Falcons: Drafting best fit vs. best available

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With the Falcons selecting fourth overall in the NFL draft, this will be the highest Atlanta has been slotted since 2008 when Thomas Dimitroff took Matt Ryan third overall. Terry Fontenot has already made it clear the philosophy going forward will be a “best player available” draft strategy, but what’s the difference between drafting the best available and best fit?

The best fit could mean the prospect meets a positional need or satisfies the organization’s culture. In some way, it isn’t so black and white, but grey. Every general manager places values on different characteristics (physical or mental), some weighing more so than others. There are very rare cases where a team selects a player whose values don’t align with the organization’s, but when it does happen, they outweigh the risk in management’s eyes.

Every organization has a big board in their war room on draft night. How those are structured is based on team preferences. Like the Ravens, some teams refuse to draft for need and follow their big boards to a T regardless of how it falls — they simply take whoever is at the top of their board. But then there are organizations like the Jets and Browns that have drafted based on need for most of the 2000s, and the results speak for themselves.

There could be a high-value prospect who is a perfect fit as a 3-4 defensive end but not as a 4-3 defensive end. However, that doesn’t matter when sticking strictly to the best player available method. There is a give and take. Ideally, every team would take the best player available for value purposes, but it doesn’t always happen like that. The Houston Texans, though looking dumber and dumber every day, would never take a quarterback no matter who they had atop their big board because of Deshaun Watson.

Terry Fontenot finds himself in a similar situation. Drafting the best player available could turn into taking a quarterback, but a quarterback shouldn’t be selected just because Matt Ryan is nearing the end of his career. It is always good to plan for the future, and with the Falcons picking higher than they have in over a decade, it would behoove them to exhaust all possibilities. So what would the best available and best fit look like for Atlanta?

Starting with a prospect like Micah Parsons, who is undoubtedly the best defensive player in the draft, he will never be apart of the Falcons because of the off-the-field questions surrounding him. But then you have someone like Kwity Paye who satisfies a need — edge/defensive line — and also has an impeccable reputation off the field. Taking Paye at four could come off as a reach, but he fills a need and aligns with the organization’s ethics. See where there is a happy medium?

Fontenot would love to be a strict “best player available” general manager like Ozzie Newsome was, but there will be points in time where need will trump value. A good general manager knows when to reach for a prospect of need and when to trade back for a prospect of value. There is always a give and a take with these things. If Zach Wilson or Justin Fields are prospects two and three behind Trevor Lawrence, I’d expect the Falcons to take Ryan’s successor, but I could also see someone like Penei Sewell high on the Falcons’ big board in both categories — value and need.

There is the perspective of other teams as well. Depending on how the big board falls, Fontenot could be forced to trade back and select someone of value at a different pick. Drafting someone like Caleb Farley in the middle of the first round could satisfy value and need as the Falcons don’t have a corner to start opposite of A.J. Terrell.

All and all, don’t expect Terry Fontenot to draft strictly based on the best player available. It may be his top priority, but that isn’t something you can realistically expect over the course of an entire draft. 


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