NFL clubs are now in the home stretch as they prepare for the 2014 NFL draft. Except for a few schools, pro days are now behind us. Some prospects will still go through private workouts, and of course, each club can bring up to 30 players in for visits. Some of these visits have already taken place, and the rest will occur over, roughly, the next two weeks.
The most important thing that happens next is clubs' draft boards are adjusted to include the activity that has taken place over the last 6-7 weeks. This started with the combine and includes pro-day results, private workout results and visits.
What I will attempt to do here is take you through each part of the process and show how it will affect each player's final grade.
As I mentioned above, each club can bring in a total of 30 players for a visit. Much like a private workout, the visit gives coaches and personnel people a chance to spend some quality time with prospects they are interested in.
Clubs may or may not publicize who they bring in for visits, but I can assure you that the other clubs find out who visits, and teams do take notice. Each team wants to get an idea who their competition is for certain players. It's for that reason some visits really have no meaning and are more for show, so to speak, to "throw off" other clubs.
For example, let's say a club is interested in drafting an offensive tackle with its first pick. It isn't going to bring in just the player it is interested in. It may bring in three or four tackles and let the other clubs guess as to which one it prefers. Remember, this is a competitive process, and you never want to show your hand.
If a team is not sure of the position it wants to draft, it may bring in a few players who may be rated to be drafted where the team is making its selection. Again, this is done so no cards are shown.
No player can be at a club's facility more than two days and one night. Usually, a player will come in on a particular afternoon and then depart sometime the following day. During the course of his stay, he will meet with the head coach, the coordinator, the position coach, scouting director and general manager.
By league rule, he also has to go through, at minimum, a minor medical exam. This may be just to update all the medical information a team has on the player and make sure the information is accurate.
The coaching staff usually talks about football-related things when it has its meetings with the player. On the other hand, the general manager or scouting director may get more in depth about the player's family life and friends. If there are character concerns, these are discussed. This is all done to get a broad idea of what the player is all about.
Visits don't always go the way a club hoped. I have been involved with many where the visit ends up being the opposite of what you had hoped for. In the course of conversation, a coach may feel that the player just isn't a fit as a player or as a person, sometimes both. Reality is, when that happens, the visit was worthwhile, as the club could have selected a player who just won't fit in with his teammates.
One event that goes on but rarely gets publicized is the medical rechecks at Indianapolis. This year, the rechecks are scheduled for April 26. The players who go to the rechecks are ones who were injured and didn't work out at the original combine in late February.
This could include players who were injured during the season and came to Indianapolis during their rehab period or players who were found to have a medical condition during their extensive medical exam at the combine.
At the rechecks, the only thing that is checked is the injury. New X-rays or MRIs are taken, and club doctors have a chance to see how well the player has healed in the past two months.
It also gives the club's medical people an idea of how much longer the player will be out. This can be very important information. Clubs can clear some players who previously had a red flag and, in other cases, outright reject a player, as they feel the condition is too risky for the club to want to deal with.
Most clubs will have had a preliminary draft meeting before the combine. During that meeting, the overall player list is usually cut to a workable size. Coaches are assigned players to grade, work out or both. During these final meetings in April, it is usually the first time the coach's evaluation is figured into the prospect's final grade.
The coach's evaluation is important, as he has to work with the player once he is drafted by the club. It's because of this that his evaluation carries a lot of weight in the final grade. Not only is the coach looking at the player's talent level, but he is also looking at the player's personality and intelligence. If the coach doesn't sign off on drafting a player, that player likely will not be drafted.
There is no way you can expect a coach to develop a player whom he doesn't want or like. It won't work, and the player will fail.
Not only is the coach's evaluation part of these final meetings, but also the results of all the physical testing from the combine, pro days and private workouts. Players who performed better than expected can see their grade go up. Conversely, players who worked out or ran poorly can see their grade drop.
For instance, let's say a receiver prospect plays like he has 4.55 speed on tape, but at the combine and again at his pro day, he runs 4.70. There is no way that player should keep his original grade. The slow time increases that prospect's probability to fail. While he may have looked good playing against college defensive backs, it will be another story when he has to play against NFL players.
On the other side of the equation, players who you thought were marginal athletes tested and timed well. Do you move those players up? In some cases, yes, but you have to be careful and make sure that the testing results are really indicative of their true athleticism.
The private workout results are important because with those workouts, the coaching staff will have a strong strong idea of whether the player has the physical and mental traits to play in that club's scheme.
Another thing that is gone over is final character analysis. By this time, all research should be done and the decision either to take a player or to reject him based on his character is made. During these final meetings, no stone is left unturned. All the pertinent information has to be put on the table so that a proper decision can be made.
At the end of the meetings, a final board is set. The players are stacked both by position and overall value. Players who have been eliminated get removed from the board.
The Draft Board
When I came into the league in 1981, most clubs' draft boards had over 300 names on them. With many clubs today, that is not the case. The final board may have 80-100 names on it. These aren't the top 100 players, so to speak, but the players at different levels the club will chose from each time it is the club's turn to draft.
I had a sign in my draft room that read "I want to know a lot about a few, not a little about a lot." In other words, we hopefully knew everything there was to know about the 80-100 players on our board. Not only did we know their talent, but we also knew both their personal and football character as well as a lot about their family structure. The more knowledge you have, the more successful a draft can be.