NFL draft rooms are like the Batcave. All of Batman’s archrivals and closet friends wanted two things: to learn Batman’s real identity and to visit the Batcave, a sacred place where few got in and even fewer knew what happened inside. When it comes to NFL draft rooms, many want in and even more want to understand exactly what occurs inside those walls. Fans and mock draft experts study the players, but they can never peel back the layers inside the room to completely understand the dynamics that often alter picks and affect success.
What fans see on television is the finished product, the magnetic walls of the draft room lined with the player’s name. Some are overloaded with people dressed in coats and ties, tightly clustered together. Few rooms are populated with just the decision-makers — most teams want to make everyone feel included on this special day for the organization. Fans can only see the sideboards, the boards that have the players teams won’t draft, as their actual draft board is hidden from the cameras. Most teams’ draft boards will have between 100 and 125 names on them. Regardless of their public stature, the remaining players are on the free-agent board and will only be considered when the draft concludes. Some names will appear on the non-draftable board because of a medical or a character issue. These players will not be part of the team’s draft process regardless of the round.
So, how do the 100-125 names make the board? How do teams whittle down their lists from over 1,000 players? Remember, finding talent is first about eliminating what you don’t want or need. The best way to build a draft board is to define what is required at each position, then search for those who meet the requirements. The draft board is not a decorative item, littered with players’ names teams would never draft. If a player is on the draftable board, he earned that right from the debate that raged among scouts, coaches and executives. Teams streamline their board for clarity and purpose, resulting in only names on the board that have a real chance at becoming a member of their team.
That process is what fans never see — and that might be for the best. The old-school mentality of building the board has not changed since former NFL commissioner Bert Bell was running the draft out of the league office in Philadelphia. The way decisions are finalized has been the same for a long time, and at some point, a behavioral scientist will examine the entire process from start to finish and scream, “no wonder why there are so many mistakes.” It’s a system that allows bias, wishful thinking and noise to affect the picks.
The draft preparations begin in May after the draft concludes, as area scouts begin collecting information and writing reports on each prospect. Most teams use a grading system, correlating the talent to a round in the draft, which starts a false narrative. How can any scout watch a player in May and say with one thousand percent certainty that this player is an excellent second-round pick 11 months later? It’s damn near impossible. It causes the illusion of a player rising or falling, but players never rise or fall — they only become accurately graded. The “rising and falling” narratives are created by perceptions, not reality. The area scout has no idea who will be in the upcoming draft or how many other players could be available in the second round.