Putting together a Draft Board is a long process that doesn't end until shortly before the NFL Draft. It is always a fluid process where changes can be made almost daily.
Many fans are under the misconception that staffs are already putting together Draft Boards, and while technically that may be true, it is really an exaggeration of what the process is.
For most clubs, their first preliminary Board isn't put together until December, when clubs have initial college personnel meetings. Until then, a club's "Board" is just a bunch of grades within a club's scouting system.
Let me explain...
During the season, the club's scouts are on the road making school calls. Shortly after each school call is made, the scout is required to send in his reports from that school. Within the "system," the computer ranks the players according to position and grade.
Take for example, wide receiver. Hypothetically, an area scout gives a prospect a high first-round grade. If no other scout gives that same player as high a grade, that particular player tentatively is ranked as their best wide receiver prospect.
In the real world, that high ranking is meaningless because that player's grade has not yet been compared to other grades that scouts from that club give the player. A Scouting Director could say that a certain prospect is their highest-rated wide receiver, and technically he's not lying, but it doesn't mean that come April, that player will be anywhere near the top of a position board.
Just about all clubs rank each position from top to bottom before putting a board together, best to worst, regardless of position. By ranking the positions first, it gives a club an understanding of how strong or weak a particular position is.
When clubs first meet, usually in December, a preliminary board is put together strictly by position. In the meetings, each player at a position is gone over, and a preliminary grade is put on him. Many clubs then eliminate players from their Board, so that going forward they are dealing with a workable number of prospects.
Going into the fall, there are thousands of names that the scouts evaluate. That number could be dropped to several hundred players in the December meetings. An accurate number would be 600 -700 players.
After the regular College Football Season, clubs get to the second phase of the evaluation process. Part of that may include how a particular player performs in a Bowl game. Also, several hundred players are invited to play in All-Star Games held in January. It's at these games that scouts and/or decision-makers can get their first face-to-face meetings with prospects.
At each All-Star Game, time is set aside each evening for players to meet with clubs. At the Combine, interviews are set at 15 minutes maximum. At an All-Star Game, a club can spend much more than 15 minutes with a player and come out of that meeting with a good understanding of the player from a personal point of view. In these meetings/interviews, many topics are discussed that include not only football but also the players' upbringing, family life, and social life. If a player had some issues in his past, those topics can and are discussed.
Following the All-Star Games, most clubs' scouts meet again prior to the Combine. The position board is further revised because of the information the scouts received at the various All-Star games.
Also, a whole new group of players is entered into the equation. Those players are the underclassmen who have entered the Draft. During the fall, many scouts will evaluate the underclassmen they feel may enter the following Draft, but they don't know for sure who is in or out until the latter part of January.
In the last seven or eight years, that new influx of players has been massive, with usually well over 100 underclassmen entering a Draft. While a club may have written reports on many of these players in the fall, there will always be surprises with the names the League releases. Teams then have to start from scratch to evaluate those players.
Also, before the Combine, a club's positions coaches and coordinators are assigned players to evaluate. Coach's evaluations aren't as complex as a scouts evaluation, but they are equally important.
When a coach does the evaluation, he can compare each player to the current players he has on the roster. He can easily say if a new player is capable of upgrading the team at a certain position. A coach also may have a strong relationship with a coach or coaches at a player's college. Because of that, he may be able to add background information about the player that the scout was unable to get.
Following the February meetings is the NFL Combine. Many fans feel the most important part of the Combine is the physical testing each player goes through. That isn't close to being true. The Combine came about because it was an inexpensive way to get medicals on hundreds of players simultaneously in the same place.
Clubs hold their breath during the medicals because highly ranked players very well could have medical issues that will have a huge effect on their grade and where they can get drafted. I can't tell you how many times over the years that a player we loved had to come off the Board because of the results of his medical.
Yes, the Physical testing at the Combine is important because it makes it easy to compare Player A to Player B performing at the same time on the same surface. The players do have a chance to do a "make-up" exam, so to speak, at the Pro Day if they did not perform up to expectations. There are also private workouts done in March and early April by clubs with certain prospects that they feel they very well could Draft.
Another important part of the Combine is psychological and/or aptitude testing. There is a day set aside where various outside services administer written tests to each player. These tests may not have much to do with the product on the field, but they are an essential part of the overall evaluation process.
It is not until early April, after all the Pro Days and private workouts are completed and coaches have finished their evaluations, that final Draft Boards are put together. Like in December and February, the process starts by position, and then once that is completed, the process of ranking the players regardless of position is done.
In every Draft, there are about 255 players selected depending on how many supplemental picks are allotted. Most clubs' Draft Board don't have anywhere near 255 players on it. In most Draft Rooms, a Draft Board won't have more than 125 to 130 names on it and maybe as few as 100 names. These are players a club would consider drafting at certain times in the Draft.
I have gone into Drafts with as little as 110 Names on our Board, and we got all our Draft picks and a few undrafted free agents from that list. Remember this; no two Draft Boards are alike. One club's first-round-graded player may be graded as a third-round prospect by another club. Why is that? Evaluators see players differently; scheme fit and needs enter into the equation. If a player is not a fit to play within a club's scheme, he certainly isn't going to be rated as high as a player who does fit.
Scheme fits are usually more related to the defensive side of the ball, but some clubs look for certain types of players at certain positions on offense and won't deviate from that.
In the end, it might be a week to 10 days before the Draft that a club has their Board completed. So when someone writes or tweets in late March or early April that a certain club has a certain player ranked at a certain place on their Board, it's total BS! Remember, come January 1, the lying season begins, and you have to throw out just about anything a club's decision-maker states publicly.
But that's another story.