By Greg Gabriel--
(CBS) Many NFL fans are under the misconception that most clubs' draft boards are already set. That couldn't be further from the truth. With the draft start three weeks from today, the reality is that final meetings to set the board and put together a draft plan either began earlier this week or will start next Monday.
Who's involved in these meetings? It can change from club to club, but for the most part, it includes the general manager, scouting director, player personnel director and the coaching staff. Because the coaching staff is also just getting ready to begin the offseason program with the players, most clubs go through these meetings on a position-by-position basis. That way, there's only one position coach in the meeting room at a time. The head coach is part of the entire meeting process, while the coordinators are there when their side of the ball is being discussed.
Up until these meetings, the scouts and coaches have spent a considerable amount of time at the various pro days as well as private workouts. This workout period began right after the NFL Combine ended in February. The workouts can be another important piece of the puzzle when putting a final grade on a player. At these pro days and private workouts, the coaches get to spend much more time with the prospect. That can give them insight as to how they tick, so to speak. Between meetings in the classroom and work on the field, a coach comes away with a lot better feel for the player from both a mental and physical aspect.
The whole process started last fall with scouts making school calls, watching tape and attending practices and games. That was followed by the All-Star game period in January and then the Combine in February. The GM, scouting director and scouts likely met in December and early February to scour over their reports and pare down the list of names to a workable number. In August, that list can be around 1,500 names. By the time we get to the draft, the final list could have fewer than 100 names on it.
Players were eliminated for various reasons in December and February meetings, as well as at the combine and pro days. That's not to say some of the eliminated names aren't good players. It's just that, for one reason or another, they either don't fit the scheme, have a character flaw or a medical flaw. In the case of medicals, the final information on some players won't come until the end of next week when the medical rechecks are held in Indianapolis.
Once the final pre-draft meeting gets underway, team brass typically goes through the players on a position-by-position basis. They won't be talking about every player at each position in the draft but rather the players that the club has an interest in drafting. Depending on the position, the discussion could be on only a few players or as many as 25.
Each person who scouted the player gives his opinion on that player. In the end, the group tries to reach a consensus opinion on that player. If a consensus opinion can't be reached, it's highly unlikely that player will get drafted by the club.
As the players are discussed, they're stacked according to value. Some clubs then have the position stack separated by levels. The top level will be players who are worthy of being drafted in, for example, the first two rounds. The next stack would then be a group of players who are worthy of being drafted in the third and fourth rounds and a final stack would be for rounds five through seven. There's often a stack of players that the club considers as potential undrafted free agents to sign afterward.
Once the players are stacked by position, then they're stacked by overall value. This part of the process can take a few days to finish, as it has to be determined what order the players are lined up on the board. Again, the group tries to reach a consensus opinion, but in the end the GM usually has final say on where a player is lined up on the board.
When I started working for the New York Giants in 1984, the draft lasted 12 rounds. It was later dropped down to eight rounds and then finally to the seven rounds that it is today. Back in the 1980s, most clubs would line up their boards with 12 rows of players, one row for each round. That's seldom done anymore.
Many clubs go into a draft with only about 75 to 110 players on their board. These aren't the top 75 or 100 players. Rather, it's the group of players that a team would considering drafting during the three-day event.
That limited number of players are fit the scheme and vision of a team, offensively and defensively. Both the scouting and coaching staffs feel that each one of those players can make and help the team going forward. It makes no sense to clutter the board with players a club isn't interested in drafting. The idea is to only keep in view players who you honestly want to acquire.
Once the board is set, then a draft day strategy is put in place. I'll write about that process next week.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.
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