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Is the NFL’s “copycat” trend really worth following?

Shouldn’t originality be a big part of the equation?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head coach Dirk Koetter acknowledged one of the league’s tendencies in his latest presser.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dirk Koetter spoke to the media on Thursday and touched on the idea of incorporating more run-pass option plays into Tampa’s offense.

“I think everybody in the league is probably going to do more of it this year. The success that Philly had, it’s a copycat league,” Koetter said at the podium. While it wasnt much of a detailed explanation, tight end Cameron Brate elaborated a little bit more on the subject.

“We did kind of steal some of those concepts, or at least some of those ideas, from the Eagles, the Rams - some of the offenses that did have a ton of success last year. [We’re] just kind of watching what they did on film and seeing what was successful for them. That’s just coming from the college game. They took it from someone else, like you said, a copycat league.”

The idea of RPOs in Tampa has to bring a smile to the faces of many Bucs fans. It would add a new, exciting dimension to an offense that was very vanilla last season and the Bucs have all the right personnel to pull it off.

But can they pull it off? That question is why we are here today, folks.

A very, very common theme thrown around the NFL for a while now - as mentioned per Koetter and Brate - is that the NFL is a copycat league. When a team finds a new route to get on the high road to success, all of the bottom feeders - and some of the top dogs, even - look for a way to ride some coattails to their own versions of victory.

Before the Eagles’ success with the RPO, it was the up-tempo, no-huddle offense that had begun to make its way through the league after the major success that quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady had with the respective system.

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots
Miami thought they figured something out when they beat the Pats using the Wildcat formation.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

This is an example of a copycat trend that stuck around. Examples of those that didn’t work would be the read-option and the Wildcat package - and teams more often than not fall into this trap of a new system that holds plenty of potential but also a ton of mystery.

Obviously, an indicator of a team’s success when attempting to “borrow” these strategies depends on the current roster of the team. One reason why teams fall into a hole trying to replicate these ideas is because they tend to force systems upon a roster that isn’t equipped to execute said system. This can catapult a team into a downward spiral of bad decision-making, rushed evaluations, bad acquisitions and whatever else that would go into the process of trying to shapeshift a roster on the fly - which can set an organization back for years.

But why would professionals rush into this type of decision? One answer is pretty clear and it’s right down the road in the form of the Bucs. Tampa isn’t the Browns, but they are still an organization whose front office is on the ropes for 2018. If they don’t win now, they’re gone and despair breeds desire - whether it’s good or bad.

It’s akin to the never-ending quarterback search that most teams go through on a regular basis. Teams practically force themselves to fall in love with quarterbacks (thank you, Buffalo) just to have a sense of comfort that they found “their guy” that will take them to the next level. This done in the sense that it’s a quarterback’s league - another tricky trend an organization tends to follow blindly.

So, teams will give away two weighty second-round picks just to move up five spots, or three first-round picks and a second-rounder (Redskins) to acquire a quarterback - just to give themselves one more year with the hopes that their job has been saved.

More oftentimes than not, however, this strategy doesn’t work out and teams pigeonhole themselves looking for a particular player. In return, they make decisions like the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph that can create a tailspin for an organization.

Defensive flexibilty and schemes have evolved more and more over the years forcing teams to get creative, so why not get creative to stay ahead of the curve instead of following behind the car in front of you?

And to round everything out, it’s pretty ironic how the teams that start these trends (Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks, Eagles) have the most success within these systems. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they developed these systems organically around the players they already had - not the ones that they want.

Perhaps that is something the NFL should think about copying - originality.