To Tier the Draft, or Not to Tier the Draft. That is the Redskins Million Dollar Question

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The NFL Draft will kickoff April 25, in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo)

“You are what your record says you are.”
— Two-Time Super Bowl Winning Coach and Hall of Famer, Bill Parcells.

In a moment of vulnerability, Parcells reflected on the shortcomings of his 2006 Cowboys team. His team had just suffered a crushing 21-20 loss in a Wild Card match-up against the Seattle Seahawks. It was another season hovering around .500, and another season without a playoff victory.

After finishing the season 9-7, Parcells’ team once again did not live up to “the most talented team on-paper” hype that typically is expected while playing in the Lone Star state. His sentiment was that although his team claimed to be a Super Bowl contender, their failure, miscues, and ultimately their record, was truly a reflection of his team’s 2006 campaign.

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How Does this Apply to the Redskins?

Jay Gruden enters his sixth season as the Head Coach of the Washington Redskins. His team has accumulated a 35-44-1 record under his tenure. (Carcamo/GETTY)

Parcells’ now famous quote rings true in the nation’s capital, as the Washington Redskins have been stuck in neutral under the guidance of Coach Jay Gruden.  This year proved to be another under-achieving season, and another postseason in which the Redskins and their faithful fan-base spectated the playoffs, as opposed to participating in it.

Ending the season at 7-9, the team is not the desolate wasteland some fans will lead you to believe. But they are also nowhere near “close” as Bruce Allen asserts. The team is a reflection of their record– an overall average team.

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Although the team has a few brick-and-mortar building blocks, they are devoid of any real high-end talent. And here they stand, third in the NFC East, rightly where they belong.

Considering the rut that the term is currently in, it’s time for the team to be introspective and realize “who they are”; a team who could stand for improvement across the board. Therefore, I propose that the team take a Tier-Based Draft Approach and accumulate talent, which I will explain in a moment.  

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Vertical vs. Horizontal Drafting

Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa was ranked by NFL.com’s Chad Reuter as one of the top players in college football following the 2018 NFL Draft. (Marvin Fong, The Plain Dealer)

Before we get to my vision of Tier-Based Drafting, let’s look at the typical draft process.

There are two general methods to the draft process, a vertical approach, and a horizontal approach. Vertical drafting is when an organization simply ranks players by talent from top to bottom. For example, player one is ranked the “best in class” regardless of position. When he is selected, the entire draft room checks off this player’s name as “taken” and they continue down the list. In this method, the War Room monitors the “best player available” and follows along their consensus draft board as the selections roll in.

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The advantage of vertical drafting is that it should be a seamless process on draft day. You’ve spent months of research constructing your board, and now you simply let the board do the talking. Since the board was constructed in advance, there should be minimal disagreements when making a selection.

However, some teams prefer the Horizontal Drafting approach. This is when an organization assigns a grade to a prospect and uses relative comparison to players currently on the roster. For example, (hypothetically) Brian Burns is graded as 7.3 and is only slightly better than incumbent OLB Preston Smith who earned a 7.0 for the season. This may deter a team from selecting this player because the net difference between the two is marginal at .3. This can be a more complicated process, since positional coaches tend to have attachment to players they have worked with, and biases can creep in.

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Horizontal Drafting
is more grounded in the fact that need supersedes talent. If two potential prospects have a similar grade, the tie-breaker goes to the larger perceived need on the team.

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Tier-Based Drafting

What I’d like the Redskins to consider is a marriage of the two. The Redskins should enter the 2019 NFL Draft with an open mind and without restrictions on who they should select and where.

They should take a Tier-Based Drafting approach, which bears its roots from fantasy football.

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In this method, teams will use their vertical draft board and construct their Big Board from 1-150. At this point, they would then categorize their players by tiers, regardless of position, but more based on draft grade and perceived impact.  

Here is a mid-February example, produced by the author. All rankings are subjective and subject to change.  

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As you can see from above, the players are grouped by projected impact at the NFL level.


How the Redskins Should Approach the Draft:

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Considering the Redskins perceived talent-gap among their counterparts in the NFC and especially the NFC East, the team should focus on accumulating talent as opposed to addressing need. As their peers have added standouts such as Ezekiel Elliott, Odell Beckham Jr., and Saquon Barkley, the Redskins have shown the propensity to play it safe and draft for need.

In 2017, a player fell out of their “tier” and the Redskins pounced. And as a result, they found a potential defensive captain and leader of the program in Jonathan Allen. He was pegged as a potential top-ten pick, but fell due to shoulder arthritis.

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Derwin James was the 17th selection in the NFL Draft. He rewarded the San Diego Chargers by becoming a first-team All Pro and starting safety for the AFC Pro Bowl team. (Flaherty/GETTY)

In 2018, a similar situation occurred in which Derwin James was dangling in front of Redskins at pick 13. By most accounts, he was rated as a tier above Da’ron Payne. But the team decided to focus on a team need as opposed to the best prospect available. Although the Payne selection provide a piece to the puzzle, the team missed out on an All-Pro talent.  

Missing out on blue-chip prospects like this compound, and after a few seasons you are left with a mediocre roster as the Redskins are now. Although Payne is a solid building block, we missed out on one of the best safeties in the AFC because of need. And it was no secret either– James was the consensus better prospect.

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Conclusion

Brian Burns is projected to be a top 15 selection in this year’s NFL Draft.
(Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports)

Considering that the team is not projected to be a playoff participant, let alone Super Bowl contender, the team should focus their sights on the best talent available. Build based on tiers, and work toward sustained success.

As seen on social media, many fans are arguing for a quarterback in round one based on need. But I argue, if Dwayne Haskins or Kyler Murray isn’t on the board, the team should pass. The worst thing the team can do is reach for need and simply to fill in gaps in the roster.

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The team needs a talent influx, and that is addressed by taking the best player available.

Sources:

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Gabriel, Greg. “An Insiders Guide Into the NFL Scouting Process.” Bleacher

    Report, Turner Broadcasting System, 6 Feb. 2014, bleacherreport.com/

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    articles/1950498-an-insiders-guide-into-the-nfl-scouting-process.

Kelly, Danny. “Not Just Throwing Darts.” SB Nation, Vox Media, www.sbnation.com/

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    nfl/2014/3/6/5473554/2014-nfl-draft-scouting-process-big-board.

 

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