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Is there another way to determine the NFL draft order other than records?

With reports that coaches have been offered money to lose games, what if more losses didn’t give a better draft pick?

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers

It seems like it comes around every so often where an NFL team may be trying to improve their draft position going in to a certain year in order to be able to add a given player. Whether it be “tanking for Tua,” or “tanking for Trevor,” there seems to be certain teams, or at least their fans, who would rather see the team fail for a better draft pick than to put together some wins.

With the recent lawsuit filed against the NFL by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, one of the allegations was that he was offered money to lose games in order to improve the teams draft slot. Former Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson was also rumored to ultimately lose more games in order to land the top draft pick. Whether or not these allegations are true, it still raises the question about losing games in order to pick higher in the NFL draft. Even in 2021, there were a number of Steelers fans who would have preferred the team lose three or four more games, not make the postseason, and move up to have a better draft pick.

But what if a team’s record from the previous year was not the determining factor of where they fell in the following year‘s draft?

I have been pondering this question lately about if there is a better way other than record in determining where teams pick in the draft. While I like how the NFL does picks 19–32 with the teams that qualified for the postseason, is there another way in determining the first 18 spots for the teams that don’t make the playoffs that would be fair and ultimately help teams build through the draft?

First, there must be certain goals that need to be accomplished if a change would be made in where a team would be slotted to draft each year. If the ultimate goal is for teams who are less competitive to reach a point where they were championship contenders, is a one-year sample size of their record really the best indication of who needs the most help? While it probably is, it could also be done another way where “more losses“ isn’t the ultimate factor.

Next, I dismissed any idea of using a machine that pulls out a ping-pong ball. I’m just not going that route.

After these factors were established, I considered looking at more than just the last season a team has played and using records over a three to five year span, but ultimately a single game or two could still be the determining factor. Additionally, one really great season, or one really bad one, could be a big factor in a team’s position. I then started to really think outside the box for another idea.

What if the ultimate factor was qualifying for the postseason?

I thought of a scenario in which teams would draft in the order of how many seasons they have gone without qualifying for the playoffs. It didn’t matter if a team finished 1-16 or if they finished 8–9, if they have gone the longest without qualifying for the NFL postseason, they get a higher draft pick.

The way this scenario plays out, the New York Jets would have the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Going 11 seasons without making the playoffs, the Jets would be in the top spot. Even though teams lost more games than the Jets, the argument could be made they need the most help in order to get on the right track.

The next question would be how to handle teams that have gone the same number of seasons without making the playoffs. In that scenario, teams who had a higher draft pick the previous season would have a lower draft pick this year. For example, both the Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans have gone two seasons without making the playoffs. Since the Texans had a higher placement in the 2021 NFL draft, the Vikings would have the higher draft pick in 2022. Of course, these “tiebreakers“ would be based on where a team was supposed to draft the previous year regardless if they traded their pick.

So how would these picks pan out for the 2022 NFL draft if this was the determining factor for draft position? Below is a list of the new draft order followed by the number of seasons it has been since the team made the playoffs. Additionally, I included how much a team’s draft position changed based on when they are actually scheduled to pick this season:

1. New York Jets (11 seasons) (+3)
2. Denver Broncos (6 seasons) (+7)
3. Miami Dolphins (5 seasons) (+12, pick already traded)
4. New York Giants (5 seasons) (+1)
5. Detroit Lions (5 seasons) (-3)
6. Carolina Panthers (4 seasons) (+0)
7. Atlanta Falcons (4 seasons) (+1)
8. Jacksonville Jaguars (4 seasons) (-7)
9. Los Angeles Chargers (3 seasons) (+8)
10. Minnesota Vikings (2 seasons) (+2)
11. Houston Texans (2 seasons) (-8)
12. New Orleans Saints (1 season) (+6)
13. Baltimore Ravens (1 season) (+1)
14. Cleveland Browns (1 season) (-1)
15. Seattle Seahawks (1 season) (-5, pick already traded)
16. Indianapolis Colts (1 season) (+0, pick already traded)
17. Chicago Bears (1 season) (-10, pick already traded)
18. Washington Commanders (1 seasons) (-7)

As you can see, there are a number of teams who would be picking in either the exact same or a very similar position. Also, there are teams such as the Jaguars and Lions who lost the most games in 2021 but yet are drafting no higher than the 5th position but are still in the top 10.

Before the 2021 NFL season began, teams would know exactly where they are in the order before a game is even played. The only way a team could improve their draft position is for a team ahead of them to qualify for the playoffs. A team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who began the season picking outside of the top 10, could do nothing themselves to improve their position. When teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals, who would have picked second and third overall had they not made the postseason, moved to the bottom of the list, the Jaguars then moved up. Even another team, the Las Vegas Raiders, had gone more seasons without making the playoffs than the Jaguars and would have held a higher draft position. The Jaguars could have won an additional five games, and possibly even a sixth game, in 2021 and would not have affected their draft position at all as they still would have missed the postseason. With this system in place, losing more games would mean nothing. There would be no incentive to “tank,” and they would not have been criticized for winning their final game of the season which possibly could have affected their draft position as much as it did which teams qualified for the 2021 postseason.

So what about a team like the Cleveland Browns who would have held the first overall draft pick for a number of seasons until they made the playoffs in 2020? Well, if they were that bad of a team for so long, they would continue to have an opportunity to pick at the top of the draft. But even picking in the top spot doesn’t necessarily mean success, such as in 2018 when the Browns selected Baker Mayfield as the first overall pick while passing on other successful quarterbacks such as Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.

So would a team not want to make the postseason in order to continue to have a pick at the top of the NFL draft? While that could ultimately be the case in theory, eventually a team would break through and relinquish their top spot. How long would a franchise want to hold the top spot and not make a push for a championship? Would they always be looking to improve their future rather than make a run for a Super Bowl?

With only a few games left in the regular season, would a team take a possible playoff opportunity and sacrifice it to pick at the top of the next season‘s draft? Would the Cincinnati Bengals not make a playoff push so they could have the second-overall pick instead of making the playoffs which now has them playing in the Super Bowl? While it’s possible, I don’t think that’s how most NFL franchises would operate.

One other thing with this draft order being used is teams that made the postseason in 2021 but lost their quarterback, such as the Steelers or Buccaneers, likely would not land a draft pick in the top 10 regardless of how bad the record is in 2022. Instead, teams who may have been “on the cusp” of the postseason but weren’t quite there would be drafting ahead of them to try to find the missing piece to get them to the promised land. It would take more than one bad season to get teams up to the top.

I’m sure there may be holes in this proposal, but I’m confident our great readers here at Behind The Steel Curtain will be ready to point them out. In fact, I welcome criticism as well as suggestions for improvement.

So what do you think? Would using the goal of getting to the NFL postseason and coming up short of that goal be a better measuring stick for determining draft position than the number of games a team won and lost in a given year? Is there an even better method? Or has the NFL ultimately got it right by using records all these years, even though “tanking” could still come into play? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.