Developing, not drafting players, is the key to NFL success

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You want a successful NFL franchise? You'd better learn how to develop your players.

The Seattle Seahawks have one of the deepest roster in the NFL, across the board. And yet, 21 of the 53 active roster members in the Super Bowl came into the NFL as undrafted free agents, per ESPN. The difference between great and mediocre teams isn't simply talent: it's how they develop that talent.

Even the very best rookies have to learn how to play in the NFL. That makes the quality of your assistant coaches doubly important, but it also means you need to have a vision for every player you draft, and then have a plan to help them achieve that vision.

Part of it is about asking a player what he can do, rather than focusing on what he can't do The Seahawks personify this mentality. They have arguably the best secondary in the NFL, but it's a secondary that plays to the strengths of each of their players. Kam Chancellor is a terrific in-the-box safety, but he can struggle in deep coverage -- so they simply don't ask him to play deep much. All of their cornerbacks are tall and physical, but they can also be a bit stiff in changing directions -- so Seattle runs a Cover 3 base defense that hides those weaknesses.

The Seahawks do this everywhere. They collect edge rushers who are weak against the run, and cover them up by using huge defensive tackles like Red Bryant as defensive ends on the other side of the line. They draft a very talented but raw player like Bruce Irvin in the first round, and then find ways for him to make an impact. They convert defensive linemen to offensive guards, get Percy Harvin in space and rarely ask their players to do something they can't do.

The Bucs often failed to do this over the past few years. Legarrette Blount was a perfectly decent running back, as long as you didn't ask him to do anything except run the football -- but Greg Schiano didn't even ask  him to do that. Da'Quan Bowers may have struggled to stick to his assignments in the run game, he was the most disruptive edge rusher the Bucs had last year -- and yet he barely saw the field. When Adrian Clayborn was healthy, he looked like a violent pass rusher who loved physical contact -- and yet Schiano had him running around on stunts, telling him to look for the open hole.

Rather than take advantage of the players' biggest strengths, Schiano consistently tried to fit players into his established scheme, regardless of whether or not that was the best use of their talents. It was maddening at times. That's not to say that that will change this year: while Leslie Frazier and Greg Schiano are very good defensive minds, they weren't overly creative with how they used their players in the past, either -- but at least the current roster fits their philosophies very well.

I would, however, expect Jeff Tedford to find ways to use his players to the best of their abilities. His schemes have always been about finding ways to get the ball into the hands of playmakers. He repeatedly used the phrase "speed in space" over the past weeks. I'd expect him to find ways to make Jeff Demps and Tim Wright important for this offense, each being a potential mismatch. I'd expect the Bucs to draft one or two explosive skill position players for Tedford to toy with.

So when the Buccaneers draft or sign a player this year, ask yourself this: what's their plan for this player? How will they use his strengths and hide his weaknesses? What is their plan to develop his skills over the next couple of years?

A team that can confidently answer those questions is going to get the most out of its players.

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