In the few weeks leading up to the Combine, most NFL clubs are in personnel meetings preparing their preliminary board for the NFL draft. I say preliminary because how the board lines up in February is far different than how it will line up in April.
First off, when clubs set these preliminary boards, it’s not by position. The club goes though the players one position at a time, and each scout that has written a report on a player reads his report. The rule of thumb: If a scout hasn’t seen the player and written a report, he isn’t allowed an opinion. After the reports are read, a preliminary grade is put on that player, and then the player is stacked on the board relative to other players at the position. There is not serious thought put into the preliminary grade, as it actually becomes meaningless once a final grade is assigned six or seven weeks from now.
The other thing college scouting departments are doing is eliminating players from the final board. Players that aren’t a size, athletic or character fit for the club are often given their final grade, and then no further research is done on the player for the rest of the evaluation season. This basically means that the players in these categories will no longer be considered by the club as a potential draft choice. It could also mean that they won’t be considered as a potential undrafted free agent either.
A club starts out the scouting season with thousands of names. Every time the scouting staff meets, they start eliminating players so that there is a workable number of prospects to choose from come draft weekend.
Coaches are also often assigned players to evaluate at their position group. Most of the time the coaches are given a very workable group of which to study — maybe 18 to 20 players at different grade levels. They will then watch tape on these players, try to interview them at the Combine, watch and evaluate their Combine workout and then go to their Pro Day. They may even set up a private workout with the prospect. It isn’t until after a coach is done with every player assigned to them that they file a report on each. Those reports are then factored into the final grade of the player.
The medical the player receives at the Combine also is an important component in determining what the prospect's final grade will be. During my career, we have often found out that a player we like had a poor medical, and he is then ether eliminated from draft consideration or his grade is lowered so that he can’t be drafted at the area his grades reflect. This happens every year and it can be one of the most frustrating parts of the evaluation business.
At the Combine, players are expected to have strong workouts mainly because they have spent the past six to eight weeks preparing at a training facility. It’s not the players who perform well at the Combine rising up boards — that’s expected. Rather, it is the players who don’t do what is expected who end up dropping.
Let me explain: Going into the Combine, each prospect is expected to perform and run at a certain level based on their tape. Most scouts and decision-makers are very experienced at estimating what a player should be able to do. A strong workout doesn’t help a player rise up a board, but it solidifies his current spot. If he performs better than expected, his grade could go up, but it seldom goes up by much.
On the other hand, when a player's performance at the Combine falls short of expectations, it can hurt his grade. The good news for the player is that he still has a Pro Day at his school, when he can potentially make up for poor testing. The player who skips the Combine workout and then performs poorly at his Pro Day is in trouble, as he has no way to make up for the poor workout.
Teams don’t send a scout, coach or both to every Pro Day, as there are often too many on a given day to attend. They attend the Pro Days from which they need the most information or they have the most interest in a player or players. Often if a club can’t attend a player's Pro Day, it will set up a private workout to get that final information.
The other thing that helps each club get the right numbers at a Pro Day that they can’t attend is the APT report. The APT is short for the “Association of Professional Teams,” which includes just about all the clubs in the NFL (but not all). What happens is each club is assigned a certain number of schools for which they are responsible for getting all the workout numbers. Those numbers are then distributed to each of the other clubs in the APT. A club that can’t get to a certain Pro Day relies on the APT numbers for verified times and distances in the measurable drills.
All of the Pro Days are taped, and if a club can’t attend, they can purchase the tape of the event and see what they missed live.
After we get through the Pro Day season, clubs will meet and begin to put together a final board. Again, in most cases this is done by position. It isn’t until after a scouting department has gone through each player whom they still have “alive” in the process on a position basis that they begin to put together a final board. As we get closer to that part of this evaluation season, I will write about it more thoroughly.