NFL Draft: What’s it all about?

“Affirmative action is a little like the professional football draft. The NFL awards its No. 1 draft choices to the lowest-ranked team in the league. It doesn’t do this out of compassion or guilt. It’s done for mutual survival. They understand that a league can only be as strong as its weakest team.” – J. C. Watts

Thursday 27 April marks an important day in the NFL calendar. It’s the start of the annual draft and this year, it comes to you from Philadelphia having been in Chicago the previous two. Philadelphia was also the location of the first ever draft, back in 1936. Over three days each team will get a chance to pick players they hope will go on to make their franchise successful for years to come. At least that’s the hope going into the draft, the reality for many can be far from the that.

So What Is The Draft?

The Draft is a little like when you used to play sport at school and decided who was on your team based on taking turns at picking players. Well the NFL do this too, however, in order to try and keep all teams competitive, they do it in order, starting with the worst team in the previous season, working through to New England who won the Super Bowl last season. Once all teams have chosen they start again with the weakest and so it goes for a number of rounds.

Who Are The Players Being Picked?

The players in the draft are the best of those who have been playing in the college teams and generally, those who have graduated in the previous year. There are some notable exceptions, for example, last year the Vikings drafted Germany’s Moritz Boehringer.

Don’t Players Object?

Now being picked by the current worst time doesn’t sound like fun, so why would players agree to play for those teams? The answer to that is money, generally, players picked earlier get more money. They could choose not to play, however, if they do that their other choice is to not play at all. Sometimes players can hold out in the hope of being traded to another team.

Why Is The Draft Over Three Days?

Each team in round one have 10 minutes to make their choice. The decision time drops to seven minutes in the second round and five minutes in Rounds 3–7. If a team does not make a decision within its allotted time, the next team can pick before it, thus possibly ‘stealing’ a player the team with the earlier pick may have been wanting. The team don’t lose their pick, they can submit its selection at any time after its time is up. This occurred in the 2003 draft, when the Minnesota Vikings, with the 7th overall pick, were late with their selection. The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted quarterback Byron Leftwich ahead of them.

“Reality of NFL Draft rooms is a blend of tension and trepidation” – Jeff Diamond

For the teams, the draft is a culmination of a great deal of scouting effort. Teams rank available players by positions and their own needs as well as on who is the best still available. Generally they will know in advance of their turn who they are going to pick, however when they are ‘On The Clock’ they are likely to hold off giving their choice in the hope that an attractive offer comes in from another team who are desperate to pick up a player who is likely not to be on the board when their turn comes.

To get a feel for what goes on in draft rooms, here’s information from Jeff Diamond on how they grabbed Randy Moss:

“The draft in which we had the most discussion during the hour before we were on the clock was in 1998 with the Vikings. Wide receiver Randy Moss, with his obvious top five-level talent but questionable character after several off-field incidents, was the player we were considering.

Several of our personnel people felt we should have been looking for defensive help with our top pick. But when our West Virginia-area scout strongly endorsed Moss, the leadership group in the room (myself as GM, head coach Dennis Green and player personnel director Frank Gilliam) agreed that if Moss was there at No. 21, we would take him. He clearly was our highest rated player at that point.

Dallas was rumoured to be the team that would draft Moss at No. 8, but the Cowboys selected defensive end Greg Ellis. When Tennessee made Kevin Dyson the first wide receiver taken at No. 16, we thought there was a chance to get Moss.

The next four teams selected other players, and when Detroit picked corner Terry Fair, a loud cheer went up in our draft room. Moss had fallen to us.

We put in that card immediately. The pick, of course, became one of the Vikings’ best ever. Moss caught 17 touchdown passes in a Rookie of the Year season that launched a fantastic career.”

How Come Cleveland Have So Many Draft Picks?

As I mentioned earlier, teams can ‘trade’ to get a higher position from another team and they can trade away draft picks in later years for something they need now. As a result, some teams will get more picks than others. There are also other additional compensatory draft picks that the NFL award to teams as a result of free agents they have lost. As a result, Cleveland, the butt of many jokes over the years of poor performance are set up to own the draft in 2017 and 2018. In this draft, the Browns currently hold five of the first 65 selections and 11 picks overall. They hold two picks in both of the first rounds including the first overall pick.

If you want to get yourself in the mood for this year’s draft, watch Kevin Costner in the 2014 film where he has to manage the draft process and all its political tentacles, for The Browns no less!!! (Amazon)

Who’s The Likely #1 Pick

Texas A&M product Myles Garrett
Texas A&M product Myles Garrett is likely to become the 16th defensive player in the recent draft era to be selected #1 overall. Based on combine measurables (a week-long showcase in front of NFL coaches, general managers and scouts), Garrett is taller than Julio Jones (Garrett 6-4 1/2, Jones 6-2 3/4), heavier than Rob Gronkowski (Garrett 272 pounds, Gronkowski 264 pounds), quicker than Devonta Freeman (Garrett 1.63 seconds in 10-yard split, Freeman 1.66), and faster than Jarvis Landry (Garrett 4.64 seconds in 40-yard dash, Landry 4.77).

What About the Patriots?

Well, they don’t have a pick in either of the first two rounds! Fear not, Patriots fans. Since Belichick took over as head coach in 2000, the team has regularly found gold in the latter rounds of the draft, including a player often cited as the greatest in NFL history, former sixth-rounder Tom Brady. Belichick and the scouting department have brought in some great late-round players who ended up fitting perfectly into New England, including many crucial members of last year’s Super Bowl winning team, such as Julian Edelman (a former seventh-round pick), Shaq Mason (fourth) and Trey Flowers (fourth).

What Happens To Those That Go Undrafted?

So is the dream of NFL fame dead for those who remain undrafted? Probably but all hope is not lost. There are many players who have sailed under the radar during the draft and gone on to set records in the NFL including Super Bowl winner Kurt Warner, ex Dallas QB Tony Romo, Chargers Tight End Antonio Gates and double Super Bowl winner James Harrison of the Steelers. Let’s not forget undrafted free-agent cornerback Malcolm Butler, who made perhaps one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history two years ago

Get Ready For London

So with the Browns having the best chance of selecting some of the best talent from this year’s draft, we can look forward to their visit to Twickenham for their game against the Vikings. Ironically, the Vikings have lost one of their great box office draws as Adrian Peterson is leaving to become a Saint. Their loss it may be, but we’ll still see Peterson in the UK when the Saints face the Dolphins.

NFL draft day is also the day when individual game tickets go on sale for the games at Twickenham. You’ll have needed to pre-register for the pre-sale, if you haven’t then you can hope there will be some tickets remaining (there weren’t for either Wembley game) or tap up friends who may already have their pre-sale code.

For those that may have missed the announcement, take a look at my last NFL post for details of the Twickenham games and the other important schedule announcements.