The Football Educator sat down with Alex Lanigan to answer some questions like what’s a General Manager’s draft philosophy, is there perceived college conference bias in player selection, and who the Houston Texans might take with the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.
As a former General Manager when would you begin your preparation for the draft and would the performance during the season affect how early it could start?
Each Draft Class really starts with reports presented to the clubs from one of the two scouting combines that covers the country for the NFL; BLESTO and National Football Scouting, Inc. These meetings usually take place in the spring prior to the start of the college football season and give the clubs a starting point with which to set their lists and assign their area scouts coverage in the coming fall. Most clubs don’t begin looking at juniors prior to this, but will keep their eyes/ears open as to potential declarations as the season progresses. With a historic number of underclassmen declaring every year now, it behooves the scouts and their clubs to pay close attention to those athletes that might come out early. But keep in mind that the colleges aren’t real keen on scouts coming in during the fall and paying too much attention to their underclass athletes. The last thing an NFL club wants to do is upset the “apple cart” by giving an indication that a young prospect should leave school early at the expense of his current situation (college eligibility).
How involved is a Head Coach on draft day and how much influence do they have on selecting the prospect?
In today’s NFL every Head Coach is going to be involved in some form or fashion. Too much rides on everyone’s position within the organization to not have a firm understanding of why a player is being selected and where he might fit into the plans and schemes of the club. There are still some limited scenarios where you have the “czar” coach involved with personnel decision making, but that is becoming a more rare setup than ten or twenty years ago. With today’s NFL, you need a system of checks and balances (in my opinion) to ensure that both the short and long term goals of the club are met with the addition of talent; both from a roster and financial/cap perspective. The balanced and successful teams, much like in Seattle with Pete Carroll and John Scheider, take all angles and input into account when selecting draft picks.
Would NFL teams benefit from having the draft closer to the end of the season than it currently is does an extended period allow for better research of a prospect?
There are two schools of thought with regards to the timing of the Draft. Many might argue that better decisions would be made and less money wasted if the Draft were held before Free Agency. This would allow clubs to fill roster holes with young prospects and then repair major cracks with veteran talent. But I imagine the NFLPA wants Free Agency upfront to force the shopping spree that inevitably happens every season, with the early money available going to the veterans on the market. The NFL would rather have the Draft later in the year (as they continue to push it farther and farther back) to spread the fan interest over the entire process throughout the spring and into the summer, leading into OTA’s, Minicamps, and the Training Camp. That decision is entirely based upon marketing and really has nothing to do with football. I would assume the clubs were prefer to have the DRAFT first and then start Free Agency.
What role does the NFL Combine play in judging how a player will translate to the professional level and have you ever fallen in love with a player because of their performance at the combine?
The Combine allows for the collection of athletic data that hopefully corroborates what was seen on film. If you see a productive player in college and he in turn shows athletic ability in his skill drills and testing, your overall chances of finding a player that can then transfer that athleticism and maintain that productivity are pretty good. What confuses the situation is when a player doesn’t perform well on the field and yet blows away his peers at the Combine. Was it coaching, scheme, or something else that held back his production? Will he carry that athletic skill with him to the next level and begin to develop beyond his limited college ability. Then there are the players that are dominant on the field and perform poorly in relation to their peers at the Combine. Questions arise as to whether they’ll be able to maintain that performance at the next level? Will the game become too fast for them? We they just a GOOD college player?
As for falling in love with a prospect based upon a Combine performance? For me, personally I tried to keep the entire picture in mind; college production, All-Star games, Combine, Pro Days, etc…. Any one aspect can’t be the determining factor, but rather a combination and fit of all the evaluative opportunities are important. Listening to the scouts and coaches speak about the player from their perspective. Interviewing the player and capturing who he is in his own words. It’s dangerous to make an investment solely on the 40-yard dash, but many have done that and ultimately paid for it.
What are the dangers of falling in love with a prospect?
See the above.
Who is the best player you have scouted coming out of college?
I don’t have a best player per se coming out of college that I scouted. Having spent 16 years in the game and most of it evaluating college players as the Director of College Scouting and or General Manager, I saw thousands over that time. You could probably go down the list of some of the Hall of Famers over that period and they would be in the mix.
How much does the reputation of the college play in the minds of scouts and GM’s when it comes to evaluating and forming opinions of the players?
Too much in my opinion, and yet you have to take into account the university and its competition that the player participated in. Certainly the SEC is looked upon as the top producer of professional talent coming into the NFL. The numbers speak for themselves. But a lot of those numbers are driven by reputation and overexposure to NFL scouts and personnel people. Same holds true for conferences like the BIG 10, PAC 12, and ACC. There are a lot of productive and athletic players that get dinged as a result of their school and or conference affiliation. They’re forced to prove themselves that much more than just saying they went to school at Florida, Ohio State, or USC. Don’t get me wrong, those schools produce some of the top talent year after year. It’s why the NFL keeps going back there to select. But I’ve seen players from those type schools taken off of momentum from outside evaluations and media reports that didn’t belong in an NFL camp as well. All because of conference or university bias. But in the end that’s OUR fault as evaluators, not the players’.
More of the interview up on our next post.