Now that the College Football Season is over and we are in All-Star Games mode, the real fun for NFL evaluators is just beginning. Contrary to what many believe, no club has a "real" Draft Board this early in the process. Right now, their Board is stacked with players top to bottom by position and by the highest grade on each prospect in a team's system.
Following the All-Star Games and before the NFL Combine, most clubs bring their scouts in, and they have detailed meetings and set a PRELIMINARY BOARD. It is a very fluid board, and there will be several changes in each player's grade as new information becomes available.
Every February meeting I’ve been involved in has usually lasted anywhere from two to three weeks. What happens is every prospect the team is interested in is thoroughly discussed. That means every scout or decisionmaker who has seen the player during the fall or at an All-Star Game has input on the grade.
These meetings are done by position, and the players are stacked or ranked by their preliminary grade given at the meetings. Most clubs do one side of the ball first, followed by the other.
At this time of the year, there could be as many as four or five different reports on a player depending on who has made a school call to gather info on a prospect, seen the player in a game, or evaluated him at an All-Star game. Cross-check reports are also included.
When there are several different reports on a player, not all the reports are in agreement. Scouts/evaluators always look at things differently, as this is a very subjective business. It's the Scouting Directors job to listen to each scout's report and then come up with a grade that everyone agrees with.
Before a grade is put on the player, there is always much discussion, and sometimes they get heated. The scout's passion for certain players always comes out in these meetings. Often a grade can be pushed one way or another by how strong one scout's conviction is.
When I was with the Bears, and there was a big difference of opinion between what I felt about a player and what the scout/scouts felt, I always suggested that we watch tape together on the player and try to come back with a consensus opinion. When we watched tape together, I would always try to look at the player the way the scout did, and I wanted the scout to do the same. Seldom did we not finally agree on a grade. Remember, it's not about who is correct; it's about getting the right grade for the team. Egos have to be left in the hallway before a discussion begins.
When a position group is completed, they are stacked from top to bottom. The grade on the players at the end of the February meetings is seldom the same as the final grade put on the player in April. This is because there is still much more information to be added to each player's profile. That includes coaches' reports, medical results, interview results, and physical and mental testing.
The one thing a club knows at the end of the February meetings is how strong or weak a position group is. Depending on what each club's needs are, the strengths and weaknesses of the Draft can affect how a team drafts or goes after players in veteran free agency.
Coaches don't begin to get involved in the scouting process until the All-Star games, and often they don't have reports completed on players until sometime in March. If a position coach did a private workout or even went to a Pro Day, his input is significant. The coach has to want to work with the new players. There is no sense in drafting a player that the coach doesn't want. It just won't work.
I always tried to keep the Board simple in that it would only include players we felt comfortable drafting or signing as a UDFA. Players that were not scheme fits had a grade attached to them, but they weren't on the Draft Board. I felt there was no sense in cluttering the Board with names that we never would draft.
Can a prospect's Combine performance change his grade? At times yes. Within a scout's report, he puts an estimated 40 time on the player, basically his "play speed." He also grades him as an athlete. If the player does better or worse than what was anticipated, that can affect his grade.
The medical is ultra-important. I can't tell you all the times we have had a high grade on a player only to take his name off the Board because of a poor medical. It happens every year.
The workouts at the Combine are important because it's very easy to compare one player to the next within a position group. After all, the workout is being done on the same day, at the same place, on the same surface. That throws out all variables. Players are expected to perform well because, in most cases, they have been training for the Combine for the previous four to six weeks. The drills they do at Indy have become almost learned drills because they are the same every year. Still, how a player performs is important. It's expected that he has a good workout; it's when he does poorly that a red flag comes up.
Following the Combine, it's Pro Day season for basically the month of March and the first week of April. There are workouts Monday through Friday every week, and four of five schools could often have a Pro Day scheduled for the same day. That makes being able to cover all the different Pro Days a problematic task. Because of that, the APT was formed about 18 years ago.
What that means is each club is assigned about six to eight Pro Days they have to attend, and then they send the results out to each team. All the Pro Days are taped, so if a club misses having a coach or scout at the workout, they can get a tape of what took place.
Following the information gathering in March, teams again meet in April for a couple of weeks leading up to the Draft. This is when the Board is set in cement, as clubs have all the information. I'll write about that in a few weeks.