Best Player Available.
It's a simple idea, but a very misleading term. "Best Player Available" is an ideal that is given great prominence during draft season. It is used to oversimplify the draft process and describe a strategy where teams simply select the best player available every time they are on the clock.
Of course, while that sounds brilliant, it is actually a very flawed, misleading thought process that is justified with the manipulation offered by hindsight.
Hindsight allows us to label successful draft picks as picks made with the Best Players Available strategy. It also allows us to use later successful picks to condemn failed draft picks as need selections because we can point to that player not being the best available at the time.
Never do we look back and say, "He was the best player available," when a top-ranked/graded player fails in the NFL.
Instead, we label it a reach or a need pick without even knowing the thought process that the team used. We can't know what teams are truly thinking when they make these decisions, and we also don't truly know how different teams rank different players.
Therefore, the idea that there is a consensus best player available is in itself an idea that only fools should believe.
Even if we transport ourselves into a world where every team ranks every player the same way, need is still very important to incorporate for successful roster construction. Best Player Available is a strategy that can work for teams that are completely rebuilding their rosters, but teams that are in greater need of short-term help to challenge for Super Bowls must prioritize players differently.
A team such as the Cincinnati Bengals showed off what not to do this year when they took two offensive tackles who are unlikely to play until 2016. They may have been the best players available, but they don't help the Bengals now, during what should be considered a potential championship window.
On the opposite extreme, the San Diego Chargers were very aggressive in pursuit of a player who can help them immediately at a major position of need.
To jump up just two spots in the first round of the draft, the Chargers gave up a fourth- and fifth-round pick, so they could select running back Melvin Gordon. Gordon was the second running back taken in the first round and just the second first-round running back since 2012.
It would be hard to argue that trading up for a running back prospect who doesn't appear to be a transcendent talent in the first round is a smart long-term move. However, with Philip Rivers' age, the Chargers are rightfully less concerned with the long term and more concerned with the short term.
Over the short term, the Chargers are likely hoping that Gordon can have a Jamaal Charles-like impact on their offense.
Charles is a player whom Gordon has been compared to very often for a couple of reasons. The most obvious reasons is that they are aesthetically similar on the field. Gordon wore No. 25 in the red of Wisconsin with dark dreadlocks falling out of his helmet. A sight that is eerily similar to Charles' each Sunday.
Surpassed his appearance, Gordon is also a back who primarily relies on his speed to be successful. While it's unfair to label Charles as just a speed back, it is a massive part of his skill set.
In the NFL, Charles has 71 plays of 20-plus yards in regular-season games. Twenty of those plays have gone for at least 40 yards. His explosiveness over seven-plus seasons in the league has been a constant for the Kansas City Chiefs, dating back to an impressive rookie season that was limited by exposure.
Gordon will be hoping to replicate what Charles has done in the NFL, but his exposure shouldn't be limited as a rookie. Larry Johnson blocked Charles' path to the field during his rookie season. Johnson wasn't a star at that point, but he was an established player—the kind of player the Chargers don't currently have.
Branden Oliver, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown are the other backs on the Chargers depth chart.
Each player is best suited to be a backup or a receiving option out of the backfield. Gordon is the only player who figures to be a consistent ball-carrier on first and second down while still staying on the field some for third-down plays. That should put him in position to make an early impact while producing a big statistical output.
With the top rookie quarterbacks expected to struggle early and Todd Gurley recovering from a torn ACL before sharing the backfield with Tre Mason, Gordon should be the favorite for the Rookie of the Year award.
In the Chargers offense, Gordon should spend a lot of time next to Rivers in shotgun formations. With a spread-out passing attack to help create space outside, this will make Gordon's speed very dangerous when he gets to the edge.
As this play highlights, Gordon has the kind of speed with which he can easily turn the cornerback before accelerating downfield for first downs and big plays.
Keeping Gordon out of space is going to be incredibly difficult for NFL defenses. Even though the Chargers don't have a great offensive line, Rivers and the passing game will draw enough attention to keep the defense balanced in their alignments.
Gordon doesn't always need to be given space, but when he is, he can be very aggressive with his acceleration.
His speed can be a double-edged sword because it will often make him too aggressive in pursuit of big plays outside. Gordon regularly made bad decisions in college but was able to overcome those because he was so much more athletic than the players he was competing with.
Obviously the athletes in the NFL will be better equipped to handle Gordon's athleticism, but he should still be effective, if a bit too inconsistent, when working between the tackles.
Gordon is nowhere near as consistent or creative between the tackles as Gurley, but the Chargers have big bodies upfront who should be able to give him enough space to be effective. Being effective enough to stay on the field is all that will matter to Gordon.
He can outproduce his fellow rookies by just getting enough touches to complement the big plays that should be inevitable in the Chargers offense.
Adding to the feeling of inevitability surrounding Gordon's potential big plays is his potential usage in the passing game. He saw very limited exposure as a receiver in college, but that should change in the NFL, even though the Chargers have multiple receiving backs.
Woodhead and Brown are the two primary receiving options. Woodhead could spend a lot more time lining up out wide this year because of Eddie Royal's departure, while Brown likely won't see the field too often.
Although the numbers are lessened by Woodhead's absence through injury, Chargers backs caught 83 passes from Rivers last season. That number should grow if Woodhead is healthy. Gordon could comfortably expect 30 catches to complement his production in the running game.
Over the long term, Gordon may be seen as a need or reach pick for the Chargers because of better players who emerge at other spots.
However, if Gordon can live up to his potential early in his career and balance the Chargers offense, then he will be worth the investment to a potential Super Bowl contender. Playing on a potential playoff team while being in position to outproduce your peers puts Gordon in position to put on a show as a rookie.