An NFL team’s draft day war room is a guarded den of secrets and lies. The media has kept us spinning for months and the 2014 NFL Draft is finally here. We dive into the war room as GM and sort out the insanity. Dan Salem and Todd Salem debate in part one of this week’s TD Sports Debate. Two brothers from New York yell, scream and debate the NFL and sports.
I am incredibly interested in the goings-on of a real draft room on NFL draft day. If Kevin Costner’s new movie Draft Day didn’t seem so much like a Funny or Die sketch from the trailer, I might be more inclined to go see it. It would be fascinating to see how much certain general managers value character versus talent, what people feel is the right balance between production and promise, how important team need is compared to best-player-available, etc.
The one part of the NFL draft extravaganza that has always confused me though is the value placed on offseason testing.
Why does it always seem as though a performance at the combine is more important than a player’s performance for 35 games during his collegiate career? This offseason we have witnessed some heavy (mock) rises and falls based on nothing anyone has done on the field during an actual game.
Teddy Bridgewater was the franchise quarterback everyone wanted after the college season had ended. Now, he might not be a first-round pick. Instead of the Texans needing the number one selection to take him, Bridgewater might be available at thirty-three.
Players like Cyrus Kouandjio, Kelvin Benjamin, Anthony Barr, Marqise Lee and others have seen their stock plummet these past few weeks based off of varied circumstances.
The opposite has also been the case, and continues to be this season. Other players, whose performance on the actual football field felt imperfect when we last saw them, have risen up boards because of combines and measurements and interviews.
Greg Robinson is the biggest example of this. Early January mocks had him barely squeaking into the first round, with multiple tackles being selected ahead of him. Now, Robinson will be gone by the third pick in the draft without question even though he hasn’t made a single pancake block between then and now.
Historically, there are hundreds of examples of this push working out and just as many examples of the move backfiring. Players who drop show they were deserving and also make teams pay. Players who rise disappoint and also live up to the hype. Past picks fall on all sides.
So where does logic bring a GM then? It seems to me the best values are had in players who are falling down boards, which begs the question, are players falling on purpose? Is this whole mock industry designed to lower values and expectations of players people still want?
Every time Mel Kiper gets info from a GM saying Teddy Bridgewater has no arm strength, isn’t that just lowering the collective’s opinion of Bridgewater, allowing the original GM to grab him for less than it would have originally cost? At what point does the media play a role in the NFL draft, or are we already there?
The NFL Draft war room is a special kind of place where hopes get dashed and careers are made. Don’t make the mistake of confusing the business of the NFL Draft with the actual football evaluations hidden in secret within the walls of NFL war rooms. The NFL Draft is a television event and the three-month lead up to the draft is a full-time business for companies like ESPN. There must be change during those three months. Changes in the mock drafts put out by experts, changes in player evaluations, changes in the top picks of the first round. Without change and the corresponding debates that accompany them, there is nothing for the NFL and ESPN to market. Nothing interesting for fans to follow and hence no business to sell. It’s the job of NFL General Managers to both be aware of these reports and evaluations, while at the same time completely ignore every single bit of them.
Let me throw an analogy out there for you; the draft buzz and mock draft positions of a given player are akin to Hollywood movie trailers. For a given movie we get to see several different trailers. They change in length and often improve in quality as the film’s release nears. Our opinions can sway dramatically, especially after an expert reviews the trailer or film. This is no different from how Johnny Manziel has been treated over the last three months. The difference is we have hours of actual game tape to watch and decide for ourselves.
I’m putting on my big boy pants and going to act as the GM for the Houston Texans right now. The rise and fall of players up and down draft boards is irrelevant to how I approach the first pick in round one of the NFL Draft. Public opinion will certainly place higher value on a player who has fallen down the board and is thus a steal in the later rounds. But the only way for my team to win is to have the best players that complement my current roster. My team, the Houston Texans, need a quarterback and this draft has many who all rate relatively even. Clowney is arguably the best player in the draft and deserving of the number one pick. This is based on his actual play, as well as his physical attributes. He may not be an NFL Hall of famer, but the odds are high that he’ll make some pro bowls. Now the fun can begin.
The media certainly is a factor in my draft day decisions as GM. But the reason is not what you think. It has nothing to do with grades, rankings, or perceived value. What matters is the headline. Will the scroll bar on ESPN.com read “Houston Texans capitalize on draft day, turning pick number one into gold.” Or will it read “GM of Texans now on the hot seat after botching draft’s first pick.” That’s what matters, job security and the headline. But as the GM I have a publicist to handle how my decision is represented and how its spun.
Since nearly every quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft has seen his stock fall over the last few months, I’m going to use this to my advantage with the first pick. As the Texans’ GM, I want quarterback Blake Bortles, but I honestly don’t have him rated that much higher than Bridgewater. Teddy was the top rated passer at the end of the season and nothing has changed besides the media’s perception of him. What do I do with the top pick? I’m trading with the Atlanta Falcons at pick number six. This nets me two picks in the later rounds plus cash, and still puts me in position to grab a top-tier quarterback. The Rams, Jaguars, Browns, and Raiders all stand between me and pick number six. Atlanta will snatch up Clowney and the Rams will go offensive line. Oakland just signed my old quarterback and even in the worst case scenario where both Jacksonville and Cleveland take quarterbacks, I still get either Bortles, Bridgewater, or Manziel at six.
The entire NFL Draft is risk versus reward. No GM in his right mind moves with the wind of media coverage and analysis. The only thing more important than a player’s performance on the field is what its like to talk with him for five minutes alone in a room. This is both a team’s first impression and last impression of a player, a chance to get to know the man. Let the games begin.