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Should the Chicago Bears go Best Player Available: Part 1

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For teams in need of talent, there is a constant debate among fans over whether it is best to draft for need or to draft the best player available. As a community, it's possible for Windy City Gridiron to get some clarity on this issue.

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One of my favorite things about Windy City Gridiron is the level of discussion generated by the community. While there will be occasional "meatball" comments, the site as a whole tends toward informed and well-intended discussion. Disagreements are usually pretty well-mannered, and people often try to back up claims with some sort of evidence. This has prompted me to try something a little different.

I want to test the idea that a team is better off when it drafts the best player available, as opposed to the player it seems to need, and I want your help to do it. This article is going to be the first in a four-part series. In this article, I intend to lay out my approach to the question and ask for your help in filling in some research holes. In the second part, I want to try to identify teams that have clearly adopted BPA-, Need-, and Mixed-based approaches to the draft. In the third part, I hope to compare the trajectories of these teams and see if the approaches match up to any measurable difference. Finally, I want to try to draw some conclusions for our beloved Bears.

For Part Two, then, I need ways of identifying the players who seem to be the best available at the time of the draft; I also need ways of identifying what the team at the time needs. I want to limit myself to players drafted since the rookie salary scale went into effect, because I do believe that prior to this measure, there were effectively financial penalties attached to drafting certain quality players. Therefore, what I am looking for are ways to evaluate the prospects and needs for 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Because teams can turn things around very quickly, allowing for two years to see improvement should be enough to draw some kind of conclusion, especially if a team follows one approach consistently.

For prospect evaluation, I want only articles written prior to a set of players' NFL careers (basically, articles leading up to each draft). I want to use the same evaluation pool for each of the four years in question. For example, I can find NFL.com's prospect grades four all four years. This makes them a relatively consistent data stream, if not a perfect one. If you have ideas for other non-pay sites that we as a community could use, please note them in the comments below.

After a couple of days, I am going to start filtering through these suggestions and find a reliable handful that I turn into my retroactive big board to determine who the consensus best players were for each year. Likewise, I want to be able to figure out what others (at the time) thought each team's biggest needs were. In that way, I can evaluate whether a particular draft was for need or for available talent. For simple time limitations, I am going to restrict myself to the first three rounds of each draft. When a player is drafted based on pre-draft grade instead of identified need, this will be marked (and vice versa). Hopefully, a few teams will emerge as having clear trends, and we can see what happens to them.

I want to note that this experiment could fall on its face. It is likely that once I dig into things, I'll find that most teams take a hybrid approach and that I cannot identify a trend. Of course, any result is a result, and even this "inconclusive" result should be informative. In any case, because of how much I enjoy the discussions we have here, I want to respect the input from the community before I put together my own lists. I'm hoping that this is a project we can own together.

I look forward to your suggestions.