A Front Office Guide to Draft Day

Greg GabrielFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2014

This photo provided by the Denver Broncos shows head coach John Fox, back left, and vice president John Elway, center facing camera, in the
Eric Bakke/Associated Press

Thursday night, when you tune into either the NFL Network or ESPN, you're going to see glimpses of what is going on in some of the draft rooms around the league. But I am here to give you a closer look at what happens behind those scenes. I can almost guarantee that every room is different, and a lot depends on who is in charge.

On draft day, there is only one person within each club who has the final say on which players a club will select. This person has the final say on the makeup of the 53-man roster. It could be the head coach or it could be the general manager (or in some cases, the owner). Whomever it is, that person is the "boss" of the draft room.

Evan Siegle/Associated Press

When I was a full-time employee for an NFL club (1984-2010), the GM always had the final say. When I was a part-time scout in Buffalo in the early '80s, the head coach had final say. At that time, the head coach was Chuck Knox.

While I was with the Giants, I worked under two different general managers—first George Young, then Ernie Accorsi. During my time with the Bears, Jerry Angelo was the man in charge. All had different philosophies, but they were also similar in one important aspect: Find the best player.


Who Is in the Draft Room?

Tim Sharp/Associated Press

Until last year, every draft room I had been in had all the scouts, the GM, the head coach and the owner in the room. The draft is a special day for scouts, and they should be a part of what is going on. They spent the last year of their lives preparing for that day; they deserve part of the reward.

In my time at Chicago, my office was right next to the draft room, and the GM's office was right across the hall. That made it easy for us to leave the room for a private discussion if it was needed. When I was with the Giants, it was a similar setup.

Last year, when I was a consultant for the Eagles, the scouts weren't in the draft room. Their room was small, and only about nine or 10 people were in the room, including the trainer and team doctor. The scouts were in a room adjacent to the draft room and were brought in only if the decision-makers needed questions answered.

JULIE JACOBSON/Associated Press

In the draft room, there are usually three different "value" boards. The main board has only the names of players the club is interested in drafting, ranked by value. Many "main" boards only have about 100 to 120 names on it—sometimes less. There is no need to have a board with names on it that the club isn't interested in.

The second board is comprised of all the players in the draft, stacked from best to worst, with the third board being similar but set up by position, from best to worst. There is also sometimes a fourth board that is set up by team name. When a team selects a player, the player's card is put in that particular team's column. That makes it easy to see what players each team drafted.



ED ANDRIESKI/Associated Press

Once the draft starts, there is always a lot going on, especially in the first round. If your club is picking in the top 10 to 15 slots, it's a lot more hectic than if you're picking at the bottom of the round. When you're at the bottom, you have to wait and see what happens in the early picks before you can start to get excited about your own pick.

There are assignments given out days before the draft as to who does what. Someone has to be the person taking trade calls; someone has to make sure the boards are kept up to date; someone has to write down the terms of trades and make sure a team has the right information as to what picks each club has.

In the days leading up to the draft, each club sends in a list to the league office as to who is responsible for what (with their phone numbers) on draft day. These lists are distributed by the league to each club a few days before the draft. These lists make it easy to communicate, because teams will then know who will be taking calls for certain situations and how to reach them.

ED ANDRIESKI/Associated Press

For many clubs, the pro scouting director handles trade calls. On draft day, that person is usually very busy. 

When a club calls another with interest in trading up or down, the pro scouting director takes the call and finds out all the pertinent trade information. Many of the early discussions are "what if"-type calls—in some cases, an hour before the actual pick. If a team wants to move down, it may get a large number of calls from different clubs discussing terms of a potential deal.

The pro scouting director then relays that information to the "boss." As you get closer to the actual pick, it can get crazy with so many calls coming in referencing a trade. I have been in situations where there are so many calls coming in that sometimes three people have to handle that particular duty. When you get within a few minutes of the pick, a decision has to be made. The boss makes that final decision.

When discussing these trades, teams always have a copy of their trade chart handy. While the standard trade chart (first devised in the 1980s) isn't exact, it is used as a guide to what is fair and not fair with deals.


Making the Pick

Eric Lars Bakke/Associated Press

Many are under the impression that draft decisions are made on draft day. If that were the case, teams would be in trouble. Just like in a football game, where the coaches put together a game plan for each game, there has to be a plan in place for the draft.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, the plan is drawn up. On draft day, it is executed.

Teams can't put themselves in a situation where they want just one particular player. They have to have a list of three to five players whom they hope will be there when it's their turn to draft.

The list of players is ranked by priority, so if the top player is gone, teams automatically go to the next player. They can't panic if "their player" is gone. That leads to mistakes.

Teams always have to expect the worst and hope for the best. I have always felt that if you can accept the worst-case scenario, you're in good shape.

JASON DECROW/Associated Press

As I have said before, in the weeks leading up to the draft, each player is discussed and the board is set. A plan is usually set as to how the club would use each player if he is drafted. During predraft meetings, any disagreement about a player should be talked out then. There is no time for that on draft day. It can be too disruptive.

As a club prepares to make a selection on draft day—and, say, three players it likes are still available—it may go over the strengths and weaknesses of those players. With the scouts in the room, the group can answer any last-minute questions decision-makers may have on a particular player.

A club should go into a draft with a plan to get certain players in certain rounds. A backup plan has to also be created in case teams are faced with a "worst-case scenario." A club shouldn't decide to trade up or trade down at the last minute. That decision should be made in advance so that if the opportunity to trade comes up, no one is scrambling.

ADAM ROUNTREE/Associated Press

If, in fact, everything goes as planned and your top-priority players are available, it's easy to make the selection. Usually before the actual pick is made, though, the player is called to make sure he is healthy and excited about being a member of your team.

When I was a scouting director, I was the person who made that phone call. I would congratulate him and then put him on the phone with our head coach. When this happens, you have about 10 minutes of delight and celebration, and then it's back to work, preparing for the next pick.

When the draft is over, I doubt you will find many teams that don't like their draft. In most cases, teams have selected the players they had rated the highest on their board at the time of the pick. You don't really find out if you were right or wrong until training camp opens in July.

Once camp is over, the cycle starts all over again.