Fanspeak Series: How teams use grading scales to set up their draft boards

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Note: What do teams say about the “best player available” vs. “biggest need” debate? How do they factor in injuries when evaluating players? How do teams put together their own big boards? This week, Fanspeak will answer those questions and more as we provide an insiders’ look into the player evaluation process with veteran NFL and college scout Chris Landry of LandryFootball.
Click here to read Monday’s report.
Click here to read Tuesday’s report.
Today, Fanspeak looks at how teams set up their own draft boards.

Here’s the scenario:

Your team is in desperate need of a guard, but the highest-rated remaining player on its draft board, a receiver, is still there when it’s your team’s turn to draft.

Further complicating matters is that one elite receiver has fallen much further than anyone expected, but that’s not a position of need on your team.

There’s also this: It’s a deep draft for receivers but is not a deep draft for interior linemen, meaning, you might not be able to draft the best guard in the second round if you don’t take him in the first.

What should your team do?

It’s a scenario that is likely to play out at least once during the 2020 NFL draft, which is April 23-25.

In the above scenario, should your team draft a guard? Take the best player available, the receiver? Or should your team try to trade down, pick up more picks and use one of them to, hopefully, draft that interior lineman your team so desperately needs?

The answer, said veteran NFL and college scout Chris Landry, comes down to your team’s grading scale.

“This is why draft rankings and draft boards like you read by analysts are not the same as how NFL teams set up their draft boards,” said Landry of Landry, the former director of the Scouting Combine, currently serves as a consultant for NFL and college teams.

“Rankings are not the issue; rather, proper grading leads to the correct ranking on a real draft board. You have to grade to a standard and not grade players based on need,” he said.

The grading scale

So, what does a “real” draft board look like?

For starters, teams grade players according to critical factors and position specifics, regardless of need, Landry said. Once teams establish their final grades, the players are then categorized accordingly.

This is an example of the grading categories Landry has used in draft rooms for more than 30 years:

7.4-7.0 = Superstar ability

6.9-6.5 = Immediate starter (for any team)

6.4-6.0 = Potential starter

5.9-5.5 = Has a chance to make a roster and contribute

5.4-5.0 = Potential backup and contributor

4.9-4-5= Free Agent prospect not worth drafting

Of course, those grades vary from team to team. Some teams may deem a player as a better schematic fit for them and therefore give that player a higher grade than other teams, for example.

But in order to avoid reaching for players or passing on much better talent just to fill team needs, Landry said teams should let their grading scale help dictate the selections.

“Each grade category separates the quality of how you see all players by position and overall regardless of position,” said Landry, who has worked with the Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers and Cleveland in previous stops. “So for example, a 6.9 and a 6.5 player is in the same category. The 6.9 versus 6.5 are just to separate players within that grouping.

“So, taking a 6.5 player over a 6.9 player is no problem because, by definition, you have graded them in the same grade category. However, taking a 6.4 player over a 6.5 player is a mistake as you are by definition taking a lesser player.”

Hope is not a strategy

Back to the original scenario.

Your team needs a guard in what is considered a relatively weak draft for that position but isn’t sure it will be able to draft one in Round 2. It doesn’t need a receiver, but one of the top players in the draft – a receiver – has somehow fallen into your team’s lap when it’s time for them to select a player.

Who your team drafts, then, should be dictated by that draft scale.

For example, say Minnesota decides it needs an upgrade at guard to pair with young center Garrett Bradbury (the team’s first-round pick last year at No. 18 overall). The team might be eyeballing Clemson guard John Simpson or even St. John’s Ben Bartch, but taking either player at No. 25 overall may be too high. However, it’s likely that neither player is still there when the Vikings are back on the clock in the second round.

And let’s say in this example that Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III is still available late in the first round and is the highest-graded player remaining on Minnesota’s own draft board. Receiver, though, is not an immediate need.

This is where Landry’s grading scale comes into play for teams.

If the team has a grade of 6.9 on Ruggs and a grade of 6.5 on either Batch or Simpson, then Minnesota should take the guard. But if Batch or Simpson’s final grade by the Vikings is below that – even slightly below with a grade of 6.4 – then the team should take the receiver.

“If you have multiple players in the same grade category, then you should take the player at the biggest need or take the player where there is the least amount of depth to fill that spot later in the draft,” Landry said. “A properly set up draft board will easily help you figure this out. But you should never dip a grade level below for a player of need as this doesn’t make your team better.

“You spend all year evaluating prospects and then properly setting up your draft board, so you must let your draft board speak to you. If you start moving things around to fit needs, all you are doing is putting a body at a position of need and hoping.

“And hope is not a strategy.”


Coming tomorrow: How big are team’s final big boards? Odds are good that it’s much smaller than you realize. The series’ final post will examine how many players most teams put into their big boards.

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