The fashionable thing to say for men who run drafts is they'll set their boards and honor them and take the best player available. I believe general managers approach drafts that way, but when it comes time to pull the trigger, they're going to pay more attention to positions of need than they'll admit. They should. If you're set with two good young tackles, why pick a tackle, just because the top guy on your board is a tackle?
Consistently over the years, the Baltimore Ravens have drafted for need while not bastardizing the integrity of their draft board. In 2008, GM Ozzie Newsome knew the strength of the draft wasn't at quarterback (except for Matt Ryan) or running back, but he knew he needed help at both positions. He maneuvered through two trades, picked Joe Flacco at 18, waited for the running backs to fall to him at 55, and got Ray Rice there. Without those two picks, there's little chance the Ravens would have won the Super Bowl in February.
And this year, I think the Ravens showed how you can honor your board while making sure you address huge needs on your team. Here's how:
"We really went to the hardware store this year in the draft,'' said Harbaugh.
That leaves one major position of need. Baltimore didn't take a wide receiver until the seventh round (Aaron Mellette, Elon), so the Ravens, obviously, still will be mining for one before training camp starts. The only mistake I can see that the Ravens made this offseason was letting a $2 million financial disagreement with a vital player, wideout Anquan Boldin, lead to him being traded to San Francisco. I'll never agree with that one. Smart teams find a way to make up for losses like that, but that's a big one to overcome. Look for Baltimore to be more tight-end oriented if a prospect like Tandon Doss doesn't step up to the pressure spot in training camp.
Now for your email:
JIM MAKES A GOOD POINT.
The biggest thing about the Cardinals draft, to me, is they concentrated on players who aren't glamor guys but who fit exactly what they do. Bruce Arians wants a tough, physical offensive line, and Jonathan Cooper might be too high for some at seventh overall, but why is that too high if he plugs a position and plays it well for eight or 10 years? Kevin Minter will be the kind of linebacker who starts early and makes lots of tackles, though he won't be the sideline-to-sideline playmaker some in this draft will be. Tyrann Mathieu's a big risk, and I have my doubts, but at 69, it's not a bad place to take a guy who will be a good contributor if he stays out of trouble. Stepfan Taylor will play early and get quality carries. I thought it was a good weekend for Arizona, but we never really know for two or three years.
I OVERRATED KLUWE, STEVE THINKS.
Well, if you read what I wrote, two of your points aren't valid, if you ask me. I showed how he's had a slightly higher average over the last two years outside than inside, so why does playing eight games a year outside bother you? At $1.4 million, he's 14th on the list of punter salaries this year; his replacement, Jeff Locke, will make about $580,000 total this year, so it's a money savings of $800,000 this year. Will it be worth it? Maybe. We'll see. Kluwe's not the best punter in the league; we know that. But you leave out the fact that last year was his best net-punting season in eight years with the Vikings, and his third-best gross punting average. Arguably, he had his best season, or one of his best two, and he got replaced. Just seems like the wrong time to me.
PIOLI BACK TO NEW ENGLAND?
Well, Pioli wants to try his hand at the media this season, to see if he likes it and if he has a future in it. He may not be offered a GM job again -- or at least not in 2014 -- so he could have a job choice to make after this season. Would he go somewhere as a No. 2 guy, say in a place like Atlanta with Thomas Dimitroff, or Chicago with Phil Emery (he is friends with both)? Or would he go back to New England, where Nick Caserio has filled his spot since Pioli left to be the Chiefs' GM in 2009? I think he'd rather go be a No. 2 elsewhere than back to the crowded house in New England, unless Caserio gets a GM job somewhere in 2014. But we'll see. There's a lot we don't know yet, and Pioli might like this side of the business.
Kluwe told me last week he thought players would come out, essentially, if they thought it wouldn't affect their ability to make a living. And I am sure some will feel the way you do -- why speak out for gay rights if you believe it might have hastened Kluwe's departure from the Vikings and might do the same to you?
ON JUSTIN BLACKMON.
It is noteworthy, and I should have noted it. My error. There's blame to go around here. Gene Smith, the former GM, thought a DUI in college wasn't typical behavior for Blackmon, and probably didn't take his off-field conduct seriously enough. I blame Blackmon mostly. At some point, you have to be an adult. Three incidents going back to his final year in college are ridiculous, and a sign that he needs to get significant help now. Which I'm sure he's getting.
DRAFT INFORMATION CAN BE MYSTERIOUS.
Lots of front-office people have lots of friends -- in and out of the game. How does it happen? Think of how many people the average GM comes in contact with: scouts, coaches, other GMs, writers, network officials. Let's say a GM is dying to know what another team is going to do, and he knows two or three people in the NFL circle who don't work for that team. What's to stop him from calling those people, who don't work for that team, and saying, "Gut feeling: What do you think they're going to do when their spot comes up?" I think that happens. And I think sometimes those gut feelings are right. Now, I don't know that this is the way it happens, but I do think in the days before a draft and during the draft, smart NFL people reach out to try to find out information any way they can.