Greg Gabriel: Inside the process of stacking an NFL Draft board and developing a strategy

Now real fun begins in the leadup to 2017 NFL Draft

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FILE - In this April 28, 2016, file photo, Jared Goff, left, after being selected by Los Angeles Rams as their number one overall pick and Carson Wentz, after being selected by the Philadelphia Eagles as their top pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL football draft, greet fans at Selection Square in Grant Park, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton, File) — Matt Marton

Pro Days across the country are just about done. By the end of next week, the only working out we will see will be some private workouts for prospects that some teams still need information on. Once these are done, the next thing on the agenda for many of the NFL scouting departments is the pre-draft meetings where the board is put together and a draft strategy is developed.

I have always felt that the pre-draft meetings were the most interesting and fun part of the whole yearlong scouting process. Each NFL club will handle the format of these meetings a little differently but for the most part, the general objective is to make sure the draft board is lined up properly.

Stacking the Board

With the exception of one year in my career, these meetings usually lasted about a week to 10 days and were done by position. When we started to discuss a certain position, the people in the room would include the scouting staff, the General Manager, the Head Coach, the Coordinator and the position scout.

Each scout who evaluated the player during the year would have an opportunity to talk about the player, as well as the position coach and coordinator weighing in o the prospect. We would also discuss how this player fit our offensive or defensive scheme, and what we could expect his contribution to be during his rookie, second and third years. A plan on how to develop this player was also discussed.

When we were finished discussing a prospect, a final grade was put on the player, and he was then lined up on the draft board with the other players at his position. Part of the “lining up” process would be asking the simple question of, 'who would we rather have, Player A or player B?'

During these meetings, discussion can at times get heated, as some evaluators can have strong feelings about a certain player, positive or negative. There is nothing wrong with heated debate as long as everyone respects the others opinion. In the end, if the room can’t totally agree on a player’s value, the GM has to make that final decision as to where he is stacked on the board.

Once the players are stacked according to position, then the whole board is stacked from best to worst regardless of position. When this happens, there could be a number of players at different positons who have the same grade. They then are lined up by both value and priority. This is done so that when Draft Day comes, there is no argument as to which player the club prefers. All the “arguing” was done in the meetings.

When I first started in the NFL, most Draft Boards included about 250-to-300 players. That is no longer the case. Many clubs go into a draft with about 100 names on their board. It consists of players the clubs want in the different rounds of the draft, and players who fit the criteria the coaches are looking for. Players who are not scheme fits usually don’t find their way to the final board. There is no sense in cluttering the board with players a club will never draft.

Developing a Strategy

Once the Board is set, then a Draft Day strategy is developed. With free agency just about over, the club knows what its needs are. They know what players and at what positions they both gained and lost players.

With the knowledge of how many draft picks they have, and what their needs are, clubs can develop a plan as to how they are going to fill those needs. The strengths and weaknesses of the draft play into developing that strategy.

By this I mean that if a club needs a player at a positon where the draft is weak as far as overall talent, they may determine that they will draft a player from that positon early on depending on who they are looking at when they are on the clock. When a certain position has depth to it, then a club can decide to fill that need later on. Still, teams have to seriously consider drafting a player whose grade is a level higher than anyone else on the board because of the “best available athlete” theory.

The club may also determine that they need quality players at a few positons, meaning they have to select as many players as they can from these positon groups early in the draft. In order to accomplish this goal, it may be wise to try and trade down a few slots and pick up another high draft choice by making that trade. In a deep draft I have always felt that this is sound strategy.

If a club determines it needs to trade down, this usually isn’t a Draft Day decision. It is determined days before the draft, and calls are made to other clubs letting them know that you may be willing to trade down. Without having done this preparation work, a club could get put into a situation where they are stuck with a poor deal they don’t want to make.

As we get closer to the Draft, I will write more about how different Draft Day strategies and scenarios are put together.