One of the biggest mistakes made in War Rooms, in my opinion, is that decision-makers get emotional and impulsive. Scouts and general managers have scoured the country since July, spending hundreds of hours and millions of dollars putting together all the information that now sits in front of them on the board. Even knowing this, I have seen and continuously heard about decision-makers who — at the moment of truth – will stray from the board. Why? They get emotional about a player who may be rated below the player that the board dictates they should select. There’s a saying in War Rooms: “Trust the Board,” yet there are still teams that, in the heat of the moment, do not. All of the work of scouts and personnel staff that went into putting it together can be ignored in a moment of impulse. Nothing will deflate the morale of a scouting staff faster than that.
Although some boards are structured differently than others, most teams place the players they feel are first-round worthy on a line above the first round, second-round projected players above the second-round line and so on. It’s rare when a team would have 32 players rated as first round, although there may be that number or more in the later rounds. A team feels very good about its draft, no matter what the pundits or its competitors say, when it has trusted its board and selected, say, a player rated by them as a second-rounder in the third, a player rated as a fourth-rounder in the sixth, etc. Every team has a bragging-rights story about how it could not believe the player it found in a particular round was still there, and in many cases, it’s telling the truth.
I would man the phones with agents, trying to glean information but, more often than not, listen patiently as they told me they could not believe that no one had picked their player yet. Outside of those selected in the top of the first round, I have rarely talked to a player or agent who didn’t feel the player should have been drafted higher. Usually, when we selected a player in the later rounds, the agent had been doing everything in his power to keep the player from lashing out, as most are apoplectic by that point that they had not been selected yet. Ego and insecurity are inevitable staples of draft weekend.
At the Packers, whenever we made a pick, we would always call the player first to, as Ron Wolf would always say, “make sure he’s still alive.” (I’m not sure if this came from an experience in which he knew of someone drafting a dead guy). Everyone we picked was still alive, although there were times we had trouble finding the player. I remember in 2005 when none of us, including his agent, could locate a player we were about to take in the sixth round. We were about to change our selection when, at that very moment, a defensive end from Texas A&M named Mike Montgomery finally answered his phone and confirmed that he was alive and well. The player we didn’t select? No worries, Packers fans, he never made it in the league.
I would call the agent for every player to acknowledge the selection and say I looked forward to negotiating the contract with him. After hearing how lucky we were to get his player, the agent would usually ask me about other players that were waiting for the call. I would tell him it was not the time for that.
The first-round pick usually flies into his new team’s facility after being selected to meet the media right away. Since many teams have draft parties throughout the day and into the evening, some are lucky enough to get the player in front of their gathered audience before the party ends. Sometimes that isn’t the greatest idea because players are occasionally booed when their name is called out as the team’s top draft pick. We experienced that in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, a selection cheered by some but booed lustily by others since he would not contribute right away, and in 2007 with Justin Harrell. In 2006, however, when we selected A.J. Hawk at the top of the draft, he flew in immediately, met the public and the press, and entered into an agreement to buy a house (he was my neighbor) all in one day.
Working the draft, as I said above, is about pacing oneself, especially for the decision-maker. There are hands to shake, media to speak with, interminable bouts of waiting for other teams to pick and trying to manage a room that varies in size and interest throughout the ebb and flow of the weekend. And none of this involves the task that the person is hired – and evaluated – to do: actually select the players. That’s another reason why “trusting the board” is so important.