Just like a I did for baseball, I’ll lay out how I would approach a team-building philosophy for the NFL. I must admit that I know less about this sport.
-Head Coach is the most important position to fill. A good head coach, like Jim Harbaugh with Alex Smith (and maybe Colin Kaepernick), can prop up an average quarterback. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if they are offensive or defensive minded as long as they are strong in game managers. They are rare though and worth paying big money.
-However, a coach should never have full team control. Every coach thinks he wants it. Bill Parcels famously said, “If they want me to cook the meal, I should be able to pick out the groceries.” I agree. Your coach should have a lot of input on roster building; he should sit in the draft room and be consulted on every trade, but he should not have full roster control mainly because they work themselves to death just coaching.
-If you can save money at quarterback, it is much easier to build the rest of the roster. Call this the Russell Wilson effect. In this same vain, if you have a bad team, it’s a bad idea to draft a “franchise quarterback.” While you’re bad invest in the rest of the team using a journeyman gunslinger and then put in a quarterback to try hit the ground running. I like what the Raiders are doing in this arena.
-Intelligence is the most important factor in selecting a QB, at least combined with some throwing talent. Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick is probably smarter than Tom Brady but I’m not arguing that he is a better quarterback. But, Fitzpatrick, despite being physically inferior, is an average QB in the league. JaMarcus Russell, who had all the physical tools, is the biggest bust of all time.
-Accuracy trumps arm strength. For every, Joe Flacco (who is incredibly overrated depending on who you ask) there are three to four Kyle Bollers, guys who completely wash out.
-You can never have too many offensive lineman. You want to have a good offense, invest picks and money into the line.
-Blocking tight ends are great but get me a guy who will go over the middle and catch passes. Notice that all the great pass-catching tight ends, Tony Gonzalez as an example, always have people say, “Well he wasn’t a blocker when he started but now he’s good at it.”
-To find that tight end, scout 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6 former college basketball playing power forwards. Six-four is small for the NBA, but still pretty big for the NFL. Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Gonzalez — all of them have worked out and then some. I would keep going to that well until there is a bust.
-I want one really fast guy, whether at running back or wide receiver. No need to go all Al Davis and draft Darrius Hayward-Bey 10th overall out of nowhere but you should have one speedster.
-For receivers, I want one guy to be huge and one guy to be a head case complemented by a stand-up citizen type. Randy Moss was best with Cris Carter. Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are stand-up types. Each should be paired with a maniac.
-It seems like you either find good wide receivers in the first round or in the seventh round.
-Do not draft a running back in the first round. What’s the difference between Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy? If you held up pictures of both of them and asked me to tell you who was who, I would have no idea. Both are bruising runners, both played at Alabama, but Richardson has been a bust because he was picked high in the first round and Lacy has been a wonderful surprise because he was picked late in the second round.
-Tight ends, receivers and fullbacks are valuable in late rounds as special teams guys.
-Don’t ever draft a kicker. You can find them out on the open market for cheap.
-When in doubt draft the unnaturally quick big guy — Robert Quinn and Von Miller as examples. Don’t over think it.
-Although good defensive tackles are valuable, defensive ends are more valuable because even if they bust they at least have a chance to do something on special teams (even though Jeff Fisher disagrees).
-Personnel trumps scheme. Today’s best coaches mold their defenses based on who they have, i.e. Bill Bellichik.
-You can never have too many defensive backs. Soon the nickel defense is going to become the base defense for a lot teams as three-wide-receiver sets predominate. It’s hard enough to find one decent starting cornerback, much less three. When there is a legitimate stud out there, like Joe Hayden or Patrick Peterson, pull the trigger high in the first round. Corner is the most difficult position in football and it requires, quickness, speed, toughness and at least a modicum of intelligence.
-The old rules were that you don’t draft safeties too high. Any good corner can play free safety. I think this is starting to change too. If you think a safety, who may end up as the quarterback of the defense, is a potential difference maker, pull the trigger.
-Do not draft a non-pass-rushing linebacker in the first round. This is the effect of running backs being devalued. Middle linebacker is one of the key run stoppers, with defensive tackles, and with teams running less it’s not as important a position as it used to be.
-Defense wins championships. It’s a cliche but true. Even an amazing offensive team needs at least and average defense to win the Super Bowl.
-Try to not have more than one head case on either side of the ball.
-Avoid free agency in most scenarios. Most big-time free agent signings don’t work out.
-Extensions are a good idea. Most of your high paid players are willing to work out a deal to stay on a good team (if you have a bad team, you should let them go). See the Cowboys, Dallas.
-If someone offers you a bundle of picks for a player or pick, take the money and run. Those deals have a long history of working out.