The debate has long been discussed. Need or Talent in the NFL draft? What pays off? What doesn’t? I will attempt to answer some of those questions here. I will judge how teams selected, and also give an impact ratio in ().
First, lets look at the 2007 NFL Draft. The Raiders selected Russell over Peterson and Calvin Johnson because of need. Some could debate it was based on talent, but I find it hard to believe Russell would have gone #1 if it wasn’t the Raiders picking in that slot. Need 1 Talent 0
The next player to come of the board was Calvin Johnson. Clearly, this was a talent over need pick. The Lions already had Roy Williams and Mike Furrey, along with plenty of decent backup options. It is too early to tell if this pick will pay off, but with Roy Williams entering the last year of his deal and the trade rumors swirling, you can bet Calvin gets his chance to shine. Need 1 Talent 1
The third pick was Joe Thomas. Cleveland clearly needed an offensive lineman and Joe Thomas was the top prospect on the board at that position. Peterson could have been considered here, but with the signing of Jamal Lewis it wasn’t as big of a need. So they opted to fill the need instead of picking the best talent. Need 2 (1) Talent 1
The fourth pick was Gaines Adams. This pick is harder to peg as a need or talent pick. Clearly Peterson is still on the board, but Adams is a top 5 pick and they didn’t absolutely have to have a DE. They could have made Simeon Rice go one more year. The most glaring need was WR and CB, but with no prospects nearly worthy of the 4th pick, they went with Adams. I have to lean to the talent over need on this one Need 2 (1) Talent 2 (1)
The fifth pick was Levi Brown. He only went this high because it was Arizona’s greatest need, with plenty of better talent on the board. Need 3(1) Talent 2 (1)
The sixth pick was Laron Landry. Peterson is still no the board, but they have Portis and Betts, so they go with need, which is a Safety. Need 4 (1) Talent 2 (1)
The seventh pick was Peterson. The Vikings already had Chester Taylor and had plenty of other glaring needs. Talent pick all the way. Need 4 (1) Talent 3 (2)
The eighth pick was Jamaal Anderson. I lean towards need on this pick because the Falcons really needed a DE. There was also better talent on the board at this pick. Need 5 (1) Talent 3 (2)
The ninth pick was Ted Ginn. Lets just skip this pick because the Dolphins suck. I guess this was a talent pick? Nice job Dolphins.
The tenth pick was Okoye. The Texans had plenty of needs, and the talent starts getting muddy at this point. It was difficult to pass on Okoye with his talent and age combo at this point. So I’m going to have to say this was done mostly because the Texans felt Okoye was the best talent left, and like many other positions it was a need, but ultimately the move was made on talent. Need 5 (1) Talent 4 (2)
Pick 11 was Patrick Willis. Not only a big need, but a great talent. I could go either way on this one. Carriker would be an option, but Revis wouldn’t be because of Nate Clements signing. Lynch doesn’t get picked because they have Gore. That is two guys in this talent region they wouldn’t pick because of lack of need and two possible need picks. Ultimately I think they chose Willis over Carriker because of need. Carriker would have fit their scheme perfectly, but with Bryant Young sticking around one more year they saw this as the chance to grab a great young linebacker. Need 6 (2) Talent 4 (2)
Pick 12. Lynch was clearly a need pick, strangely a need they created by trading their top RB. You could make a case for Revis after they lost Clements, but the lack of any kind of offense made it a much greater need, even if Lynch was a bit of a reach. Need 7 (2) Talent 4 (2).
Pick 13 and Adam Carriker comes off the board. You could say they need help on the defensive line, but ultimately they had ot bump him inside because the outside guys played so well. Makes me think the pick was based more on talent than need. Especially with a set of CB like STL has. Need 6 (2) Talent 5 (2)
I could go on, but I think what we have noticed here is both methods are not full proof, and both methods have about equal chance of producing an impact player in the first year. Overall I think most of the top picks in this class are looking like they will pan out nicely. The Bucs are the only team that made the playoffs and the Browns and Vikings the only other teams to make a push for the playoffs.
I think the problem is, we think of it in team need vs. talent, but teams basically put together a talent list based upon need. Here is one way a team could decide on two separate players.
Need factor X Talent Factor = Team Ranking
Need factor out of 10 and talent out of 10.
Russell Need Factor 10 Talent factor 9.8 = 98
Calvin Johnson Need Factor 8 Talent factor 10 = 80
Say for the slot the Vikings had a bunch of talent 5.5 (relative to the slot and round, not overall) and need 10 but Peterson was there with talent 10 and need only 6.
Basically, the debate is really meaningless because all NFL teams are going to try to bring in the best talent at the positions of need, but when the talent (for the slot) outweighs the need, teams shift, because you have to have a balance.
It is all strategy. Like Fantasy Football, you can draft a very talented WR at the expense of a much needed RB in the 3rd round. How you play it decides how well you do, but it is more about the individual players than about which philosophy you use.
In conclusion, debating McFadden or Dorsey/Ellis is really not worth the time, but we all have different strategies to win, and the Raiders strategy has typically been talent over need. Exceptions being rare and if it wasn’t for Russell being both last year, we might have ended up with Calvin.