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In episode 102 of The Ringer’s NFL Show, Mike Lombardi spoke with Tate Fraizer about his experience preparing to draft NFL players. Besides the revelations about Al Davis’s eating habits, Lombardi pointed out ideas we can use in other domains too. Here’s how to draft NFL players (or make any decision better).
Step 1: Collect the right data. Lombardi said that during his time with the Oakland Raiders, owner Al Davis wanted the fastest players. That became their most important data point.
“We’re watching Texas Tech. offensive tape, watching Wes Welker make every catch and we drafted Carlos Francis in the fourth round because he was the fastest guy at the combine…We picked Taylor Johnson in the second round which was a guy that could really run but we passed Jason Whitten to pick Taylor Johnson because Jason Whitten didn’t have a fast enough forty time.”
Forty-yard dash times are available data but they may not be the most helpful. Daryl Morey saw this as General Manager of the Houston Rockets when he asked if points and rebounds don’t tell the whole story.
Another mistake coaches made was overvaluing someone with a great recent performance. “Take the one year player and look back don’t look forward, thinking he’s going to build off that,” Lombardi said he learned to not expect one-year wonders to continue that success in the NFL. Phillip Tetlock writes that superforecasters don’t overreact to new information.
Step 2: Prepare your wish list. Like a kid at Christmas, football teams don’t get everything they want. It’s good to have the list though, says Lombardi.
“In ’86 Bill Walsh sends me to the blackboard to write down three names…I write them on the blackboard and he says, ‘When we pick we’ll pick one of these three guys.’ [all three players get picked by other teams] and we look at each other and we’re like, ‘Holy crap we got nobody to pick.’”
Lombardi’s team traded down to get some more time to talk through who to pick but it shows they weren’t prepared.
Preparation is one of the keys to How to Negotiate Well. It’s also a key part of Bill Belichick‘s success. Sam Hinkie said that this is an iterative process. His office would redraft players to see how well their systems worked and refined it over time.
When making the list it’s tempting to slide into easy comparisons, don’t. “He (Al Davis) wanted to make Tyler Brayton an outside linebacker because Al Davis thought he was Ted Hendricks…every player at the Raiders had a Hall of Fame name attached to them.” Morey eliminated this problem when he disallowed same race comparisons.
Another thing to do is remain objective while making your list. “Bill (Belichick) doesn’t get married to a player and will trade down knowing they’re all going to be about the same,” said Lombardi. This objectiveness can be hard but remember says Peter Lynch, you can’t treat investments like they’re your grandchildren.
Step 3: Prepare the room. Once you’ve gathered the data and created your list it’s time to get the room ready for the actual NFL draft. Lombardi said that Al Davis’s draft room was like a press conference while Bill Belichick’s is a small affair.
Part of what Belichick does well in those small rooms is to argue well. Writer Michael Holley spent years with Belichick’s Patriots teams and noted, “Belichick has no problem listening to any counter argument – provided that it can be supported with some type of evidence.” In fact, said Scott Pioli, arguing well is a necessity of working with Belichick. “It’s so important that part of the evaluation of you is going to be whether or not you have an opinion.”
Lombardi said that Belichick “decides who to pick, who not to pick but he takes information in.