It seems as if every year we see more and more Mock NFL Drafts popping up as early as August and continuing until right up to Draft Day. Personally, I don’t give them time, because they are there for one reason only, and that's engagement. The reality is we won't know who is actually in the Draft until mid-January when the League puts out the list of the underclassmen who have officially made themselves available to be Drafted. The Analysts also have little to no information on two topics important to the final evaluation process; character and medicals.
When Club scouts are out on the road making school calls during the fall, some schools may tell these scouts that certain players are entertaining leaving early, but many will wait until they hear from the NFL Underclassmen Advisory Board.
The Advisory Board is made up of several League personal executives who view tape of underclassmen and put a grade on each of the players they evaluate. When I was with the Chicago Bears, I was on the Advisory Committee for seven years, so I have a strong knowledge of how it works.
The League will get several reports on each player and in turn, gives the player a consensus opinion as to where he may get drafted. In previous years, the Advisory Committee would give a grade for specific rounds up through four rounds, a grade for rounds five through seven, or the player may not get drafted at all. But now, the Committee gives the player one of three grades. The first is, "You have the ability to get drafted as high as the first round." Second is, "You have the ability to be drafted as high as the second round." Finally, "You should return to school and continue to develop your skills."
The League feels that any player that receives a "go back to school" grade should return to school for another year, but often these prospects disregard the Committees grade and enter the Draft anyway.
The problem with the Advisory Board is they are working with incomplete information on just about every player. They may have a verified height and weight from the previous spring, but what they don't have is verified speed and agility drills. There are two more very important pieces to the equation that they also don't have. Those are complete medical information and accurate background and character information. Regardless of how a prospect plays on tape, the medical and his character always play an important role as to where he gets drafted. Once we get near the Draft, you always hear that players "drop" in the draft for two reasons. The first being his medical and the second being his character.
Every year we see players that many Draft Analysts have rated as potential first or second-round picks come off the board much later than anticipated. It's almost always because of medical or character issues.
With the Medical, the League gets from each school the medical history of each player invited to the Combine and any other player clubs may be interested in. That information is then passed on to each of the clubs. Before going to the Combine, each club will have a checklist of what they want to focus on when the player goes through his physical at Indy.
If, for example, the player had a knee scope following his freshman year in college or even in high school, you can rest assured that the player will have an MRI done on that knee when he arrives at Indy, even though the prospect may have played a few years following that surgery without incident. Why does this happen? The club medical staff wants to check on the surgery, see if the knee joint is tight, and most importantly, if are there any arthritic changes in the knee. More players get red flags on their medicals because of arthritic conditions than any other circumstance.
The problem with arthritis is it never gets better, and there is no cure. If a player has arthritis in his knee, he may be fine for a couple of seasons, but then if the condition worsens, the player will begin to feel more discomfort and eventually miss practices and even games because of that condition. If a player at the Combine has a severe arthritic condition in a joint, you can rest assured that he won't get drafted anywhere near where analysts expected him to go.
When we talk about character, scouts really look at two different issues. The first is his personal character, which is basically how that prospect lives his life. Is he a good person? Has he had any trouble with the law? Does he have a substance abuse problem? Does he partake in community service opportunities?
The other character component that scouts look into is "football character." Football character has nothing to do with personal character. Football Character deals with the player's passion and love for the game, his work ethic on and off the field, his ability to be coached, his intelligence as it relates to his position, his leadership skills, and his ability to get along with teammates. Will he do what is ever necessary to become the best player he can be?
A player could have an outstanding personal character and poor football character. That person will survive for a few years in the League because of his talent, but eventually it will catch up to him. Conversely, a player with marginal personal character but great football character may have a very successful career because the game is so important to him.
More often than not, high-round "busts" are a direct result of a player not having top football character.
When you read mock drafts, don't take them too seriously because of what I have written above. When clubs put their Draft Board together, they wait until they have ALL the information before they even begin. Until all the information is in, and that includes medical, character, physical testing, and tape review, it's usually late March or early April before the final process can begin. Any grade on a player before all the information is in is strictly a preliminary grade and, as such, is very fluid. The amount of man hours that go into each individual grade is countless.