Draft Board Comes Into Focus In Final Week


It's a phrase that will be heard often this week, and particularly this weekend, in talking about the NFL Draft, and it's a philosophy General Manager Ted Thompson and his personnel staff with the Green Bay Packers follow -- "staying true to the board."

The "board" is the draft board, and Thompson shed a little light during his pre-draft press conference on Monday about how that board is constructed and then followed during the draft.

The board is essentially all the draft-eligible players' names covering one entire wall of the team's draft room, which resides on the third floor of the Lambeau Field Atrium, the same floor as the offices of the personnel and coaching staffs. It's probably more accurately termed a "grid" with both vertical and horizontal components.

As Thompson described to the assembled media, the names are aligned vertically based on their position, with one column representing running backs, another linebackers, etc. Then they're placed horizontally based on the grades they've been given by the scouts and coaches, with first-round talents being listed at the top of their position column and on down.

Come Saturday, once players are selected, they are "off the board." Then Thompson and his staff will look at who's on the board, at which positions and with which grades, when their turn to select rolls around. The Packers first two picks this weekend are at No. 9 overall and No. 41 (ninth in the second round).

"In a perfect world, if you've done your job properly, you sit there and you just let it come to you," Thompson said. "If it's your pick in the first round, you look up there and if you've got two guys (graded equally), then you say, 'OK, there's the two guys we would take at this pick, which one do you want to take?'"

But of course it's not always that simple.

For one, the board is not a perfectly neat grid, because there's never the same number of players at each position graded for the same round. There might be 10 linebackers but only four offensive tackles with first-round grades, for example, so horizontally the board has bulges and voids that are watched closely.

For another, if it were that simple, Thompson wouldn't have made more than a dozen draft-day trades during the course of the four drafts he's run in Green Bay thus far.

The reason for the trades? As Thompson explained, it's about supply and demand. If there are a handful of players with equal grades when it's your turn to pick, and another team is looking to move up a few spots to grab a certain player, moving back allows you to still get a player of comparable ability while picking up an extra draft pick for later on.

Conversely, if players of a certain grade are in short supply and might not be available at your next pick, it may be worth sacrificing a later pick to slide up and make a selection before the available talent drops another notch.

Thompson has done far more of the former and traded down, though last year he traded up for the first time in Green Bay when he gave up a fifth-round pick to climb 11 spots and grab Jeremy Thompson from Wake Forest in the fourth round.

Knowing when and how to make those decisions all comes back to the draft board, which is always a full year in the making. From pre-fall meetings to go over prospects to campus practice visits during the season to college all-star games in January to the scouting combine in February, the board is a constant work in progress before being finalized through two weeks of meetings prior to the draft.

"It's a long process," Thompson said. "One thing that doesn't get mentioned very often is the work of our staff, and those guys work very hard and spend a lot of time away from home and work hard for the Green Bay Packers and trying to help us be better."

With the board fully constructed, draft-day decisions sometimes make themselves. Or when players of equal talent and grades are being considered, the tie might be broken by which position is of greater need for the roster.

That could dictate more decisions for the Packers in this draft than it has in recent years. When Thompson first arrived in 2005, he needed to rebuild the core of the team, and he used trades to turn 14 picks into 23 selections in his first two drafts.

"Especially if you're trying to build up your core, then it makes a lot of sense to move back and pick up an extra pick later on," Thompson said.

But now with the core of the roster in better shape, with the Packers switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme from their long-played 4-3, and with last year's two starting offensive tackles entering their 10th seasons, need could be a deciding factor if all else is equal. The 3-4 has different job descriptions for most players in the front seven compared to a 4-3, and both offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher (who is currently unsigned and coming off knee surgery) have health concerns they're dealing with late in their careers.

In a perfect world, the grades will match the team's needs as the draft unfolds. But you have to "stay true" to the board so that a vastly more talented player isn't bypassed to fill a particular need, which is called "reaching" in draft language.

{sportsad300}The board remains the basis for the team's decisions through all seven rounds of the draft, and also in the free-agent signing period immediately after the draft, which Thompson called "absolute chaos."

"I think we have done a pretty good job of zoning in on the guys we want and signing them," he said. "If somebody else wants to pay somebody a lot more money than we are willing to, that is OK. But it kind of depends on where you are and how many you need to sign and what your roster limit is like."

In the end, filling the roster with as much depth and talent as possible at all positions is Thompson's primary goal, and the draft board is the primary tool.

"The draft is the biggest way you build a team, and I think it's the best way to build a team for the long run, because you have a draft every year, and you can work at it that way," Thompson said.

"I like our team, I've said that before, I continue to say it. I think we have a sound foundation and some core players here. I don't think you can ever get in a position where you stop trying to get better. I think creating competition for the summer activity and for training camp makes for a better team in the fall."

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