The NFL Draft is, as I write this, a month away. There is also a pesky lockout going on, so outside of annoying labor talk and posturing the football league is very short on news to get excited about. I can’t think about the NFL right now – especially because free agent speculation and draft preparation would normally be consuming so much time right now. To pass the time, then, I am forced to think about things I normally wouldn’t to fill the NFL void. One interesting thing I have been considering is the different types of first round draft picks a team could make, how those meet media and public expectations, and what that could tell us about the team and where they are at. Here are four of the general possibilities I have considered:
Pick player in position of obvious need – this is the most obvious possibility – a team clearly needs a player to fill a particular position – say a QB or a OT – everyone knows it, and they pick the best player they can to fill that need. That’s not a surprising situation, but there are a few conclusions that can be drawn from it – the problems or needs a football team has are the same as they seem to be, and the teams intentions and situation can be reported on accurately. That all indicates that a team is reasonably open and transparent, and the more open a team is the easier it is to trust media reports surrounding that team. Knowing how much you can trust what is reported about a team is valuable for sports bettors because it varies significantly from team to team.
Pick player in position where they already have established starter – This is where things can get interesting – if a NFL team picks a player when they already have a capable player under contract in the same position. There are a couple of possibilities here. First, the pick could mean that they are signaling change – moving on to a younger, perhaps cheaper player because they are not content with what they had. This is quite an aggressive move, and could be a sign that a team believes they are close to being a strong contender. It also could be that the team takes a redundant player because they are patiently thinking of the future – drafting not for next year but for a couple of years from now when a change is needed so they will have a seasoned player in place. That’s a sign of a team that is clearly confident with what they have, and obviously feels they are well stocked so that they can look that far ahead instead of addressing more immediate concerns. A team who drafts a backup early is a team sports bettors need to pay attention to.
Going totally off the board – The most obvious recent example of this is Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Raiders drafted him 7th overall in 2009 – before Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin, and well before anyone thought he was going to go. It was the definition of a stretch pick. The most obvious reaction when a team makes a draft pick like this – especially a football team as poorly managed as the Raiders – is that they have made a blunder. While that can often be the case – and appears to be for Oakland in this case – you can’t really judge a situation like this until a year or two later at the earliest. The team obviously has seen something that others don’t in order to make the pick when they made it. Until we see if they are on to something based on how well the player performs as a rookie and in his second year we can’t know if they were right, or if they misjudged as people expect. the good news for bettors is that the betting public will almost always assume that a team that stretches has made a big mistake – like when the Texans chose Mario Williams over Reggie Bush – and they are likely to react to that mistake with force. If the decision isn’t as bad as it seems then there is often an opportunity to find value.
Pick the safe player – Often times when a team has a clear need there are a couple of players who seem almost equally well suited to filling those needs. Often times one will be seen to be a safer player. He might not have the upside of the other player, but he’s perhaps more ready to perform right away, and he’s less likely to wash out. In these situations we can learn a lot about the attitude toward risk that a NFL team has, and the confidence they have in their coaching staff to develop players. The safer pick isn’t necessarily a bad pick, but it shows that the team is more cautious than one that may pick the riskier player because they are confident in their ability to maximize his potential. In some but certainly not all circumstances a more risk-adverse team can be attractive to wise NFL handicappers, making them winning sports bettors.