NFL Draft Philosophy: Select Best Talent or Need in Round 1?

It is highly doubtful that the Jets entered the 2015 NFL Draft aiming to upgrade their defensive line in the first round. Yet with the 6th overall pick, they selected USC defensive end Leonard Williams, who most are calling the best player in the draft. Now they have an absolutely scary front-3 rotation with Williams joining Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, and Sheldon Richardson. This is why it’s rarely a bad idea for a team to add a very talented player to an already talented position group. It’s also the benefit of drafting the best player available instead of just hoping to fill a need.

The Rams took a similar approach. The running back position was not exactly a glaring hole on their roster. We at Football Film Room were very excited to see what Tre Mason could do with a full year as the feature back after showing great quickness and vision in his rookie season. But Georgia running back Todd Gurley was too good of a player to pass up, even though the Rams had more pressing needs at offensive line and wide receiver. Now they have a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield that they wouldn’t have had if they were more focused on drafting for need. The later rounds provided them with the opportunity to address their offensive line, by the way.

There are plenty of other similar examples from the first round of this year’s draft. The Vikings and Texans weren’t desperate for corners but drafted them anyway with the 11th and 16th picks respectively. The Saints were pretty solid at offensive tackle, but decided to take Andrus Peat with the 13th overall pick. Now they have the option to move players along their offensive line and find the best fit.

Was defensive end the most pressing need for Denver? No, but they traded up for Shane Ray anyway, and now opposing teams will have to worry about yet another very good pass rusher when they play the Broncos. The same argument could be made for the Colts with wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.

One could even make a similar case about the Titans and Marcus Mariota. Quarterback was not Tennessee’s biggest need. In fact, it was actually one of the better position groups on their roster because of Zach Mettenberger. The Titans felt they couldn’t pass up on a talent like Mariota, though, and it’s tough to argue that decision.

Sure, there are also examples of teams drafting based on a glaring need and doing so successfully. The ideal draft scenario for any team is to select the best player available and hope that he also happens to fill the biggest hole on the roster. But those options aren’t always available, particularly in the first round. When that’s the case, teams are better off selecting the best player available or trading out of their spot.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for selecting players in the NFL Draft. But going after talent instead of need, especially in the first round, is the safest way to avoid reaching for a player and wasting a pick.

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