It's still March, but the NFL draft is well in the minds of most fans right now, since it's only one month away. Mock drafts come out seemingly every minute, and rebuffs to those mock drafts follow suit. Some groups of fans often seem jaded by draft failures of the past, and seem scared of every player linked to their team. They want to play it "safe", by drafting the #1 guy on Mel Kiper's board, or the "Best Available Player". It's time to throw that notion away, because there is no such thing as drafting "safe". It's time to dispel theories of the past, and understand why teams draft the way they do.
With the amount of draftniks filling the internet, and people like me having free reign to throw their two cents in, fans get unnecessarily nervous about the draft and certain players, not just out of perception, but because of old failures. "Safe" players are often the fallback option, and fans are hesitant to embrace players that have inherent risks attached with drafting them, such as QB's. The 2013 Draft is a perfect example, since there are no sure-fire (bad term) starting QB's at the top of the draft, and the strength of the class is on the offensive and defensive lines. "Safe" players are often offensive lineman, who seem to pan out more than they don't. But even when you draft these "safe" players, they have just as much bust potential as the next Tim Couch, Akili Smith, or Ryan Leaf.
Offensive lineman busts in the draft are not hard to find, and most of those players are "safe" picks. Even though Jake Long was a very solid offensive line player for the Dolphins for 5 seasons, would Dolphins fans rather have him, or Matt Ryan knowing what we know now? Taking the "safe" player doesn't always guarantee the right result, and the future of the Miami Dolphins would be very different if they had taken Ryan over Long. The following year, the Rams selected Jason Smith from Baylor with the second overall pick. He's currently unemployed and was traded to the Jets for Wayne Hunter. That's not a good sign. Injuries and competition from Roger Saffold hurt his Rams career, and he will be known as a bust. And, then there is the king of offensive lineman busts...
Tony Mandarich: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpSvFiPdLZc
That video, from NFL Films' Top 10 Draft busts, talks about Mandarich, his hype, and how he was the "can't miss prospect", before showing Reggie White toss him around like a rag-doll. To make it even worse, look at the players taken around him in the 1989 Draft. "Safe" doesn't always mean solid.
But this does distract from the larger point of fans being risk averse when watching their team draft. With risk, there is the possibility of failures, but also the possibility of massive success. From that video, Troy Aikman could have been considered somewhat risky, but he turned out to be a Hall of Fame player. If a team is unwilling to take risks, their drafts will suffer. Look at the Cincinnati Bengals drafts of the 1990's and early 2000's as an example, or even recent Jacksonville Jaguars drafts. They were risk averse, and look at the fortunes of the teams that came out of that. Not willing to pull the trigger is often far worse than pulling it.
The NFL draft is tricky, and finding the right players to fit schemes, particular skill sets, and avoided character problems is very hard. But being sucked into "safe" drafting, or drafting the "best available player" is not safe at all. The examples from history are too numerous to count, and for every success story, there is a bust right next door. So, for fans who are tetchy about their team drafting Geno Smith, Ziggy Ansah, or any player that has a modicum of risk:
"A ship is always safe at the shore, but that's not what it was built for."
Video Credit to NFL Films for Top 10 NFL Draft Busts