Dak's The Way The Cookie Crumbles
“Bombs are bad. They kill your career, right? Wrong, you know what kills your career? Passing on a hit.” - Ari Gold, Entourage
In one sentence, Jeremy Piven as super agent Ari Gold laid out all you needed to know about the movie business. He just as easily could have been preaching to the scores of NFL talking heads out there, those who dream of being NFL General Managers but don't have the resume (or dedication of long coach-like hours) to cut it. It isn’t the picks you make that kill you in the eyes of the public, it’s the picks you pass on.
Of course, this ignores that years later few tend to remember the picks a General Manager missed on. Talking heads tend to forget because the not picking, over time, proves to be exactly what it is: nothing. Funny how things that don’t happen suddenly disappear.
The hottest take right now in the NFL is a narrative like this. In the wake of the Dallas Cowboys running hot shi*t wild, the talking heads are falling over themselves to ask: just what were all these other teams thinking not taking Dak Prescott?
They'll convince you your team screwed up royally not picking Prescott. Your GM is a fool, an idiot. Some will even tell you how they had a first round grade on him. Funny, I missed the part where NFL teams were interviewing them come spring.
Rationalizing that 31 NFL teams were inept in not taking Prescott and, more importantly, that the Dallas freaking Cowboys, were more perceptive, is missing seeing the forest through the Texas pines (think about that for a second. You’re saying that Jerry freaking Jones was smarter than 31 other teams in something football-related).
The NFL Draft is a marketplace. Time and data has proven that it is an unquestionably efficient means in sorting out the talent pool from college. In other words, year after year, the players who go on to have the best careers are nearly always taken early. The players who wash out are nearly always taken later. Now there is some degree to which if you’re drafted later, you’re behind the ball (pun!) from the start and your career is bound to suffer. But in large part, that’s the rule. This is the beauty of the NFL Draft - it's a marketplace that has reached perfect operational functionality.
Talking heads still seem to think the NFL Draft can be gamed. That a smart General Manager can find inefficiencies a la Moneyball. That isn't the reality. With 32 NFL teams looking at the same market of players, largely doing the same scouting and grading, and seeing the same game tape and measurements, the judgement are only vary somewhat. The people doing these scouting jobs have likely worked for a different team at some point or learned how to do their jobs from someone on a different team. The overwhelming opinion on a player is likely league-wide, with only a few exceptions - and those tend to not vary that drastically. This is why, every year, there are players who drop much further than your fancy Draft guide websites or magazine or Mel Kiper's tell you.
On that logic, Prescott went in the fourth round because 32 teams in the NFL felt he was not a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd round player. To wit, the Dallas Cowboys themselves passed on Prescott not once, not twice, not three times, but four times. Geniuses. I guess they were they so smart that they had the foresight to take Zeke Elliott at 7th Overall because they knew – nay, they were certain – that a franchise-caliber QB would be waiting for them to pick in the fourth round? In the second round, they passed on this suddenly accepted ‘can’t miss’ player to take a guy with a destroyed knee who hasn’t even practiced this year in Jaylon Smith? Because they were smart?
No, they picked Prescott because they followed the conventions of the NFL Draft. They followed the odds.
In the NFL, the higher in the order a team picks isn't guarantee a team gets a player that will hit - it only guarantees you get the first chance to pick a player you think will hit. The players at the spot have no value, the pick itself does. Teams that are consistently drafting well tend to be the teams that have many picks. These teams decrease their odds of failure in a draft class overall. They are buying more lottery tickets, increasing their overall odds of hitting on players.
Basically, the NFL Draft is the Red Paperclip of the NFL marketplace. Not a single team can offer a Red Paperclip for a House and make that deal. But some teams can take a Red Paperclip, trade it for a coffee cup, flip that for a pair of oven mitts, and eventually end up with a cozy chair, a hammer, and three tennis balls. But if that cozy chair breaks a leg and two tennis balls go missing, you still have a tennis ball and a hammer. Sometimes in the NFL, that's the start to a successful roster.
To be clear, Prescott is not overrated. The guy can play. The entire point is that where Prescott got picked has nothing to do with how smart the Cowboys are. It really has nothing to do with Prescott at all. It has to do with how flawed our understanding of the conditions that make players successful.
Dak Prescott was rated by 32 NFL teams as a hammer - not a house. He was drafted where hammers get drafted, in the fourth round. He was taken by a team that saw a hammer and could use a hammer. Should they be congratulated for taking a hammer? No. They should be congratulated for finding a way to make that hammer realize its a house. Should other NFL teams be criticized for not taking a hammer? Hardly. They should be criticized for not turning their tennis ball into a wrecking ball.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys has worked six years in the public relations industry rubbing shoulders with movie stars (who ignored him) to athletes (who tolerated him). He likes tiki-taka football, jelly beans, and arguing with Bruce about everything.