If you're in the NFL personnel business, this is the best time of the year. This is when all your work from the past year comes to fruition, and hopefully, your team gets better because of that hard work.
Around the NFL, most clubs will begin their final Draft meetings either this week or next. While there will be day-long meetings, it's fun as the team constructs their Draft Board how they see fit. Remember this, no two teams have a similar Draft Board. Many players in the first two rounds are the same across the League, but how they are stacked on the various Boards differs. After the opening rounds, there is usually a drastic difference between one team's Board and another's.
Over the years, I have seen one club have a player ranked as a high third-rounder and another have that same player in the sixth round. In reality, neither team is right or wrong; it's basically how they see that player and how he fits into their scheme. The difference of opinions on players from team to team is what makes Draft Weekend so much fun.
When I started in the League in the early 80s with the New York Giants, we built our board from top to bottom regardless of position. The Scouting Director would place a semi-final grade on the player, and we'd start with the highest-rated player and work our way down.
Back then, there were only 28 teams in the League, and the Draft was 12 rounds, so when we were finished, we had 12 rows of 28 players (no, there were no compensatory picks then either).
It was tedious as we'd go over one player at a time. Once there were a few names on the board, compare the player being talked about to the previous player and decide which player we would rather have in order of preference. Very few clubs, if any, go through the final process like that anymore.
The 2002 Draft was our first when I came to the Chicago Bears, and we came up with a different way of constructing the Board, and now most clubs do it the same way.
We would go through the player's position by position and rank the players within their position. We would start off on one side of the ball and start with the offensive line. In the room at the time would be all the scouts, the Offensive Coordinator, the O-Line coach, the Head Coach, and the GM.
In all the previous meetings in December and February, the coaches weren't involved for obvious reasons, but once the NFL season ends for them, they begin doing work on selected players at their position of expertise. So, in these meetings, the coaches finally have a say in how each player in his position group is ranked.
When going through this process, everyone who saw and wrote a report on the player had a say in the meeting. They wouldn't read their whole report but rather go over the strengths and weaknesses of the player and how he would fit within the scheme and help the team. When we finished that player, we would give him a final grade and stack him on the Board according to his grade. If there was a group of players with the same grade, we would stack them according to preference.
With players ranked in the first four rounds, we would also construct a plan for that player on how we see him contributing to the team in his first few years as a pro and what we had to do to develop him correctly. We had the "plan" for the player in writing and placed it in his file so that we made sure we were following that plan once he was a member of our team.
When going through these players in the April meetings, we aren't doing every prospect but rather players we would be interested in drafting at certain points of the Draft. These are all players that we see as "fits" for the scheme, both offensively and defensively. There are approximately 255 players drafted each year (depending on the number of compensatory picks), but our Draft Board wouldn't have 255 players on it. In most cases, it would be less than half that size.
The last thing we want is to have the board cluttered with names we have no interest in.
Once we get through with a position, we go on to the next position until we are finished with each side of the ball. This might take eight or nine days to complete, but in the end, the players are ranked in order by position on the Main Board, which is in the front of the Draft Room.
When we finish ranking the players by position, we now begin to rank the players in order of preference. In other words, what player do we want first, regardless of position? If he's gone, who is the next player that we would take?
While we wouldn't have a top to bottom ranking, how they were placed on the board in both their position group and when compared to other positions. Where they are placed on our board, gives us that answer.
Once done with ranking, regardless of position, we would begin to discuss strategy. How will we attack the Draft to get the players we want? Following veteran free agency, we know what needs we have, and so we go into the Draft knowing the positions where we need to draft players.
During these strategy sessions, everything is discussed, including trading up or down to get the most out of the draft that we can. Regardless of the plan, we always know that it might not fall the way we like. Because of that, alternative plans have to be put into place. I used to go into a draft hoping for the best-case scenario but expecting the worst. In my mind, I knew that if we were a better team having to accept the worst-case scenario because we had a strong plan. Seldom do drafts go exactly the way you want, but in the end, you want to come as close to the plan as possible.
Over the next couple of weeks, I'll continue discussing what happens inside a club's facility as we head into the Draft.