GM Boot camp lesson 5

Over the years I always enjoyed waiting for the Raiders to make their selection during the NFL draft. It seemed as if you could count on the pundits pointing out all of the obvious players still on the board, explain in great depth the needs the Raiders had and then out of the blue the Raiders would simply take the fastest player left. It was entirely illogical to everyone except Al Davis.

Then it would happen–that magic moment when the words “best player available” would escape someone’s lips. 

Pundits aren’t alone in discussing the merits of selecting the best undrafted football player when a team makes their selection. Bill Polian and many other GMs routinely espoused their feelings regarding the strategy.

But did they actually follow that strategy?  Usually the answer is a resounding, and unsurprising, “No!”

Today’s lesson is this: no team drafts exclusively using the “best player available” method nor could they even if they wished to do so.

First, determining who is the best player remaining is by its nature a subjective exercise. Second, the abundance of choice has a dramatic impact on the decision-making process. Finally, the things we value inherently determine our decisions:

Value systems, and therefore the behavioral systems they support, vary according to the nature and origin of their sensitivity to the motivational state of a subject, its knowledge about its environment, as well as their intrinsic timescales. Decision-making systems vary in related ways, bringing different information to bear on largely similar concerns

Imagine I have the clothes on my back, $100 in my pocket and nothing else–no house, no job, no food. It’s imperative in very short order that I address critical needs–food, water, shelter. In my situation my priorities are quite clear and affect my judgment. Now imagine I’m gainfully employed, with a house and just finished a pork tenderloin sandwich. What I do with that $100 is starkly different in this scenario.

To put it in football terms let’s imagine the Colts won enough games last year to earn the 3rd pick. Let’s assume for the moment that Jim Irsay was sincere about the cap problems and still enacts this brave new era–Manning is gone for the purposes of our exercise. Do they pick a QB? Do they move down? Do they draft the best player left? Do they seriously draft Trent Richardson, Matt Kalil or one of the other flavors-of-the-week your scouts have next on the board? Is that guy Ryan Tannehill? In this scenario what the Colts likely will not simply draft the best player according to their board. It wouldn’t matter anyway because there’s no ideal way to determine the best player anyway.

In reality, every team fills out their draft board based on need to some degree. It’s a simple fact. Teams cannot judge players objectively. Front offices always base complete their draft board with some form of need in mind. 

So this year before you criticize a GM (or owner) for his selection remember that he has a differing set of values than nearly else on the planet. When you look at his draft board you’ll find that perhaps his decisions wer no more irrational than those made by guys professing a love for “best player available.”



Todd Smith

About Todd Smith

Todd Smith is a part-time sportswriter who spends too much time arguing on Twitter. What he really loves is eating poorly and watching football. He got his first Colts t-shirt in 1984 shortly after the Mayflower trucks arrived and has never given up on his hometown team. He also still holds to the belief that Kordell Stewart stepped out of the end zone and thus cheated the Colts.