We have this conversation fairly often around here, but I wanted to put this in one place.
First and foremost, no. I'm not counting this team out yet. But the inevitable "What's the proper strategy" conversation has already come up quite a few times around here. Some people are stating we need to use our top pick on a safety or corner, and use our third rounder on a right tackle. Others are saying that wide receiver and nose tackle need to be our priorities.
What a lot of people (I say a lot because there are a few) aren't saying is: Let's see what's available before we decide what we should pick.
I've flipped back and forth myself on which strategy is more important between Best Player Available and Need. It's a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. Best player available makes a whole lot of sense, but does it make sense if the best player is a quarterback and you just drafted a quarterback? The money tied up in the quarterback position alone would scare you away from that.
Most of the time, people answer that question with, "well, that's a different case, you go best player available that's not a quarterback". Which is a logical and structurally sound answer. Except the problem there becomes you're no longer drafting (or signing) a player based on BPA, you're now including need.
I see a lot of people believe it needs to be one way or the other. Draft for need, draft by what's available. I disagree with that assessment. With all things, the answer probably lies in the middle, and that's what I (in my opinion, I am not some kind of mastermind, and I don't pretend to have all the answers) firmly believe is the case here.
I think BPA should have a higher weight in the formula, but I think need has to come into play. To do that, I would find it necessary to point out the positions that I believe are the weakest, and after meeting with my staff and my general manager, asign them a ranking in order of how much we need them. I would limit myself to five positions of need. Why? You only have a limited amount of resources.
If, though, one year you have 16 draft picks and an extra $35 million to spend, you can expand that list. If you have 3 picks and $5 million in cap space, you narrow it down further.
So if I decided my top five positions of need were:
And they were in that order, I'd assign a number to each, determining their value. Anything that isn't one of these positions gets a static value that is slightly less than the lowest value. And all the "need" positions wouldn't have to have unique values. If I determined that right tackle and safety were equally my biggest need, I'd assign them both a similar value.
I'm no mathematician, in fact, I'm fairly math stupid. However, I believe that this value shouldn't shift a player's overall value too much. If you give this value too much weight it puts entirely too much weight into team need. Team need should play a factor, but not an overwhelmingly large one. Perhaps a 1-10 number.
Next, I would need to grade all players, free agents or draftees, based on many different factors... FBI (football intelligence), scheme fit, skills, production, explosion, etc. Need would not go into my individual player evaluation. I'd likely make this scale in a 1-100 scale to allow for some variation.
After I was done grading out each prospect, I'd add my "need" value to each of their scores to create an overall BPA/Need number, and create my draft board accordingly. Maybe just add them. I don't know. Again, if I were in a position where this really needed to be figured out, I'd put some great math minds to work to help me come up with a valid formula.
Again, I don't pretend to know everything. But I think some sort of hybrid model, not necessarily my own by the way, is necessary when determining draft and free agency strategy, otherwise you wind up like the Lions under Millen.
And of course, there's always a little something called "the gut". When it's your choice and you have a player that you have graded higher than the rest and there's another guy out there who you really like that you think could contribute, sometimes or coach or GM is going to say, "We're going off the grid with this pick, please believe in me". But that can't be a regular occurence.