NFL Draft Lessons We Can Learn from the NBA Draft

As much as we love football here at Takeaways, we certainly enjoy and appreciate other sports too. Case in point, this week featured the 2023 NBA Draft, where 58 players learned their new professional teams. That got us thinking: what NFL draft lessons can we learn from the NBA draft? Though the sports are different and so are their drafts, some similarities exist. We’ll take a look at some of these in this post, starting with one that feels obvious but apparently isn’t…

If a Can’t-Miss Prospect is Available at #1, Don’t Overthink It

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve known that Victor Wembanyama of France was going #1 overall for several years. He is considered a generational prospect never before seen in the league. When the San Antonio Spurs won the draft lottery, do you know what they did? They guaranteed a selection of Wembanyama and didn’t think twice. In the NFL, there’s usually controversy at #1. Some pushed for Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning. Robert Griffin III had fans in Indianapolis even with Andrew Luck available. A few people even suggested taking Zach Wilson over Trevor Lawrence (crazy right?).

The point is: sometimes you just have to trust your eyes. When a player dominates good competition, has all the measurables, and seems to have excellent intangibles, take him and don’t look back. Fortunately in those NFL cases I mentioned above, reason won out despite some consternation. It doesn’t always though. This week, the team that took Wembanyama happens to be a model franchise. NFL teams should take note of how the Spurs treat their premium picks; they’ve nailed every one in franchise history and likely did so again.

Player-Team Fit Matters as Much as Talent

A prospect can have all the talent in the world, but that doesn’t matter if he ends up in a poor situation. Conversely, a somewhat limited player might flourish in the right environment. A recent NFL example of this is the 2018 QB class. Stable teams like Buffalo and Baltimore effectively groomed talented but raw prospects (Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, respectively). Chaotic franchises, like Cleveland and New York, took touted players (Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, respectively) and sabotaged their potential. In the 2023 NBA Draft, teams tried to mesh talent and positional need to find optimal fits.

The glaring match here is Jaime Jaquez Jr to the Heat. His tenacious personality perfectly fits the culture there. Even though the 18th pick was viewed as a reach by some, that won’t matter if he stars in coach Erik Spoelstra’s system. The NFL needs to understand that. For instance, if you take a top QB but have no offensive line to protect him, you might end up with a bust. In contrast, taking an elite man coverage CB with a DC like Raheem Morris on your team will probably end well. What might be the best prospect for one team won’t for another, and that’s what makes the draft such an interesting puzzle.

Sometimes Players Fall for Seemingly Unknown Reasons

Don’t ask me why this happens. Maybe a guy has a little-known medical issue that only comes to light after the draft. Perhaps the media was simply too high on a player. In the NFL, we see this too often, especially with QBs. Dan Marino slid because of an unproven drug rumor. Aaron Rodgers had personality quirks and teams foolishly rated Alex Smith above him. Sam Howell slid just last year, and teams admit they aren’t quite sure why.

Cam Whitmore suffered this fate in the 2023 NBA Draft. Considered a top-5 prospect, some poor workouts and interviews with teams, plus a couple of medical red flags, dropped him to the 20th pick. The issue is always revealed after the fact or even during the draft, but as the famous Rodgers footage shows, that doesn’t make things any more comfortable for the poor kid in the green room. For the team: take a chance on someone like this, and you might end up with a steal. For the player: take heart; this is the beginning of your story, not its finale.

Trades Make Everything More Fun

Draft fans know that one of the most exciting parts of the draft is the trades. We spend so much time examining the players and making mock drafts, only to see all that work go up in smoke when the banner on ESPN changes to “TRADE”. No amount of preparation can save an analyst from this fate, but that’s the beauty of it. Fans can feel as smart (and as lost) as the experts because in truth, they probably are. Regardless of how well we know our teams, we don’t truly know what’s going to happen until it unfolds on stage.

This year’s NBA draft was actually light on trades in a surprising twist, but the ones that did occur had an impact. Every time the commissioner said “I have a trade to announce”, the audience held their collective breath. The #1 pick in the NFL usually gets traded before the draft, but almost every other pick trade takes place amidst the action. It’s exciting to see who the team that moved up wanted, what they paid to jump up, and what the ramifications of that decision are. Count me among those who want to see even more trades. We can’t get enough.

The Draft is All About the Players and Their Families

Let’s not forget what matters most here. Each time a name is called on stage, that’s another young man’s dream coming true. Yeah, money is a factor, but when these guys were kids, they weren’t thinking about finances. They wanted to be the next Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Very few people reach any top-tier professional sports league. Getting drafted is a huge accomplishment, and it’s a culmination of all the work and sacrifice that went into the process. Players’ lives have revolved around the game for years, but it’s not just them.

Family members have sacrificed alongside the players in pursuit of their dreams. Coaches have worked late nights and early mornings to develop talent and teach boys to become good men. Like the first round of the NFL draft, the NBA draft’s first round shows you all the players in the arena reacting to their selections. Tears are almost always involved. Obviously, they’re tears of joy, but it’s more than that. These tears are the realization that everything they’ve worked for has finally arrived. During the draft, we’re all fans of our own teams, but I hope that for that short time, we can root for all the young men who get picked and congratulate them on a job well done.

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