Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Search of Self

Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher And Higher - Jackie Wilson

I continue to find myself straining for content, in these slow weeks before the draft, yet I stumbled across this little gem from the Colts webpage. It discusses the drafting of Reggie Wayne, and how the decision to avoid need in favor of talent worked out in the Colts’ favor. Obviously, the piece is in many ways a puff piece describing how great Scott Polian (which he is) and using hindsight to justify decisions that were justifiably questionable at the time, but it does raise an interesting question as we approach the draft: Where do need and talent intersect, and to which guideline should teams look as they seek to improve?

Reggie Wayne is actually an excellent example of why determining the answer to this question can be the difference between a draft pick which is “smart” or “good” and one that is great. At the time, Marvin Harrison was still clicking on all cylinders, and another top tier wideout seemed like excess in the face of a mediocre defense. Still, according to Polian, the talent of Wayne was simply too much to pass up, even in the face of overwhelming need. This obviously opens the discussion as to whether or not undeniable talent, regardless of position, is ALWAYS a need. In the case of the Colts, while drafting a defender for need could have made a mediocre defense better, drafting a top tier receiver to a very good offense made the offense borderline unstoppable. How is the latter not better than the former? In a league already built on parity, why should teams necessarily strive to aim for a happy medium? Isn’t creating an imbalance in one’s favor (even if it leaves certain holes) the best way to separate from the pack?

Pause. Consider the Lions, the perfect “on the other hand” to the happy ending of Reggie Wayne and the Colts. Four wide receivers deep, this team is still struggling to find respectability. Even when the team had two great wideouts, they couldn’t win; why should we assume that another very good offensive player would overcome the problem? Indeed, there, a lack of talent wasn’t the problem, but instead a lack of talent in particular places. In this case, need must win the day.

Still, we’re dealing with infected wounds in that situation, not scrapes and scratches, as with the Colts. So where do we draw the line? I know this post is filled with more questions than usual, but that’s probably because I honestly don’t have an answer (this is what happens when you force your offseason on me, NFL!!!). I guess I’d like to think that this is where identity comes into play. While maintaining certain baseline qualities should always be kept in mind, teams should always have an idea of exactly who they want to be on the field, and drafting talents that fit this formula are thereby justified, even when they fail to fill a place where the team COULD be better. To return to the Lions, this is the reason why I continue to support the drafting of Calvin Johnson. True, the team had needs (HUGE needs), but drafting Johnson was a declaration that they believed they could advance their identity to the point where it would more than overcome their failings; it would overcome the strengths of others as well. It didn’t work (letting Jon Kitna run that show was idiotic), but it was the right idea executed poorly (drafting Stanton in the second round of that draft shot themselves right in the foot).

Put simply, maybe talent advancing identity is a “need” just as much as anything else. Otherwise, you wind up with the Chiefs or the Panthers. Yuck.

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