When TV cameras peek into NFL Draft rooms as teams are on the clock, things look calm and business-like. The reality is the polar opposite.
Trust me from my 20-plus years in draft rooms as a general manager and team president. Things are a lot more tense and active than they appear.
In our Vikings and Titans draft rooms, access was limited to our team president, general manager, head coach, college and pro personnel directors, area scouts, team trainer and lead doctor. Offensive and defensive coordinators would be allowed in the room occasionally, but the rest of the coaching staff was parked in their meeting rooms — they had given their input in pre-draft meetings. On rare occasions, the team owner would pop in, usually for just the first-round pick.
For those in the draft room, the most energetic and nerve-racking time begins several picks before the team’s turn arrives.
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We organized our draft board by position, with a separate listing of top players regardless of position based on grades that had been finalized in the weeks leading up to the draft. The decision maker (usually the GM) would pull five player tabs over to a separate part of the draft board. That became our ready list through all seven rounds.
The order of the players on the ready list was based on a combination of overall grade and team needs. For example, if we already had a solid starting quarterback who was not near the end of his career, a QB would not appear on the ready list until the later rounds.
There were and always will be intense discussions and disagreement during this process, but the decision maker makes the final call on the lineup.
The age-old question of best player available vs. team need is always in play. I was adamant that, in the first two rounds, we would pick our highest rated player regardless of position (unless it was a quarterback and we were set there). Coaches are notorious for wanting to fill needs for immediate help. The team president and GM are more likely to look long-term.
We would take one of the five players on our ready list, and the next highest rated player would be inserted into the fifth spot. In the later rounds, we would often select a player further down our top five list if we felt it was a position we needed to fill. If two players were rated equal, we went with the position of need.
The draft in which we had the most discussion during the hour before we were on the clock was in 1998 with the Vikings. Wide receiver Randy Moss, with his obvious top five-level talent but questionable character after several off-field incidents, was the player we were considering.
Several of our personnel people felt we should have been looking for defensive help with our top pick. But when our West Virginia-area scout strongly endorsed Moss, the leadership group in the room (myself as GM, head coach Dennis Green and player personnel director Frank Gilliam) agreed that if Moss was there at No. 21, we would take him. He clearly was our highest rated player at that point.
Dallas was rumored to be the team that would draft Moss at No. 8, but the Cowboys selected defensive end Greg Ellis. When Tennessee made Kevin Dyson the first wide receiver taken at No. 16, we thought there was a chance to get Moss.
The next four teams selected other players, and when Detroit picked corner Terry Fair, a loud cheer went up in our draft room. Moss had fallen to us.
We put in that card immediately. The pick, of course, became one of the Vikings' best ever. Moss caught 17 touchdown passes in a Rookie of the Year season that launched a fantastic career.
In my final draft as Vikings GM, in 1999, there was intense discussion around pick No. 11 and whether to select the head coach's pick, quarterback Daunte Culpepper, or the choice of our scouts, defensive end Jevon Kearse. The ultimate call was Culpepper since our starting quarterback, Randall Cunningham, was 36. Culpepper became a six-year starter and three-time Pro Bowler, so it turned out to be a solid pick.
All that happens while the president, GM and head coach work the phones as they talk with teams about the possibility of moving up or down.
For example, after we selected Culpepper, I immediately got on the phone and tried to acquire another first-round pick so we could draft Kearse. But I couldn't get it done, and he was grabbed by Tennessee at No. 16.
(Ironically, I joined the Titans as team president two months later and was happy to watch Kearse play fantastic — 14.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in a Rookie of the Year season — as he helped lead us to the Super Bowl.)
The draft is an emotional time for execs, because as players are being selected by other teams, there is a mix of shock, mild surprise, dismay, compliments or disdain based on reactions to certain selections. I remember a few drafts when it seemed our draft room was bugged, because in several rounds, players we were targeting were picked within a spot or two of our selection.
For all the excitement on draft day, there also is a lot of tedium, including the pre-draft process. In the later rounds, things can get boring, especially during a round in which a team has no picks. Long days in meetings prior to the draft are followed by long days during the draft. Several meals are eaten in the draft room. Draft analysts take over the TVs at an excessive rate.
TV cameras often show the rooms before the draft starts, when team personnel are settling in and reviewing their notes. That's a quiet time.
Then the cameras show teams when they are on the clock. By then, they know who they're planning to take … unless an appealing, last-minute trade offer comes through.
Then the room becomes more animated as the trade details are worked out and called into the league before time expires. The last thing a team wants is to not submit their pick or trade details on time, because in that case, the next team can jump in and select.
In the early rounds, teams generally wait for last-minute trade offers before telling their representatives at the draft site to hand in the pick. With 10 minutes allotted in the first round (previously 15 for most of my NFL years) and seven minutes in the second round (previously 10) before it drops to five minutes in the remaining rounds, there's a lot of down time.
The draft presents a mix of highs and lows in terms of a team’s success, but everybody knows it takes two or three years before actual success can be determined.
Now in my consulting work with an NFL agent group, the draft is more of the same — sweating it out as I wait for our players to be selected.
Yet, I still empathize with current team presidents and GMs as they watch talented players come off the board prior to their selections. Then I feel their excitement and trepidation when they make those selections.
The draft has always been the lifeblood of NFL teams. Overall, it’s an exciting time for all franchises; a time of optimism. But it's also stressful.
Jeff Diamond is the former president of the Titans and the former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.