Draft Myths Debunked: That Pick is a Reach

With the Seattle Seahawks trouncing of the Denver Broncos last night, the 2014 NFL off season officially began. So while ESPN will be showing loops of smiling Pete Carroll and sad Peyton Manning face, Houston Texans fans will be happy to see this season in our rearview mirror and move on to more happy subjects, like the 2014 NFL Draft.

Blake Bortles
Blake Bortles

I wrote a couple of articles last week, including a piece comparing and contrasting who I see as the two viable quarterback candidates to be selected first overall in May, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles.

Of the reactions I received to the article, I saw a consistent sentiment. The consistency did not pertain to their feelings on Bortles’ talents. Those ranged from optimism, to lukewarm or unsure, to downright disapproving. The common theme was that readers felt they would only be happy with a Bortles selection if the Texans traded down with another team, and then picked the Central Florida signal caller.

The reason for this feeling is the prevalence of draft analysis today. The NFL draft has taken on a life of its own, and with many fans the draft is more interesting and popular than the NFL season. There is an abundance of intrigue and every fan base can be equally involved, as opposed to the NFL postseason. It is also a way for diehard college football fans to measure the success of their program as the NFL is the most non-biased arbiter of talent there is; all the NFL cares about is winning and selects players accordingly.

With that analysis comes group think though, as it is hard to find voices to contrary from the norm. That group think can sometimes supersede common sense. The overarching desire to only select Bortles with anything other than the top pick is a prime example of a manifestation of that group think.

Would it be nice to trade down and select the top player on the Texans’ board? Absolutely. To that end, I think that is the reason there is so much talk linking Texas A&M Quarterback Johnny Manziel. I don’t think there is a chance that a coach like Bill O’Brien who runs a regimented offensive system will want Manziel, but it is the worst kept secret in the NFL that the Cleveland Browns owner and front office are enamored with Johnny Football.

If the Texans can convince Cleveland they have serious interest in Manziel, which could keep Cleveland from taking a cheaper offer from the St. Louis Rams who own the second overall pick and have announced a willingness to trade down. A Texans trade down would not give the bounty that the Rams received in 2012 for the Washington Redskins trading up to select Robert Griffin III, but it would involve at the very least the 26th overall pick.

Let’s say for conversation sake that the Texans were unable to trade down. As Dan Pompei pointed out, the top pick hasn’t been traded since 2001, despite numerous owners of the top pick trying to do just that. Let’s further suppose that Bortles is Bill O’Brien’s pick to quarterback the Texans and thus is the top player on the Texans’ board.

If this was the case, it would not be a reach to take him first overall. Having said that, NFL Draft writers and fans would scream from the heavens that the selection was just that; a reach. But why, because draft prognosticators placed Bortles’ value in the middle of the first round?

If the Texans determine that Bortles is their guy, and they know he would not still be there at 33, selecting him at 1 would not be a reach. There is no way to know where other teams rank him, and maybe he would even last into the 20’s (I doubt it), but it doesn’t matter. It comes down to what the Texans feel about him, not the other 31 teams in the league.

All this was not meant to be a commentary on why the Texans should take Bortles. It was meant to point out that the only time a team truly reaches on a player is when there is strong reason to believe that same player would be there for the team’s next selection. Even then, there is no way of truly knowing.

This is why successful teams set their boards and follow them. While it is smart to play the perceived wants and needs of other teams, the Texans primary need is to determine which players have the most value to their team.

While I love draft season, the presence of armchair general managers is annoying. Everyone is an expert at the time of the draft, but there is little to no accountability a year or two later. Keep that in mind the next time you see someone criticize a pick because it was 10 or 15 slots too early, in their opinion of course.

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