On Wednesday, I had lunch with an old friend. Actually, he’s more than an old friend; he’s a former business partner. In fact, if it weren’t for this friend, Troy, there’s no way I’d be in the football business. We started a small print draft publication, Lone Star Football, in the late 90s, and to show you how long-ago-and-far-away it was, we didn’t even have a website. Anyway, though it never took off, from its ashes sprung Inside the League. I wouldn’t have had the guts to start ITL if it weren’t for Lone Star Football, so for that, I’ll always tip my cap to Troy.
Anyway, we try to have lunch once a year at a Houston-area restaurant, and conversation always turns to the draft. In the course of Wednesday’s conversation, I told him that I had started ITL with the intention of learning exactly how and why teams drafted the way they do. Fourteen years later, I’m far from accomplishing that goal. However, there are three things I’ve learned. Or at least think I’ve learned. Here they are:
- Most teams see the first four rounds as the time they have to take players they love and reasonably expect to start in their first year-and-a-half of play. These guys have to make the team and excel. The first four rounds are, for the most part, a very risk-averse time for most teams, so of the 120-150 players they rate as draftable, the first four picks will most certainly come from this group.
- After the first four rounds, it’s lottery time. That’s when teams are mostly going to do one of two things. They’re either going to take a guy they thought was a sure Top-120 guy (even though they may wonder why he’s fallen so far) or they’re going to take a guy whose athleticism they’ve fallen in love with despite his lack of football experience, or acumen, or both. This is especially true of rounds 6 and 7. This tends to be where you see some real workout warriors picked. The last three picks are seen as expendable, for the most part. Why? Simple. It’s because no GM ever got fired because of the guy he picked, or didn’t pick, in the fifth round.
- Teams are very, very, very sensitive to what other teams think. By now, you’ve probably seen the text Texans scout Rob Kisiel accidentally sent. Though it’s gotten way more play than it deserves – hasn’t everyone sent a misplaced text by now? – the substance of the text is similar to what most scouts send, i.e., brief, polite conversation followed by inquiries into who else has expressed interest. If you read Thursday’s post on our blog, you know several teams reached out to Texas Tech speed demon Jakeem Grant over the last month, wanting to know who else was reaching out to him. Before I got into this business, I thought all NFL teams intuitively knew the players inside and out, regardless of what others thought, and didn’t really care about other teams’ favorites. Having been doing this for almost two decades now, I know that isn’t the case.