Time to fix the NFL draft

Originally Published: April 23, 2010
By Patrick Hruby | Page 2

Santa ClausAP Photo/Wade PayneYou know you'd watch every minute of the NFL draft if they went with the Secret Santa format.

The NFL draft is outdated. Inefficient. Badly needs an overhaul. So says a team of researchers at Harvard Business School, who propose junking the current system -- which often hurts lousy teams as much as it helps them, thanks to the huge signing bonuses and imperfect scouting that produces busts like Ryan Leaf -- in favor of an auction-based method that would give losing teams a proportionally larger spending cap to bid on incoming players.

Would such a system make the draft more economically rational? Hard to say. It would definitely be different, and as such, potentially more entertaining. Along those lines, here are four other ways to re-jigger the draft:

Best Record First

Method: In playground basketball, the winner stays. This works the same way, reversing the draft's current inverse order of season finish by giving the Super Bowl champ the top pick, the runner-up the second selection, and so on, until the Detroit Lions invariably receive the No. 32 slot.

Pros: Gives late-season and playoff games extra meaning. Rewards excellence, making the draft more Randian and less -- gasp -- socialist. Increases likelihood of unpredictable picks and entertaining wheeling and dealing, as talent-stocked winning teams often don't need typical top selections such as quarterbacks. May even help cellar dwellers, as a 2007 University of Chicago study suggested that the No. 1 pick is the least valuable of the first round.

Cons: Fans of Lions and other bottom-feeders lose one time of year to get really, truly excited about club; Al Davis bound to select tall, fast guys that can't catch no matter where the Oakland Raiders pick.

Secret Santa

Method: Like the holiday office gift-giving game. Two ways to do it: 1) Each team draws the name of another team from a hat, then makes a secret pick for the other club; 2) Each team draws a draft spot out of a hat and picks players in that order, under the condition that teams can choose to swap picks once, and only once, with any team that has selected before them.

Pros: Instead of wasting time with smokescreens and bluffing before the draft, teams would be trying to screw each other, "Survivor"-style, on live TV. Ratings gold!

Cons: Game theory was confusing enough in college.

Paper Scrap Out of Hat

Method: Self-explanatory. Teams pick in the order of the numbers they draw.

Pros: The real fun of the draft isn't the endless speculation and over-analysis -- it's that said speculation and over-analysis is without consequence and mostly for naught, given that player projection forever remains a crapshoot. Why not embrace -- and make explicit -- the draft's essential randomness?

Cons: Method requires commissioner Roger Goodell to wear in-character top hat, tails and magician's wand. Come to think of it, that's more like a pro.

Free Market

Method: Teams and players select each other through mutual negotiation and agreement -- just like almost every other business and profession in the country.

Pros: Fair. Reasonable. Frees teams and players to find the best possible fits for each side. So long as a salary cap remains in place, wouldn't necessarily lead to any more competitive imbalance than already exists. (Again: drafting is not an exact science; again, see Lions, Detroit).

Cons: Would drive stake through the heart of the golden goose that is the draft prognostication industry. Oops. Forget you ever read this.

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