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A Scout’s Take: Do NFL Clubs Really Take the Best Player Available?

Greg Gabriel weighs in on how teams stack their draft boards and how they grade players.

NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Every year when NFL GMs talk to the media before the Draft, they claim they will select the best player available regardless of position. We also see fans tweet or say the same thing. The question is, does that really happen on Draft Weekend? The answer is both yes and no, as I will explain.

NFL Clubs spend weeks leading up to the Draft setting their Draft Boards and preparing for the Draft. As I have mentioned several times before, there are no two teams' boards that are alike, which is for several reasons.

First, most clubs have anywhere from five to eight different reports on a player, with some being similar and others being far apart. The Scouting Director and General Manager decide on the final grade, but in most cases, everyone who wrote a report is on Board with the final grade.

The criteria that goes into a final grade are obviously talent and production but scheme fit, size, overall athleticism, and medical history also are part of the equation. In the end, there will be several players that have similar grades. When the Board is put together, it is done so by grade.

To explain, I'll use the grading system we used with the Chicago Bears when I was the Scouting Director. All grades had a letter first, then a number followed by a (+), (-), or nothing. For example, a high first-round graded player might have the grade A 7.2+. The (A) meant he was a first or second-round level player. The (7.3) was his talent grade, and the (+) meant he was a fit for our scheme. If the player had a (-) after his grade, that meant he was not a scheme fit, and we would not draft him regardless of his talent level. If he had nothing after the number grade, we called it (vanilla), and that meant he wasn't a perfect scheme fit, but we could live with him as a player because most of his skill set matched the position profile.

In order to get a +, the player's skill set had to match the player profile that was written up for the position. In my nine Drafts with the Bears, we only took one player in the first round that did not have a + after his number grade, and that was Greg Olsen in 2007. Greg did not get a + because he was an average blocker, meaning he would be better off as a move tight end than a Y tight end.

By Draft Day, there are only a handful of players rated in the 7.0 or above area. First-round grades would go as low as A 6.8. The second round would be players rated as high as A 6.8 to as low as A 6.6. If a player was lined up as a third or fourth-round player, his letter grade was a B. Fifth, sixth, and seventh-round players received a C letter grade.

So what happens on Draft Day?

When it came time to draft a player, let's say there were several players with a grade of A 6.9+ on the Board. If those players are from several different positions, like an offensive tackle, a defensive tackle, a corner, and a wide receiver, who do they select?

The General Manager has the final say, but when there is a grouping of players with the same grade, teams often gravitate to the player who fills the strongest need. So, are they taking the best player available? Yes, because the grade says so, but they are also filling a need.

When we watch the Draft on ESPN or the NFL Network, the analysts have a "Board" that is ranked best to worst. With the NFL Network, the Board is set by Daniel Jerimiah, who is a former scout and a darn good one. He gives each player a fair grade, but it is strictly his opinion; it's not like a club that has up to six opinions on each player. Jerimiah's Board is not going to be similar to most clubs' Boards, mainly because he never figures in scheme fit with his grades. He has a more generic type of grade.

To us fans, his highest-rated player left on his Board would be "HIS" best player available and will often not match the best player on a team's Board. A fan could complain that his team didn't take the "best player available" because they didn't select Daniel's best player.

The reality is that's foolish thinking because of what I have already stated… Club Boards are far different from what analysts compile and other team boards.

If a club selects a player who plays a position of need and has the same grade as a couple of other players on their Board, then in essence, they are taking the "best player available." What we don't want to see happen is for a club to take an A 6.8 to fill a need when there are several A 6.9s available. That becomes poor drafting.

I have been in well over 30 Draft Rooms over the years, and I can't remember ever not taking a player from the grouping with the highest grade. So yes, we always took the best player available, but it often fits a need also.