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A Scout’s Take: Setting a Board and Preparing for the NFL Draft

Greg Gabriel shares some more insight on an NFL team’s process in prepping for the draft.

NFL: APR 27 2023 Draft Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I have written about this recently, but I keep getting questions and being told certain things, which tells me I need to write more on the subject.

Today is Tuesday, January 16, 2024, and NO decisions have been made by the Chicago Bears or any other club in the NFL on who they are going to draft or want in the first round of April's NFL Draft. That is not close to how the process works.

Preparing for a Draft is a long, step-by-step process that must be properly followed, or mistakes are made. As of today, no team even has a preliminary board set, but rather grades in their system on each player scouted. It won't be until next month, before the Combine, that the first preliminary board will be set up.

Until now, only scouts and decision-makers have written reports and entered those into the system. In many cases, that probably means four to five reports at the maximum, and many of those reports will have different grades as few evaluators grade players the same way.

The coaches are just beginning to enter the process. Each position coach will be given a list of names to evaluate, interview, and perhaps work out. Their part in the process lasts about the next 10 weeks and won't be completed until late March or early April, depending on Pro Days or when they can set up a private workout.

Next month, when preliminary boards are set, they are set by only position. Clubs start on one side of the ball position by position and go over every player they are interested in. By the end of these meetings, they have a general idea of how each position board looks from best to worst. Also, at these meetings, it is determined what players to interview at the Combine. Each club can only interview up to 60 players, so they must be selective as to who they choose to meet with at Indy.

Much of that is determined by who they can interview at the All-Star Games. There are still the two main All-Star Games to be played (Sr. Bowl, East-West), and those will happen in the next two weeks. There will be over 200 players at these events, and for the first time ever, a limited number of underclassmen will be at the games. Players that clubs can interview at the All-Star Games do not need to be interviewed again at the Combine, but in some cases, there are times when a second interview is done.

While the scouts have already seen most, if not all, of these players in person, the All-Star Games and the Combine give the coaches their first in-person look at prospects. In the evaluation process, the coach's opinion is very important. A position coach must buy into a player and be motivated to coach him. If he doesn't buy into the player, there is no way a team can draft that player, as it just won't work.

The Combine is about four different things, with the medical being the most important item. Before a club can even think about selecting a player, he has to be cleared mentally. The other things done at the Combine are, of course, interviews and physical testing but also intelligence and psychological testing. Each club weighs the results of many of these tests differently.

Following the Combine, the Pro Day season begins. Many players who performed at the Combine will only do position drills at their Pro Day, but there are several other players at each school who do complete Combine type workouts. Don't forget, every year, there are about 23-40 players who were not invited to the Combine who end up getting drafted. It is extremely important to get proper information on each and every prospect.

While Pro Days are going on, private workouts are also set up. Teams use private workouts because it gives them much more one-on-one time with the player. An average private workout, depending on position, can last four to six hours, including interview and classroom time. After a typical private workout, a club usually has a strong feeling about whether they want to select that player. Remember, last year on Easter weekend, Bears GM Ryan Poles and offensive line coach Chris Morgan flew to Tennessee to meet with tackle Darnell Wright. It wasn't until they completed that exhaustive workout that they came away knowing they wanted to select Wright. That was just a couple of weeks before the Draft.

Following all workouts and Pro Days, each club's coaching staff and personnel Department begin to meet and set the final Board. In February, it was done by position, but in April, it's done from best to worst — regardless of position. It is at these meetings that Clubs finally make the determination of what players they want to select. Anyone who tells you that a decision has been made now, in early February or early March, is lying as they have no idea how the actual process works.

If the Chicago Bears are to keep the number one pick or trade it, the decision will usually happen in early April. That was not the case last year, and Ryan Poles wanted to trade the pick and get a deal done before the start of veteran free agency. He knew any trade he made would have to include a player, so he wanted to know who that player was going to be.

That could also be the case this year, but if no club wants to bite that early, he will have to wait until closer to Draft Day.

As of today, no decision has been made on Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, or any player at any other position yet. Those decisions will be made, but not until the Bears have all the pertinent information and the coaches are on board with the selection. Be patient, as we will know more as we get closer to veteran free agency in mid-March.