On common NFL draft misperceptions
April, 18, 2013
By Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergWhat are some of the common myths that take place behind the scenes at the annual NFL draft?NFL general managers operate from their teams’ headquarters during the draft, not from Radio City Music Hall, where the draft will take place starting Thursday of next week.
But Kevin Costner is expected in New York, preparing for his role as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns in the upcoming film “Draft Day."
Director Ivan Reitman will begin shooting the film as the first round of the real draft unfolds.
Will the movie dispel some widely held misconceptions about the NFL draft, or will it reinforce some of these narratives?
Here are what I believe to be a half-dozen mistaken beliefs about how things work at the NFL draft.
Chaos: The draft room is a sacred space with no outsiders allowed. So we’ve fictionalized what it must be like in there. Ringing phones. A scout streaming film on the wall screaming, “Look at this.” An assistant coach standing on the table, exhorting the GM to draft a particular guy. Ringing phones. Spilled coffee. General chaos comparable to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
But talk to people who are in the rooms and the guys who run them, and it turns out the space is not like that at all. The difficult discussions and arguments have already taken place and have been resolved in the meetings that get a franchise ready. It’s pretty organized, pretty quiet, pretty uneventful.
Maybe there is a cheer when a guy falls to the team or a collective groan when a coveted player disappears. Beyond that, things are not nearly as crazy as we might like to believe.
Boards are fluid: Many teams have their boards set before the scouting combine in late February because they want them to be based predominantly on tape and scouting.
There are meetings going on in most draft rooms now that force adjustments based on research, pro-day and combine developments, etc. But the tape and the scouting of prospects during their season typically trump all. Get too caught up in the other stuff and you wind up making a mistake like the Tennessee Titans did in 2007 drafting Arizona Wildcats running back Chris Henry.
Once this final round of meetings is complete, boards largely will be set. There may be some light shuffling and some minor movement. The image of a GM or an underling pulling a guy's name plate off the wall and walking it to a completely new spot qualifies as overdramatic -- unless said prospect just got arrested.
Money is at play: The new collective bargaining agreement means rookie contracts are not giant, even at the very top. Teams have to be under the cap at all times, but they don’t have to have a specific amount of money available in order to draft. I don’t think teams at the top steer clear of a player now because of his agent or expected demands, because the contract numbers are pretty much pre-prescribed.
When it comes time to sign picks, the new contracts have to fit under the cap. The cap counts only the most expensive 51 players until after final cuts in September, when it bumps up to all 53. So as a draft pick signs, he typically bumps a minimum-salary player out of the top 51. That isn’t quite the level of hit most people imagine.
Guys know where they’ll go: I heard EJ Manuel on the "Dan Patrick Show" this week list the Eagles, Bills and Jets as three teams he believes are very interested in him. And maybe the Florida State quarterback winds up with one of those teams.
Generally, though, a guy is as likely to be surprised by who drafts him as he is to say, “I knew it!” Frequently a player will say he had no idea that the team that selected him was even interested. A lot of pre-draft “interest” can qualify merely as due diligence. Sometimes a team will research a guy like crazy but do nothing beyond a combine meeting so as to not tip its interest.
Initial reaction to a draft class will match up with what happens: We’ll bombard you with grades of drafts as soon as they are over. But what’s really being graded? Teams aren’t concerned, nor should they be, with how their draft measures up against the expectations and ratings set by draft analysts and media.
Over and over we’ll hear about how you need two or three years to really see what a team got in a draft. And it’s absolutely true.
A draft class will make a team completely revamp its starting lineup: The Jaguars have the NFL’s worst roster. And coach Gus Bradley says he expects he could have four rookie starters. Four. So a good draft can change 18 percent of Jacksonville’s first-team depth chart.
The idea, then, that a team with one pick per round is going to wind up with six or seven new starters is ridiculous. Draft batting averages simply aren’t that high. Late-round picks can be tabbed for narrow, niche roles. Or they can qualify as projects who have a best-case scenario of contributing in Year 2.