It’s All About Consensus – Preparing for the College Draft

As the General Manager of a National Football League team, I thrived in and loved the grind of the process of preparing for the college draft. The thoroughness required when listening to opinions and input from everyone involved is the most important skill set, and the one that gets overlooked the most when people try to get behind the walls of an organization’s draft/War room.

Compromising in the Draft Room

I am all about building a consensus in the room and stacking the board accordingly. None of us alone are smarter than all of us together. It’s not about any one scout or director’s grade at this point. Egos and agendas have to be set aside now for the good of making “what’s right for the team” the number one priority. Usually, when assigning a final value to a player, the truth is in the middle. Grades vary between people and compromise should rule. I’ve been witness to loud voices or strong personalities winning the draft room at a cost of what’s best for the team and that is no fun for anyone and very ineffective. My philosophy has always been about finding a happy medium. I love hearing diverse opinions, but the final grade has to reflect a CONSENSUS and not be swayed by individual agendas. Thus, the decision maker(s) have to be not only good evaluators capable of making their own judgment on players but good listeners as well.

That’s why at this point in the process, (2 weeks out) I stopped watching TV,  stopped listening to the media experts and tried to block out the noise. The talking heads are very much informed, but their opinions are just one person and they don’t know your criteria or specific needs as they relate to your coach’s schemes, etc. We have job descriptions for our players. These outside sources do not know what that criterion consists of. The only opinions that matter, at this point, are the ones in our room and those have now been examined and considered at the risk of nausea. The same goes for the MOCK DRAFT phenomenon. Everyone nowadays has one and I like to use and consider them all, but at a later date and for different reasons in the process (more to come on Mock Drafts).

Building a Consensus

We have taken input from all scouts, directors, and coaches and used that to build a consensus to line up the players according to value by position. Said another way, “stack them in the order we like them”. Once this is done, I then like to consider a TOP 160, on a separate board, regardless of position. In a high percentage of NFL drafts, you will get your seven selections (plus a few more) in cases when your team has multiple picks from these 160 players.  With compensatory picks, (32 slots) a draft has 256 drafting slots, but no team has their draft stacked the same so the magic task for me is getting the 160 lined up correctly. This becomes your FRONT BOARD.

You’ll have a backboard of players (approx 161- 300) where your undrafted college free agents will come from. I would let the scouts stack this backboard and in a lot of cases, this is where the scouts would earn their keep. Scouts have hunches and grades that can be justified in late rounds or when signing free agents immediately after the draft. They have spent countless time and energy researching and evaluating these guys for, in some cases, two years and are the best resources for lining these players up. Assistant coaches weigh in with these players as well because in some cases, they have spent time with them at the combine or at individual pro days at colleges. These players will have been recruited by multiple teams over the two/three weeks preceding the draft just in case they don’t get drafted. You want to have a relationship with these players so that they are comfortable signing a contract with you immediately after the draft. Each team signs between 8 and 15 college free agents in the hours after the draft concludes. The stacking of this front board will be the most important task you have as a staff because this is how you see the draft. This is your worksheet to draft off of. We used to literally lock this board up every night. Your front board (160 or so players) is reflective of how “we, as a team, would take these players.” A team’s needs will be reflected on this board within a certain grade parameter. Players can’t jump grade groups just because you have a higher need, but you can adjust the board within a specific grade area based on needs. You must stay true to your process and grades. You must keep the integrity of the board based on the value you put on the players when you stacked the positional board. The idea is to stack this board according to VALUE FOR YOUR TEAM, not for any specific person, not for the league and surely not for any other team. Building CONSENSUS is the total key to his whole year long process and decision makers sleep easily once this task is complete

Photo Credit: Shutterstock | Melinda Nagy

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