What "Best Player Available" in the NFL Draft Actually Means
It’s commonly understood that the Packers always try to draft the “best player available” in the draft. It’s a truism that’s been repeated so often that it’s basically accepted at face value. It’s actual meaning, though, deserves some unpacking.
How do teams decide who to draft?
It’s important to understand how teams go about determining which players they’d like to draft. Each team has a full staff of scouts devoted to evaluating players and determining their value to the team. From these evaluations, teams construct their “board,” a visual representation of the relative values of these picks, sorted by overall value and position value.
Here you can see an example of the Dallas Cowboys’ board in action. This picture was accidentally released to the press during the draft a couple years ago, and it’s very helpful for our understanding of a couple things.
First, it’s very instructive to see how an actual NFL team goes about constructing a board. Second, it’s easy to see that the Cowboys have achieved their current level of success almost completely by accident.
What does “best player available” mean?
So if every team has it’s board, it stands to reason that every team will choose what it considers the best player available when its turn comes around. The only difference is in how teams determine what “best” means to them.
For some, “best” means the best possible player, regardless of position. This is most often seen when a team selects a player who doesn’t seem to meet an immediate need and could often be backfilling what’s already a position of strength. In Packers terms, Damarious Randall is a good example of this sort of idea. The Packers already had a number one cornerback, but they considered Randall to be the best overall player available and selected him anyway.
But the word “best” is a flexible term, and its meaning is vague enough that it could mean different things to different people. For some teams, “best” will mean a player that is the most valuable because he addresses an immediate need. For teams drafting at the top of the first round, “best” will usually mean this, which is why quarterbacks often go early.
What do the Packers mean by “best player available”?
The Packers paint themselves as falling into the first category, but I believe they’re actually a better fit for the second, albeit for a very specific reason.
Like most teams, the Packers try to maximize value with their picks, and the easiest way to do that is to target players who fit a position that needs a lot of bodies.
The five most resource intensive positions on a football team are (in no particular order):
- Defensive line
- Offensive line
- Defensive back
- Wide receiver
Each of those position commonly occupies five to eight roster spots, and teams that want to succeed in the draft allocate most of their resources toward those five positions.
Guess which five positions the Packers have spent the most draft picks on in the last four drafts.
As far as the Packers are concerned, it’s reasonable to conclude that “best” means “most likely to help us fortify a resource intensive position.” A player may not be the most flashy or dynamic or who the players want, but he’ll almost always be in a position to help the Packers, because he’ll be in a position that will see the field a lot.