In every NFL franchise’s draft room, there is one thing in common: the “front board.” While some boards look different in shape and structure, the basic organization of information remains the same. The front board displays the prospects, by position, from highest to lowest grades.
A lot of work goes into prepping all boards and organizing the draft data on a daily basis, beginning in May. This process really takes flight at the annual NFS (National Football Scouting) spring meeting, where clubs receive the data and grades for the following year’s class. Their data is then put on the front board alphabetical by position.
While teams technically have grades on all prospects, this is just the starting point. Final grades for players come in April every year. For those teams that are still in the dark ages and have not taken the leap into the future of the digital draft board technology era, the magnetic white boards remain the popular choice to display prospects’ information.
The positional stacking starts with quarterbacks and ends with defensive ends (left to right). I was taught by my personnel mentors, Bill Polian (who hired me at Carolina) and Dom Anile (longtime personnel man and the Panthers’ college director) to stack positions vertically, and then perform a horizontal comparison of prospects. By comparing prospects both vertically and then horizontally, it helps separate prospects and provide well-rounded grades.
The front board holds draftable players only. This board is the working board, on which the general manager, head coach and college director track and follow trades and carefully watch those players picked in order to devise a strategy for possible trades of their own (up the board, down the board). Plus, they can gauge the likelihood of a prospect’s availability when picking.
Attached to the front board, though totally separate from the previously mentioned process, is the Top 150 board. This was developed in order to allow a grading tool to pit against the “front board.” The Top 150 board is stacked according to the final grade from the front board. As teams made their picks, we would track how other teams graded a player and where they were selected vs. where they sat on our board.
There also are two “back boards.” These boards hold the “priority” and “non-priority” free agents. A priority free agent is someone you place in the “eighth” round (almost draftable), who has all of the intangibles you’re looking for, with no character issues or medical concerns. Priority free agents lack the skill-set to be draftable players, but are interesting enough that you would sign them to compete in OTAs (organized team activities) and training camp. They may have a slight chance of making the roster, as well.
Non-priority free agents lack the skill-set to be priority free agents. They are prospects who are brought to camp as a last resort, to fill a hole on the roster. Despite some positive traits and clean medical records, they don’t warrant a long look.
There are several “side boards,” too, the first of which is critical to the process of drafting: the “pick board,” or “trade board.” This board is constantly in flux. Let’s say that a trade occurs between two teams. Club A has two picks in the third round and two in the fourth, and works out a deal with club B in order to move up and draft its player. These numbers therefore migrate to the pick board to correspond with the trade. Keeping track of this board is critical, especially when your club wishes to make a trade. The information must be correct and precise 100 percent of the time.
The second side board is the “DND board” (do not draft board). Once a player makes his way to this board, it is highly unlikely he is ever removed and put on the front or back boards. The DND board is split into two categories: “character” and “medical.” All players with major character issues (multiple arrests, drug use and major problems pertaining to rehab or addiction, criminal intent, violence towards women, etc.) fall into the former department. All players with medical issues fit the latter category and receive a final grade of C-minus. (A-F is the grading scale, just like school.)
The third side board is the “team board.” This board has the team logo of all 31 other NFL teams. Once a player is drafted, his magnet is found (on the front, priority, non-priority free agent or do not draft board) and is placed under the team that selected the prospect.
Ultimately, the yearly NFL draft is a true projection. In my tenure, nothing was guaranteed. I saw productive players in the college ranks get drafted in the high-to-middle rounds and soil themselves at the next level, leaving the league entirely within a few years. A lot of those cases came down to mental toughness, athletic skill-sets, the ability to stay healthy and, most important, the ability to ascend as a player every year.
I have also seen players get picked in the later rounds or go undrafted and rise to the pinnacle. These players were picked later than they felt they should have gone; they felt disrespected and developed a huge chip on their shoulders, which often drives and fuels a long and productive career. For evidence of as much, look no further than the story a certain sixth-rounder from the class of 2000. That man’s name: Tom Brady.