At draft time, you take your communiques with a plain of salt, so Houston Texans GM Charlie Casserly's predraft talk yesterday should be approached with caution. But this much seems assured: the Texans will retain the No. 1 pick in this weekend's NFL draft, and they're not taking University of Texas quarterback Vince Young.
|Vince Young: Won't take him at No. 1, Texans say.|
The news wasn't much of a surprise, but one of the more noteworthy elements from yesterday's Casserly press conference was this bit about the Texans' efforts to trade the top slot:
"We're sitting here today and it's Wednesday at noon and we don't have a trade offer. It's not because we haven't called people. Monday morning I called teams behind us and I won't tell you who I called or where I stopped, but you can obviously figure I called teams immediately behind us and I'm not going to tell you where I stopped and there was no interest. And that was not my first phone call to them; that was just my latest."
(on why there is no interest) "I think you have a combination of things, you have a number of good players and if you're satisfied with the quality of player that you're going to get at your pick, why give up something else? And I think that is what it really comes down to. There are a lot of good players at the top of this draft and there is no one player that people absolutely have to have that is so much better than the player that is going to fall to them that they are willing to make a trade, and I think that is a factor."
What Casserly doesn't talk about is money -- the added cost of signing the No. 1 pick and whether or not it's a good place to be in the first place -- as well as the exhaustive yet uncertain process of assessing talent. Fans cheer No. 1 picks and put the saviour tag on them each year, but in an article in the May issue of the Atlantic, Allen Barra looks at the draft and draws some intriguing conclusions (subscription required), while Matthew Quirk, in an accompanying sidebar, cites a recent academic study and pulls out a telling stat:
In any given season over his first five years, a first-round draft pick is almost as likely to not start a single game (8 per cent) or fail out of the league (8 per cent) as he is to go to the Pro Bowl (9 per cent).
What Massey and Thaler found was that, in terms of performance (games started, Pro Bowl selections, etc.) per dollar, the top draft pick is actually the worst choice in the first round.
As for why the flops flop, Barra looks beyond the players themselves and to the sidelines, putting some of the blame on coaches:
"I'm often surprised," says three-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Walsh, "at how seldom a coach's ability to motivate isn't considered when analyzing a player's success or failure. A lot of guys who you see go bust their first time around in the NHL do end up fulfilling their early expectations, but with different teams and different coaches. The trick for a really smart coach is to make his players see how smart he is without destroying their confidence in their own intelligence."
The NFL may be focusing their efforts in the wrong place. Maybe tests should be designed to grade coaches - they're the ones who have to mold a disparate group of young men into a team.