Over recent weeks and months you may have noticed a slight increase in draft coverage here on BTB. That's right, hidden beneath all the coverage about coaching changes, the CBA nuisance and other Dallas Cowboys news we've been quietly slipping in the occasional draft post. Or two.
Well, that's about to change, as we ramp up our draft coverage even further and are joined by a draft expert called Long Ball, a key contributor to a special draft site called Drafttek.com. Drafttek have a very unique approach to mock drafts that we'll talk to Long Ball about after the break, and regularly post full seven round mock drafts - of which the last two have won our weekly Cowboys Mock Draft Roundup reader poll on BTB.
Before we jump right into the interview with Long Ball, here's a short heads up on what we'll be doing over the next couple of days and perhaps weeks: rabblerousr and I will take turns churning out draft posts which will feature either Drafttek.com or Long Ball, or both. I will run a series on draft strategies and use Drafttek's technology to compile a couple of mock drafts, rabble will conduct a series of interviews with Long Ball focusing on drafttek's big board, player evaluations and more.
BTB - With the ever-increasing popularity of the draft, draft sites are popping up left and right, and it's become increasingly difficult to tell which sites are good and which sites are, well, not. Drafttek has a fairly unique approach in both creating its own Big Board and creating mock drafts off of that board. How does Drafttek work, and how has it evolved over recent years?
Long Ball - The NFL Draft has seen an increase in popularity due to the fact that they have quantified measurables (height, weight, speed, strength, agility) that fans can understand. In addition, players drafted by NFL teams go directly to that team, not a farm system as in MLB; therefore, the results can be gauged in a relatively short period of time. In addition, players can be found in all 7 rounds that will make a roster, as opposed to just the lottery picks of the 2 round NBA Draft.
Most mock drafts are one person's opinion of who will be drafted by each NFL team. Drafttek utilizes a simulation model that has 2 basic inputs: player rankings (our "Big Board", which is a compilation of player rankings from our scouting department) and positional priority codes on a team-by-team basis, as determined by our team correspondents. Drafttek attempts to remove as much subjectivity in its results as possible.
Drafttek was created by Warren Hauck and was initially a one-man show. Early on, I bugged Warren to death, questioning some of the system's logic (I would tell you it was totally from a constructive point of view - Warren would tell you otherwise!) The concept of team correspondents came into play last year, we added the "Grab" and "Lockout" functions as well, and this year we began to differentiate positions, i.e. 4-3 defense versus 3-4 defense, left offensive tackles versus right offensive tackles, speed versus possession receivers and change-of-pace versus feature running backs.
BTB - A good mock draft is usually based on a good understanding of team needs and strengths paired with the rigour of a Big Board. Drafttek maintains its own Big Board. How do you go about putting up your big board?
Long Ball: Our normal routine starts 2-3 months after the draft - beginning in the summer we start compiling the senior database for the following year, plus the top 150 to 200 underclassmen. During the course of the year, there will be more prospects removed from the database than added - this year's database was close to 1,000 prospects deep before dropping to 725, the current count. From this data, we create "games to watch" schedules for the scouting department during the college season.
There is a lot of reading and research, utilizing NFL Draft Scout, Scout.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN, National Football Post, to name a few. The prospects are loaded into a massive Excel spreadsheet that seems to grow by geometric proportions and generate a macro-driven weighted ranking based on positional rankings from our scouting department and then compared to those publications.
The "blended" Big Board is then "manually massaged" via grading cards from games we have watched. As to my personal philosophy, I played and coached football (before I became old, fat and grey LOL!) and my grading is not just based on athletic prowess, but also how fundamentally sound the prospect is, basic techniques such as footwork, leverage, to get an idea of how coach-able they may be. Now, can you tell all that by just watching a game or two and not having access to observe practices - of course not, but it will give you an idea of how competitive the player is and whether or not they are a "gamer". I use this information as more of a "tie-breaker" when massaging the formula-driven Big Board.
BTB - How do you go about determining team needs which have to be accurate for each of the 32 NFL teams? Also, how much are these needs subject to change from, say, the end of the season through draft weekend?
Long Ball: Draftek has a network of team analysts located across the country who are responsible for specific teams . . . normally, they are fans of that team and read any and every thing they can get their hands on. Those priority codes are adjusted at least weekly and any time there is a personnel move by the team, whether player or coach (change of philosophy) that would impact the team's decision-making process toward the draft.
BTB: Tell us a little bit about how the mock drafts are run at Drafttek headquarters. After inputing all the team needs, big board and positional rankings, does someone press a button and your supercomputer delivers the mock draft, or is it more of an iterative process similar to some of the live drafts we've seen around SBNation?
Long Ball: That's pretty much it . . . the updated Big Board is loaded, the analysts submit the changes to the team needs (positional priority codes, grabs, lockouts, pairs, etc.) and then there is no interface. It can be frustrating for the analysts at times because despite your best efforts of anticipating what other teams might do, there will be a player available that makes you say "if I only knew he was there, I would have . . ."
BTB: With the Combine just behind us, there have been many heated discussions on this and other boards about the value of Combine measurables, the 40-times, bench reps and short shuttle results. How much weight do you give the combine results versus your study of game tape?
Long Ball: Information gathered at the Combine is used to substantiate what has been observed on the field of play or eliminate borderline prospects. Scouts and coaches view the bench press from a competitive and endurance point of view and then translate the application of that strength in the game film they have studied. 40 times are more important for WR's and DB's (separation versus recovery) - you will notice that times are taken for the first 5 yards (explosion) and then in 10-yard increments, which is more important for the other positions. Keep in mind that track speed does not always translate into running with pads. The "skills and drills" provide an idea about the prospect's agility, footwork, but more importantly their coach-ability. Quite frankly, the personal interviews may be as important as any other part of the Combine.
The top prospects need to attend the Combine; otherwise, teams will wonder what they're trying to hide or do they lack a competitive spirit. The Combine has value, but performance on the field outweighs the Combine results. My advice to the fans is to listen to Mayock and watch the film clips of the prospect playing football that they insert during the analysis.
Thanks to Long Ball for taking the time to answer our questions. More to come shortly.