Since we are less than a week away from the draft, I wanted to collect all of the thinking done on this site to create a list of principles Niners are likely to follow on draft weekend. These aren't hard and fast rules, but they do enlighten us as to how the FO thinks (Harbaalke in particular), and what we can glean from their history together.
I want to keep the post brief and then unpack various principles in more detail in the comments section. Please feel free to add your own principles if you think it can help us predict what may happen during the draft. As usual, this is not a competition of convictions amongst us, but rather an attempt to create a guide we can collectively use to better understand our favorite team.
Ordered principles of Niners' draft framework (we can definitely rearrange the order to prioritize it better):
- Build the team through the draft and add supplementary players in FA. Because wholesale > retail, therefore, add core team players through the draft and sign select few of them to extensions.
- Bring in Gold Star guys: incoming players have to fit in with organizational style and must not upset the structure of the locker room. Make strategic exceptions when reward may be substantially greater than the risk (i.e. Randy Moss). I am a bit skeptical about how much of this is PR and how much of it is real.
- Adhere to advanced roster planning such that you are anticipating and planning for future needs. This also suggests a tendency to act a year in advance of the need. Baalke said it pretty clearly during his press conference earlier this week.
- Plan for the next 2-4 years so that contracts can be staggered as they approach expiration. For example, Niners have ~45 contracts expiring over the next 3 seasons. This means they need to draft a large number of players to replenish the roster. Therefore, we should continue to expect trades to stockpile picks in future years.
- Draft more players than needed to account for draft attrition: all draft picks will not make the roster. Thus, Niners will bring in more players (via draft & UDFA) than they can reasonably fit on 53-man roster + Practice Squad.
- Maximize draft value in current & future years: this indicates a desire to trade down within a draft, and to trade out to future years in order to maximize the number & value of picks. This strategy is particularly useful if a player you like can be obtained at a lower draft slot and you have the stomach to play the draft game while enduring the risk of another team selecting that player.
- On the other hand, strike early (i.e. trade up) if you think player X is your guy: Baalke has traded up several times (Anthony Davis, Kaepernick, Looney) in order to secure a player they like.
- Rookies are unlikely to be starters and unlikely to contribute significantly in year 1. Rookies will need time to understand the playbook and to be physically ready to play at the NFL level. This approach leads to patient player development which can be summarized as "red-shirting rookies". This lag between the draft and NFL readiness creates a situation where a veteran is more likely to play ahead of a rookie. Harbaugh and the coaching staff is probably driving this philosophy more so than Baalke and the FO.
- Some positions are more important to team success than others: Virtually all NFL teams believe this to some degree, but it is important to see that Niners have significantly invested draft capital & salary cap dollars to a Power Running Game (OL & RB) and a stout Front-7 (DL & LB). With the emergence of Colin Kaepernick, it will be interesting to see if future resource allocation is different than recent history.
- A set of questions: What is the effect of NFC West competition and to what degree do we build our team around our primary opponents' strengths & weaknesses? Did the presence of Richard Sherman & Brandon Browner lead to the acquisition of Anquan Boldin? Will the addition of Percy Harvin and emergence of Russell Wilson create a need for a top slot corner and overall increase in speed on defense? Does the physicality of Rams defense under Jeff Fisher indicate a need for a counter strategy to add a deep threat on offense? As we evolve to being consistent contenders, our offensive and defensive strategies will have to remain two steps ahead of the competition. Also, Harbaugh has proved that we can win by playing his style of game at an A+ level. But, can we win if we have to play in a shootout against Seattle, or in a low-scoring, field-goals-fest against Legatron and the Rams?
- Creating an 11th principle because stopping at 10 seems unnecessarily fixed-minded: When on the clock and forced to make a decision, trust your process and pick a player who fits most of the criteria. I don't remember any instances where Niners have overreached for a specific player. In mid to late rounds, Baalke has shown a tendency to draft a high-reward player with injury concerns (Looney, Cam Johnson, Holcomb, etc). It is actually a fascinating question: how does Baalke come to a decision if a trade doesn't materialize and he is stuck in making a pick?
Other unknown factors: How do College UDFA + FA compensatory pick calculations shape their draft strategy?