FanPost

Lions Draft Strategy: Let’s Call a Spade a Spade

With the Super Bowl in the rear view mirror and free agency in full swing, the obsessed fans among us (which, if you are reading this, likely includes you) must pass the time speculating who the Detroit Lions may take in the NFL draft. As April 25 approaches, the phrase "best player available" (BPA) will be commonplace as sportswriters and draft pundit conjecture who the Lions may draft. BPA is a draft strategy in which, as its name suggests, a team chooses for each of its draft picks the player who is at the top of its draft board, regardless of that player’s position. The Lions purport to follow such a draft philosophy. Such a strategy avoids the pitfall of "reaching," or choosing a player who may not be the best player on a team’s draft board simply to address a position of need. BPA allows a team to comprise itself of the best talent, and results in a strong depth of playmakers. For example, Detroit bolstered its defensive line by adding Nick Fairley with the 13th overall pick in 2011 while passing on players who could fill positions of greater need, such as cornerback Prince Amukamara, who fell to 19th.

Although the simplicity of the BPA strategy is appealing, it is a draft fallacy that must be put to rest. Despite purporting to follow the BPA strategy, general manager Martin Mayhew has stated in recent years that drafting a quarterback in the first round was out of the question. Once an exception to the BPA strategy is made, a team’s decision makers are, by definition, no longer following the BPA strategy but instead are subscribing to its kin "BPA, but…" strategy, which will generally fall more toward the "needs based" end of the draft philosophy spectrum. In the case of the example above, Mayhew imposed a "BPA, but not a quarterback" strategy. This is for good reason – one of the strengths of the BPA strategy is that it results in a depth of talent, but unlike a rookie defensive tackle that can strengthen the rotation of a defensive line, a pro-bowl caliber backup quarterback is of marginal benefit. Regardless of the wisdom of passing on a backup quarterback in the first round, doing so when that quarterback is the best player available comes at the expense of the ability to call honestly your draft strategy BPA.

Moreover, a strict BPA strategy provides no guidance for draft day trades. At any given point in the draft, some player will be at the top of the Lions draft board. The Lions clearly do not trade up at every opportunity to take the best player available. Yet, sometimes they do. For example, the Lions traded up for Tahir Whitehead in the beginning of the fifth round in 2011. This decision was explained in a recent Detroit Free Press article: "[The Lions] had a lot of issues on special teams in 2011 and wanted to shore up the coverage units. The Lions also had two starting linebackers entering contract years, so they needed to add a player to groom for the future." Ironically, the author used this as an illustration of how the Lions used BPA. However, is clear that this trade was motivated by need and thus does not fall within the BPA framework.

Again, trading draft picks is governed by the "BPA, but…" school of thought. Generally this situation presents itself either as "BPA, but another team has just presented a lucrative trade offer for our pick," or "BPA, but since we aren’t on the clock we’ll have to trade up."

BPA may sound great in theory, but it is far too simplistic to apply effectively in practice. It is a strategy that can be adhered to in some rounds, but is certainly not advisable to be followed as gospel for the duration of a draft. Regardless of its merits, the Lions have proven themselves to be a team that does not follow the BPA strategy. I am by no means advocating that the Lions should take a more "needs based" approach. In fact, I believe that despite some miscalculated draft choices, such as Jahvid Best and Titus Young, who both have had problems with their heads, the Schwartz/Mayhew draft choices have been well-reasoned. The Lions should continue their draft strategy. However, because they don’t necessarily choose the BPA, the phrase "best player available" should be dropped from the lexicon of anyone describing the Lions’ draft strategy.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Pride Of Detroit or its writers.

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