Last year, I wrote a post on Madden 11 drafting. The punch line is that, if you have a system, it’s easy to break Madden drafting and consistently get late-round gems. They changed this in Madden 12, to the point where I have had success, but haven’t yet figured out a way to bust the system.
With Madden 10 and 11, I considered it a disappointment to draft a guy with C potential any earlier than, say, the 6th or 7th round. With this edition, I have drafted guys with C and D potential in the first round, so I don’t have a system down yet.
So far, it seems that Pro Days aren’t very important for most positions. They provide some information on “intangibles” (play recognition, stamina, injury), but the caption—which specifically mentions “catching”—doesn’t apply for wide receivers or tight ends: Pro Days don’t unlock catching skills for those positions. The combine is important for gathering information on physical attributes: speed, strength, that kind of thing.
So far, my strategy has almost mirrored my Madden 10 and 11 strategy: deep dives on specific positions. If I want a wide receiver, I’ll scout lots of receivers. Unfortunately, this leaves me guessing further down in the draft. Sometimes I get lucky—I have drafted two outstanding linebackers in the 4th round, despite knowing next to nothing about them—but that doesn’t always work.
Offensive linemen are pretty easy to draft: in the in-season scouting, you can get pass and run blocking, as well as impact run blocking. From this, you know which linemen are likely to be good and which are likely to suck, so you can narrow down your search pretty quickly. There aren’t any other positions that are as easy to draft around, but this is part of how I’ve been able to draft a number of A- and B-potential offensive linemen without scouting them too hard.
Starting next season, I think I am going to focus more on a targeted-risk approach. I have already started to do this with the individual workouts, due to the fact that you only get five of them. With individual workouts, my basic plan is as follows: figure five positions that you really need to improve. In my last draft, they were WR, TE, CB, MLB, and DT. I also needed some HB talent, but had run a guy through the combine and pro day, so I knew I was going to draft him. But this draft has led me to an embryonic strategy: for five positions, pick two guys, both of which you expect you could draft. At this point, you have some probability that at least one of them will be a good player. So, we have the case above. I definitely had two wide receivers and two tight ends in mind; the other three I had not applied this to and was kind of guessing. Naturally, if you only have one first-round pick, you shouldn’t be scouting 10 1st round guys: probably 7-8 of them will be gone before you get to your next pick, which will be a huge waste of your effort. Instead, look at some later-round guys as well, especially 2nd-4th round folks.
Anyhow, once you have the pairs, pick one of the two and scout for each position. If the workout turns out really well for one guy, slot him in for drafting. Otherwise, pick the other guy. What you are doing here is some basic Bayesian inference and updating your priors. Ideally, you would hit upon five gems, slot them so you are sure to draft them, and improve your team considerably. However, it also helps you avoid busts. So, in my case, I hit upon an awesome WR and a crappy TE (who had amazing physical stats, but turned out to be an oaf who couldn’t catch a ball with superglue on his hands and blocked like his superglued hands got stuck on his helmet). Thus, I slotted in my WR and picked the other TE in my pair. Unfortunately, my WR got chosen #1 overall (whoops… This is the risk when scouting awesome skill position guys), so I needed to choose the other guy in my pair. However, I was able to get that other TE, who turned out to be awesome. Unfortunately, my #2 choice at WR had a 58 catch and is limited to kick returns.
This strategy is not nearly as effective at gaming the system as last year’s was, but I am going to give it a full workout next season. The concept of Bayesian inference is solid, and the idea behind this is that there are X talented players at a position in a draft, where X is some variable > 0. At thin positions like kicker or punter, this may actually be equal to 0, but at most spots, there will be at least a couple B-level guys, and probably at least one or two A-level guys. Let’s say that there are 2 A, 3 B, 4 C, 3 D, and 2 F at a position. Basic scouting will help you ferret out some of the F and D guys: people who seem to have some skills _really_ far off probably help. Part of this is based on the assumption that “non-important” stats (like stiff arm for wide receivers) are correlated, at least to some extent, with player talent. Again, this is not 100% accurate, but I believe the rate is higher than 50%, so it would be better than simply guessing. Doing this means that your average pick will probably be closer to looking at 2-3-2-1-0, as you’ve filtered out the obviously crappy players. Thus, when you choose two players, you’re choosing from a higher-quality subset of your entire player distribution, where your highest-likelihood choice is a B, and the likelihood of a bust is pretty low (but not 0%). If you scout one of the two players, you have learned important information about that scouted player, including exactly where in the distribution he lies. If he’s a C or D, it makes it that much less likely that the other guy you’ve chosen in a C or D, so you can feel better about drafting the unknown. But if you choose an A or even a B, you probably should draft him, as the probability of the unknown being a better choice is relatively lower and the probability of the other guy being a bust relatively higher.
This particular strategy reduces the risk of drafting a bust, but it does not mean that you will draft the highest-quality guy out there. There is simply too much uncertainty now, so the best you can do is try to mitigate it by playing percentages. So it is possible that you’ve chosen a guy with 99 potential and a guy with 85 potential, scouted the 85 guy, and then decided to draft him instead because he was good enough. But doing it this way spreads out your most precious draft chits (the individual workouts) and makes it likely that you will get up to 5 quality players in each draft before you start guessing in the later rounds.