players you bring into your organization for the future, there's still nothing there without development. 

The NFL draft has become a huge spectacle and something every NFL fan gets excited about, and for good reason.

But if you're looking for what's going to help your team improve more than anything, that's happening in the weight rooms, film rooms and practice fields from those already on rosters across the NFL. 

It's happening with assistant coaches and staff that most fans of the team couldn't even name. 

Development is much less sexy to talk about, but far more important than the actual draft. 

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