CAPACCIO: Brandon Beane is right - the Bills shouldn't draft for need

It would be a mistake to reach for a player just to fill a need

Sal Capaccio
January 27, 2019 - 6:31 pm

Photo: Chuck Cook - USA TODAY Sports

“We won’t draft for need.”

In some way, shape, or form, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane has said that sentence multiple times since this past regular season ended and the team started preparations for this April‘s NFL Draft. Every time he says it, fans begin debating, arguing, or even downright mocking him for, what many believe, is a horrible philosophy for a 6-10 team that has plenty of needs around their roster.

Why wouldn’t they be looking to draft an offensive lineman? Or a wide receiver? Well, they might, and that doesn’t make what he said any less truthful.

I think what’s partly contributing to some people being upset when they hear that is they don’t fully understand what Beane means. So, I’m going to do my best to explain it, and also why I absolutely believe it’s the right approach.

Let’s start with what “not drafting for need” means and doesn’t mean.

 

What it doesn’t mean:

It doesn’t mean the Bills will automatically draft the best player available, regardless of position. Obviously, if the highest-rated player on their board is a quarterback, they’re not going to take one this year after already having drafted Josh Allen in the first round last year. If the best available player is a safety, they’re not going to draft him, already having Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde back there, both locked up for multiple more years.

It doesn’t mean they will completely ignore the needs they have when their turn to draft comes around. We all know they are thin on the offensive line and at wide receiver. They know that, and I’m sure feel they need other positions, as well. They’ll have that in mind when they’re on the clock.

 

What it does mean: (For the purpose of this, let’s say Beane feels their top need is offensive line):

By saying he won’t draft for need, Beane is essentially making it known they aren’t going to just grab their highest-rated offensive lineman simply because that is their biggest need. It might work out that the highest rated offensive lineman closely matches up to where they are choosing. Then they’ll probably take him, but not if that player is really far down on their overall board. It makes no sense to draft, say, the 32nd rated player on their board when picking ninth, even if the 32nd rated player is the best available lineman. The value of that isn’t even close to matching up. That’s reaching, which is never what you want to do.

It’s possible they could still grab that offensive lineman in the second round, given how much lower he is on their board, giving them one of the 10 best prospects in the draft and still addressing that need later with a player they like. However, if they take that lineman at nine, they’ve given up any opportunity to take one of the top players in the draft just to fill a current hole with a much less thought-of prospect.

 

Here’s why it’s the right strategy/philosophy:

Far too often, fans get beholden to the moment and are only focused on the current state of their team, what they have, and what they need going into the next season. That’s not what the draft is about. Sure, you can find impact players who can step on the field right away and help you, but the draft is about the next few years. It’s about value and drafting good football players. It’s not about filling immediate needs. How do you help your team over the next three years? You do it by picking as many really good football players in as many spots as possible.

Also, needs change, and not just yearly. They change weekly, and even in the offseason when you don’t expect them to. For example, back in 2015 the Bills made cornerback Ronald Darby their first selection in the draft (in the second round). Lots of fans scratched their heads and wondered why the team would waste their top selection on a cornerback when they already had Stephon Gilmore, Corey Graham, and Leodis McKelvin, who appeared to be healthy and participating fully in offseason workouts while coming back from an ankle injury the season before.

A couple months later, McKelvin had a setback in his recovery and Graham was showing signs that he would be better suited at safety moving forward. That left a gaping hole across from Gilmore for Darby to slide right into. Even the team didn’t know that would happen, but cornerback became a huge need when it wasn’t one during the draft.

Then there’s those contractual situations that the team has to plan for moving forward. As Beane stated while at the Senior Bowl this past week, if you have a player at a certain position whose contract is about to expire in one more year, drafting a really good player at that same position now could very possibly afford you the benefit of not having to pay $10-$15 million to keep the player whose contract is expiring and just slide the younger player in at a much, much cheaper rate.

The bottom line is this: When the Bills are on the clock with the ninth overall pick in the upcoming draft, they’ll have the option of trading down or drafting a player. If they take a player, they’ll have a chance to grab one of the (arguably) 10-best in all of college football, and that’s going to help their team over the next several years. 

Or, they can give up that opportunity in order reach for a less talented player just to play right away.

That would be a mistake, and Beane knows it.


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