Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Every team seems to say that it drafts the true best player available, but that’s highly unlikely given the way the draft tends to unfold. We know that it’s not true for Dallas, as evidenced by the Floyd debacle in 2013.
It’s fun to say that all a team needs to do is draft the top player on its board, but there are a lot of problems with such a strategy. First, it ignores position scarcity. Does it really make sense to draft the top player when there’s one ranked just behind him who is also scarce and can’t be replaced in a later round (or in free agency)? Just as drafting the top position of need “no matter what” is shortsighted, so is a pure best-player-available strategy.
The truth is that a pure need strategy, although far from ideal, is actually better than a best-player-available strategy. With the need approach, teams are at least fairly certain what their main needs are and which are most pressing. But there’s all kinds of uncertainty in the draft; how does a team know that their best player available is really the best player available? They don’t.
The thing about the draft is that teams are competing with 31 other organizations trying to do the same thing in uncovering value.
When a player is ranked really high on your board but he’s still available, that’s awesome, but it probably means he’s an outlier in your rankings, and thus necessarily being overvalued. That alone isn’t a reason to not draft someone—all other things equal, drafting the top player available is good—but the problem is that “all other things” typically aren’t equal.
Those two ideas—position scarcity and the uncertainty inherent to any set of rankings—are why “best player available” is a rigid, suboptimal draft strategy. Ultimately, the Cowboys should weigh both their board and their needs; the larger the need, the more you can move down your board, and the higher a player on your board, the less he needs to play at a position of need.
In drafting that way, the 'Boys can create a natural buffer to account for the fact that their board isn't infallible.