Within the next week, most of the 32 NFL clubs will begin their final preparations for this year’s draft. Each club will have their own way of doing things, but basically the outcome will be the same: a final draft board.
When I was with the Giants, our board would consist of as many players as there were slots in the draft. This year there will be 254 players drafted, so using the formula we used with the Giants we would have discussed and ranked 254 players in the final meetings.
When I became director in Chicago, we condensed things and only talked about players we were interested in and who we felt were “fits” for our offensive and defensive systems. Many teams use that philosophy now. In our final pre-draft meetings we may discuss only about 100 players, but those were players we felt had a chance to make our team and contribute. These weren’t necessarily the top 100 players but rather 100 players rated to be drafted in different rounds of the draft.
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During the meetings that would last a week to ten days we would discuss each player individually, going over his character and his playing ability. If there were any medical questions, that was discussed also. Anyone (coach or scout) who scouted or worked out the player would have a chance to contribute in the discussion and trust me the discussions can get lively, especially if there is a difference in opinion as to the player’s ability. Discussion is good because you want to make sure that you have the right evaluation on each player. It’s not about who is right, it’s about being right. When the discussion is over, you then create a plan for the player if in fact you do draft him. If you want to draft successfully, you have to have a plan for each player such as where he fits in the scheme, what do you expect from him as a rookie, etc. It is important that everyone is on the same page. If there is too much disagreement on the player then don’t draft him. The last thing you want to do is force a player on a coach. The coach has to be driven to want to coach the player. If that’s the case the chance of the player succeeding is much better.
Another thing discussed in the draft meetings is where the player can be drafted. If you do your research, you can have a fairly good idea of when certain players will be drafted. For example, a team may have a third-round grade on a player but through research they know there is a good chance they can still get the player in the fourth round. How do you find out these things? By making a lot of phone calls and trying to get a general idea of what a player’s value is around the league. There are many people out there who “study” the draft and have a fairly good idea as to what round many players will be drafted. One of the best is Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. I would say that over the last five or six years he is very accurate as to where players get drafted — not necessarily matching a player to a team but just in general areas, like whether the player is a high third or low third-round pick.
Once you get a general idea of what a player’s value is (to the rest of the league) you can create a draft-day strategy. You know what your needs are, now how do you accomplish getting those needs filled? When you are doing this you have to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each draft. For example, a club may go into the draft needing an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, a corner and a wide receiver. Knowing that, you then prioritize the needs and then look to see if you can accomplish your goal of getting a good player at each of those positions. By knowing the strength and weakness of the draft, you can figure out which position to go after first, second, third, etc.
If you feel that there are only 10 corners in the draft that are capable of being contributors, then you better plan on drafting a corner in the first two rounds. Likewise, if you feel there are 23 offensive linemen capable of being an eventual starter then you know the chances of getting a good lineman in the third round is fairly good.
What I used to do is get 10-year averages as to how many players at each position got drafted in the first three or four rounds. Doing this may not tell you how many at each position will get drafted in the first round but it will be fairly close as to how many get drafted in the first three rounds. You then can compare the averages to how many players at each position you feel will be contributors. When you have all the information, you then can start to put together a workable plan.