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Theory: Trent Baalke's Draft Strategy is not traditional BPA

I think this deserves to be discussed because I see a lot of it going on in multiple other threads. Although.. I think mainly it is the hot topic in MD's draft grade thread where I think he may be being overly-critiqued. There are several draft strategies, but I'd like to just look at two, comparing the first one with what Baalke's strategy appears to be to me.

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Draft Strategy One: Pure Value Drafting

Teams like the Cincinnati Bengals (look at their recent drafts) employ this simplistic strategy that basically says "take the overall BPA across all possible positions of needs the team has." So basically, if you need a RB, CB, and DT and the best player available among those three positions is a CB, you take the CB. Some teams are much stricter and will put far less weight on need and in that scenario if they saw a WR rated higher, they would take him instead, regardless of the fact that it was not a need. But that's a whole other strategy to discuss. Back to Pure Value... MD has a valid point in thinking that value drafting can lead to good results -- IF you are a good talent evaluator. Teams that draft for value but their board and rankings of players is utterly silly, simply won't experience the benefits of value drafting.

If I were to apply this strategy for the 49ers this year, I probably would've done something like this:
1. OG Cordy Glenn, Georgia - I had Glenn as the 2nd best OG behind DeCastro and graded him a top 20 player, better than Konz)
2. OLB Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma - Oddly enough he was selected by our original 4th. I felt he had mid-late 2nd round talent and upside.
3. WR Chris Givens, Wake Forest - Would've given us a FAST player who can catch better than Ginn and other drop-prone WRs.
4. DE Jared Crick, Nebraska - Crick is way more talented than this.
5. CB Alphonso Dennard, Nebraska - As dumb as he is for doing what he did, the talent would be hard to overlook.
6. RB Michael Smith, Utah State - An explosive player that, while not as productive, would bring the same kind of speed as LMJ.
7. OLB Cam Johnson, Virginia - Would not have changed this pick at all. Despite the health stuff, still feel this was a tremendous value.

That's just based on my personal ratings an example of a Pure Value Draft. Would I employee that exact strategy? Not necessarily..


Now let's discuss what Baalke appears to do...

Draft Strategy Two: "Missing Elements" Drafting

While I'm certain Baalke's draft do take into consideration needs and value (like any team), I believe Baalke's drafts focus on specific players with specific "elements" to add to this team. I believe he looks at the best players with the specific "elements" he wants to add (for example, speed on offense), and based on his evaluation formula -- whatever it is -- stacks and compiles his board that way. This can be an extremely risky endeavor, and it certainly narrows down the players you are looking at to select in the draft. This strategy essentially redefines "value" to the team during this given draft. Players that may be considered better overall at their position by most could feasibly be rated lower due to the lack of a desired element. Ex. Mohamed Sanu running a 4.67 vs. AJ Jenkins running a 4.39.

I firmly believe Baalke looked at the most explosive players such as Kendall Wright, Jenkins, Hill and Chris Givens and rated them heavily based on explosion and polish. Our speed guys last year were Ginn and Williams. Ginn is horribly inconsistent catching and separating against certain coverages, and Williams is unpolished, inconsistent separating, and doesn't protect the ball. If I had to guess, their ranking of the top WR fits in this draft may have been something like 1) Wright, 2) Jenkins, 3) Hill, 4) Givens.

I firmly believe we did that for running back too, and believe this is why we brought in David Wilson for a visit. If I had to guess, I think that ranking was probably 1) Wilson, 2) Pead, 3) James. James may have been in front of Pead, but it depends on what they thought of his "character" record.
[ Edited by OnTheClock on May 4, 2012 at 7:38 PM ]
  • Garcia
  • Veteran
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I think that they pick the best available.
And so for SF what is the best way of drafting? The Baalke way or the MD way?
All Baalke does is "reach", he's a scrub



Pick players nobody thinks will be good, everybody thinks is a reach, are massively overvalued by the 49ers at the slot..... And then turn into the best player in the draft shutting up the critics.

Originally posted by Ninefan56:
And so for SF what is the best way of drafting? The Baalke way or the MD way?

I'm comparing the NFL strategies. MD was just using one as an example of the way he prefers. It's not his way, it's the Bengals, Ravens, and several other teams way. MD just was posting his opinion that he thought it was a better strategy. Overall, that is a debatable issue. No one method is the end-all be-all way to success, because if you can't evaluate talent, NO METHOD will work very well for you because your boards will be woefully skewed. The only problem with the 49ers method is that it does absolutely create the potential of passing on players that could have provided either a more immediate impact, lasting impact, or both, because of how it narrows down the player list.

Based on what I have looked at, I think I have a really good idea of what they were doing now, and it makes 100% sense to me why they picked the players they did.

To some people, the specifically targeted players may on the surface appear to be overvalued by our GM.. However.. On their grading scale, the 49ers players were worth the spot they were selected at. On many other teams' grading scales, I think there's good reason to believe these same players were probably were not assigned as high of a value because those players simply would not have added as much value to that particular team as they would for us, in Baalke's opinion, hence why Baalke expected some of these players to surely be available where he thought they'd be.
[ Edited by OnTheClock on May 4, 2012 at 7:22 PM ]
  • flow
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  • Posts: 2,394
Good post, OTC.

Also, I believe Baalke gets good value by drafting players who are good on the field but have non-field issues (which doesn't necessarily mean "off-the-field issues," by the way). Last year, for example, Aldon Smith might have been drafted higher if he didn't suffer a leg injury in college. This year, AJ Jenkins was downgraded by others because Illinois had sub-par QB play; LaMichael James might have slipped because of his domestic abuse situation; Looney went under the radar because of his foot injury; Slowey might have slipped because he played at a small school; and Cam Johnson definitely slipped because of a medical condition.

I still don't see any value in Trenton Robinson, though.
Originally posted by flow:
Good post, OTC.

Also, I believe Baalke gets good value by drafting players who are good on the field but have non-field issues (which doesn't necessarily mean "off-the-field issues," by the way). Last year, for example, Aldon Smith might have been drafted higher if he didn't suffer a leg injury in college. This year, AJ Jenkins was downgraded by others because Illinois had sub-par QB play; LaMichael James might have slipped because of his domestic abuse situation; Looney went under the radar because of his foot injury; Slowey might have slipped because he played at a small school; and Cam Johnson definitely slipped because of a medical condition.

I still don't see any value in Trenton Robinson, though.

I agree. Robinson was my least favorite pick. Unless he is converted to slot corner, he has no value or starting potential at safety in my eyes. I was sick of seeing him get run over or miss tackles or get thrown over because of his sub 5-10 height. It happened all year, and then again at the Senior Bowl. The analysts that said "he is a good tackler" astound me. He made some decent physical plays once in a blue moon, and he was good at diagnosing plays to come up, but his "fearlessness" to make a tackle doesn't mean much if he gets trucked 90% of the time.
  • sfout
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Originally posted by OnTheClock:
Originally posted by flow:
Good post, OTC.

Also, I believe Baalke gets good value by drafting players who are good on the field but have non-field issues (which doesn't necessarily mean "off-the-field issues," by the way). Last year, for example, Aldon Smith might have been drafted higher if he didn't suffer a leg injury in college. This year, AJ Jenkins was downgraded by others because Illinois had sub-par QB play; LaMichael James might have slipped because of his domestic abuse situation; Looney went under the radar because of his foot injury; Slowey might have slipped because he played at a small school; and Cam Johnson definitely slipped because of a medical condition.

I still don't see any value in Trenton Robinson, though.

I agree. Robinson was my least favorite pick. Unless he is converted to slot corner, he has no value or starting potential at safety in my eyes. I was sick of seeing him get run over or miss tackles or get thrown over because of his sub 5-10 height. It happened all year, and then again at the Senior Bowl. The analysts that said "he is a good tackler" astound me. He made some decent physical plays once in a blue moon, and he was good at diagnosing plays to come up, but his "fearlessness" to make a tackle doesn't mean much if he gets trucked 90% of the time.

With his ball skills I could see this, would definitely love to see it happen.

Great post on the theory, I couldn't agree more with your take on it.
They drafted using a combo approach Bpa and need. Since we had so few holes, we picked players that could make an early impact that were also among the Bpa at the pick. Our first and second round picks were close to Bpa, let's say within 10 spots, so we mixed in need as well.
I think Baalke like most good GM going into the draft. He's flexible. Each draft year is in some ways unique for what's available in depth of talents, what his team needs, and what positions he's drafting in each round. But the one thing he must have is the ability to have options to make choices. The more the better. Move up or down. The option of picking any skill positions and still be viable to the team if draft situation changes. (i.e. If a RB he covets was picked by another team, he's still just as comfortable picking a DB in the same slot.) So many times you hear guys saying 'let the board talk to you' or something stupid like that, but it's common sense. If they are confident in evaluating the players they have put together, then it's as easy as going about getting the next guy up that's still available. And that guy could be along the line of team need, best player available, or just the value for that particular round. Flexible.
[ Edited by qnnhan7 on May 4, 2012 at 8:24 PM ]
OTC-- good post and an interesting topic! It seems to me that drafting is somewhat an art form and the better drafters use multiple measures but do establish a pattern that allows them to be consistent. Al Davis valued speed more than many, but he also looked for extreme talent in one area that could be used to dominate. The Stork was an example of this type of thinking, although Don Shula drafted him and converted him to LB--Davis coveted and traded for him giving up two #1s..

Walsh did a similar thing by drafting track athletes like Michael Carter (5th round) and Renaldo Nehemiah (FA). Carter had a powerful punch and tremendous lower body strength and Renaldo had speed. Walsh was looking for that edge special skills can give a team...panned out with Carter.

Evaluating talent accurately is the first key obviously, then working the draft so that you can get the guys you think will help most and finally the coaches need to put these players in a position where they can succeed. One of the worst things that happens to teams is when the draft decision maker is not in sync with the coaches. We've seen that with Taylor Mays...evidently Singletary fell in love with the guys "fisicality"...who cares if he lacked instincts.

I never considered developing my own point of view or philosophy of drafting but have always tried to guess what the team would do. It seems like an interesting hobby though and it is fun to follow you, Maddog and others drafts. My attempt this year in the mock contest did not pan out too well...back to the drawing board!
Great post and I would agree that draft strategy 2 was in play during draft weekend. I thought it was interesting and very true when Baalke stated that he wanted to draft guys he thought that had a legitimate chance of making the roster. When you think about that statement it really says a lot about what they think about what wasn't addressed during that weekend. We are deep and capable on the D line. We resigned and are developing young guys in the secondary. I think IF Harbaugh felt we needed another pass catching TE that Reuland may have a chance to be something and produce with the kind of hands he has.

It was a solid strategy as I really feel that our FO has a recipe for success that only the right type of players will solidify this roster. They have their "Gold Helmet" label that identifies a player that fits ALL types of the newest 9er criteria. It's interesting to see because you don't see many teams that have this kind of approach. I agree it is risky, but have faith in our scouting departing and our decision makers after watching this roster built over the last few years. Go NINERS!!!
Originally posted by OnTheClock:
I think this deserves to be discussed because I see a lot of it going on in multiple other threads. Although.. I think mainly it is the hot topic in MD's draft grade thread where I think he may be being overly-critiqued. There are several draft strategies, but I'd like to just look at two, comparing the first one with what Baalke's strategy appears to be to me.

-----------------------------------------------------------------


Draft Strategy One: Pure Value Drafting

Teams like the Cincinnati Bengals (look at their recent drafts) employ this simplistic strategy that basically says "take the overall BPA across all possible positions of needs the team has." So basically, if you need a RB, CB, and DT and the best player available among those three positions is a CB, you take the CB. Some teams are much stricter and will put far less weight on need and in that scenario if they saw a WR rated higher, they would take him instead, regardless of the fact that it was not a need. But that's a whole other strategy to discuss. Back to Pure Value... MD has a valid point in thinking that value drafting can lead to good results -- IF you are a good talent evaluator. Teams that draft for value but their board and rankings of players is utterly silly, simply won't experience the benefits of value drafting.

If I were to apply this strategy for the 49ers this year, I probably would've done something like this:
1. OG Cordy Glenn, Georgia - I had Glenn as the 2nd best OG behind DeCastro and graded him a top 20 player, better than Konz)
2. OLB Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma - Oddly enough he was selected by our original 4th. I felt he had mid-late 2nd round talent and upside.
3. WR Chris Givens, Wake Forest - Would've given us a FAST player who can catch better than Ginn and other drop-prone WRs.
4. DE Jared Crick, Nebraska - Crick is way more talented than this.
5. CB Alphonso Dennard, Nebraska - As dumb as he is for doing what he did, the talent would be hard to overlook.
6. RB Michael Smith, Utah State - An explosive player that, while not as productive, would bring the same kind of speed as LMJ.
7. OLB Cam Johnson, Virginia - Would not have changed this pick at all. Despite the health stuff, still feel this was a tremendous value.

That's just based on my personal ratings an example of a Pure Value Draft. Would I employee that exact strategy? Not necessarily..


Now let's discuss what Baalke appears to do...

Draft Strategy Two: "Missing Elements" Drafting

While I'm certain Baalke's draft do take into consideration needs and value (like any team), I believe Baalke's drafts focus on specific players with specific "elements" to add to this team. I believe he looks at the best players with the specific "elements" he wants to add (for example, speed on offense), and based on his evaluation formula -- whatever it is -- stacks and compiles his board that way. This can be an extremely risky endeavor, and it certainly narrows down the players you are looking at to select in the draft. This strategy essentially redefines "value" to the team during this given draft. Players that may be considered better overall at their position by most could feasibly be rated lower due to the lack of a desired element. Ex. Mohamed Sanu running a 4.67 vs. AJ Jenkins running a 4.39.

I firmly believe Baalke looked at the most explosive players such as Kendall Wright, Jenkins, Hill and Chris Givens and rated them heavily based on explosion and polish. Our speed guys last year were Ginn and Williams. Ginn is horribly inconsistent catching and separating against certain coverages, and Williams is unpolished, inconsistent separating, and doesn't protect the ball. If I had to guess, their ranking of the top WR fits in this draft may have been something like 1) Wright, 2) Jenkins, 3) Hill, 4) Givens.

I firmly believe we did that for running back too, and believe this is why we brought in David Wilson for a visit. If I had to guess, I think that ranking was probably 1) Wilson, 2) Pead, 3) James. James may have been in front of Pead, but it depends on what they thought of his "character" record.

Are you Going by what Mayock & Kiper say? I don't get you analogy here Harbalke RULE & those guys are not coaches they analyst just like you and me!
Great post. I always thought BPA was a misnomer, clearly every GM drafts the BPA at a position of relative need. If there's a position you have an all pro player at, and good depth, then if the highest rated player on your board is that same position, well you're not going to draft him. Likewise, if you have a position of HUGE need, you're going to pick a player that's lower on your draft board than other players who rate higher at positions you are stacked at. But it's not a black or white thing, "BPA" or "Draft for need", it's both at the same time, with gray areas. AJ Jenkins was Baalke's BPA at a position of relative need. If a GM were to come up with a formula to figure this out there would be a sort of weighted percentage for every position on the team based on its relative strength or weakness.

When you have a good team like the 49ers the grey area starts to look more like BPA because you pick a player that you believe will help you the most long term, because every position has a closer relative strength, therefore the value of each player based on their position starts to average out closer.
[ Edited by KowboyKiller on May 4, 2012 at 9:31 PM ]