"Best player available." It's a term often thrown around in reference to the NFL Draft year after year in regards to an approach a specific team might take with their selections. Teams must take both value and need into account when bringing in a player, and there's a commonly held understanding that the best teams in the NFL focus on the former, while the worst teams reach for the latter. Thus, a team that simply takes the "best player available" is more likely to be successful.
If you've read Michael Holley's book War Room, and you definitely should invest the time if you have not, then you're well aware that a Scott Pioli-led front office is marked with a focused, specific vision for each player on the roster. There's really nothing so simple as the reality of "best player available" because a player is only valued as high as what he can specifically bring to the roster within the boundaries of what the team has already established.
For instance, a player regarded as a major talent in many mock drafts might fall past a team like the Chiefs. The instant result is a fan base questioning why a team is acting like they are. Take the Indianapolis Colts, for instance. The team is devoid on talent on both sides of the roster, yet they invested both a second and third round selection on the tight end position with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. It's a headscratcher if you're gauging selections by "best player available."
But the selections give some insight into the team's approach. There is a very specific way in which the team is going to utilize Andrew Luck within the passing game and an overall offensive scheme that Bruce Arians is bringing in his first year from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Based on the players available and what each guy can do (or not do), the team decided that both Fleener and Allen were the best persons for the job. It has nothing to do with measuring overall talent or skill against another. It's grabbing the guy who can accomplish exactly what you need him to.
The Cincinnati Bengals pulled defensive lineman Devon Still out of the green room on the second day of the draft, taking the former Nittany Lion in round two. But the Bengals still haven't figured out with certainty what to do with him. Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer explains that the Bengals hope to get more insight whether Still should be a defensive tackle or a defensive end during upcoming Organized Team Activities. For now, Still prefers to stay inside.
Here you have a case that seems to be opposite to what Holley details about a Scott Pioli-helmed war room. Still was one of the top ranked defensive linemen available heading into the draft. He's clearly going to become a nice addition to the defensive front for someone, and the Bengals could reap major rewards because of it. But even weeks after the choice, how he fits was not a part of the picture beforehand. Instead it seems it was about the typical understanding of "best player available."
Simply put, Still is a good player. Let's add him and figure it out later.
It's a reminder of what the Kansas City Chiefs did with Glenn Dorsey when they first got him. Let's take a player because of his talent and make him work into what we are doing overall as a defense. Several years into Pioli's tenure, that's a statement you never hear anymore. The right guys are being brought in to do very specific things on the team.
In Holley's book, six questions are asked about each player in terms of who he will replace on the roster, what exactly they can do now and what they are projected to do in the future. They ask very specific questions about the role on the team they will be expected to fill. If there are not solid answers to those questions, then that player will not be taken. No one says, "I like the guy. He's talented."
That's not to say that Cincinnati is so simple in their approach. Certainly they've enjoyed some nice additions through the draft in recent seasons, so their front office deserves the benefit of the doubt. They got a potential playmaker in Still. But if anything, it's interesting to see how one front office seems to approach things in terms of regarding value with fewer limitations than what Pioli does.
In the end, "best player available" might not be as simple as it sounds.