This final segment of "On The Road" details our final draft preparations, the actual three-day 2011 NFL Draft and what lies ahead for the spring and summer months. A more appropriate title for this installment might be "Off The Road," because most of our final pre-draft work was done in Pittsburgh and while in the months to come our scouts will get some well-deserved down time.
Our final Draft meetings started our March 28 and concluded on April 20. During these Draft meetings we attempt to pull all of our information together to come up with one Steelers opinion, one Steelers grade. The level of involvement for our scouts and coaches for each set of meetings will vary.
For the meetings on the 'C' and 'D' players, Ron Hughes, our College Scouting Director, conducted the sessions, and these sessions included only scouts. The 'C' players are ones we have designated as priority free agents, and one comprehensive report was written by Ron on all of these players, and it included all verified measurables – height, weight, 40-time, etc. – medical and character information and statistics, as well as at least two scout opinions. The 'D' players are guys who have been designated secondary free agents, and in this session the measurables of the players are verified along with each player being briefly discussed, then assigned a final grade.
For the meetings on the 'B' players, I conduct the session, and it's for guys we feel will be drafted in rounds 4-7. Coach Mike Tomlin attends these sessions, as well as the coordinator and position coach for the position being discussed on any given day. The procedure for these meetings is the same as the procedure for the priority free agents, with the main difference being the coaches' involvement. Though familiar with who the 'B' players are, the coaches weren't required to write a report on them, but their involvement in our discussions is welcomed.
Upon returning from a break, we conducted our meetings on the 'A' players, those whom we believed would be drafted in rounds 1-3. The procedure for these meetings is similar to the procedure used for our 'B' player meetings, with a few additions. Our coaches are responsible for writing a report on these players as well as preparing a 10-15 play highlight reel on each player. The purpose of the highlight reel is three-fold: It allows Coach Tomlin an opportunity to view a maximum amount of players in a minimum amount of time; it allows the other scouts in the room an opportunity to see guys they may not have scouted; and each player discussed can be compared to the others via this brief video. Each 'A' player usually takes 30-45 minutes to discuss and grade.
When grading any player, we always grade him by position as well as in comparison to other positions. For example, if we are grading running backs we will stack them against each other, then against the quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends, etc. In doing this we hope to come up with a comprehensive draft board from which we will make our selections during the draft.
A big part of our evaluations include discussions on each player's character and medical condition. These areas are graded separately from a player's talent and are a big influence on when we will draft a certain player if we decide to draft him at all.
Once our board is set – two days before the draft – we move into the Mock Draft phase of the process. Included in this exercise are scouts, coaches and Team President Art Rooney II. In the past we would try to determine what each team would do with its pick. After years of following this procedure, we decided we would be better served to just do our own Mock Draft. In doing so we place ourselves as the team owning first overall pick, select a player, move to the second pick, select, third pick, select, etc. By following this procedure we now have an order of selection that is real instead of speculation. We also set a value on trade up/trade down scenarios based on how we would select.
After we have done this with all the coaches and scouts, Coach Tomlin, Art Rooney II and me have a separate meeting to make our final decisions, though rarely tweaking our draft order.
Draft day has changed over the years. When I first broke into the NFL the Draft was 12 rounds and it was conducted from noon on Saturday and was continuous until about 2 a.m. on Sunday morning. With the increased popularity of our game and the expanded television coverage, we have emerged to our present format of a seven-round Draft conducted over three days – two of which are in prime time. Though this setup makes for a lot of dead time and a longer process, it is workable, especially in light of the impact it can have in increasing our sport's popularity.
In this year's Draft we had the 31st pick out of 32 possible picks in the first round. After our mock scenario, we had 31 players designated for selection in a specific order. As the Draft unfolded and players are selected, we just watch and wait. This can be unnerving at times, but we know we will have somebody available to pick when our turn comes.
Having determined a point in the draft when we would start to consider trading up, we make calls to the teams in those slots to determine their interest. Knowing this could cost us several Draft picks to move up from No. 31, trading up was unlikely, so we wait.
While waiting, we often try to enjoy the process while watching each team make a pick. At times we'll try to guess what each team will do and as one could imagine there are a lot of surprises. It always makes me feel good when I see the true emotions of a player once he is selected and gets to share that moment with his family and friends.
As it gets closer to our pick, the anxiety in the room increases. With each pick, I update Coach Tomlin and Art Rooney of what our worst case scenario will be. Though we are permitted to call any player during the Draft, we will never call a player until we are on the clock. The reason for this is two-fold: such a call could tip another team of our interest if they happened to call the same player; and it's unfair to the player who is anxiously awaiting a team to call his name.
Once on the clock, Coach Tomlin and myself will confirm our pick with Art Rooney, and then announce it to our draft room. Phil Kreidler, one of our scouts, gets the player on the phone. Coach Tomlin will then inform the player that he is our choice, with Art following with his congratulations. Once Coach Tomlin gives me a thumb's up that all is well, we tell our representatives in New York to turn our pick in. This same procedure is followed for all subsequent picks.
At the conclusion of the Draft we often sit back and think about all the time and effort that a lot of people put in to select these seven players. At times the process seems to overshadow the results. However, if we have drafted well we will hopefully have added players who will represent our organization well and help us win another Super Bowl.
I hope you have enjoyed gaining insight into our scouting process through these "On The Road" segments. I would like to thank everybody involved in this process for their tireless efforts. In a couple of weeks we will start the process over when we have our Blesto Combine Meetings to discuss the prospects who will be in the 2012 Draft.
Have a great, safe summer.
Approximate mileage of Scouts travel for April/May – 50,000.
Another $500 has been donated to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society byBowser Cadillac* ringing the total to date to $5,100. Bowser Cadillac is proud to offer a penny per mile as Kevin's group travels around the country.*