April 26, 2013
As much as ESPN and the NFL Network try to make the draft about the players, the truth is all professional sports drafts are about the GM’s. Because of the immediate expectations on these players, in the NFL more than any other league, General Managers and the franchises who employ them, live and die by draft day decisions. Which sounds like it should add up to compelling television drama, but it just doesn’t. It should also be acknowledged that my skewed view of the NFL draft comes from the perspective of a Chicago Bears fan. So I have a long history of mustering minimal interest on draft day, only to have it squashed by that first Bears pick, which is inevitably a desperate reach, a risky gamble on a guy with an established injury history, or a flat-out-crap-your-pants-on-live-television choke job (some of us still remember the Stan Thomas pick). It happened again last night, with the Bears first pick at #20, when they took offensive lineman, Kyle Long, from Oregon.
I don’t know a thing about Kyle Long, other than he is Howie Long’s kid, and Chris Long’s brother, and I only know that because Chris Berman shouted it at me from my television last night. So if I don’t know anything about him, or anything about the other players available to draft at pick #20, how can I make a fair judgement on the Bears decision to pick Kyle Long? This is where playing fantasy sports, especially auction drafts, provides some fundamental education on the GM’s responsibility for building a competitive roster. Successful fantasy players prepare for a draft with specific roster targets in mind, but their overall objective is to maximize value. They have a pre-determined budget, or a set position in the draft order, and the objective is to get the best return within that framework. Getting the best return comes from knowing the market before the draft, and reading the changes to the market during the draft. And it’s no different for every General Manager representing every NFL team sitting in their “war room” during the draft last night.
The General Manager for the Chicago Bears, Phil Emery, threw up all over himself at pick #20. All market indicators prior to the draft placed Kyle Long in the second round. The progression of the first round up to pick #20 left a lot of market-valued assets on the table for the Bears. North Carolina defense end Sylvester Williams, Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, and Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, were a few of the prized players available to Emery. Not to mention that, with those players available, the pick itself at #20 had gained significant value. If the Bears didn’t like the same players as the market (and clearly they didn’t), Emery could have traded the pick for a max return. He blew it by taking Kyle Long, and overpaying for a player the market didn’t value anywhere close to that spot.
NFL analysts often say the draft can’t be graded until a few years later, when the players have had the opportunity to prove their value (or not) to the teams who drafted them. But that’s wrong. That again makes the incorrect assumption that the draft is about the player and not about the General Manager. The NFL is an isolated exercise in the economics of roster construction and franchise management, and it can be performance-graded as such. The objective with every draft, just like every isolated game, is to “win the day.” Phil Emery failed last night. He failed in last year’s draft as well, when he took Shea McClellin, an undersized defensive end from Boise State, who the market didn’t like at that spot either.
Kyle Long and Shea McClellin may turn out to be fine players for the Chicago Bears. It does not change the fact that Phil Emery is not good at this stuff.
- Arkush: ‘Phil Emery Just Blew That Pick’ (chicago.cbslocal.com)
- Kyle Long: Another Phil Emery surprise (espn.go.com)
- You Gotta be Bleepin Me! (sportsclairvoyant.com)
- 2013 NFL Draft: Chicago Bears could add value by moving back (chicagonow.com)