When Shack Harris resigned as Vice Player of Personnel at the close of the 2008 season, likely due to internal pressures within the Jaguar's Organization, it was said that his draft class was picked on the basis of need. Gene Smith was promoted from his scouting position to General Manager, and re-building the team became his sole responsibility. Jaguar fans were told that Gene believe in drafting the best available player (BAP), but as you will see he was never fully committed to this philosophy.
Now exactly what is the difference between drafting based on need vs BAP? Drafting for need, is exactly what is says it is, wherever you have holes on your roster you attempt to fill them by picking players who will 'fill' those holes. In theory, this sounds like a good strategy but in practice it can cause the a team to overdraft less talented players at positions of need, rather than drafting superior players who may not necessarily be a need. In contrast, the BAP approach attempts to maximize the value of each pick by getting the best players that are available at the moment. Of course every team will have different rankings and there is still the possibility of 'busting' on a player but by drafting strict BAP, you escape the possibility of taking less gifted players just out of need.
Gene Smith claimed he was a proponent of BAP, and we were told over and over again by those in the Jaguars Organization. In a 2010 JTW interview with Vic Ketchman, Gene Smith said, " If their is a player you have affection for, you dont push a player up and then you in essence overdraft them and the guy comes in and underperforms". He further clarified his position by saying, " within a grade range, you slot your value line, typically if all the players are in the same grade range, its going to be ranked closer to what your need may be, if it happens to be a Qb its a Qb or another position another position you never push players up based on a need or you'd like to draft a quarterback. you try to slot for who they are by grade, and then within the a rank if they are all in the same grade range, stack them closer to needs."
Notice in this interview how many times Gene refers to selecting the BAP in the context of a need. How can this be BAP, or is it another beast all together? Maybe BAP according to need? Also, it is extremely peculiar how in every single draft of Gene Smith how the picks were consistently in the areas of greatest needs. Was it all just coincidence? In 2009, the Jaguars desperately needed offensive lineman, a defensive tackle, and WRs. Eugene Monroe fell to the Jaguars, and Gene also selected Eben Britton with the 2nd round pick. Knighton, a DT, was picked in the 3rd round, and WRs Mike Thomas and Jarrett Dillard in the 4th and 5th respectively. Coincidence, maybe? Gene also did something else that was very suspicious, he traded 2010s 2nd round pick, to move up in the 3rd round and select Derek Cox, who is essentially becomes our other 2nd round pick. This from my standpoint, seemed like another need pick, that Gene "pushed up" and overdrafted. Not only did he trade up, but he gave up value by giving away a future pick. Who knows how that 2nd rounder could have turned out.
In 2010 the team desperately needed D-linemen, and Gene traded up once again to acquire Tyson Alualu. Was this another case of "pushing up" a player and overdrafting them, something Gene said he would not do? Did Gene pass up superior players, and overvalued his "guy" based on a need? Several experts called the move a huge reach, and add the fact that Alualu hasn't played like a top 10 pick, and several lineman picked after him have been nice "hits" really puts Gene's strategy into question. The rest of the 2010 draft was also suspect. We drafted multiple D-lineman (Smith, Lane, Hart) and one can't help but wonder how the BAP always seems to fall in line with need. Gene's strategy didn't seem all that different from Shack Harris who made it known he wanted passrushers. Who remembers Harvey and Groves?
In 2011 and 2012 there were similar stories. In 2011, after a years of not drafting a QB we finally selected Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert at one point was touted as a lock for the 1st pick of the 2011 draft, but fell to the 11th spot. Gene traded away that years 2nd round pick to select his quarterback. Was this another case of Gene falling in love with a player, and addressing a need? The pick certainly makes sense from the standpoint of needing your "guy", but was a pick done just because it had to be done or because Blaine was clearly the BAP? The Blackmon pick in 2012, also screams of need picking, simply because of how terrible the WRs the past couple years prior. I won't lie though, and say I didn't want that pick, because I did.
Fast forward now and the Jaguars are 2-12, and stand to hold title of worst season in franchise history. Gene Smith through his version of BAP, has failed to create a strong competitive rosters, and it is precisely because he has been a need picker. He can continue to say that his strategy has always been BAP, but I find it more than coincidence that nearly every player picked is always the greatest need of the team at that time. The type of selections are just much too frequent. Gene Smith appears to do exactly what he said he wouldn't do in 2010: fall in love with players, overdraft them, and the guys come in and underperform. I hope whoever the future GM of the Jaguars, concentrates on getting the truly BAP and not base it on anything other than being the best player: not on needs or scheme, or how far/close we are from the playoffs. If we can draft based on talent, we can develop a truly competitive roster instead of settling for lesser talented players who may fill a need but may not necessarily be quality players. I don't think we should draft a QB or a DE just because we have too, just think of that next great player we could have missed on...