We all know how the draft works, 32 teams, 7 rounds; you pick players onto your football team who have decided to leave their college, and normal career aspirations to join the National Football League. From the outside it’s a very simple process of “pick the best player available” or “pick a position of need”, but is that really all that goes into it? How do NFL head coaches decide, out of hundreds of college players, who will be the best fit for their football team? How does a scouting team decide which players are capable of first round picks, second round picks? How about later round players? How does a team differentiate from a “steal” and a “reach?” As well as all together how can a team improve during the draft.
Follow me into the abyss as I try to break down this science for you…..
The NFL, or National Football League, is comprised of 32 teams from different parts of the United States. Within the league there are two conferences, the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference. The teams are divided equally between the two conferences, 16 teams each. Each conference is divided into four divisions; north, south, east and west. Each team plays a 16 game schedule with one week off (usually somewhere towards the middle of the season) as a “bye week.” After the regular season is over the division winners and two “wildcard” teams play in a twelve team, winner take all, playoff to decide who will play in the championship game, or Super Bowl. The winner of the Super Bowl is crowned champion of the league for that season and gets some pretty sweet hardware. After the regular season is over, after the playoffs have been played, and the Super Bowl champions have been anointed, players return to their families and friends and are able to finally relax and have some down time to themselves. For the Coaches and Front Offices In the NFL, however, the fun is just beginning.
The offseason is the time period between the end of the playoffs and the beginning of pre-season. It includes things like free agency, training camp, the NFL draft, and organized workouts.
What is the NFL draft? The NFL draft is the event in which (usually) each of the 32 teams will decide which NCAAF players will have the chance to carry their franchise for years to come. There are seven rounds of the draft, where each team normally will pick once In the round (barring trades and whatnot). The better college athletes, or the ones seen as “better pros” will be picked in the higher rounds, and the lesser athletes picked lower.
Now, let’s get into how a team decides where a player is talent wise and how important that player is to them….
Each scouting department works hard during the NCAAF season to scout player from all around the United States, from Michigan University, to West Texas, to South Dakota State. Everywhere is covered. When a scout, or team decides they see a player they like they will put him on their “draft chart”, which is a chart of players listed skill wise and how they would impact the team, with the set of skills that they bring as a player. A professional team’s draft chart will normally be comprised of around 350 to 400 players or so. Once a team decides which players they like they will make a “scouting report” of the player, which is a quick over view of the player’s pros and cons, positive skills and negative skills. For example, say a team likes a running back from Tennessee, they have him listed as their number one overall prospect, and then they will write a scouting report of him as such…
Name: Tennessee Running Back
Weight: 227 lbs
40 yard dash : 4.43
Bench press reps : 26
Pros: Runs level to the ground, not too high. Shows great burst hitting the holes in the line. Great awareness to find an open hole, or make one himself. Shows ability to chip a defender then release into his route. Good overall player, great hands, great feet. Runs crisp clean routes and is a natural hands catcher
Cons: Problems holding onto the ball when preparing for impact of a big hit. Has trouble holding blocks once engaged. Sometimes runs straight into blockers
As you can see a scouting report is a base knowledge of the player so that the coaches and scouting department can work with the general manager to decide whether or not this is a player that they would want to take. These along with watching lots of film on the player are just a few steps taken during the scouting process.
Now that we’ve taken a basic look at how the scouting process goes, let’s look at how a team evaluates their needs so that they can fill them with draft picks…
You are the General Manager of a pro football team; your team recently finished 2-14 and will have the #1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. What do you do with the pick? You could use a quarterback, seeing as the QB who started for you this year has never been known as a “franchise” QB, though solid, he’s never been known to have that “wow” factor. Your leading WR on the team only had 875 yards and 3 touchdowns. You have a young probowl Left Tackle, who was your first round pick last year, but are lacking in the other offensive line positions. And you could really use some help on the defensive line.
Your top 5 players on your draft chart are a very athletic QB with a rocket arm, little accuracy, and has been known to be gun shy and run when he probably doesn’t need to. Second, you’ve scouted a tall, long armed defensive end from a smaller university who accounted for half of his teams sacks his senior year, runs a 4.4 40yard and benches 225lbs 25 times. Thirdly, there’s WR who is 6’4, blazing speed, catches everything, but runs poor routes. Fourth, you have a left tackle that excels at run protection, and shows moxie and that mean streak needed to play OL. Last you’ve scouted another QB who, although isn’t super athletic, nor does he have a very strong arm, makes decent reads and shows a knack to make plays when needed. Which player do you take?
Let’s break it down even further…..
We know first of all, your team could stand to have a franchise QB, also you have a QB who could start while grooming the rookie QB to inevitably take over at the helm. Secondly, we know that you have little-to-no talent from the WR corps and could stand to use some serious talent there. We also know that you have a franchise left tackle, however are lacking in the other OL positions. Also, your defensive line is a complete wreck. Knowing what we know now about your team we can begin to break down each player by their skill set and rank them 1 to 5 accordingly, by skills alone.
After ranking the players as follows; QB1, WR, DE, QB2, OT, we can begin to evaluate where each player would fit into what we are trying to accomplish as an organization.
As far as the two quarterbacks go, we have one who seeps with upward talent and probowl ability, although he may not be able to start right away, he has elite ability and more talent than the other four mentioned. The other QB, however possibly could start right away, however would never be anything other than “solid”, and wouldn’t be too much of a step over what you already have. As we know, the defensive line could use all the talent available, so that alone could jump the DE up to our #1 spot on our draft chart on need alone, however you have to take into account that he played at a smaller college, where he didn’t face the same kind of talent as players from larger school did, so that should still be brought up in the war room. The WR corps on the team is a weak point, and if drafting a QB with this pick, you need to remember that he won’t have anyone to throw to, so this could jump the WR up a spot on the chart. As far as the tackle goes, he playing left tackle isn’t going to happen, can he play Right Tackle? Is Right Tackle a position worthy of drafting #1 overall?
With all this in mind, and know which parts of your team are weak, which is the strong points and which isn’t. What player are you taking with the #1 pick?
I hope I could help you understand a little more about how to choose a draft pick. I also help that I broke it down well enough and that this will broaden your prospective during future drafts. So when your team makes that pick and you’re thinking “WHAT THE HECK ARE THEY DOING”, come back here and look at the process and try to figure out their thinking pattern of why they chose that player, maybe instead of the one that you were hoping for.