NFL Draft

When it comes to successfully building your ideal team, the yearly NFL Draft is my favorite example. I’m kind of a geek about it. In fact, in the late 1990’s I created a draft algorithm that would predict who would be picked next based on constantly evolving factors. Like I said, geek.

The draft has thrown many surprises at us over the years, but one of the most memorable was in 2007, when the Green Bay Packers drafted a defensive lineman, Justin Harrell, during the first round of picks. Lots of draft professionals didn’t quite understand the decision.

Many people felt that, based on his injury history, Harrell had no business going in the first round.

It seemed our algorithm was wrong and it took some deep evaluation to figure out why.

What could Green Bay have seen that we missed? Were we wrong? Why? Could the Packers simply have over-drafted?

We dug in knowing that time would bear out whether or not it was the right call, but like any personnel move it’s impossible to know if it was a good call until after time.

Green Bay chose Harrell based on objective measurements like speed, height and weight rather than considering only his rank in the overall scheme of the NFL.  But they ALSO chose him because they measured the risk of losing him against the value of the remaining players on the board.  In short, they knew the market.

Green Bay’s scouting team put more value on these numbers in relation to their team’s needs. Instead of choosing their first round pick based on talent alone and which players were most wanted in general, Green Bay paid more attention to what Harrell could do for their team. In addition, they saw Harrell as valuable, not only for their team, but for other teams as well and determined that if they didn’t scoop him in the first round, Harrell would not be an option for them during the second round pick, 32 picks later. And just about every player left on the board was – essentially – the same value to them.

How can we know this?  Two ways.

1.  When Green Bay’s pick came up again 32 picks later, they traded way down the board to gain extra picks – so MORE was better than SOONER meaning the players were all valued roughly the same to them.

2. Look back on the history of the 32 players who were selected by the teams who picked after Green Bay. Only a few had worthwhile careers and they were all selected in the late 1st / early 2nd round….around the same spot Justin Harrell was projected to have been taken and before the Packers picked again.

Essentially, Green Bay took stock of what additions their team needed and determined that one of the most important positions they had to fill was an under tackle. Then scouts determined which players were valuable as under tackles and evaluated the chances that these players would be available in follow-up rounds.

What Green Bay saw was that, regardless of Harrell’s listed position, he was one of few options that year who would excel as an under tackle.  Plus, the value of drafting him early vs. drafting another player rated only slightly better who didn’t address a need or whose skill set group presented larger later in the draft meant he had scarcity compared to those who might have had a slightly better grade.

When they viewed him through these lenses, Green Bay chose Harrell confidently and utilized him for three seasons.

The ability to assess a player outside his overall talent level and instead see him for his value on your particular team, is an invaluable skill, and it translates outside professional sports.

When you’re building your perfect team, do you pay more attention to the overall package your potential employee presents, or do you know how to hone in on the skills you actually need?

It is a viable possibility that the perfect salesperson for your team may not be a top pick in other categories, but do you really need him (or her, this is 2014) to perform duties outside sales?

Do you know the market? Do you know how many exist and who’s open to moving? At any given time do you know when someone who is perfect for your team is available? Do you know when you’re taking a risk?

Maybe the NFL has it right, and the perfect team isn’t composed of a handful of all-stars, but is made up of a group of players who know where their strengths lie and how to capitalize on them.

Take an assessment of the methods you use to choose new team members. Do you put emphasis on each player being utility or can you see unique value in each potential employee? Are you on track to build a group of successful individuals or en route to creating a superstar team?

Oh, so how did Justin Harrell pan out?  He didn’t.  His injuries crept in and his career was uneventful at best.  BUT was Green Bay wrong?  No, because 2007 was also recently rated the worst draft in the last ten years.  So what did they REALLY risk?  Not much, and they knew that, because they understood the market, scarcity, skill sets, and team needs.  They didn’t just hunt for heads….