I became a full-time scout in 1984 after having been a part-time scout for three years with the Buffalo Bills. I covered the Great Lakes region for National Football Scouting, one of the two scouting services at the time. My area included Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
At the December scouting meetings that year, the New York Giants offered me a position as an area scout covering the Midwest region which I of course accepted. The following April was the first time I participated in a draft as a full-time team scout, and along with the other scouts and the scouting director, I helped put together the value board for the 1985 draft.
In 1985, the draft was not like it is today. It lasted 12 rounds, and there were no compensatory picks. The draft was also completed in one day, starting at 8 a.m ET and lasting until about 2 a.m. the following morning.
In the late 1980s, when we put together a value board, we lined up 12 rows of 28 players. Basically it was our view of the top 336 players in the country from top to bottom. Putting that board together was a long tedious task that was weeks in the making. In today's NFL, most value boards are far different than they were 30 years ago.
Including the compensatory picks, there is usually about 256 players selected each year. In most draft rooms, the value boards aren't anywhere close to having 256 players on it. A board with about 125 names or less is closer to the truth. In some draft rooms you may see a board with as few as 75 names on it.
Back in the day, clubs used to draft the "best available athlete." A team could afford to do that because there was no free agency, and there were plenty of ways to "stash" players who needed further development whom it didn't want to lose. Such is not the case today. With free-agency and cap concerns, teams have to draft the best athlete at a position of need.
In drafts that I have been involved with in the last 10-12 years, the main value board is comprised of players who "fit" the position profiles of the club and also fill needs. Let me explain.
When I was with the Chicago Bears and Lovie Smith was the head coach, you never saw a nose tackle who was 6'2" and 330 pounds on the out board. That type of player could not play in the defensive scheme we played. During the meeting process, players who didn't fit the scheme would be eliminated. We would also eliminate players whom we felt were medical or character risks.
I used to tell my scouts, "I want to know a lot about a few, not a little about a lot." In other words, I knew everything there was to know about the players who made the final board. With that in mind, it's become a lot easier to make decisions.
Putting together a value board can be an art. It's not only ranking the players top to bottom, but it is also having a good idea of how other clubs value players your team likes. One thing you can be sure of, no two value boards are the same. The top 10 players on one team's board is not going to be the top 10 on another board.
Stacking the Players
Before you can put a final board together, you have to stack the players by position. The "stacking" process is a long one. During February meetings, most clubs go through their prospect lists position by position.
When hearing the different reports, it can become easy to rank one player over another. When that process is done, the coaches get involved, usually, by having to evaluate 20-25 players at their position. Then combine and pro-day results are then factored in. When all that information becomes available the general manager, scouting director, head coach and maybe the cross-check scout can stack the players.
The players who make the final board are all players who fit the player profile and whom the team feels can help the club. The final stacking may not be the best 20 players at the position, but rather they are stacked by the level as to where you would draft them.
In other words there may be a group of players at a position that you would consider drafting in the first two rounds. The next grouping would be players you would take in the next two rounds, etc.
Creating the Final Board
After the stacking-by-position process is done, you are ready to put together a final value board that consists of players from every position. In this case you may have several players from different positions who have basically the same grade. Now you have to prioritize as to what player you would take first, second and third within that group.
When doing this exercise, need often comes into play. The players have roughly the same talent level, so now if corner is a greater need than wide receiver, then the corner's card would be placed higher than the receiver's card on the board.
When the final board is completed, there will be many players who are quality talents not on the board. That could be because they are not scheme fits, have medical problems or have character concerns. The reason you don't have these names on your final board is because the last thing you need on draft day is confusion.
Don't let the card of a player you have no interest in be anywhere near the final board. If the board is done correctly, you should have a list of names that is very easy to work with.
Come draft day, you have to have a well thought out plan. You have to be totally prepared. I have always thought that when you go through possible scenarios of what can happen on draft day, you have to prepare for the worst possible scenarios. If you can live with that, then you have done excellent preparation and should have a good draft.
You may have a group of say three players that you are hoping are available when it's your turn to draft. If they are all there, obviously you chose the players whom you feel can help you the most.
What often happens is none of those players are there, and you have to go to plan B. Plan B has to be prepared for well in advance of the draft. That secondary plan may include a trade down, and if that is the case, you make calls in the days leading up to the draft, letting other teams know that you may want to trade down.
If that preparation work is done, there are often a few teams calling, looking for your pick. It's when you don't rehearse that exercise that disaster can happen. The teams that draft the best are teams that go into a draft very well prepared for all possible scenarios. The draft plan is not just about the first round, it's about the whole draft. You have to know the strengths and weaknesses of the draft.
If you go into the draft needing a wide receiver, a corner and an offensive tackle, your plan should take into consideration the depth of the draft at those positions. Where is the drop-off in talent?
This year the wide receiver position is very deep. There may be eight or nine receivers who have first-round talent, but that many receivers won't go in the first round. So in your preparation you may decide to draft the corner or tackle first and then come back and take the receiver because you know you can get a quality receiver in the second round.
Putting together value boards and draft plans is a fascinating exercise. It's what makes scouting so much fun. It's my plan to share my thoughts and experiences with readers so that draft day can be more fun with the added knowledge of what goes on outside of public view.