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Unsurprisingly, NFL GMs Engage in Revisionist History

From the San Francisco Chronicle, where Trent Baalke discusses the idea of drafting for need, versus sticking to the board:

“Well, you can’t force it,” Baalke said on KNBR. “You really can’t. We tried that once and that didn’t work as well as we had hoped. The board is the board.”

The 49ers selected [A.J.] Jenkins with the No. 30 pick because they desperately needed a deep-threat wideout. As a result, they shocked even Jenkins (“I had no idea I was going to go this early,” he said on draft night) by selecting him in the first round.

* (Worth noting: In 2012, Baalke said the 49ers trusted their board after they took Jenkins: “You just line up the board, you go through that 365-day process to get to this day and you let the board speak and best player available. He was the best player on the board at the time, we felt, and we had opportunities to trade back and chose not to because we had the player valued where we picked him.”)

This was a great tidbit from the Chronicle because it goes to the amount that we should trust what’s coming out of the mouths of NFL GMs. To be fair, it might not be reasonable to expect them to be straightforward and truthful when talking about team moves. However, the way that Baalke described Jenkins as being both the result of sticking to the board, and the result of trying to address need, goes to the issue of whether GMs themselves even know whether their comments are truthful. Maybe Baalke really doesn’t remember whether Jenkins was the result of sticking to the board.

In his now infamous letter, former 76ers GM Sam Hinkie addressed a similar issue in the following way:

Tesla’s Elon Musk describes his everyday stance as, “You should take the approach that you’re wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.” The physicist James Clerk Maxwell described it as a “thoroughly conscious ignorance—the prelude to every real advance in science.” Bill James of the Boston Red Sox (and, I might add, a Kansas basketball expert) added a little flair when asked whether the learnings available via examining evidence were exhausted: “we’ve only taken a bucket of knowledge from a sea of ignorance.” A way to prop up this kind of humility is to keep score. Use a decision journal. Write in your own words what you think will happen and why before a decision. Refer back to it later. See if you were right, and for the right reasons (think Bill Belichick’s famous 4th down decision against Indianapolis in 2009 which summarizes to: good decision, didn’t work). Reading your own past reasoning in your own words in your own handwriting time after time causes the tides of humility to gather at your feet. I’m often in waist-deep water here.

To get back to the 49ers and whether Jenkins was the result of sticking to their board or not, it is worth remembering that Jenkins was the fourth receiver off the board and it’s not like the team could have been surprised by the way that the draft unfolded. It’s tough to think that pick could have been a panic selection of need. The only player taken in front of Jenkins, that the 49ers could have even had a shot at, was Kendall Wright. But he ran a slow forty time at the combine and probably wasn’t regarded as a deep threat anyway. So the most logical explanation for what happened is that the 49ers made a draft plan that contemplated Jenkins ahead of time, and now Baalke is trying to whitewash a poor evaluation by saying that he just got caught up in team need. For what it’s worth, Jenkins had good market share numbers which combined with his draft spot meant that I expected him to be good.

I’m often shocked when I go back and read old articles (that I remember as being correct) because I’ll discover that I made four predictions in the article and maybe half of them turned out to be right. Or maybe they turned out to be true, while the underlying reasoning was wrong. That’s the nature of making predictions, which is what the NFL draft is at its core. Hopefully by writing down those predictions1 we can either get better at making them, or become more humble. Although I should say that humility really isn’t my bag so I’ll keep the faith alive for “better predictions.”

As it relates to the 49ers, they’ve had one of the worst stretches of drafting players in recent memory. If they don’t even know why they made a past selection, it’s tough to think that they’ll make better future selections outside of just expecting some mean reversion. In other words, they’re due.

  1. for me at least that takes place in articles  (back)

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