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

Originally posted by KowboyKiller:
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.


This. This. And more of this.
  • buck
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Originally posted by nannite:
MD has a valid point in thinking that value drafting can lead to good results -- IF you are a good talent evaluator.

If your drafting BPA, you have nearly the entire group of available players to choose from. If your only drafting for positions of need, you have a much smaller subset of those players available to you. Therefore, if you need to be a good talent evaluator to succeed using the BPA strategy, you need to be f**king amazing to succeed by going after need positions. You simply have less players to choose from.

All else being equal, the same GM will build a roster with more talent by going pure BPA, all else being equal.

The 49ers have chose option #3, which is to have a GM who simply does no wrong.

Perhaps, you were just be sarcastic, but Baalke is not, and a human can not be, perfect.

Baalke does do wrong.

The selection of Taylor Mays in the second was clearly a mistake. The selection of NaVarro Bowman with the next pick was excellent.
  • buck
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Originally posted by OnTheClock:
Originally posted by oldninerdude:
Originally posted by blm7754:
I think Balke just defines "need" differently. Instead of saying "i need an OLB", he says "i need to improve my pass rush". Instead of saying "i need a WR", he says "i need more speed to stretch the field".

So its BPA to fill a need.... like what everybody else does. He is just smarter about identifying the needs.

This seems the most concise explanation of a very complicated process.

It is, but I probably wouldn't group Baalke with "everybody else." Even if Baalke says it's a BPA formula, I think the way he appears to stack his board make it clear that he drafts neither strictly for positional need or for overall value, at least early on.

We are adding so many pieces, so many qualities to this team, it's pretty neat to look at and see what we're doing.

What did we lack last year?

* Tall receiver with speed who is a red zone threat? Check. (Randy Moss)
* Another receiver with speed that can catch it more often when he's open, deep or short? Check. (Jenkins)
* A reliable 3-deep stable of runners both to add explosiveness and for depth to in case Gore got hurt? Check. (James)
* A more reliable short yardage back (Dixon could never convert 3rd downs..)? (Jacobs)
* Pass-rushing (not just linebacker, but pass-rushing) depth in case of injury to starters? Check. (Fleming, Cam Johnson)

The only thing we are missing now that remains to be seen if we've fixed is a bolstered interior OL, and then DL depth in case of injury. We'll see how Kilgore, Ian Williams and Dobbs have developed, how Tukuafu has recovered, how Masifilio the rookie can do, and then if Looney can win a job and/or perform up to expectations.

I think after this season we will be able to put even more focus on the stuff just mentioned (OL and DL) considering Goodwin, Sopoaga, Justin Smith, and RJF's contracts (and even Tukuafu who will have only one year left if he plays well enough to make the team this year). Unless Ian Williams has done outstanding, we may/likely could look to add NT and DE successors.

An clear point of departure for the draft is the evaluation of the team and its needs.

Before the draft, as they are establishing the team's draft board, Baalke, Harbaugh, and company must determine the team needs and which of those needs can be met with an existing player, a free agent signing, or the draft.

As far as I can determine, no one outside of the team's brain trust really knows that base evaluation of team need, and most particularly the team's assessment of the existing roster. This lack of information makes it difficult to predict what the team will do. In addition, we probably have even less information on which players are on the team's draft board.

We tend to be surprised, perhaps even shocked and dismayed, when Baalke selects an Aldon Smith or an AJ Jenkins in the first round. But given our lack of concrete information, we probably should not be surprised or shocked, much less dismayed when Baalke's actual draft does coincide with our predictions.

But, I do know this. Next year, as I study for the upcoming draft I will look for the Missing Elements as conceived by OTC.

[ Edited by buck on May 6, 2012 at 9:44 AM ]
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.

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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.

I think that you couldn't be more incorrect on this post. See my article here for further explanation
Originally posted by jwhandloff:
I think that you couldn't be more incorrect on this post. See my article here for further explanation

I disagree. I think if you're looking for guys who you believe will make the roster -- like they stated, post-draft -- yes, you're looking for very good players that will win position battles, but it goes beyond that in that you're looking for players that add something new you didn't have or needed more of the past season. Which, in turn, would give them higher relative value to our GM than to many other GMs.

I backed up my hypothesis with the fact that we looked at multiple players with the same type of qualities, which greatly signifies a desire to add a specific attribute -- speed/elusiveness/quickness/explosion (which we saw in David Wilson, Isaiah Pead, and LaMichael James), and during the draft we clearly had no interest in Lamar Miller, Doug Martin, and Bernard Pierce -- players considered very good potential starting caliber backs with Day Two grades, but not players that had the same sort of qualities as the ones I first listed. True BPA does not narrow the pool as much as Baalke's philosophy and method does, and showed to do this year.

I have come to fully understand why we selected Jenkins where we did, even though I was fuming about it early. Was it the best value overall? Simple answer is NO. But would we have possibly squandered the opportunity to add the dimension we wanted if we had taken another player there and waited until later to add the type of player we initially targeted? YES.

For example, if we had drafted David Wilson, there is no guarantee that Brian Quick or Jenkins would've made it to our 2nd rounder, or that the combo of Wilson and another receiver later would give us as much overall value either. To be quite honest, I doubt it. So you could've had the team stuck looking at drafting a guy like Keshawn Martin in the third which would've been a reach (even though he happens to be a player I like that has some nice skills), or trying to trade up into the 4th for him.

For the strategy we employed, I think Baalke at least made the right calls -- for the most part -- that fit with the strategic plan. I still hate the Robinson pick, but overall I don't feel as deflated about some picks in the draft as I initially did.
Originally posted by MadDog49er:
An excellent thread. Going through the first round this year, I said to myself, this is the most needs-based draft I have seen in a long time. That is why we saw DeCastro plummet down to 24, as nearly every team from 6-23 went defense. Teams like KC, Chicago, and others will look back someday and see the bad judgment they used in selecting a primary needs player over a more talented secondary needs player.The Rams employed the correct strategy with Stephen Jackson years ago, as the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers. You really have to stay true to your draft board, unless you have a young stud under a lengthy contract on your roster.

Like I was saying in another post, If asked if I thought we took the top overall value when you look at individual slots, I'd say no (at some we did get good value, I should say, though). But looking at the strategy and seeing where we went with it, I feel better about it all and would probably not grade the draft as low. Initially, I was thinking a B-, but now I'd say at least a B or B+ because of the additional value -- although not a great amount, but a little -- that I had to dig deeper to recognize. I think that if we had taken other player with our first and second picks, it still may have been possible to add the dimensions we wanted to, but the likelihood of landing the same caliber of talent and the type of players we were looking for in such a narrow board would be pretty slim.

Looking at the rest of the NFL, if I had to point out one team that I thought made the biggest reach in the 1st round, it'd be Tampa. Quite honestly, I don't think Mark Barron is anywhere near worth a top 10 pick. I could see reason for believing Top 20 with the inflated value since this was such a weak safety class, but 7th overall is silly.
[ Edited by OnTheClock on May 6, 2012 at 1:07 PM ]
Originally posted by OnTheClock:
Originally posted by MadDog49er:
An excellent thread. Going through the first round this year, I said to myself, this is the most needs-based draft I have seen in a long time. That is why we saw DeCastro plummet down to 24, as nearly every team from 6-23 went defense. Teams like KC, Chicago, and others will look back someday and see the bad judgment they used in selecting a primary needs player over a more talented secondary needs player.The Rams employed the correct strategy with Stephen Jackson years ago, as the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers. You really have to stay true to your draft board, unless you have a young stud under a lengthy contract on your roster.

Like I was saying in another post, If asked if I thought we took the top overall value when you look at individual slots, I'd say no (at some we did get good value, I should say, though). But looking at the strategy and seeing where we went with it, I feel better about it all and would probably not grade the draft as low. Initially, I was thinking a B-, but now I'd say at least a B or B+ because of the additional value -- although not a great amount, but a little -- that I had to dig deeper to recognize. I think that if we had taken other player with our first and second picks, it still may have been possible to add the dimensions we wanted to, but the likelihood of landing the same caliber of talent and the type of players we were looking for in such a narrow board would be pretty slim.

Looking at the rest of the NFL, if I had to point out one team that I thought made the biggest reach in the 1st round, it'd be Tampa. Quite honestly, I don't think Mark Barron is anywhere near worth a top 10 pick. I could see reason for believing Top 20 with the inflated value since this was such a weak safety class, but 7th overall is silly.

Good points, but I think you may be mistaking value for where the pundits believe somebody should be taken. The true value is that of a particular player relative to a teams needs. As you pointed out, the risk is substantially higher using the method 2 you outlined because you are determining value by inflating particular traits. Sure you could take a speed WR over a perhaps more well-rounded OL prospect. However, consider that the team already has performance in that area. So if G's performance is 75 and new G's performance is 85, net value is 10. Perhaps Baalke's opinion is that the net benefit to the team is higher by adding speed and explosiveness. So while a G might be good and a WR might be a bust, we forget that we also have a G who's also playing okay.
Trenton Robinson is a good backup at safety and could play in our nickel package in the next year or two. I thought we had an excellent draft w/ real talent and huge upside potential. Don't forget all those picks we have next year. Harbaalke must have hope for Kilgore being our starter this year. Any time we can add game changing speed to our offense and good depth at Defense how can you not be optimistic? Our roster is LOADED this year, let's do this!!!!!
Originally posted by OnTheClock:
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.

Good thread here, OTC...although I think there is another aspect to Baalke's draft strategy that has been overlooked. If you remember, Baalke went after guys in free agency that plugged holes and allowed the Niners the freedom to take specific players that they felt would add another dimension to the team. I feel the Niners simply found themselves in a relatively unique situation....that is, they didn't have many holes and so they had the luxury to target specific guys with specific talents that they feel could fit in best and contribute the most immediately to the team.

Now, if Baalke were the GM of the Cleveland Browns, he probably would have had more of a BPA strategy because that team just needs good players everywhere.

If you recall, Bill Walsh, when he was first building the Niners, found guys everywhere....even on the scrap heap. In 1981, the biggest needs on the team by far was guys in the secondary and pass rushers so he went out and drafted Lott, Wright, and Williamson (CB, CB and SS) with their first 3 picks in the draft and then picked up Fred Dean in the first few weeks of the season via a trade. They also got their starting MLB via trade, and their starting FS and DE via the waver wire. The Niners ended up winning the Super Bowl that year. Later, in 1985, when the Niners' had a more stocked roster, they had the luxury to trade up to get a player they really liked....guy by the name of Rice. Pretty good player as I remember.

Next year, with 13 picks in the draft, their strategy will likely be quite different....to get some new starters or guys they think will be starters soon at DE, NT, S, and CB and to fill slots of the guys that walk in free agency.

Cheers!
I hope they use those 13 picks next year to trade for fewer, higher picks. Unless they are less successful in keeping their free agents. Or I guess they may have some weakness' exposed that need addressing, but to get five or six good players could really make the team solid...five picks in the first three rounds sounds nice but six is possible as they already have four.
[ Edited by dtg_9er on May 7, 2012 at 6:13 AM ]
Originally posted by Garcia:
I think that they pick the best available.

I think they board together according to need and skill sets that fit Harbaugh's system.
Originally posted by AllTimeGreat:
Was going to write a response to this thread, but I've been drinking some and I don't really have the motivation. So instead I'm just going to copy and paste a portion of a post I made in another thread. But I think it fits:



It seems to me that the Niners look for certain physical attributes as well as a certain attitude in the players they pick. They don't just draft based off of raw skills in a bubble, they draft based on whether the skills a player has fits within their schemes. It seems to be the belief that players need to have certain skills and attitudes and the rest can be corrected by coaching and giving them a role that best highlights their skills and hides their limitations. That's a very Patriots way to operate and has proven to be pretty successful.

That's how players like Deion Branch and Tully Banta-Cain can play like crap on other teams and come back to the Patriots and be productive. It's how undersized cast-offs like Danny Woodhead can play so well, that's how Mark Washington and Andre Carter can have their best seasons in years. That's how we can take career mediocre players like Carlos Rogers and make them pro-bowlers, and lose 5 starters on D yet end up with an even better defense by promoting from within and signing free agents left over after the big rush was over. It's knowing which players have skills that are replaceable and which players have rare and essential skills and locking them up long term. Small sample size, but the 49ers appear to get this.

The 49ers apply this to the draft and value players accordingly which might not match up with conventional wisdom. The 49ers achieved their objectives in the draft and drafted players they think can play well within their scheme
Agreed 100%. Great cut and paste.
Wow, I just got around to reading all of the posts. Thoughtful, well reasoned, intelligent. For a minute I thought I couldn't be in Niner Talk and had to check.
Well done all, it has been a pleasure to read everyone's post.
Oops, almost forgot. I think that from listening and reading Balke and Harbaugh's comments, character, football intelligence, and love of the game are given a lot more weight than others do when picking a player. They both just say it way to many times to not be a major factor when rating and drafting players.
[ Edited by Born49R on May 7, 2012 at 9:38 AM ]
Originally posted by Garcia:
I think that they pick the best available.

If that the case, then how do you explain putting AJ's name in an envelope?
I think Baalke drafts off team needs not Best player or Best position of need.
The 49ers needs this year were Deep Threat and depth at S, OG, OC, and OLB.
The pick that shocked me was L. James but after what D. Sproles did last year you can see why they drafted him.