I have been asked several times recently what being in the Draft Room is like. With the NFL Draft less than a week away, now is a good time to answer.
Who is actually in the Draft Room can change from team to team, but in most cases, it’s the major decision-makers (Owner, President, GM, Head Coach, Personnel Directors) and the rest of the college scouting department. Outside of the Head Coach, seldom do we see the assistant coaches in the Draft Room unless they are asked to come in to answer questions about some players.
There are some clubs that have very few people in the Draft Room, mainly just the top decision-makers. I can assure you that the clubs that do it in that manner are in the minority.
Why aren’t assistant coaches in the Room? The Draft is, for the most part, the work of the scouting department. For the better part of the last 12 months, they have been on the road and viewing hundreds of college game tapes, trying to get a good feel for each prospect in their area. The coaches don’t get involved in the process until late January or early February, and each coach has relatively few players to evaluate compared to a scout.
In the meetings leading up to the Draft, when the Final Board is put together, the assistant coaches have their say on most players in their position group. During these meetings, not only is the Board set, but decisions on strategy are set.
You can look at the Draft as Game Day for the scouts. During the football season, a game plan is drawn up for the next opponent each week. That game plan is rehearsed in practice, and then on Gameday the plan is executed. It’s similar with the Draft; in the weeks leading up to the Draft the plan is set. On Draft Weekend, the plan is put into place.
Every Draft Room I have been in has at least one and usually two televisions on for the TV coverage on the NFL Network and ESPN. There is also a speakerphone in the room, and on the line is the team representative at the Draft. While decisions are made in the Draft Room, those decisions must be relayed to the reps at the Draft. Those reps turn in the player card to the League Office officials when a pick is made.
When a club is picking early in a round, the tone of the Draft Room is very serious. While the Draft Plan has already been set, decision-makers still need to see how the Draft is flowing to see if there have to be any adjustments made to the plan. That can happen if an unexpected player is dropping. When that happens, calls are often made to find out why? Before the team is on the clock, a decision has to be made on the player, so there could be a lengthy discussion on that player to determine if the original plan needs to change.
Clubs usually have a group of players they want in a particular round prioritized so that the decision can be made quickly as to which player to Draft. When a team wants to trade up, they have already had preliminary talks with teams that might be interested in moving down. If your club is targeting a certain slot to trade in, they will start making calls to the team that holds that pick about three or four picks prior.
Most teams are trying to move up for a particular player, so if that player ends up getting selected earlier, then the trade is off. That is why most trades aren’t announced until a team is on the clock. When a club is looking to trade down, and teams behind you in the draft order have been notified before the Draft, then calls begin coming in 20 to 30 minutes before your scheduled pick. Sometimes that can be very hectic, especially if there are a few clubs looking to trade up into your pick.
Because of that, there is usually one designated person taking trade calls, and sometimes two designated people. One would be the GM, and often the other is the Pro Scouting Director. Why the Pro Director? Because he isn’t a decision-maker in the draft process, and that frees him up to take trade calls.
A few days before the Draft, the League sends out to all clubs the phone numbers (cell and landline) of the major decision-makers for each club. That makes it easy when a team wants to make a trade because you have a list of who to call for specific things.
Once a decision is made on who to Draft, the player is always called before the card is turned in. This is done to check on the player and to let him know in advance of it being announced. When I was with the Bears, I was the person who called each draft pick, and when I finished my conversation with the player, I would give the phone to the Head Coach to congratulate the player. We would then have the position coach talk to the player.
Once a club makes a selection, there is usually at least an hour (depending on the round) before you make your next selection. If the Draft has been going according to plan, then there will be some targeted players for the next selection. Most clubs will adhere to the plan if the Draft is going the way they felt it would. If it is falling differently, then adjustments have to be made, and this is done in the period between each pick.
At the end of Day-1 and Day-2, the decision-makers and the scouts usually meet to review that day and begin to prep for the next day. The next day, meetings will begin a few hours before the Draft begins again to review the plan.
If your team has a high second or fourth-round pick, they can always expect calls from clubs looking to move up. Currently, the Bears have the first pick in the fourth round to open Day-3, so I expect they will receive at least four or five calls for that pick. Because it’s a high pick in the round, the team wanting to trade up will usually pay a slight premium for the pick.
Once the Draft is completed, it’s not time to party. There is still much work to be done signing UDFAs. Usually, at the beginning of Day-3, scouts will begin to contact players they want to sign. They may also touch base with their agent to let them know their interest. The two-hour period following the Draft is crazy, and not only are you trying to sign players, but you are competing with other clubs for that player.
Parameters on deals are usually set before the Draft so that the scout knows exactly where he can go with a certain player as far as signing bonus. If it’s a player that is highly coveted by the club, the team’s lead negotiator will more than likely handle the negotiation.
The Draft Room is a fun place to be on Draft Weekend, but there is seldom any joking around going on. It’s serious and all business. The weekend is about improving your club, so paying attention to detail is a necessity.