Every year around the middle of March, we start hearing about certain draft-eligible players being brought in by NFL Clubs as part of their Top 30 visits. First off, the term "Top 30" is a misnomer because that term alone represents that the players are among the Top 30 of their Draft Board which is far from the case. I'll explain.
For just about as long as I can remember in the Draft process, NFL clubs have been allowed to bring in up to a total of 30 draft-eligible players for a visit. By League rule, the visit has to include some sort of medical examination, but in reality, that's a stretch. Many of the players that come in for a visit have already been to the Combine and had a thorough medical exam, so why another? The fact is, if a player has been to the Combine, all the medical/training staff does with the player is make sure he hasn't been injured since the Combine. In some cases, where a player may have a condition that the club wants a specialist to review, the player will have an appointment set up with that specialist for review while he is on the visit.
As far as most Clubs are concerned, the visits are for interviews, and it gives the coaching staff and front office a better chance to get to know the player. One thing that cannot be done on these visits is working out the player unless he is determined to be a local player. This is where things can get confusing.
The players who count as being part of the 30 visits are all non-local players. A club can bring in as many "local" players as they want and work those players out at their facility. In fact, many clubs have a designated "local workout" for players defined as being local. That workout day is usually a couple of weeks before the Draft.
By League rule, a "local" player is determined to be a player who is from the "local metropolitan area as defined by a current Rand McNally map." That means the player must be from within the shaded area of that metropolitan map. That League policy can be vague and also can be advantageous to some clubs over others.
For example, Chicago, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles can have substantial metropolitan areas, whereas clubs such as Buffalo, Green Bay, and Cincinnati can have much smaller metro areas. Because of that, about six to seven years ago, the League amended the rule by assigning certain colleges to be part of the "metro area." The Chicago Bears, for example, not only have Northwestern as a local school but also Illinois, Northern Illinois, and Notre Dame as their designated "local" schools.
Each club uses the 30 visits differently. Some may bring in only players that they are interested in drafting at some time during the Draft. Other clubs may use the visits just to determine who they want to select in the first round. There are also situations where clubs may divide the visits into different groups. For example, 15 to 20 of the players may be players they are interested in drafting, while the remainder could well be players that the club wants to sign as UDFAs following the Draft. By bringing them in for a visit, it allows the club to give them a medical exam to see if the players are healthy. The team also uses this time to recruit the players, which can be advantageous in the couple hours following the Draft when UDFA's are signed.
Besides the medical, what else goes on during a visit? The answer is a lot, but that is determined by who the player is. If it is a quarterback, the offensive coordinator and the quarterback coach want to spend a lot of time with the player just talking football. That may include some classroom work to get a good understanding of how quickly a player can learn and retain what is being taught. The coaches can also get a strong feeling as to the player's personality and see if they can have a strong working relationship if the club drafts the player. There have been times when following a visit, the club just doesn't feel good about the player, and they make the determination that they won't draft him. Conversely, following a visit, both the front office and the coaches can say that "This is a player we have to get."
While we often see on Twitter the names of some players (usually high-profile players) that are making visits to certain clubs. Seldom does a club publicly release the names of players they bring in. The League Insiders like Ian Rapoport or Adam Schefter will likely get these names from the player's agents as the agent feels it can benefit his client.
Because of this, teams are always keeping track of where each player visits. For that reason, clubs may bring in some players they have no interest in just to throw other teams off.
When I was the Scouting Director for the Bears, we tried never to follow a pattern as to who we brought in. The reason being we didn't want both the media and other clubs trying to zero in on players we liked. One year we may have brought in only players we were interested in, and the next year just brought in players we had no interest in. In fact, one of the local beat writers commented to me that we have "no pattern as to who we bring in."
I responded, "That is by design, so we can never show our hand."
A perfect example of that was in 2003. We knew we would draft a quarterback at some point in the first or second round of the Draft. We ended up selecting Rex Grossman, who was the fourth quarterback drafted that year. Going into the process, we knew Carson Palmer (USC) would be the first player selected. That meant that if we took a quarterback, it would come from the group that included Byron Leftwich (Marshall), Kyle Boller (Cal), Rex Gossman (Florida), or Chris Simms (Texas).
The two quarterbacks we were most interested in that year were Leftwich and Grossman, so we decided that we would not bring either to Halas Hall. We met Leftwich at his home in Florida for an unpublicized private workout, and we did the same with Grossman at the University of Florida. With Boller and Simms, we brought them in and alerted the media that they would be visiting, and we gave the media about a 10-15 minute period in which they could do a Q&A with the players.
The reason for this was to throw off other clubs. We had some interest in Simms, but not before the third round. Boller was an intriguing prospect that Draft because he had a great Pro Day. He was the "Hot" QBs following that Pro Day. Back at the Combine, we eliminated him as a prospect for us because he had such a strange interview. He just showed no confidence in himself, and confidence is a trait a QB must have.
We wanted to make it look like Boller was our guy because of all the attention we gave him pre-draft. It turned out that we "guessed right" as the Baltimore Ravens traded up to get in front of us to be able to draft Boller. Baltimore felt they were stealing Boller from us by trading up when we were elated that they made the trade. Our "plan" worked! As many of you know, Boller was a bust in the League mainly because he had no confidence in himself as a player.
So far this year, we have seen perhaps 15 to 16 names attached to the Bears as visitors to Halas Hall. I went back to see who they brought in last year, and I could only find about 14 names that were made public, but none of those 14 were drafted by the Bears last year. It remains to be seen if any of the players they have already brought in or are about to be brought in this year will be selected by the Bears in 17 days.
Remember, just because the Bears bring in certain players, it doesn't necessarily mean they have an interest in drafting that player. It could be just for show and is a smokescreen. Or it could be a player they would like to take in the mid to late rounds and want to get a better feel for that player as a person. There are several reasons why clubs bring in players, some of which is just the gamesmanship of throwing off other clubs. The pre-Draft B.S. is always fun.