- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s called the war room, which evokes visions of black and white movie scenes. Generals and colonels lean over a table covered with a map. They push mini-troops around with a stick. They call in people from outside a heavy door who bring them important news. They plot and strategize.
Sure, there are some similarities between NFL brass on draft day and military planners during battle.
But let’s not go crazy. The stakes are a tad different.
I’ve not been in a lot of draft rooms -- OK, I’ve not been in any -- but based on conversations I’ve had, I believe both scenes are perceived as frenzied.
“People think it’s like the trading floor in Wall Street and it’s not like that,” Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. “I think some of it has to do with the personalities of the people that are in charge. But the ones I’ve been around tend to be very methodical. It’s actually a very slow moving thing. It's much more of a methodical thing than chaos.”
We’re three weeks away from the first prime-time first round of the draft, so I thought we could visit some other areas where they may be some draft misconceptions. Reinfeldt, who runs a team that looks to draft by consensus of scouts and coaches, offered thoughts on my categories.
Just trade: With the draft broken into three days and teams having more time to consider people and picks, we may see more trades. Reinfeldt expects that to happen. But those talk radio voices calling for a trade up or a trade down aren’t always factoring in the intricacies of the process, including the one mandatory thing -- a willing partner.
“There are lots of calls and lots of conversation, but when it gets down to the time of doing it, it’s much harder than it seems,” Reinfeldt said. “We’ve been through that a couple times; people change their minds. A guy is there all of a sudden they want. Somebody’s given them a better offer. It’s not a gimme just making a trade.”
Batting averages: Drafting is a very inexact science. The best scouts in the business have a laundry list of players they miscalculated or projected poorly on their résumés. Crystal balls don’t come with guarantees and are non-refundable.
Too many fans seem to expect a team with seven draft picks will find long-term starters in the fourth, fifth, sixth and even seventh rounds. It’s hard to talk draft batting averages because we’re talking about a target that moves more than any breaking ball. A first-round hit is different than a fourth-round hit is different than a sixth-round hit.
Jacksonville general manager Gene Smith talks about wanting to collect singles and not worrying much about extra bases and home runs. Such baseball talk fits the draft just like the war room does. But keep in mind what’s expected from your No. 3 hitter (a first-rounder) as opposed to your developmental utility infielder (most sevenths).
Reinfeldt said he hopes to average 2.5 or three starters from each draft with an additional contributor or two.
Decision time: If it’s calm rather than chaotic, here’s a big part of why: When a team goes on the clock, it’s not scrambling to decide between a half dozen players. Typically the pool that’s discussed is much smaller, and those conversations are largely reviews of ones that have been held in preparatory meetings that include mock drafts and what-if scenarios.
“Three is kind of the number,” Reinfeldt said of the options when the Titans go on the clock. “It isn’t always three, sometimes it’s two, sometimes it’s four. But three is the number more times than not. We have different people around the room give their input. The coordinators will talk, the position coaches will talk, Jeff Fisher will give his thoughts, I’ll give my thoughts and through that conversation one guy usually rises to the top.”
Immediate contributions: Drop Brian Cushing in the lineup at the start and you can get 18 tackles in his first two games. Drop Eugene Monroe into an opener at Indianapolis and you get big quarterback pressure on the game’s crucial snap from Dwight Freeney.
Some guys who are going to be good players are not good players right away, and sometimes expectations are simply too high.
“It’s a little bit the state of your team talent-wise, and it’s also a little bit by position,” Reinfeldt said. “The defensive end, the corner, the running back, he’s going to get the opportunity to play early.”
Factor in system, need, a player’s learning curve, the team’s philosophy and history regarding rookie playing time and you get a better sense. Will injuries create room for Austin Collie and Jerraud Powers to play well beyond most people’s first-year expectations? Or does an insufficient roster prompt game action too soon for Ryan Mouton to handle?
The pull of the trade chart: If you’ve not reviewed our sample, have a look here. Every team has something similar. Make a trade, and reporters, analysts and fans will be quick to say who won it not because of the players the picks are used on, but because we’ve got such a handy scorecard.
“Most are closely the same; there are some little discrepancies and there are a couple clubs that use a couple [versions] and use the one that helps them,” Reinfeldt said. “... If I’m making a trade just because I am getting value out of the trade, I worry about the numbers a little bit. If I am making the trade to get a specific guy, the numbers don’t matter so much. To me that’s the difference.”
Best player available: Teams can preach it all they want, and it’s the right philosophical approach. But if the best guy at your first-round spot is a running back and you’ve got Chris Johnson and no one is making a reasonable offer to come get him, guess what?
Unless you are loaded and without any frontline need -- quite a rarity -- you aren’t getting your people in New York to write the running back’s name on the card that goes to the league.
“There's got to be some position of need mixed with the value of that draft pick,” Reinfeldt said. “There is kind of an informal formula that you kind of have in your head.
The Jaguars took two offensive tackles, Monroe and Eben Britton, last year with their first two picks. In their formula, Britton at No. 39 was too good to pass up when measured against their expensive incumbent right tackle, Tony Pashos.
The Texans could have had Patrick Willis at No. 10 in 2007. I don’t know how they rated a player who’s turned out to be spectacular, but they went with defensive tackle Amobi Okoye there instead of Willis and with good reason -- they drafted another middle linebacker they loved, DeMeco Ryans, in the second round a year earlier.