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Inside the NFL Draft

Hi friends,


Meghan here. As someone who has worked in football for the majority of my career, I'm used to keeping track of the year based on the NFL calendar. Fall = football season, March is the new league year and the start of free agency, April is the NFL Draft, etc. So as I sit here writing this at the beginning of April, we are officially in the thick of draft season. Though as a player personnel analyst, I can tell you that draft preparations actually start far well before April. As such, I figured I'd dedicate this week's post to sharing a little bit more about the draft process, and specifically the research I do.


 

Both the on- and off-field research of a player begins months (possibly even years) before he is draft-eligible. In my role in character analytics, I conduct research for teams and present a comprehensive qualitative data set that paints the psychological and motivational picture of the player in a user-friendly format. Put simply, I research players' backgrounds and assess their football and personal character. Typically, I get my first list of players in May or June, shortly after the previous draft has ended. The list is often long, as most teams start with a large player pool and begin to narrow down possible selections closer to the draft based on factors such as draft position, team need, and players likely to be available. 


When I'm assigned a player, I begin to build a profile based on the available information. Where did he grow up? What were the circumstances? What's his relationship like with his mother, father, siblings, etc.? Does he have any concerning relationships? Has he ever been exposed to drugs, violence, crime, etc.? After developing a base of knowledge around a player's childhood, I then begin to move through his high school and college careers. If a player transferred three times in high school, we want to know why. Disciplinary issues? Problems with a coach? Moved because of a parent's job? If he was a highly-touted freshman who was expected to contribute right away in college but only played on special teams, we delve into that. Did his head coach or position coach make any comments about why? Did he have trouble learning a new system? Was there an attitude issue? Basically, my job is to evaluate everything about a player from his leadership style and coachability to his stress response and ability to adapt. If a player has been arrested, suspended, or otherwise in trouble, I gather as much objective information on the situation as possible. Similarly, if he's had a traumatic or turbulent upbringing, I share supporting information about family members and situations that may have contributed to that. Lastly, I do a complete social media sweep, including the player's posts, tagged posts, and mentions, plus those of his closest family members and friends. 


Once I finish combing through the articles, interviews, social media, and scouting information available on a player, I put together a comprehensive player report. It's essentially a summary of the player's strengths, weaknesses, and any potential character concerns. Player contracts are a big investment for a team, so the purpose of these reports is to assess personal and football character and predict future potential in order to inform draft-day decisions. I also provide a list of suggested questions that I think would be beneficial to ask the player in pre-draft interviews. 


While with the Eagles, I not only shared these reports with our entire front office and player personnel team, I also worked closely with a team psychologist. We would then conduct interviews with players, evaluate their responses to certain questions, and finalize our reports and draft grades. What people often don't understand is that we're not trying to "catch" players in lies or find reasons to eliminate them from our draft board. Instead, we'd like to figure out how a player responds to the interview. Is he honest? Does he accept accountability for any past mistakes or issues? How does he present from a maturity standpoint? From there, we determine if we see a path to success for this player. Let me share an example.



Here are some other examples of questions that we try to evaluate and some actual notes that I've included in reports. (For the sake of anonymity, all player names have been removed.)


Stress Response 

  • How has the player reacted to difficult transitions/change, such as moving from high school to college, a coaching change, the loss of a loved one?

  • Example: Player X's position coach was fired during the spring of his freshman year and he began smoking excessively and withdrew from the team, something that was very out of character of him per coaches and our research. He required additional support to bring him back into the fold.


Mental Health/Trauma

  • Has the player endured any trauma in his past (typically stemming from his upbringing)? If so, how did he respond? Has he sought therapy or treatment? Has he processed the emotions associated with the trauma?

  • Example: A profile of Player Y alluded to his father being physically and emotionally abusive and subsequent research into his father found that he’d been arrested multiple times on assault charges. In a feature discussing his childhood (in which Player Y displayed significant anger issues), his mother claimed she’d tried to send him to therapy but that he’d refused and instead withdrawn and become a “quiet and angry” child.

  • Has the player disclosed any type of mental illness or exhibited any signs?

  • Example: Player Z stopped eating solid foods and speaking for a month after losing in the Fiesta Bowl. After an in-depth pre-draft interview, we gained further information and were able to make a final assessment about the player’s mental state and what resources/support he may need.


Emotional Intelligence

  • How does the player interact with teammates during a difficult situation?

  • When/how has the player exhibited empathy? Is the player aware of the concept?

  • Example: In a profile, Player C said that his ability to empathize with different groups of people is especially helpful in conversations about race and politics, an often divisive topic within the team and cited several examples of how he’d moderated such behavior. Teammates were interviewed and confirmed.


Negative Off-field Relationships

  • Does the player have any concerning hometown friends/associates? This is based on the aforementioned research and social media sweeps. What do his friends do? Are they in college, do any have a criminal record? Are there concerns about “riding his coattails” or looking for handouts.

  • Example: Player A had multiple family members and half-siblings linked to gangs and with lengthy arrest records. He was also already supporting many friends and family while in college, sending his stipend home to pay for legal fees for his brother and at least one friend.

  • Are the player’s family members (particularly extended family) viewed as problematic or a drain on his finances?

  • Example: Player F's parents referred to him as “Big Ticket” (still his Twitter handle) and routinely did interviews in which they described him as the family’s meal ticket and suggested he would leave college as soon as possible in order to start generating an income. 


These are just a few examples. Based on the research and our player interviews, I then provide a character score, which incorporates 22 different traits (11 personal and 11 football character traits). I also write a recommendation about whether to or not to draft a player, including warnings and details about how to ensure a player will have success if he is drafted to that particular team/city. Given the number of draft-eligible players each year, plus the amount of pre-draft interviews at the Senior Bowl, Combine, and Top 30 visits, it can be an exhausting process. Each report takes hours, sometimes days, to compile. Yet, each player's background is unique, meaning I never feel like I'm doing the same thing twice. 


The crazy part is, that's just one piece of the equation. Of course, it takes an entire team - scouts, salary cap analysts, analytics pros, player personnel executives, and more - to ultimately make the decision on player selections. Typically, all of those individuals come together in pre-draft meetings to bounce ideas off of one another, ask questions, and share information that will shape a team's draft board. 


While I could talk about this all day, I'll leave you with this: the next time you're reading up on your favorite team's selections, know that said team likely spent an entire year (or more) researching the guys they picked! I'm not saying they always pan out (far from it), but the draft is an imperfect science (an NFL assistant GM and my former boss often called it a crapshoot) so the more information you can gather, the better.


Hope you enjoyed this small glimpse into the character analytics side of the NFL Draft!





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