The Final Weeks of Draft Preparation

With the draft being three weeks from Thursday, clubs are in to the home stretch preparing for the 2015 NFL Draft. Over the next two weeks, there will still be some private workouts, and clubs will continue to bring in prospects to visit with the coaching staff and scouting department. Each club can bring in a total of 30 prospects for medicals and interviews. The last day a prospect can be brought into a team’s facility is Wednesday April 22nd. As for working out a prospect, that can happen at the prospect's school or home town until the day before the draft. So, obviously, clubs are still very busy. Let’s discuss what goes on during visits and meetings over the next few weeks. Personal Visits Clubs don’t always bring in players that they hope to draft in the premium rounds. They may also bring in players who were not at the Combine but the team had a draftable grade on. Every year, we see 35 – 40 players who were not at the Combine get drafted, so it is important to get a medical on them. No team is going to draft a player who hasn’t had a thorough medical. It makes no sense. The club wouldn't take the risk of drafting a player who may not be able to pass the medical. When a club brings in a player, they may or may not publicize the visit, but I can assure you that most teams know who their competitors have brought in. Why? Clubs want to know who their competition may be for certain players. Because of that, some visits are purely “smokescreen” visits just to throw off the other teams. Let’s say a club has an obvious need at defensive tackle, and they would like to take care of that need with their first pick. They aren’t going to just bring in the targeted player. They may bring in four or five players at that position and let the other clubs guess as to who they have the most interest in. A club never wants to show its hand. They may also elect to not bring in the player they really want, so that particular player is never tied to their team. It’s all part of the gamesmanship that goes on. If a club is unsure of what position they will draft, they may bring in players from different positions who may be rated to get drafted in the slot they have. Again, this is done so the club never shows its true hand. When a player comes in for a visit, he cannot be at the club's facility more than two days and one night. He can only go through a medical and interviews, and under no circumstances can he be worked out, unless he is a local player. As I mentioned above, the player will meet with a variety of people including the head coach, general manager, position coach and coordinator. While the coaches will mainly discuss football with the player, the general manager and scouting director may get into a conversation with the player that brings up family life, friends, etc. They want to get a good feeling for his personality. If there are some character concerns, you can bet that those are also discussed. Visits don’t always turn out the way either side would like. Sometimes, a player can turn off a coach to the point that he says he doesn’t want the player. While that may seem harsh, it is better to find that out before the draft than after you drafted him. Medicals While the main medical is done at the Combine, there is also a medical recheck for players who had medical concerns at the combine. This process also happens in Indianapolis and usually is done in less than 36 hours. A recheck can include a follow up MRI or X-Ray to see how the injury has healed since late February. This gives clubs a reasonable idea of when an injured player will be able to get back on the field. It also shows them how hard the player has worked with injury rehab. When a player comes to a club for a visit, the injury can also be checked out very closely. It usually gives the club reassurance, but also a club can decide to pass on a player because they don’t like how the healing process has gone. For players like Georgia running back Todd Gurley, the recheck is very important. He suffered an ACL injury last fall. He didn’t let clubs examine his knee at the Combine. The recheck can/will determine if Gurley will have any problems with his knee going forward. Final Scouting Meetings Most clubs had preliminary draft meetings before the Combine. Now that all the information is in, the final draft board is set. While some clubs may have a 255 player draft board, most clubs have a more workable number of players on their final board. It’s not unreasonable to think that a team may have about 120 players on their board. These are players that they are interested in, not only in the first round but throughout the draft. Before the Combine, coaches aren’t that involved in the scouting process. Beginning with the combine and through March and early April, the coaches spend a good part of their time doing evaluations of players at their position group. The position coach’s evaluation is a very important part of the process. He is the person who will be in charge of developing the player and will work with him the closest, so it’s imperative that the position coach is on board with the selection. When the position coach evaluates a player, he not only evaluates the player’s talent level, but also the player’s personality and intelligence. If the coach feels that the player is not a fit, the decision makers have to listen. The worst thing you can do is force a coach to work with a player he doesn’t want or like. That player will not succeed. Not only is the coach’s evaluation an important part of the final grade, but so is the physical testing done at the Combine, pro days, and private workouts. Players who performed better than expected can see their grade go up, while players who worked out poorly can see their grade drop. When moving a player’s grade up or down based on physical testing, you have to be careful. By this, I mean that if a player that looks like a 4.7 guy on tape runs a 4.50 at the combine, you have to be sure that is his “real” speed or a manufactured speed. Regardless of how fast he timed, if he doesn’t play fast you can’t just assume he is now going to play fast. In most cases, he will still play to the slower speed. The same can be said about players who play fast and time slow. You always have to be careful. When a club has had a private workout with a prospect, those results are always very important. The private workout is usually run by the position coach and the coordinator. He not only physically works out the player, but he is also spending time with him in a meeting room. He gets a good understanding of the player’s ability to learn and retain and his ability to play in the club's scheme. Another thing that is talked about in the final meetings is a player’s character analysis. By this time of the year, all information is in. The club has had plenty of time to research all issues and make a determination if they, in fact, want that player on their club. All information is put in the table. The difference between risk and reward is discussed and then the general manager and head coach will give the player a thumbs up or down. Making the right decision is not only important as far as the player’s career goes,  but also the career of the GM or Head Coach. Making the wrong decision on a premium draft choice can set a club back. Clubs will also use these meeting to prioritize players. If two or three players with equal grades are available, who is the player you want the most? These decisions have to be made before draft day so there isn’t confusion when on the clock. As we get closer to the draft, I will write about the final preparations clubs make and what happens on draft day. When you are in the football evaluation business, this is the best time if the year. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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